Laissez Faire Grading

My AP Euro course this year is dropping all quantitative grading and moving to a hybrid standards-based / portfolio system where students will ultimately get to argue to me what final grade they deserve.

It is a titanic shift for me personally, even more so for my students, my school and its culture. Like at most schools in the country – grades are how students define themselves. One goal in removing grades this year is about that culture and challenging it, helping students to see themselves and their work beyond the gradebook and percentages.

I know the transition will not always be smooth. It’s imperfect in many ways, but it’s a first step that has to happen because something has to happen…

Already this weekend is bringing one of my biggest concerns – maybe the most common concern other people ask me about – into focus.

Why would the students bother to do any work in your class?

We’re not even to the first day of class and I’m already confronting this question and engaging in some self-doubt…

Although I am doing away with grades, I did not do away with my summer assignment for the course. (I could digress here for a while on the why, but I’ll refrain). Part of the assignment is to get a jump start on course readings, with the trade-off being that students will not have readings for most of the early part of class as we focus on skill-building and adding depth to their studies.

In addition to reading, students have to take a quick series of multiple choice quizzes to help them self-assess their work.

And therein lies the moment of doubt.

As the first day of school approaches and I check-in on my student’s progress, I am finding an abnormally high number of students who haven’t completed any of the reading checks. At all. Not even opened them.

It’s because they aren’t graded, obviously, ring the voices of doubt around me. Why would they do any of the work if it’s not being graded?

I am tempted to respond to these voices with action – to drop a threat to students about their grades, or returning to numerical grades, or sending notes to parents. I am tempted to leverage whatever I can against my students to force them into completing the work.

But then I stop and remember, this is exactly why you wanted to stop grading. To do away with the coercive, manipulative practices that tell students “do this or else.”

My students are going to have to figure out that completing these readings and the reading checks is about helping themselves, not proving something to me.

Laissez Faire. Let them do. Let them go. Let them be.

mountains nature arrow guide

I am committed this year to stepping back from leading by force or fear or manipulation. I am going to lead by example – about loving the content, the question, the inquiry. I am going to demonstrate to them how to love history and why it is critical to their lives.

The work is theirs. Theirs to do. Theirs to own, earn and make something out of. It is not my work and it is not my place to force the meaning and making upon them. That’s the whole point of this grand change in the first place.

Because at year’s end it is they who will have to stand up and present to me their work. And I am positive that they will have piles and piles of amazing work to share. But I won’t drag them to it.

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