Students surprise me every day.
When I first introduced the idea of a no grades classroom, I got the expected strange looks like students had smelled bad milk or stinky cheese. Their eyebrows turned up in confusion and the slow, subtle rumbles of malcontent rose to a respectable level.
"Settle down. Let me explain..."
And so went my first pitch to help kids understand how they'd been poisoned by the very system that was meant to prepare them for life; a system that valued over-simplistic communication that pigeon-holed them and trained them to define themselves by a letter or a number.
When I felt the room was with me, I offered a solution: a classroom that respects their individual learning styles and pace and regularly communicates their learning to them in a variety of different ways, a method of communication that would rely on their own metacognitive awareness and understanding of the standards and skills that would teach them to self-regulate, assess and advocate.
And after three months in the no grades classroom, here's what students had to say:
"I have never been in a no grades classroom, but if I had to experience it, I think my life would be a lot easier since I wouldn't be dealing with the pressure of desperately needing perfect grades. Also, I would focus on learning the actual material more than only learning and perfecting it for a high grade on a test that will majorly impact your grade." - Leanna Tabora, 11th grade student.
"I want to say I don't like it because I hate reflections, but just because I don't like something doesn't mean it's not working. It works because your responsible for making sure you're learning what you need to learn and getting your own work done. However, I do think it's too late for the seniors to be learning like this and should be used once students come in as freshmen." - Jasmine Tejada, 12th grade student
"It feels really weird. I am used to finishing an assignment and then getting a grade so that I know how well or bad I did on the assignment. Without the grades, I don't have that ability to get the grade but I believe I get better feedback. " - Markella Giannakopoulos, 12th grade student
Anastasia Papatheodorou, a 12th grade student suggests on Voxer, why she has come to like a no grades classroom. Listen here.
"I really enjoy having no grades, it really allows me to do my work without having to worry about getting a "good grade". Instead, I can just try my best to meet the standards. Another reason why having no grades really helps me personally is that English is one of my weakest subjects. In all my previous ELA classes, I would try to write and end up getting a B or C which really frustrates me. However, now that we don't have grades, I'm really able to do my work without having to worry about getting a C. Reaction papers, for example, I think writing these without having to worry about grades really helped me develop a conversational tone and write what I want without having to worry if I analyzed something "properly". I also think that grades make students want to get an A+ instead of really showing their real writing skills." - Jason Chen, 12th grade student
"I honestly find it better for myself because I'm not harassing you to see how much lower my grade went down, and we're getting graded on standards which I find very fair because it's the standards we've been working on for a period of time. I feel like not having a grade makes me more relaxed, but helps me because I'm not doing something for a grade I'm doing it for myself because I want to make sure I've met a standard successfully. Not only that, but it's giving me a better idea of how my progress is during the course and shows me what the exact things are that I have met." - Brenda Montero, 12th grade student
"I think that this idea of no grades and using standards is extremely helpful for students. When seeing a grade letter students such as myself panic and freak out. But having a standard based grade allows me to understand what skills I have, what skills I need to work on and what skills I am aiming for. I realized that when you get back an essay or paper some teachers just write things like "Good job", but good job in what? With standard based learning I'm allowed to fully see whats happening and why I'm in that standard." - Michelle Tsaltakis, 12th grade student
There were students who were more ambiguous or negative about the switch, but they weren't very articulate as to why. I suspect the resistance still comes from the comfort of changing something they have grown to accept as a part of their learning experience.
I know I have to work harder to help these students understand the benefits of communicating learning in this new way.
What do you think your students would say about a no grades classroom? Please share - Not sure, why don't you ask them. Students surprise me every day, they may surprise you too.
*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in November of 2014.