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My class are in the midst of finishing various class tasks, taking end of year diagnostic tests, finishing off projects and the odd test too. The usual end of year routine for many schools. However we no longer grade any work in year 5, instead my co-teacher and I write extensive comments, designed to assist the student to reflect on their learning, to feel proud of their hard work and to always aim for improvement. To my mind whether a student is the brightest or slowest in the class they should always be aiming to improve.

So what is the talk in my room?
Mrs Miller when do we get our maths test back, I want to get my grade” My reply,”that was a diagnostic stage three test, no-one was expected to get everything correct and anyway its purpose is for me to help the year six teachers work out what areas of maths you are weak in“.

Mrs Miller what mark did I get for my writing task“. My reply “I have not given you a grade for a writing task all year and I don’t intend to start now, you need to read my comment“.

Mrs Miller how many mistakes did I make in the big spelling test” My reply “why do you care? I am only interested in if you can spell in your writing, not if you can memorise words for a spelling test”.

All this and more from a group of students who have had no grades given to them all year, apart from the usual weekly spelling tests and one ‘diagnostic’ maths test. I am continuously amazed at their desire for grades or for some of them, a positive need for grades. Why should this be, when they are only eleven? Is it because some of them are competitive and eager to win? Or that some of them have parental pressure to succeed? Perhaps some of them are hoping for a prize at the end of year?

Last year I was not ready to quit grading despite my unease about it. This year I am. This year I have decided to do something different. I have decided to ask them to help me decide on their final grades. During the next few weeks they will be filling folders with their work and I will be holding conferences with them. During this time I will ask them to assist me in creating their grades. I have been reading the work of Alfie Kohn especially his paper ‘The case against grades‘ as well as a bloggers I regularly follow Pernille Ripp from America and Canadian educator Joe Bower . I have decided that if they can do it so can I.

Interestingly to grade or not to grade was a major topic at this weeks TeachMeet Hills. I suspect I may not be alone in feeling that to spend all year not giving grades and then to spoil it all at the last minute by creating one just to fill a report box is wrong.

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5 comments

  1. Mark Gleeson

    It’s a valid point. Good feedback on strengths and weakness are going to improve a child’s learning far more than a percentage score on a one off diagnostic test. Grades are just used to compare you to others but don’t provide meaningful comments to guide a child towards success. 100% says there is no need to improve. 50% says nothing about the good points in a child’s work or what they need to do better.

    Grades are for parents and education departments. Commentss make a difference.

  2. Cameron

    You are so right Henrietta. Grading is the antithesis of learning. Harvard’s visible learning work and the Reggio Emilia philosophies provide lots of alternatives. Such a mindshift, however is a huge challenge to the system and those enamoured with policies and managerial control.

  3. Thank you for being brave enough to help your students learn. get yourself a copy of Inside the Black Box by Black and William (1998) … and maybe look at Hattie’s Effects Table for teaching methods. Pretty much support what you’re experimenting with. Don’t know why we can’t see past competition.
    My 10 year old came home crying last week because his teacher told him that less than 75% on a maths test was a failure. So sad.
    Keep up the fight.
    I’m bringing it in to high school with a bang. Hopefully my research will show something about the impact of feedback (assessment for learning) on student engagement and learning outcomes w/in PBL-style units of works.
    You rock.

  4. My school embraced this philosophy when it was built almost 20 years ago. It is such a productive climate and leaves room for everyone’s growth. My favourite anecdote to illustrate the difference:
    When handing back a graded math test, the kids all ask, “What did you get? What did you get?” and engage in a ranking exercise to see who got the highest, who unexpectedly bombed, or who bombed as usual.
    Handing back my first ungraded test where I simply gave written feedback and no numerical grade, the kids asked, “How did you do #2? What did you get for #7? Show me how #12 works.”
    They were all talking, unprompted, about the math, the strategies, the content, rather than their rankings.
    We’re at this very moment stuggling with a newly mandated report card requiring percent grades while trying to preserve the philosophies we valued so much.

  5. Hi there! What a wonderful post – I am a University student from the United States, and I wish that we could take on that type of grading here. As I will be mentioning on my blog, I don’t quite see how a simple letter or mark helps a child learn more effectively – that can only be done through individualized commenting and conferencing.

    Thanks for your thoughts!