The First Step to Giving Up Grades is...
Agreeing that it's time to do so.
And if you are ready to accept that that is what needs to be done in your learning space, then here are some practical ways to start.
Disclaimer: When I was new to this, much of what I tried was trial and error. It was messy and hadn't been codified in any way for me. None of what I'm about to suggest is the only way to do this... as a matter of fact, I wholeheartedly encourage you to find a system that works for you and your unique learning community.
This is how my journey has played out so far:
Inform the students, parents, and administrators that you will be giving up grades and explain why - be clear about your intentions and what you hope to accomplish by doing so. Offer suggestions. Make yourself available for conversations and ease fears about the shift. In addition to tracking my journey on my blog, I made short YouTube Videos to share with stakeholders.
Practice changing the language in which you speak about assessment in your classes. Gently remind students when they ask about grades, that you don't do grades in your class. In here, we talk about learning. Redirect the question with, "What have you learned recently and how can you prove you know it?" Semantics matter.
Make sure to be transparent about what students will be learning, using clear learning targets at the beginning of each class and connect it back to the standards and skills you need them to be learning in the big picture.
Communicate with students often about the specifics of their work and learning. Give lots of oral and written feedback on assignments and in class work time. I used Google Drive and Voxer as two ways to communicate learning based on specific skills we are working.
Do not penalize students for late or missing work - throw out the zero - it is useless and counterproductive.
Do not reward students for compliance or offer extra credit as it also skews communication about mastery.
Offer students multiple opportunities to practice the same skills and chances to revise earlier work with more feedback.
Ask students to reflect on their own learning based on the standards after every assignment. Students can do this in terms of written reflection as well as filling a Google Form, so you can collect specific data about what they want to continue to work on.
Regularly check in with students about their learning and help them set goals that can easily be tracked (by students) and provide them with action plans to find success in that pursuit.
Because all students will have different goals and plans, make time in class to teach students to track their own progress. When they reflect, they should be specific to the goals they set for themselves.
If you must give a grade on a report card (like I do), then ask the students to self-assess and grade themselves based on their learning. You may find they are spot on once you teach them how. If a student is way off (high or low), this is a great opportunity to have a conversation with that student about what mastery looks like and what their work in relation to it.
Remind students that you are working with them to help them reach mastery. Model what that looks like regularly. Offer samples and analyze together what makes the samples exemplary.
Allow for choice in how students show what they know as often as possible and provide as much time is needed to reach the goal.
Find ways to communicate with students in person, as always trying to do it on their work will back up (at least that has been my experience) - You will likely feel like you aren't doing enough (at least I do), but continue to work at ways to communicate learning in a specific and relevant manner.
Wherever possible teach kids to help each other and provide meaningful feedback, so you aren't working alone (this works well with older students).
If your students are of an appropriate age, use social media when you need to communicate on a full class scale. For example, if I notice I didn't teach something well and most of the class still hasn't gotten it, I can send out supplemental information to the class hashtag on Twitter or a group email on my school email and provide more resources to help support their learning.
Things will need to be adjusted regularly, but don't give up. It has been a struggle at times, but my students are noticeably acting differently toward their learning. They are engaged, asking questions and focused on developing and applying new skills rather than just waiting for a grade.
That has to count for something.
I would love to know how it's working out for you or the challenges you are facing. Let's try to figure out solutions together.
This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in November of 2014. It has been modified.