My school operates on a semester system with each grades reported quarterly. Every year we get to November, the second marking quarter, and we start to panic, and this year has been no different. Second quarter begin the first week of November and ends the middle of January. During that time, we will have had a three day high school retreat, a half day for report card conferences, a day off for Veterans Day, NWEA testing, three days off for Thanksgiving, two half days for staff development, 2 weeks off for Christmas vacation, and three days for midterm exams. When we return from Christmas Break, we will have a week and a half before midterms. That time will need to be spent reviewing for said midterms. The month of October wasn’t much better. In fact, last week was our first full week of school since the beginning of October. Teachers are lamenting the fact that they don’t have any grades for report cards and what are we going to test them on for midterms because we’re so far behind now in our curriculum.
The focus is on the test and the alpha-numeric grade, not on the learning. Has learning been taking place? Sure it has. On the retreat the students learned a lot about themselves, each other, and their faith. My seniors are learning as they continue in the college process, applying to schools and for scholarships. My sophomores have been watching The Crucible over the past week and we’ve had wonderful discussions about theme and author and director/producer purpose. Friday they started to get into logical fallacies and were already making connections between the official terms and arguments that they’ve heard or used. My freshmen are learning to write extended definitions and about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. They are reading, and writing, and getting introduced to concepts that they knew but now have a name to put to. But I’ve not been able to test them. We haven’t fully developed any writing pieces. So how do I show them and their parents that learning is taking place? A number or letter isn’t going to do it. There isn’t enough data to justify a grade.
This is just part of my struggle with the traditional grading system. Even when I have lots of work to grade, I still struggle, feeling that a letter or number does nothing to communicate the real learning that is taking place. Now there is a support group for someone like me. Through Twitter and Facebook I am connecting with like minded educators, and the conversations are fabulous. We’re all in different stages of this journey. Some have been “no grades” for some time, while others are just beginning to have their thinking challenged. Last week the first #TTOG chat took place on Twitter. The conversation had taken shape on Facebook through the Teachers Throwing Out Grades group prior to the organized chat. People are raising through-provoking questions and sharing helpful resources.
My goal is to help kids learn and to discover the joy of learning for the sake of learning. I’m looking for the best way to achieve that. I’m excited that as I’m trying to figure out the best way to do this thing called education, I have an ever growing group of like minded people with me on this journey!