Thursday, September 6, 2012

Opting out of Grading (Revised)

Sometime ago I wrote a post called Opting out of Grading, and since then I have received 50+ comments. Some of the comments were supportive, some were angry, some were sympathetic, some were offended, some were dismissive, some were reflective and some were helpful.

One of the many reasons I blog is so that I can learn from others and rethink my own understandings. In light of the comments, I've revised the letter that I drafted to my children's teacher about opting them out of grading.

The first thing that I learned from the comments was that I would have a face to face conversation with my children's teacher before I would ever give them this letter. Because I plan on having a face to face meeting, I actually won't likely need to submit the letter. But I would use it as a guide for the conversation.

In light of some of the comments, I've also revised the my letter and talking points so that it takes less of an adversarial tone and more of a collaborative one.

A huge thank you to Jennifer Borgioli for helping me with many of the revisions. Here is a sample letter that could be used to guide a discussion between parent and teacher.
Dear teacher, 
Margaret loves to learn and is very excited to start school this year. I am writing to you about an issue I have wrestled with, thought deeply about, and spent hours researching and discussing. 
Because the case against grades has a wealth of anecdotal evidence and scientific research, I am requesting that when it comes time to providing Margaret feedback on her learning, I'd like to request that you rely on written or spoken feedback that focuses on her learning rather than a grade. If you need to generate a grade, I'd like to ask that you leave that grade off of Margaret's work. If feedback does not make sense, it's okay with me to send home her work with no comments or grade. I am happy to let the evidence of her learning speak for itself. 
As a family that plays an active role in our daughter's learning, the best feedback I can receive about Margaret's learning is to see her learning. 
If you are interested in learning more about the case against grades, I would be happy to provide you with these resources, and if your school's assessment and reporting policies make this request problematic, I would like the opportunity to discuss this further.
I look forward to working with you to support Margaret's natural intrinsic desire to go on learning. 
Sincerely, 

20 comments:

  1. very nice post..
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  2. I see not a lot has changed in the past year. You are still assuming the teacher responsible for teaching your child is so much less enlightened than you. You give them no benefit of a doubt, no credit. And further more, you do the same with our own child. You are still offering to share helpful "resources" based on anecdotal and scientific research.

    I'm sure plenty of doctors see patients daily armed with similar "resources" to make the case for or against some treatment or herbal remedy.

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    1. And at the end of the day it is the PATIENT who gets the final say in what treatment option they choose. Kids do not get that choice. Neither do parents. So why not ask for what you want. Clearly you have NOT seen the mountain evidence about grading or you would not have bothered making this snide comment.

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    2. I have. And I know there will be more evidence to come. Just because we disagree does not make me closed minded.

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    3. There is another possibility here. Teachers repeatedly report (to me) that they are afraid to do what they know is right (like not give homework or award grades) because they will be punished.

      A letter like Joe's relieves a wise teacher of that pressure.

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  3. It's unfortunate this practice is so foreign to some people. I taught all day Kindergarten for 12 years and I gave a lot of feedback, but never any letter grades, not even once. And, no, it was not just about sandbox; children also learned how to read etc. in my class. I think I was able to spare a lot of children from being labeled and pigeon-holed, at least in their first year of formal schooling.

    It's such a shame that, instead of moving more in this direction, the policies and practices imposed on teachers emphasize assessment results, including letter grades that can be quantified, over virtually all else in education.

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  4. Some find it offensive to be invited to challenge their unexamined assumptions about what school should look like. You would think that teachers who believe in life long learning would be open minded enough to engage in some of these inconvenient conversations.

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    1. I agree. These individuals need to decide whether they are open-minded teachers or closed-mined bureaucrats.

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    2. You do realise guys that if you are going to throw around the term "close minded" it fits Joe far closer than I. Joe does not want his beliefs challenged. Indeed his holier than thou attitudes alienate his colleagues and he blocks dissenters on social media. It is easy to throw insults around at those who disagree with you so go ahead. You would be surprised to learn they don't actually fit and maybe there are merits to other opinions.

