Thoughts on Grading

The ungrading community has been busy on Twitter this fall. These folks have taken grades (in the traditional sense) out of their courses, and (according to this posts) have generally been happy with the results. Students are doing work; they are learning. Some suggest students are more engaged and learning more.

I have not taken the step to ungrade, but I have changed my grading practices and expectations over the decades I have been teaching. Here are a few of by thoughts/ observations.

First, if it not for you, don’t do it. Understand, however, that you and your students will spend energy and cognition trying to navigate your scheme (which doesn’t make nearly as much sense as you think it does).

Second, you cannot complain that students don’t do the work, then not allow extensions. No, you can’t mark them down of it is late (“why bother?” Is their quite reasonable rationale). Yes, you can limit resubmissions for work that is late… but this is silly until late in the term.

Third, you cannot complain about the time taken out of class for explaining grades, giving exams, defending the grades you assign, or otherwise talking about grades.

Fourth, you cannot complain that students are only working for grades. That is the currency you are choosing to use. It does provide expertly motivation which works for many learners, but we know they interfere with long-term memory.

Today, I was reviewing work submitted by students, and noticed they had missed one part of the assignment. They did it, but just did not pay attention to one specific step. Years ago, I would have marked the assignment down, explained it, and moved on. The student would have seen the mistake, felt a fool, and moved on (with a lower course grade as a result). Today, I sent the student a note (in the feedback section of the LMS grade interface) accompanying the lower grade than they wanted pointing out the mistake.

The students resubmitted a few hours later having fixed the assignment and added a not indicating he had rushed through the first time and missed the step. It took me a few extra seconds to review the assignment again (literally, I knew exactly what to look for and where to find it). The student interacted with the material for at least a little longer. The grade will be more satisfying at the end of the term.

I’m not advocating we abandon grades. I am advocating teachers stop complaining about grading when it is a structure they created. I am advocating challenging every assumption you have about grades. You may be surprised to see the changes you can make.