This isn’t the blog post you’re looking for

It’s time for some wise words from Yoda.

The wisdom of Yoda is so true. He says the dark side is quicker, easier, and more seductive. For the sake of this blog post, that means giving out grades. It is quicker and easier to do. Here is a rubric and here is a score. That can be really seducing to do if you are a tenure track professor with a million other things to do. Take your grade and move on. Why did you get that grade? Please consult the rubric. We could probably figure out how to do everything on ScanTron bubble sheets so assignments practically grade themselves. I was skeptical when I saw the titles of the readings about doing away with grades. How else are we supposed to assess student performance? It is how I was assessed, and I turned out fine (That’s a favorite argument of mine for things). Besides, isn’t it important to have quantitative measures of assessment in this metric obsessed world we live in? That way we can prove we are good teachers, and students have a way to measure their growth? If we want to try not giving grades in earnest, we need to truly buy into it. This means we have to give up our biggest student motivator, the fear of a bad grade.

As I have recently been informed by those couple of videos that carrot and stick motivators only work for mostly mechanical tasks, then we would continue to operate this way? In the class I was a TA for last semester, there were lots of writing assignments and a final presentation. There were no tests or quizzes, which are, in my opinion, the primary motivator to look at the information. However, with everything they turned it was easy to tell they were writing to regurgitate information to get their grade. I am open to believing that if there weren’t grades on these assignments, they might have been more thoughtful in their responses. It would also make me feel better because I provided a lot of feedback on those assignments to help them to that end, which apparently is largely ignored. It makes me believe that to truly move away from information regurgitation learning, we have to go all in and not have a mix of. Unlike many of the other things, I think going gradeless is an all-or-nothing affair. So get your grading gum and patches, because it is time to go cold turkey on grades.


5 Replies to “This isn’t the blog post you’re looking for”

  1. Cold turkey? Man, my palms are sweating already! I totally agree that if escaping the paradox of the grading system is going to take massive buy-in from departments across the board. Otherwise it is one cooky teacher putting themselves out on the academic limb and risking (especially for non-tenured and GTA folks) quite a lot.

  2. “This means we have to give up our biggest student motivator, the fear of a bad grade.” Or stop parents and grade schools who condition young minds to care for that fear?! I believe that is only possible when systems change and it takes a while for that to happen. In the meantime, is there a middle path?!

  3. I hear you, and I would be the first to “go gradeless” with you. But alas the system in which we work requires some kind of assessment or ranking or evaluation or whatever you want to call it. (And there’s a mountain of literature distinguishing between those things, advocating for one or the other, but generally more, more, more….). Anyway, I think you’ve hit on something when you note that you put a lot of effort into providing feedback that was apparently ignored. For me this was an important shift in the way I think about “assessment.” I have to assign grades and students are conditioned to work for them — in that not terribly interesting exterior motivation kind of way. So yes, there will be grades. But I will not focus my energies there.
    I will focus my energies on interaction, engagement and cultivating curiosity, because those are the modalities that generate learning — both for the here and now and in an ongoing, transformative way.
    Lots of formative feedback (dialogue along the way). Helping people identify and pursue intellectual interests they find compelling — and providing feedback about that — seems completely worthwhile.

  4. Chris,

    I really appreciated your comment about you turned out fine when you were assessed using a grading system, but since being in grad school I understand that there might be some flaws in the system. I think going cold turkey would be very interesting to see what would happen especially with older professors who know nothing besides grades and the current system. My only question is how do you determine/assess a student’s success in a course then if there are no grades?

  5. I really enjoyed your post! Any blog with a yoda reference automatically gets my comment. LOL! As a TA I’ve also found that open writing assignments for the students seems to throw them for a loop. They write as though we’ve given them an essay topic and expect a full outline of facts and figures. I’m actually going through rubric “discussion”, we’ll call it with a professor I’m TA’ing for…..I think we can allow for some creativity and the professor completely disagrees. Obviously, I go with what they want but it’s not how I would do it. Nothing should be concrete when it’s a critical thinking case study as there are always alternative rationales that I didn’t necessarily think of.


    Cheers, Lehi

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