The Impact of (not) Grading

Hump day and blizzard day in New England.  How about a day away from LAPIS and technology in general?  Sounds like a plan!

Back at the start of the second quarter, I discussed the changes that would be happening with my Latin II classes -- specifically the different outlook towards grading.  (See: The Day the Music Died)  So how did the first full quarter without putting a single grade on top of a page go?

In all honesty, given the fact that I myself am wading into very uncharted waters, I don't think I could be any happier with the realistic results.  My highest powered students, at first, had the most difficulty freeing themselves from expecting the "A" at the top of the page.  After the first few assessments and a couple of discussions on what an "A" means (or doesn't mean), they became far more receptive to the idea that they actually didn't need that personal gratification moment to process or evaluate their own learning.  Suddenly acquiring vocabulary, increasing reading skills, or even conjugating verbs became not about how this activity will impact their grade but instead about how this activity will impact my overall understanding of the Latin language.

I found that the middle-of-the-pack students began to take far more ownership and responsibility for their learning.  Ensuring that their assignments were finished not because they wanted the homework check points (which ceased to exist), but because they wanted to better understand the passages in front of them.  They used their class time far more effectively and, anecdotally, I'd be willing to wager that the mathematics (had I graded normally) would indicate that they improved as well.

What about the traditionally lowest performing group?  Well, here's where the results are a bit mixed.  A portion of this group were given a new lease on the joy of learning for learning's sake, and a new sense of pride when they themselves could see improvements -- no matter how small that they actually were.  It's easy to see how hard it would be for a student (who shows improvement) but still receives a C- on a quiz or a test to ignore any gains and instead focus on the negative ("I'm still doing poorly")  The other portion of this group still struggled to produce any real meaningful gains in ability or skills, despite every attempt to find more ways to bring them into the fold.  But that's a topic for another day.

So, it's the end of the semester, what happened with evaluation -- after all, I do need to report a grade to the powers that be for each student.  Here's how we handled this.  The last couple days of the semester, each student and I had an individual conference outside of the room while the class was working on various assignments.  I can honestly say that for nearly every student, I've never had a more thorough and real conversation about their own personal learning.  We talked first and foremost about strengths and weaknesses, where they've seen the most growth this quarter, and what they intend to focus on at the start of the third quarter.  We looked back at the goals they set at the start of this experiment and decided how and in what ways they met them.  We looked at their self-evaluation 'mastery sheets' to see where gains were made and what still needs work.  Only two or three students were unable to talk with much depth about their progress this quarter.

It was an amazing experience to have conversations with each student on this level.  A significant number of them even went as far as saying that this was one of the best experiences that they've had in their academic careers so far.  I couldn't agree more.

How did they grade themselves?  Well, I had to convince a very large number of them to allow me to give them a slightly higher grade that what they thought they deserved.

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