I’m starting this blog to chart my progress through “going gradeless” in my classroom.

Specifically, for me “going gradeless” means I no longer put grades in my gradebook–or give grades to students–for tests, projects, papers, worksheets, or any of the rest of the assignments students do. They still (must) receive a grade on progress reports and report cards, which are each given to my students four times per year. So we’re not entirely gradeless because that’s hard to do in a traditional school.

I am doing this because I saw something interesting right before spring break. I’d given students a set of workbook pages to do and a quiz to come afterward. Kids knew that all they had to do was complete the workbook pages (with on-topic work, of course). Once they’d completed the pages, they could take the quiz. They knew they’d get points for full points just for completion. So the kids did the workbook pages and brought them to me. Most of them kept making the same mistake, so I would circle the mistake and say, “this is wrong. You can go back and fix it, or you can proceed to the quiz.” In every instance, kids went back and re-did the wrong work even though they knew they weren’t going to get a grade on it. And I knew that if I’d simply put a grade on their worksheets, they’d have thrown out the worksheets, taken another hit to their concept of self-worth and their belief that improvement is possible, and proceeded to the quiz. So I decided to stop putting grades on papers.

A bit about me: I’m in my sixth year as a teacher. I am not a superteacher. I don’t have all the answers–in fact, I’m not sure I have any answers. There are undoubtedly things I don’t know about or problems that I haven’t foreseen. I’m no leader in this movement. I’m just someone trying something out and seeing what happens.

A bit about my class: I’m currently teaching 7th grade in a super-segregated school in “urban fringe” territory (neither inner city nor suburban). We are a poor district. I think my school is over 70% free and reduced lunch. My students tend to read about 2 grade levels below, on average. I teach a range of students, including English Language Learners, RSP (Special Ed), SDC (special day class), emotionally disturbed, GATE, etc.

This year I have only about 130 students, and only 12 of my students are SpEd. This is the lowest number of students and SpEd students I’ve ever had. Next year I’ll be “looping,” which means teaching all the same kids for their 8th grade social studies education. That’s one of the reasons why I’m going gradeless now–to work out all the kinks and get a really solid idea of what I’m doing before their 8th grade year, when their quarterly GPA determines if they attend promotion ceremony (aka “graduate”). So I am in a wonderfully unique situation that lets me try this now. Otherwise I might be too afraid to do it.