What if there were no grades, would students still learn?

Originally published https://mikeszczepanik.edublogs.org/2017/04/06/what-if-their-were-no-grades-would-students-still-learn/ on April 6, 2017

Get a room full of teachers and eventually, a few topics comes up … Grading, Student motivation/apathy, and testing to name a few. However, more and more I am seeing fewer teachers talk about learning. I have found myself drawn into conversations on twitter and other social media platforms about what grades should really mean.

Are grades a motivating factor or a demotivating factor in regards to student learning? Are grades actually required to encourage student learning, or do they get in the way of student learning?

Are grades meant to encourage compliance? If you do your homework you get a 10/10, otherwise, it’s a 0/10. Are you complying with the teacher’s wants and needs?

Are grades meant to show what a student has learned? Standards Based Learning/Grading takes this completely to heart. Show the students a learning target and evidence that shows that they have reached those targets and only assess that.

The research I have been reading “Why don’t students like school?” by Daniel T Willingham, “Drive” by Daniel Pink, “The Gift of Failure” by Jessica Lahey, “Visible Learning for Teachers” by John Hattie, to name a few, seem to point to the idea that external rewards (like grades) may motivate in the short term but actually demotivate in the long term. And more importantly it totally short circuits creativity. So although the year is not complete (we are not even into the final quarter yet), I am thinking about next year. As a teacher and (hopefully) a motivator, what can I do to spark student curiosity and creativity?

One idea is to remove grading from the equation.

I have been really encouraged by a few other teachers I have connected with in Twitterverse to leave the grades up to a one-on-one Student — Teacher conference at the end of the grading period. John Hattie reports that Self-reported grading has by far the biggest effect on student learning based on his research. During that conversation, some important questions should come up.

During Student-Teacher one-on-one conference, some important questions should come up.

Aaron Blackwelder (@AaronSBlackwel1) uses three questions: What evidence do you have that demonstrates mastery of the standards? What is your evidence of growth? What evidence you have that you can create your own projects to meet standards (transfer of knowledge)?

Adam Lester (@CoachLesterBHS) has 5 major questions: What areas do you feel like you improved over the course of the grading period/year? What areas do you feel like you didn’t grow as much as you should/could have? What major assignment is the best representation of your skills? What major assignment do you feel isn’t representative of what you can do? What grade do you think you deserve and why?

I am not sure I am going to go in this direction but I am definitely going to look into it.

What do you think? What are the advantages of traditional grading? Standards-based grading? Self-reported grading?