Going gradeless will transform a classroom, benefiting student learning and growth. Setting up the classroom to promote this mind-shift in practice is key to having a successful year. When it comes time to address the concerns of how to accomplish this goal, remember to look at four main areas that a traditional school with grades will need to see in your action plan.
- What is my main objective for going gradeless?
- How am I going to communicate learning to students, parents, and administration?
- How will students record their self-reflections, self-evaluations, and evidence?
- How am I going to address the concerns of parents?
What is my main objective for going gradeless?
It is important to answer why you are going gradeless. Just like when creating objectives for your students, be specific and fluid in your choice of words. Your objective needs to be able to adapt to your teaching style, student needs, and the requirements of your school. Determining why you are doing this is just as important as how you are going to accomplish your goal, so while you consider why you are going gradeless, ask, What requirements do I need to meet? How will I use my school’s gradebook system to communicate my goal? Communicating your “why” to parents and administration will be valuable when seeking support for your shift in evaluating student proficiency.
When deciding this for myself, I had to make sure that the component of “grade” was included in my objective. This was considered a non-negotiable because I teach high school credit classes that must meet state policies. However, how that grade is determined in my classroom is flexible. Currently, my district is a mixture of traditional grading practices and standards-based grading. Our gradebook system is used as a form of communication to all shareholders in a student’s learning. No matter what the requirements are for your school, the outcome of the objective must include components of reflection, research-based information, tier support, and a way of recording progress. As an example you can see my objective below:
To incorporate self-reflection that will allow students to take ownership
of their learning and their grades reflecting their knowledge of the
standards while utilizing research-based support on student’s growth of each learning target.
While I had to include the word “grades” in my objective, it is the students who will determine this through student-teacher conferences, self-reflection, self-evaluation, and evidence of proficiency with learning targets. It is important when you go gradeless that students are included in the evaluation process. You also want to make sure that you have complete transparency with your students and parents when it comes to your objective for the year. What a student is learning should never be a mystery; how they are measured on proficiency should not be a secret. When making the objective, be clear about your intent, and use supporting resources. Yes, the overall target may seem far-fetched and time-consuming, but realize that determining if something is truly successful takes several years of incorporation and data. Keep in mind that, as stated before, you need to make sure that your goal is specific but flexible.
How am I going to communicate learning to students, parents, and administration?
The educational movement in the last decade has been a shift in how we view our students. While you may only see a select set of students from your school, professional learning communities (PLC) have been transforming how we approach content, students, and parents. Your administration will need to be reassured that you using this gradeless approach will not interfere with the progress of your PLC. It may encourage but not demand any changes for your team. The main focus of the group is on what the student is learning and how to assess that learning. Gradeless will not affect a formative or summative assessment as far as grades are concerned. You might find that your students are performing at a higher level or explaining their reasoning more frequently on these assessments. I found in my approach that this was something to be stressed when speaking with your administration team.
Addressing this question with parents can be a bit tricky. You need to consider what form of communication parents find more useful or use frequently to see what their child is learning. You are going to need to take into consideration that parents often find that grades denote a pecking order in the classroom on performance against peers. The gradeless format will be new to them, and they will need to be reassured regularly that their child is learning and growing even without a physical letter grade. You need to ask yourself what are the school’s expectations for communication with parents? If it includes the gradebook, you need to determine how to communicate using the required platform.
When I began to answer this question, I knew the gradebook was part of my communication platform. I determined that self-reflection and self-evaluation scores that students use would go in the gradebook but as a zero weight. This would allow transparency with parents and students on their proficiency without having the system calculate a percentage or average the scores. In other words, a grade without a grade. Since I must have a traditional grade for progress and quarterly report cards, I created one column with a one-hundred percent that would be the grade after a student-teacher conference. Again, what is agreed upon with the student during this conference is what goes into this column. A student or parent should never be surprised by how they are performing on the standards or shocked when they receive a report card.
How will students record their self-reflections, self-evaluations, and evidence?
When considering this, other questions can arise such as, What platform are my students used to using? Is this user-friendly? Can parents access this? Does it meet the needs of what I want for a portfolio? There are many options for tracking the information.
One suggestion is a journal notebook for self-reflection. This can work just as well as an online format. A lot of this will depend on how you set up your classroom and the ratio of technology devices that are available to your class. Remember, that students must keep the evidence of their work along with self-reflections in order to show proficiency during conferences. Knowing your students is going to be the key to success.
Online portfolios are available. For example, one option for students recording their evidence is to use a prefabricated platform like Seesaw. This works like a social media platform that students are familiar with where the newer material is at the top of the page. Google Classroom and Google Sites can be used just as easily, offering their own pros and cons for use as a portfolio. This ability to track their growth throughout the target as well as when you spiral back is a major component to the success of a gradeless classroom. The possibilities are wide and expanding in the choices you can offer your students when it comes to how to record their data.
While I record proficiency levels in the gradebook, I also set up a student spreadsheet with three tabs: one for “Must Know and Do”, one for “Need to Know and Do,” and one for “Nice to Know.” Each standard is broken into learning targets. I left the top row blank so that students can record the date we covered the skill along with their self-evaluation. The spreadsheet can be attached to Google Sites or Google Classroom.
No matter what you decide for recording the data, be sure that you set up parameters for how it will be done in your class. Remember that most students have never experienced this type of classroom and might feel overwhelmed by the new system. You will have to create a structure that is supportive during student-teacher conferences. Have patience as they adjust to your gradeless practice.
How am I going to address the concerns of parents?
Parents can bombard you with a wide range of questions about why your class isn’t like when they were in school. The hardest part is going to be explaining to parents why gradeless is better while dealing with their questions, concerns, or major issues. Parents felt a sense of security that I was doing my job when I provided a grade on an assignment or assessment. The simplest way I found to address their concerns was typing up an FAQ for parents who attend the open house. I answered basic questions that I figured students would misinform their parents about at the beginning of the school year and what I knew they would have concerns over in grading practice. Some of those questions are:
- What will my child be learning
- How will my child’s grade be determined?
- How will my child show evidence of learning?
- How do I know what my child is learning in your class?
- When will these conferences take place?
- How will my child receive additional support?
No matter what route you choose for communicating with parents, be sure to use your demographic and school policies.
Addressing the concerns of parents is one of the foundations in education to support student growth. If parents are confused, then students waver in their conviction that they are learning. Be clear in your expectations and use friendly vocabulary. It may be necessary to send a letter home to parents if they did not attend your school’s meet the teacher event.
Designing a gradeless classroom can seem daunting at times but creating an action plan for your new structure will go a long way in achieving support from administration and parents. The plan also allows you to help fellow colleagues see that you have researched what is best for the students and to assist them through the transformation of going gradeless.
Answering the four main questions is only the beginning. Going gradeless can seem overwhelming, but having a clear why and a plan for how your classroom is going to operate takes a bit of the stress out of moving away from a traditional classroom and toward more meaningful student learning. Going gradeless isn’t about less work but about providing your students with valuable feedback to encourage self-evaluation in their work. You want your students to look at the feedback given, learn from the errors, and grow. It is with this in mind that I created an action plan that I presented to my administration. I’m happy to report that they said “YES!”
Tiffany Brents is a middle school math teacher and college adjunct professor. She quit grading in 2018 and hasn’t looked back. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanybrents.
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