Thursday, February 26, 2015

No grades, but lots of data

I'm really interested in the concept of the "no grades classroom" that people like Starr Sackstein (@mssackstein) and Mark Barnes are advocating. My students and I have been trying out Starr's goal-setting and self-assessment conference approach lately in biology, and though I'm still giving grades, I'd love to get rid of them.

I think replacing grades with formative feedback could go a long way toward causing a paradigm shift in our students (and teachers)--from a focus on grades and points to learning and growth.

Right now, for some students, the coursework is mostly about getting a good grade so they can get into a good college, while for others, it's just about passing. Either way, it's not about learning. It's not about autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

So getting rid of grades altogether should help. But that can't mean getting rid of data. It seems to me we need regular, quantitative performance measurements in order to assess their progress (and our instruction) objectively and improve it.

At first I thought these two goals were incompatible (no grades but lots of data). But that doesn't have to be the case at all. What I'm envisioning these days is something like this:

The students don't get grades, but they get lots of rich feedback, and I record as much data as possible.

But what about report cards and GPAs?

Well, we'll have to tackle that next.

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