After 30 years of teaching, something I never intended to do but absolutely fell in love with, the past 6 months have been a real adventure. At the beginning of this school year I decided to go Gradeless. Gradelessness is a movement that allows students to regain ownership of their education by literally removing the manipulation or forced compliance create by grades. You can read more on their blog, Teachers Going Gradeless (TG2). (https://medium.com/teachers-going-gradeless/teachers-going-gradeless-50d621c14cad)
Recently I assigned a task that required students to identify an issue in our Watershed and create a proposal to address it. For me it was an exercise in patience, coaxing and frustration. For them it was seemingly worse. There were missed deadlines, poor effort, excuses, complaints…Arghhh! So I posted my woes on this fantastic blog site. The responses were insightful, helpful and in their own way validating. You mean other teachers are facing his too? Really? All sarcasm aside, I needed this at that moment. But there was one post that really helped me to understand how this entire experience is merely another step along what I identified above as an adventure. It was a podcast from Aaron Blackwell on the Teachers Going Gradeless Blog.
The podcast was created for TG2 and moderated/presented by Aaron Blackwelder. In the podcast, he interviews author, Alfie Kohn, a respected antagonist of education’s obsession with grades and standardized testing. I’ll let you listen for yourself, but for me it was another “aha moment!” as I travel this path toward better student learning and student driven teaching. Here is the link: https://teachersgoinggradeless.com/2018/01/29/tg2cast-ep-6/
The podcast he did with Kohn focused on Student Motivation. It was enlightening in a couple of ways. First, as is usually the case in situations such as this, I wondered about “their motivations”. In reality, I should be looking at mine. To paraphrase Kohn, lack of student interest suggests that it is likely, the curriculum, the lesson or the relationships not the students. My second insight was Kohn’s recommendations of ways to change the classroom. In my classrooms, the relationships are good. I get the feedback to validate my belief here. But, Kohn suggests that their ‘motivations’ quickly change, for the better, when they have a stake in both the curriculum and the lesson. He further suggested that I ask them questions to help me and them understand their interest in the topic…though it might be questions I might not want to hear the answers to. In any case they should no more be expected to perform for my lessons anymore than they should simply perform for a grade.
As I get further into this journey, each old experience forces me to ask old questions with a new perspective. It’s very surprising to me that 30 years into this vocation, I still have so much to discover. If you aren’t ready to look inside your own motivations and practices, Gradelessness probably won’t work for you. But, if after 30 years you still want to do better by your students, this is the way to go. What an adventure. Thanks Aaron B.