This semester CETL is focused on grading – how we do it, why we do it, and how we can do it better (ohhh...and maybe stop doing it altogether).
I know, I know, we must grade. But wait, do we? Or do we have to do so much of it? Or do we have to do it in the same ways we’ve been doing it? I’ve been asking a lot of questions lately about what grades are doing for students. Are they motivating students to learn? Do students understand what they’ve learned and the progress they’ve made in their mastery of course content with the grades I assign? Likely no, or not as much as we hope.
One idea we’ll be talking about this year is Ungrading. Now before you stop reading, hear me out! Ungrading isn’t ‘not giving grades.’ Jesse Stommel, a leading voice in the Ungrading movement in higher education, says that Ungrading “means raising an eyebrow at grades as a systemic practice, distinct from simply “not grading.” The word is a present participle, an ongoing process, not a static set of practices.” (Stommel, 2021). Ultimately, Ungrading is any assessment/grading practice that “decenters the action of an instructor assigning a summary grade to student work” (Lafeyette CTL).
Full transparency, I have not given up grades completely, but I’ve been moving in that direction. I have moved toward partnering with students in assessment, using a lot of peer review, and asking students to reflect on their work and learning.
Even in Ungrading there’s a summative grade for the course. But Ungrading changes the way that we get to that grade. It’s about feedback, student-teacher conversations, and trust. The shift is in having students reflect on their learning, read and respond to instructor feedback, and improve their work throughout the semester. It’s about students reflecting on the learning outcomes and thinking about their own mastery. Ideally, students are focused on their learning, and not the grade. They are excited to read and discuss your feedback, not nervous to see the grade you’ve assigned.
Ungrading isn’t just about one practice, it’s about your whole approach to pedagogy and assessment. So, I hope you’ll engage with us this year in discussions about grading. From the feedback we give, to the time we spend grading, to our grading policies - we are discussing it all! I’m excited about all four webinars in the Equity-Minded Grading webinar series, but I’m especially excited for you to get a peek into what an Ungrading classroom looks like with our session Labor-Based and Anti-Racist Grading and our session on Specifications Grading. I hope to see you at a webinar this semester. In the meantime, check out the Ungrading reading list to learn more.
Ungraded Reading List
- Peter Elbow, 1997, Grading student writing: Making it simpler, fairer, clearer
- Alfie Kohn, 2011, The case against grades
- Linda Nilson, 2014, Specifications Grading: Restoring rigor, motivating students, and saving faculty time
- Jeffrey Schinske and Kimberly Tanner, 2014, Teaching more by grading less (or differently)
- Cathy Davidson, 2015, Getting Started 6: Contract grading and peer review
- Alfie Kohn, 2018, Punished by Rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes (available for check-out at Michener Library)
- Susan Blum, 2020, Ungrading: Why rating students undermines learning (and what to do instead) (available as an e-book from Michener Library)
- Erica M. Dolson, 2022, My Ungrading Experiment