Thanks for posting your syllabus. It sounds great and sounds like a class I would be happy to have both my kids in! You’ve also given me some ideas as I’ve been putting off writing my course syllabi for the Fall. Going grade-less has made that syllabi really important as it will set the tone for the whole year!
One question I have for you is what will your “grades” or feedback look like? Do they have to be letters or numbers or do you have some leeway? I try not to give any marks until midterm or final reporting as per our school policy and then I’ve started just giving P’s for pass to everyone who participates in my course knowing that there is no such think as failure. Now I need to express that in such a way that will not send the message that my class is not important or something that they can “blow off.”
An important question is how much leeway I actually have. This does not seem to be the most radical of districts, and while they did bring me on to shake things up a bit (They had no idea when they hired me. :)), there needs to be a balance with accountability to the parents. While I would love to go without grades completely, that does not seem to be an avenue that my administration would likely let me pursue. My last district let parents see grades in real-time and required two grades to be posted every Monday. The problem with this is that it prompted many teachers to just put in filler grades to appease administrators and parents. I do feel that I can effectively communicate with parents without grades, but many administrators and teachers feel that they need grades as proof.
I feel passionately that formative assessment should not be given a numerical grade. It all comes back to why we are grading. I am grading only as a means to understand what students really know and to help them grow. So, I cannot “invent” grades, which should never be done, and I cannot add filler grades that do not provide insight into a student’s knowledge at this moment.
It all comes down to relationships and trust. We need to stress from the first day why and how we are going to grade, and we need to really work on building positive relationships with students AND parents. They have both been trained to be dependent on grades and some may very well get confused or push back at first. This is why we really need to be build relationships. If students trust that we only give them assignments that are in their best interests and that will help them to learn, they will do them even without grades. If parents really believe that we consistently are striving for the best for their child in all situations, they will support us. Will there be the occasional student who does not participate or parent who gets angry his/her precious child didn’t get the best grade? Of course. They are still people and will still make mistakes and have shortcomings. So will we, but positive relationships will help them to give us the benefit of the doubt in helping their children.
As for more concretely answering Alfonso’s question, I imagine that I will likely use percentiles. I don’t do this because it is traditional (I actually have never used percents before; I used total points a few years ago before I became a librarian and did not have to grade for a while.), but it seems to make sense with my objective. If I am grading mastery of a standard or objective (i.e. Student can multiply numbers by 10 without a calculator.), I want to know how well the student grasps that particular concept. Percentiles give me nuance than, say a 4.0 scale or letter grades.
Furthermore, I do not believe that I will be assessing every student on all the same standards. While the students will all have to master the same foundational concepts in each area, I have built in choice so that they can study their interests and passions. I am limited in that my only online gradebook option is Moodle’s gradebook, which is unfortunately less than stellar. I may keep each student’s grades in a separate Google Spreadsheet which I share with the student, the student’s parents/guardians, and possibly the student’s administrator and guidance counselor. MY other option is to program an online gradebook in PHP and MySQL and I do not really want to do that at the moment.
All in all though, I think what system we use matters less than the trust between us and the students, and the philosophical foundation of how we choose to grade (or not grade). What do you think? How are you planning to approach grading next year?