Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Grading Moratorium: Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes has joined the Grading Moratorium. Want to join? Here's how.

Mark Barnes

Two years ago, I went through a remarkable transformation as a teacher. I’d been in the classroom for 15 years, running the traditional teacher playbook in nearly every way, including putting points, percentages and letter grades on all activities and projects. Then, I read Daniel Pink’s Drive, several books by Alfie Kohn, articles by Stephen Krashen and blogs by numerous educators who were moving to more progressive teaching methods.

Tired of being nothing more than a classroom manager and grader of homework, bell
work and worksheets, I decided that I was going to change everything --  including
grades. I built what I call a Results Only Learning Environment, based on a similar business model, created by two former Best Buy executives. The ROLE is student-centered and eliminates all traditional practices, including grades.

I wanted to do away with grades, because my research told me that real learning involved intrinsic motivation. Grades are extrinsic motivators – the central part of the carrot-and-stick system that traditional educators use to control students, and control destroys learning. It was time for me to get away from this abusive way of teaching.

Number and letter grades have been replaced by ongoing narrative feedback. This formative assessment helps bring meaning to evaluation. As students work on projects, I give them detailed verbal and written feedback that often directs them back to a prior lesson or presentation, so they can apply it to their work, demonstrating mastery learning. This cycle of production, feedback and change eliminates the one-stop-shop method of
teaching that exists in the traditional world.

Since my district mandates report card grades, I meet with all students at the end of the marking period, and we conference about their production and how they’ve handled my feedback. Then, I ask them to grade themselves, based on their self-evaluations. Remarkably, the students pick grades that I would have assigned about 75 percent of the time; most of the remaining 25 percent are harder on themselves than I would have been. Some even give themselves “Fs”.

I was never afraid of making this change. I was a little anxious heading into our first self-evaluations and report card conferences. Perhaps students would not be honest with themselves, I thought. Of course, I was pleasantly surprised when I realized how remarkably honest they are. Not that I wanted them to receive low grades; I was just happy that they understood how to be self-critical, which is important in a results-only classroom.

This transformation has been one of the best things that’s ever happened to me, as I love teaching again and feel that I’m impacting lives like never before.

* Note: Mark's assessment practices are further explained in an upcoming book titled ROLE Reversal: How Results-only Learning is Changing Education as We Know It that will be released in 2012.

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