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    3. Jacqueline, you say that Joe doesn't want his beliefs challenged, but the evidence shows otherwise. He states: "One of the many reasons I blog is so that I can learn from others and rethink my own understandings. In light of the comments, I've revised the letter that I drafted to my children's teacher about opting them out of grading." In essence, he invites challenges to his views so that he can further refine them.

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  5. Good for you for speaking out and taking this on, especially in a way that makes it clear you're not attacking the teacher, nor asking them to do extra work and that you're willing to discuss options.

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  6. Would Socrates have given Plato a grade? Would Plato have given Aristotle a grade? (In this case, an F would have been appropriate.) We are so up-to-our-eyeballs in the grading culture we cannot see the damage all around us. Did some wise person not once say "judge not lest...."

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  7. I hate grades. Having to give my students grades, knowing that their self-esteem may be shattered. I wish I hadn't been forced to do that, and I wish parents wouldn't demmand for results so badly. Parents are to blame, because of their own experience. There is no self-reflection. I support your beautiful letter 1000%!
    best,
    Luz

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  8. After reading this blog post and the one mentioned, I am even more convinced of the cult like echo chamber that is brewing here. If I disagree with an aspect of this letter I am instantly labelled "close minded". It may be I am probably one of the most open minded teachers you have met.

    It may also be I have read the research and have even more. It may be that I have studied this myself, and I practice this in my own secondary school classroom despite the pressure to do otherwise.

    But while this group continue to alienate other teachers by insisting their research makes them far more knowledgeable on this topic, this conversation is dead in the water.

    Joe, you quote Latin in the other post. What is teaching? Is it pronouncing you have found a better way and all you "bureaucrats" better open your eyes and do it too? Or is it working collaboratively with your colleagues and sharing? Because so far I have read your words and seen your actions, and I see a huge disconnect.

    Open your mind to your colleagues. Not just the ones who agree blindly with you.

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    1. I have not been able to find any place in the comments where the term "close-minded" was attributed to you. The closest instance would be the comment beginning, "Some find it offensive..." If you feel this is addressed at you specifically, it is because you have identified yourself as belonging to this group, not because someone labelled you. I see no "holier than thou" attitude in Joe's letter whatsoever. As a teacher, I would be very grateful to receive such a letter that shows such a strong parental interest in learning.

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  9. I'm still waiting for you to outline which parts of this letter are offensive.

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  10. I guess what I as an educator (4th grade) see as problematic is the idea that while you find this research valid, and while I may also, the state and district in which I teach has certain standards that I, as an employee, must follow. So when the policy is that I have to give "Lucy" 12 grades per six-weeks, if I am requested to not grade her work, then how do I abide by my contracted duty to follow the district requirements? Are you OK with her grades being posted, but just not shown to her or you? What exactly do you suggest in this situation? Yes, I know you can petition the school-board, you can talk to the superintendent, you can do all that jazz, but that takes time, and will do nothing for "Lucy" in my class right now when I have to grade her work.

    I guess what I am saying is that it would throw me for a loop as an educator, but it is not "offensive" per se, just a bit overbearing.

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  11. I don't see anything offensive about the letter. I know the research too, and would be delighted if I got a letter like this from one of my parent's students. I agree, though, that a face to face conversation is better. Relationships are the root of the solidarity we require to transform our schools for ourselves as teachers and the young humans we have before us. The Chicago teachers have given me hope in that regard.

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  12. Grades promote competition instead of collaboration. There is a way to give feedback without grades.

    Based on my own experience, I'd say that grades are just about meaningless. They do not promote learning. They tend to be about pleasing the teacher. Those who did were more likely to get As than those who didn't. I have read that B students tend to be those who march to a different drummer. Should we be punishing students who are unconventional? Should we be giving the message that conformity is better than curiosity or creativity? I don't think so.

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