edit (April 2, 2019): This post was linked from an excellent article authored by Colleen Flaherty at Insider Higher Ed, “When Grading Less Is More“. I thank Colleen for reaching out and including text from this post.

or Subterranean Homesick Blues

This is a post about work in progress, I have been thinking deeply on this over these past two semesters since I went back towards “traditional grading”. I am formulating a plan for the pendulum to shift more towards what my colleague Laura Gibbs calls: “all-feedback-no-grades”. You can read about this in much more detail in her upcoming book chapter “Getting Rid of Grades“.

Just this weekend, this arrive in my Twitter DM inbox. My DMs are open on Twitter, I receive much more good than bad so it stays that way. I redacted the identifying information and it will remain that way unless I get permission to put that back.

Hi Ken, I hope you’re well. I’m working on a piece on ungrading <redacted>. I saw your tweet about going back to traditional grading this year — can you tell me more about that decision? What caused the shift? Thanks in advance for any insight you can spare!

So, again this is in draft form, but here is the answer to that one question for now below. If one wants some history, there is a bunch on my blog (old location) but the three most important posts can be found via the search for “abolishgrading”.

So much of my work is wrapped up around connected learning, not just ungrading. This is all part of a critical digital pedagogy and I invite the readers to look at the work of Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris for a much better definition of that term. In fact, just go read their writings put into a book format, it is free or you can pay for the book to support them. More on that at the webpage for the book: “An Urgency of Teachers“.

Many others in this field influence me deeply, this sketch below (viz notes) by Giulia Forsythe of a talk by Bonnie Stewart speaks to that as well.

Networked Educators & Learners @bonstewart #canedu13 [viz Notes]
“Networked Educators & Learners @bonstewart #canedu13 [viz Notes]” flickr photo by giulia.forsythe https://flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/8717211019 shared into the public domain using (CC0)

What Caused the Shift? or Yes, I finally answer your question

I would put the cause of the shift directly on me. I believe that students need freedom to learn, grading is often used to coerce students to do “what we want” and kills the creativity of our students. I perhaps went “too far” in giving the freedom and putting my role as 99.9% “the guide and mentor”. Sure, I gave some guidance with a list of topics for my students to research, explore and write about (in code, in making and in writing) with the intent to give them the freedom to explore. Often the choices were larger as they could choose which topics to explore. I thought this was good. My first grading period (we have two partial grading periods before a final), I simply asked students on the exam to write about a selection of topics in the course so far and to give themselves a numeric grade on a scale of 1-100 (our official grading system).

They freaked out. Well, most of them.

So, we worked together to create a loose rubric to guide them on their discovery of their grading. That seemed to relieve their stress. It worked and I had some amazing results of work and learning from students. It was all wonderful.

But then came pushback. Some students expressed that “hey, you can just do pretty much ‘nothing’ and pass the course” or “we students can’t be trusted, we need to be monitored and graded”.  This was a shock, I had discussions with students and decided that I needed to go back towards a traditional structure with deadlines (my deadlines were all “end of semester” for everything) and fit into what students were “accustomed to”.

Yes, I am still extremely flexible, I just give an appearance of standard setup. I allow students to question a grade (most are simple 0/1/2 scale) and resubmit work to improve those grades. If a student discusses why something was late, I overlook the “late penalty”, if a student submits an excellent work ten days late then I give them full marks and tell them how great their work is and give them feedback.  Well, I try to give feedback on all the work.

But it just doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t feel pedagogically honest. Not to the students and not to myself.

So thanks to the discussions of many of my colleagues and my internal discussion with myself I am working on a change again.

More importantly, thanks to my students for feedback. I am a better learner when learning together with them.

“You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows”




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