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No One Said Shifting a Mindset Was Easy, So Be Patient

Have you ever talked to an older person who is very comfortable with the ways things have been for a long time?

As it turns out, young people who have become accustomed to traditions act in the same way, largely because they don't know anything else.

Whether it's teachers or students or parents or administrators, any time we need something to change that explicitly goes against the norm, we can expect push back; not expecting it would be foolish. And within that preparation, we need to be armed with answers that will satisfy even the most aggressive opponents.

Something that has come up recently when describing the "no grades" classroom was the labor-intensive element of giving many kids formative feedback. 

Never over the course of my suggestion to give up grades, have I stated that it would be an easy task to do so. We all know that when you give up anything, something else must take its place.

Those of us entrenched in this debate and shift, aren't getting rid of grades because it's the easier thing to

do, we're doing it because it's what's best for kids and their learning.

But we must bear in mind that all change will be messy. Uncharted waters are often unnamed and challenging. As we navigate these relatively new waters, we must be willing to take risks and prepare for the choppiness of the unknown.

Some challenges that may be faced:

  • Too many students to give individualized attention to all the time

  • No time for conferencing in class due to disparity in learning levels

  • Not enough time to give adequate feedback on assignments in a timely fashion

  • Push back from parents, students and other teachers who don't understand what or why you are making this change

  • Recording growth in a traditional grade book

  • Communicating growth with stakeholders at first with this new language

  • The outpouring from students who want to know what they got and aren't satisfied until there is a number

  • Fear of letting go of control in order to really give students the power to take control of their own learning

Ways to combat the above challenges:

  • Be patient with the changes and allow students, parents, teachers, and administration the time to truly understand why you've made the decision to switch. Try to communicate the reasons in multiple ways (personalized emails, videos, blog posts, meetings as needed).

  • Try not to get frustrated with yourself, or others when outcomes don't come out as you planned. As a matter of fact, embrace these alternative outcomes and note why they happened. Reflect and try to grow from these experiences.

  • Use Google Forms to gather data before in-class conferences, to keep them focused and on task. Ask pointed questions about growth and goals and then prepare for the conferences before you meet with students.

  • Make appointments with students during class to ensure a smooth transition of time and plan to be using class time for self-paced projects or group work that can function without a teacher in the front of the room.

  • Longer appointments should be made before or after school or in some alternative format. Be flexible to accommodate as many people and their needs as possible (you can meet using Voxer or Google Hangouts if there isn't enough time in the school day).

  • Be prepared with correct semantics as you talk in terms of assessment. When kids ask about grades, remind them that we don't do grades and that when we want to learn about progress and growth we talk in terms of skills. (If students don't have the vocabulary to do this, it may be time to teach another lesson on it... remembering that sometimes you take a step back after you've taken two forward).

  • Figure out workarounds for online grade books (I've created a new language not using traditional letters or numbers to work in terms of standards with specific written and spoken feedback that students can go back to.)

  • Remember that it's okay to make mistakes and admit that you have. Always take the risk knowing that it may not work out. Look ahead, learn from the mistake and quickly problem-solve. Include the students in the discussion and problem-solve together. The more involved students and parents are, the better the outcome will be.

Change takes time and reflecting on the process as we go is a huge part of the experience. Some choices will be winners at the onset and others will be thorns you can't remove, but remembering we are learners too and keeping the process transparent will ease the woes in the future.

What is your biggest challenge right now to letting go of traditional grading? What has been your greatest success?

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog Work in Progress in November 2014

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