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Friday, June 29, 2018

Going Gradeless in Math

Why Go Gradeless
I want schools to be more about learning and not performing. It seems that most of the education is the other way around. I think in order to do that we need to change our mindset on grades. I use to think that grades were a tool to motivate students. I quickly learned that this did not motivate ALL students and that grades were more about compliance and sorting then improvement.  This last semester after being encouraged from Connie Fink at EdCamp Nashville I moved my class to a gradeless classroom. I had an opportunity to present what I have done to my critical friend's group (CFG) at the Educators Cooperative Summer Cohort and after receiving their feedback this is my plan for the 2018-2019 school year.

Step 1: Know Where You're Going
Five years ago after attending the DI Convention in Vegas and following Dan Meyer's blog, I made the move to standards-based grading and this year I decided to be 100% standards-based. I start with figuring out all the standards I want the students to know. I call them skills as I think this is easier for the students to understand. One thing I am going to start doing is writing the standard or skill we are working on for the week on the board. I have not been doing this and I want my students to make sure they know that every lesson has a purpose. I am also planning to move to a spiraling curriculum instead of blocked units.

Step 2: Skills Check
Right now I am planning on doing a skills check at least once a month. There is no deadline for learning so if students don't do well they can always retake and try to improve their score. I have students pre-assess as a way to improve their metacognition skills.

Step 3: Feedback Not Grades
I usually try to have students self-check as a way to increase the feedback loop. Jo Boaler gave me the idea of just putting just feedback and not a grade on students work. When you put a grade and feedback students look at their grade first and then someone else's grades and most of the time ignoring the feedback you have given them. (Check this article from Dylan Williams explaing some of the research)

Step 4: Students Self-Assess
When students get work back or after they have self-graded a skills check, they self-assess their own understanding of each skill that was assessed. I use the following rubric adopted from Dane Ehlert(Link of the document below)
Students record their post-self-assessment in their skills chart (I might try using Sown-To-Grow again this year but I like the idea of students charting their progress by hand). (copy of blank skills checklist)

Step 5: Students Record work
Last year I told students to save work for grade conferences. That did not happen. After seeing how Andrew Burnett set up his gradeless math class, I plan to use Seesaw to have students record their skills check and self-assessments. I am still learning how to use Seesaw, but its an online portfolio that students will take pictures and upload those images to Seesaw. I am also hoping the students can use Seesaw to reflect and set goals. 

Step 6: Retakes and Mastery
Every skill shows up on a skills check at least twice. I do this to help the students see improvement and mastery. I also allow students to come and retake any skill, however, most students do not take advantage. My plan for next year is to have a week each month or quarter dedicated for mastery (maybe I will call this "Mastery Challenge Week"). Students could complete one of the challenges in the choice board, complete a mastery challenge, or just retake a skills check. In order to master a skill, students have to have scored themselves a 9 twice or complete a mastery challenge. Mastey challenges are meant to be higher 1 to 2 problems that have a higher cognitive load (DOK 4). (Copy of Show What Your Know Bingo)

Example of Mastery Challenge 

Step 7: Conferences to Determine Grades
I am planning to conference with students at the end of each quarter. Before the semester final, I handed out the self-assessment sheet and had students put their scores in. After their final was over students graded their final and updated their self-assessment sheet. We then had a one-on-one grade conference to determine the student's final grade.  I played around with the idea of having set criteria to determine students grades but I decided to just see what students would give themselves for a final grade. I was surprised to see that students were too hard on themselves. I found myself talking students into higher grades then disagreeing with their self-assessment. 

Copy for Self-Assesment Sheets

Communication Plan
If your students and parents are anything like mine they are constantly checking our online grade book. I don't want any surprises at the end of the semester. The first thing I did was send an e-mail home explaining the process and why we are doing this. I also called home within the first week of school. Yes, this did take a huge effort on my part, but it provided me with some capital that I would cash in on latter. I also don't want my first communication home to be negative. I still track how students are doing in a Google Sheet and when I notice that I feel that a student is falling behind I communicate home (This also allows me to see how effective my teaching is and what areas the whole class might be struggling with).

What my Google Sheets looks like

How to get your students to Self-Assessments Accurately 
My biggest struggle is getting the students to self-assess accurately. My CFG gave me some great ideas that I want to try for next year. Before our first assessment, I am going to have three different completed skills check of a 7, 8, and 9 for us to discuss (Want to model what Dane does here). I am also going to have students peer check each other. Students would go to another peer and explain the score they gave themselves and ask if the peer agrees or disagrees. I am also planning on using mindfulness strategies before the self-assess. 

My goal by going gradeless is to have my students more focused on improvement and own their learning. I am fighting a culture battle at my school and community. Some students liked the more relaxed atmosphere others struggled not seeing a grade in the grade book. My CFG helped to remind me that what I am doing is worth the struggle.  I just want other teachers, parents, and students to think differently about grades and be more focused on learning. 

I am posting anything related to this topic on Twitter with the following tag: #DitchGrades

If you are going Gradeless I would love to hear from you. I would like to start interviewing people for my Podcast "Ditch Those Grades". I want us to share and feel comfortable sharing what we are doing in our classroom. If your interested in being interviewed please feel free to contact me. 


  1. Alex - thank you for sharing this journey! I've added your post (with all these links embedded!) to the "Feedback in Lieu of Grades" LiveBinder here, hoping we can amplify your message to a larger audience:

    Thank you again!!

  2. Awesome. This is a great resource.
    Do you know of anyone going Gradeless in Physical Education? My next challenge is to adopt this model to my HS PE Class.

  3. This is awesome Alex! I'm so glad that you have taken the time and effort to implement this in your classroom.

    I would love for an example of how parents can help with the self-assessment process. And how they can transition to a "gradeless" classroom (which is a bit of a misnomer, because it seems like here there are even more grades given out with this style of classroom, the grader is now a different person).

    And what were your first week of school parent conversations like? Do you have talking points that you would share?