Going gradeless: rubric ruminations

I’ve had several people ask me in the past week or so how the gradeless experiment is going. Since nothing was really that different yet from how things had been before, neither my students nor I have noticed anything new. But this weekend now I’m sitting on drafts of the first major papers my students have turned in under the new gradeless grading regime and I need to figure out how to best proceed.

I have their drafts in Dropbox, ready to import into my note taking app on my iPad to read and respond to them. I also have my newfangled rubric, now literally just the 11/12 grade standards from the CCSS that are relevant to the writing task.

Seems like I should be all ready to go, but I’ve not touched a single paper today.

That’s not necessarily surprising. I’ve been prone to procrastination since I was quite young. But I do think something else is going on here.

I hear Alfie Kohn rumbling in my memory about grades: a focus on grades makes the locus of the classroom on what the teacher thinks about the work, not on what a student knows s/he can do. I want to make this shift in my classroom, and I think that if I use my new rubrics in old ways I will not make that shift.

The rubrics do not have any grades on them or numbers–only check boxes. But what I was planning on doing with them was attaching one to each draft and marking up on it what each student is doing well and what each student needs to work on.

But do you see how this is still a focus on ME and what I think about each student’s writing rather than helping each student to identify clearly the strengths and weaknesses of his/her own work?

So here’s my new plan. We need the rubrics. The rubrics are the connection at this point in the semester to the standards upon which each student’s grade will be based in the end. The standards are what my students and I will place at the center of our conferences about what their semester grades should be. They can not be seeing the standards for the first time then, so they need these standards-focused rubrics. THEY need them. Not I.

Hence, I will respond to each draft as a reader and leave feedback all over each of them. Upon returning these drafts, I will ask students to use my feedback to determine how they have done according to the rubric–which standards do they know they know how to do? Which standards do they need to work on? From here, they’ll make their plans for revisions, and their revised versions will include a thorough memo about what changes they made and why, invoking the standards from the rubric in their explanations.

And then they’ll keep the rubric as their own record of their progress toward the standards. And they’ll slot their final drafts into a portfolio where they’ll use their writing as evidence toward their learning toward the standards.

My intentions? Get my students to own their learning, to be able to articulate clearly themselves how they are doing, to know without my judgment whether or not they are meeting the standards for their work. I just assist them with feedback along the way.

That makes me much more of a partner in their learning rather than the evaluator of it.

I’ll keep you posted.

This entry was posted in CCSS, first gradeless series 2013-2014, grading, making change, muddling through, not grading, teaching writing. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Going gradeless: rubric ruminations

  1. Molly says:

    Sarah – You continue to inspire me!! I, too, struggle with how to engage with standards authentically. I really like that you are giving them feedback and THEN they ‘grade’ themselves. Ultimately, we hope our students can write and revise to meet their own intrinsic standards because they know what those are, not because they are guessing what ‘we’ want.

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