At the beginning of the school year, I wrote about the necessity of throwing out grades and how that will improve my students’ ability to learn the objectives of the course. I then wrote a reflection at the end of the first quarter. Now that the first semester is over, it is time once again to reflect on how well this process actually unfolded.
As I mentioned previously, this is my first year of going completely gradeless after trying it with only my honors classes last school year. The process is amazingly simple: Instead of grades, I provide feedback on assignments, telling students how well they have mastered the purpose of that assignment. Because I am operating a gradeless classroom within the confines of quarterly report cards, I ask for my students’ input for their report card grades. At the end of the first quarter, I had my students write reflections over their assignments and what they had and had not mastered. This time, I had my students reflect on specific questions that I asked them in an online Google Form, and then I sat down and conferenced with specific students who I felt had inflated their averages. In all but one of those ten cases, students cited external factors (i.e. getting in trouble at home or maintaining a specific GPA) for why they admittedly inflated their grades. In the other case, the student had turned in some work online in Google Classroom that I did not realize was there.
The most common concern most people have when they hear that I operate a gradeless classroom is the fear that students will inflate their averages. The data that I have collected throughout the first semester clearly indicates that nothing could be further from the truth. I have four regular English classes and one honors class. For the second quarter, among all class periods, 28% of students have an A, 17% have a B, 24% have a C, 13% have a D, and 19% have an F. Here is a grade breakdown by class period. The above percentages are remarkably similar to the first quarter, except that the failure rate dropped by 13%. Instead of one-third of my students failing, one in five students are failing. I’m still not happy about the failure rate being so high, but it is a clear sign that my students made progress over their prior performance. They experienced growth.
I need to keep this momentum going. If I’m being completely honest with myself, then I would have to admit that most of my students are not prepared to take TNReady, Tennessee’s end of the year summative assessment. My shift from a completely paperless classroom to a hybrid one has definitely helped. I still need to work on increasing student engagement, even though I saw an increase in that from the first nine weeks. I also need to continue working on providing more timely feedback. Personally, it was a rough nine weeks for me, and my personal life interfered somewhat with my concentration level.
Looking forward, I continue to be energized by the difference that this gradeless classroom is making for my students. I plan on spending a significant amount of time during Christmas Break thinking about how I can make the classroom experience better for my students. With only three-and-a-half months until my students take their TNReady exam, this is not the time to be complacent. What my students do in the classroom, and how they do it, need to push them forward in a monumental way. I am confident in my abilities as a teacher and in my students’ ability to learn material that is presented to them in an interesting way.