Now, imagine replacing all of this with a system in which we receive a new set of goals every three to four weeks, and at the end of every three to four weeks we are judged, without regard to anything else that may be going on, on how well we have met the previous set of goals. If we haven't met the previous goals, we have no chance to revisit them and no chance to improve our performance on them. Instead, we receive a rating that will be used at the end of the year as part of a final judgement we will receive.
I'll take the first system. Thanks.
Especially since I have a lot of control over the process in the first system. Of course, I also have a lot of responsibility to monitor my own progress, as well as to seek out and respond to feedback from others.
Many doubt that students have the capacity for the responsibility part of the equation. That doesn't mean we should resort to the second system described above, which, sadly, is the standard system we use to give grades to our kids. Instead, it means that we should teach them how to set goals, how to self-assess, how to respond to feedback...in other words, we should help them gain the life skills they will need. You know, the skills we need as part of our professional growth.
This is why we included self-assessment as part of the process of going gradeless. The structure was simple:
- Give the kids a list of the skills we have been working on, asking them to choose from a list whether they can do any question, a limited set of questions, or essentially no questions based on each skill. Emphasis was placed on the evidence the students have provided (on checkpoints or in their portfolios) and not simply on how well they feel they understand the material.
- Have the kids look at their responses to the list and, based on the responses, give themselves a letter grade.
This was done through a Google form, which made administration and compilation easy. The first time we did this, the algebra 1 kids were brutally honest with themselves, with many giving themselves a lower grade than I would have assigned. Their honesty continued throughout the semester. The honors precalc kids, on the other hand, all stated they currently deserved an A. My response was not to tell the kids they were wrong, but rather to tell them that the evidence did not match their assessment, and to please provide the evidence . While there were a few kids who consistently gave themselves higher marks than the evidence indicated, the overwhelming majority of the precalc kids were as honest as the algebra 1 kids for the remainder of the semester. At the end of the semester, when we did this self-assessment one last time, we followed it up with a one-on-one conference with each student. If the student and I agreed on the semester grade, then the significance of the final exam was to confirm the grade. If the student still believed they deserved a better grade than I believed their evidence had demonstrated, then the final exam became the vehicle through which they could convince me they were correct.
So, looking at the entire process, while we obviously have to set a few of the goals in place - the curriculum is the curriculum - we allow the kids a lot of choice in the way in which they demonstrate their understanding and mastery of the material, discussing their progress with them regularly and responding to their work with feedback and opportunity rather than with judgement.
In other words, we're preparing them for the real world far better than chasing points for a grade ever could.