For the last 15-16 years of my educational career, rating and grading students has been the bane of my educational existence. The tension is I want students to focus on the learning but as long as extrinsic rewards dominates the motivational neural pathways of our learners, they will always focus on the grade. The concept of grades is one of the those nuances that have a existed when I was a student and when my parent were students. It’s a human made rating systems that is design to:

  • Place power in the teachers who control the grading fates of our students.
  • With the power of online grading, “helicopter parents” are on the cases of our student 24/7.
  • Rank students in an inequitable fashion because it assume students start at the same place and level. Thus creating a falsified sense of “meritocracy” because of that assumption.

There is trauma associated with grades and scarcity of time. What I’m noticing is when our students constantly get beaten down because of the grades that they received not only from my class but also from other classes, they breakdown . . . they shutdown. Trauma accumulates. No matter how much we intervene, they will return back to this shut down mode. This brings up many questions, “How is our school wide curriculum exacerbating cognitive overload?” Is school suppose to be “The Hunger Games”, where those who survive cognitive overload succeeds because they were persistent and grittier? Is this how we measure success or is success define by the learner? Or is school suppose to be an environment where we offer tools so that our student’s are able to understand how the world works and adapt in an a ever changing world. I hope we can agree with the latter statement but I don’t represent the mindset of all educator. I’m deciding to take on another evolution of my teaching practice.

In my years in education, I’ve been on this journey to explore how intrinsic experience can dominated the educational field which is heavily focused on extrinsic rewards. From exploring project based learning, anti-racist practices, and now I get to confront the bane of my educational existence – GRADES. There is an Ungrading Movement happening behind the scenes to transform how we assess student understanding and transform who drives the learning. When the students are drivers of their educational journey, they decide their learning process, they decide their own success criteria, they decide whether or not they met it. For many educators, this is scary. For me, I find it liberating because my role has been transform from giving the final say to what the students learned in form of a grade to now being a partner and coach constantly giving feedback so that our student can perform their best.

I know I’m still required to report grades, but WHAT IF my student proposed the grade, provides evidence of the learning, explain how their learning artifacts corresponds to a learning outcome. The beauty of this is we transform the language away from grade to now learning. Grading . . . now learning become a a collaborative conversation rather than a number or letter.

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