Erin Mayer, Science Teacher | Casey MS
21st Century Cohort 4.0
@Erinsmayer | www.reinventingclass.com
The Road Less Traveled - Going Gradeless
After a successful trial run last spring eliminating grades in lieu of feedback and reflection with my eighth grade science students (The Road to Gradeless), I decided to completely eliminate grades for all 155 of my sixth and seventh grade students this year. In September, after I felt that my students and I had begun to create and develop a collaborative, safe, learning community, I explained to my students that because our primary focus throughout the year would be learning and understanding, they would receive learning feedback from me, not grades. With the full support of my administrators, I also shared my vision with my student’s families (Learning and Grades Parent Letter).
To provide and document feedback on student learning and understandings, I use Schoology in conjunction with single point rubrics focused on our learning criteria.
Our school is on a quarter system and I still need to submit traditional letter grades each quarter. At the conclusion of each quarter, my seventh graders reflect on and evaluate their learning using a Personal Learning Reflection and Evaluation template that I share with them. At the conclusion of this document, each student determines what their quarter grade will be. Students mini-conference with me after completing their reflection. These conferences are critical and allow my students and I to dig deeper into their personal reflection and evaluation of their learning. Our class is self-paced which allows us to mini-conference during class time because all students reach the unit evaluation and reflection phase at different points.
I discovered that my sixth grade students need more scaffolding to reflect and evaluate on their learning. Their most recent reflection, after a quarter-long problem based unit focused on bioplastics, provided this additional structure and focus: Polymers for the Planet Individual Learning Reflection.
Overall, the feedback I have received about our gradeless learning environment has been positive. Parents and family members appreciate our emphasis on learning and communicating understandings. At this point in our journey, most of my students have developed a deeper understanding of what gradeless means. This has been a transition for many students, particularly my seventh graders. An emphasis on learning and understanding over grades requires students to own their learning. Their experiences in our science classroom are helping them understand that learning is messy. They are realizing that it is okay, and often beneficial, to slow down and focus more deeply. They are more aware that the ability to communicate their understandings, in ways that work best for them, is critical and can be very rewarding. As my students’ learning facilitator, our experience has convinced me that a gradeless environment is best for kids. It provides the opportunity for all of my students, many who are often labeled as “underperforming”, to find learning success in our science classroom and ultimately allow to develop their capacities as thinkers, learners and doers.