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.