Reflections, Part 3

Back in October, I posted about a series of events that lead to a drastic shift in my grading and homework philiosophy in my Latin II classroom. You can read about the backstory if you’d like, but in sum a single comment “Latin kills me inside” prompted me to try out the ideas that educational reformers like Alfie Kohn have been pushing for years.

Simply put, I was removing all traditional “grading” from my classroom and instead putting in its place a self-evaluation “masteries chart” of all of the skills we expect our Latin II students to have at the end of the year. In addition to that chart, I also established time at each marking period to have one on one conferences with the students to talk about their accomplishments, areas that they struggled in, and what they were going to work on in the next quarter.

Does this mean I stopped giving quizzes and tests? Absolutely not. Instead, after we took those assessment checks, we went over them in detail and the students made their own corrections to see and understand their mistakes. Occasionally I collected their work to make sure that they were doing the self-corrections but eventually I found that I just didn’t need to do that: they were doing their corrections and doing them quite well. In comparison to their Latin II peers with my other colleagues, all of our sections performed nearly identical on the National Latin Exam. There was no degradation in ability or skill as a result of removing grades from the picture.

As the second semester went by, I slowly weened them (or myself?) off of homework. Because of larger systemic issues with homework, a very small percentage of students were actually doing the work that I assigned. Instead, a lot of the exercises and tasks that I would have assigned at home, we worked on in class either individually, in small groups, or as a large class group. Again, the result here was that 100% of the students got the extra reinforcement of the language skills rather than 20-40%. Did this take away from class time that would otherwise be used for other things? Absolutely -- it took away from the time that I normally used for direct instruction. Instead, that time was limited to only when introducing new topics, another huge departure from business as usual.

Did these changes impact how much material we covered during the course of the year? It didn’t at all. In fact, I’d argue that at the end of this year my students as a whole had a better understanding and recoginition of the advanced clauses than any of my past groups. I’ve seen students who, in the past, might have been treading water through Latin II, sneak by in III, accomplish their language requirement and bail out now approach reading and studying Latin with renewed interest and vigor because they are confident in their ability. With the threat and/or reward of grades removed, by in large the students instead focused on learning Latin for the sake of learning Latin. This resulted in a far more enjoyable experience for both my students and myself.

I should also add that before I even started this transition, I approached both my department head and building principal to let them know exactly what I was planning, why I was doing it, and what steps I would be doing to ensure that the students are demonstrating mastery of the material. They were fully supportive with the understanding that, like the initial launch of Operation LAPIS, if things were to go terribly wrong, I’d pull the plug and readjust.

So how about the students? To quote LeVar Burton, “You don’t have to take my word for it...” Here is just a small sample of the feedback provided by my Latin II students at the end of the year, specifically about the shift in grading philosophy:

“I love how we weren’t graded this year, it made the class a lot less stressful and allowed me to just focus on learning, rather than worrying about grades.”

“The new style of teaching (and learning) you implemented really worked for me when I thought it would fail. I didn’t know how you could learn without taking tests or quizzes to get a number grade but I realized that you could get a lot more out of the class by focusing on things other than the grade.”

“I used to suck at Latin and now I suck less.. actually, I don’t suck at all. It just now dawned on me how much we learned this year and I didn’t even realize it because I didn’t obsess over a grade at the top of the page.”

“I feel like it was a lot easier to focus on learning the grammar parts when we didn’t have to worry about quizzes. I also think that the elemination of actual “grading” really encouraged learning and made things our own choice instead of doing things just for the A”

Wouldn’t it be great if these were the thoughts of every student at the end of every course?

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