Alfie Kohn’s article, “The Case Against Grades”, discusses some really interesting ideas about how to eliminate grading and encourage learning. I can image for many of you these ideas may seem crazy and totally not doable, but I’m here to say it is not and share my experiences.
I was home schooled for all of grade school years, from kindergarten to 12th grade, taught by my mom with my 3 siblings. We had a regular class day schedule from 9-12 and then independent study time in the afternoon (unless you were under 12 and you got naps and play time) and took all the regular subjects. But the grades I received were different. My math homework would be returned to me with marks on questions I missed and I could only move on to the next lesson until I got them all right. My English essays or literature questions would be returned to me with comments for revision and improvement and I would talk about them with my teacher (my mom!). Again, I revised and rewrote until we were both satisfied with my progress.
I had a conversation with my mom about my grades this weekend and found that I actually did have real grades, but they were not visible to me. Like the middle school teacher, Jeff Robbins, interviewed by Alfie Kohn, my mom kept notes and evaluated my progress over the entire year and assigned me a grade for my official transcript.
Because there were few grades assigned to me during my home school years I really liked all of my class subjects. But then I got to college and all of that changed. I took English Literature and introduction to biology, among other classes. My English teacher gave me grades I couldn’t understand and really discouraged me from enjoying the class. While in my biology course, I got all A’s but wasn’t challenged and often felt bored. But it wasn’t long before I learned that I wouldn’t get any credit for taking the imitative and exploring more in-depth different areas of Biology that interested me. And that it was easier to just write the interpretation of a play the teacher explained to us, instead of trying to figure out how to do it on my own. Once I was faced with the chance of a bad grade, I was less interested in trying to figure it out.
For those of you trying to decide if teaching without grading is worth trying, I would tell you it absolutely is. It will take some work to restructure our classes and will take some more work on our part to have topics and assignments that are engaging enough to keep students engaged without the carrot or stick of grades. But if my mom–who did a terrific job and has business degree, not an education degree–can teach me so well without grades then I’m confident that we will be able to figure it out in our classes too!
Guest Commenter: Dee Wolters
Are you curious about how this grade-less teaching actually works? My mom, Dee Wolters, home school teacher of more than 25 years, has agreed to participate in our discussion this week and answer any questions you have about her experiences teaching myself and my siblings. I’m sure there are some great stories about what worked and what didn’t.