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For this episode we're trying something new. Instead of having a guest, I'm (Chris) deep-diving into one element of progressive education - offering history and advice to gradeless learning. I tried my best to cover an extensive look at this topic, including - most importantly - the point of why this is needed.
Hosted by Human Restoration Project
Chris McNutt: Hello, and welcome to Things Fall Apart from the Human Restoration Project. My name is Chris, thanks for listening in today. We're going to try a new format in this one and see how it goes. Today it's just me, and I'm kicking off a new idea, which is restoring humanity. These will potentially be overviews of a major theme in progressive education, and my goal is to provide a thorough summary of what that practice is, why it's important, some history behind it, and then how we implement it. This work, as well as our regular podcast of free resources, are a result of our incredible patrons. I want to say a special thank you to Nick Covington and Cynthia Jester for making this work possible. You can learn more about the Human Restoration Project and find everything we do, as well as contribute on our website at humanrestorationproject.org. So without further ado, let's begin restoring humanity. We're going to start off with a quote from the very well-named I. E. Finkelstein, who said, When we consider the practically universal use in all educational institutions of a system of marks, whether it be numbers or letters, to indicate scholastic attainment of the pupils or students to these institutions, and when we remember how very great stress is laid by teachers and pupils alike upon these marks as real measures or indicators of attainment, we can but be astonished at the blind faith that has been felt in the reliability of the marking system school administrators have been using with confidence and absolutely uncalibrated instrument. What faults appear in the marking systems that we are now using, and how can they be avoided or minimized? That quote is from 1913, and what we're going to talk about today is reconsidering grading altogether. We're going to start off with some history, but first here's what we're going to be explicitly stating. Our argument is that grades are not a useful measurement of intelligence, nor a useful means for what their goal is to do, which is to tell someone how they're doing and how to get better. In fact, we're going to argue they do the exact opposite. They do very little to motivate students to do better, and students don't really get anything out of receiving a grade. It seems to be the only reason why we issue grades is that it's an easy way to tell colleges what's going on, even if it's not accurate. First off, there's two terms that we're going to use throughout that are incredibly important to understand, and that is extrinsic versus intrinsic motivation. Of course, extrinsic motivation, which means from the outside or exterior, extrinsic motivation is when you're motivated to do something because of some kind of reward at the end. For example, you want to make a lot of money or you want to receive a grade, versus intrinsic motivation or from the inside interior, which is where you do something just because you want to do it. There's no reward you're seeking at the end. You're doing it just because, for example, learning because you're interested in it. We're going to jump into some history here to talk about how we got into this point. How do we get to the point where grading was pretty much a given when you go to school? There are obviously alternative schools that are trying different things, but for the most part, when a parent puts their child in school, it's safe to assume they think they're going to get an A through an F. The American scoring of students had its roots in the mid-1800s. The Ivy League schools, Yale and Harvard, experimented with a bunch of different points percentage and other systems. We get the system that we have today in 1897 from a relatively small women's college called Mount Holyoke, which took all of these different ideas and developed the modern scale. A 4.0 is an A, 3.0 is a B, so on and so forth. There's all these different arguments and reforms that existed. Let's start in 1846. You have Horace Mann, who you probably know as one of the early adopters of compulsory education. He expressed concerns that students were going to be way too focused on class rank, and he said it would incur moral hazards and delinquencies as they looked towards all these different extrinsic motivators. He said, why don't we just show progress of a student over time through monthly report cards to show growth and development over time? In general, early reformers sought to eliminate class rank by having some kind of grade system. They thought they would inspire intrinsic motivation, in fact they talk a lot about the literal definition of intrinsic motivation, through grades. They thought they could track students' progress and push them to succeed over time by saying okay you got a C on this one, now we need to work our way up to a B and then to an A. And this was pretty commonplace through the late 1800s. However, as the school system rapidly expanded in the late 19th century during the industrial revolution, it became obvious to administrators and many teachers that when their classes and schools grew way larger, they needed a more efficient way to communicate a child's knowledge. Up until this point, even though grades were used on these monthly report cards, there was still a lot of very detailed feedback, and what really could be seen as essentially a growth mindset in schools, as in they saw students who could be improved month to month. And this starts to switch in the late 1800s when there's a push to standardize grades. There's more and more colleges that are popping up, and they all want to have the same universal message, an A at one school is the same as it is at another. This really not only drastically changed how teachers were providing feedback and looking at students month to month, which eventually moves to semesters or even yearly, but it also changes how curriculum works because classes need to be relatively the same, how schedules look, and just really in general your school culture, the rules start to look the same across every single school. It was very much focused on efficiency, and this also correlated with the creation of the college entrance examination board in 1899, which if you're wondering is the same college board today, which has been criticized for doing a lot of the same stuff. A lot of schools do the exact same thing in order to meet the needs of the college board or SAT or any kind of major testing organization. When this massive growth of schools occurs, there's a lot of confusion and a lot of uncertainty. For example, if all these schools are doing different things and we're trying to find ways to make them all the same, what happens, let's say, if students are all taking different classes? Let's say one student's an advanced course or one student's taking three arts classes, what are we going to do? Well, one, we make the majority of the classes are the same. Two, we try to figure out, are some classes worth more than others? One attempt at this was called Harvard's Book of Comparative Merit, which is literally a book that tells you what classes are better than others, which is when, in our opinion, things start to get a little bit disarrayed. Ultimately, that book was thrown out because it was seen as far too subjective, but we still have a lot of those elements in today's education system. Sir Ken Robinson talks a lot about this in his Creative Schools TED Talk, but essentially there's no denying to any teacher or student in school that we see STEM classes at the top, followed by humanities, and then the arts. There's definitely a hierarchy of what classes are important. I mean, if you go and take an AP class at most schools, that's on a 5.0 scale, whereas if you take a regular class, including the arts, that's on a 4.0 scale. If I want to have the highest possible grade and the highest possible class rank, I should take all AP classes, which may eliminate my ability to take a class in the arts or just a class I'm interested in as an elective. So from the late 1800s and into the early 1900s, which is when that Finkelstein quote came from, there was a really big divide manifesting between those who were doubling down on the standardization of grading and those who were starting to question and just reject the practice altogether. In 1911, an observer at the University of Missouri wrote, quote, the grade has in more than one sense a cash value, and if there is no uniformity of grading and institution, that means directly the values are stolen from some and undeservedly presented to others. In other words, it's a early 1900s look at what could be seen as almost the grade inflation argument where someone would say, well, how is this student any better than this other student? How can we decide which kid is the best, quote unquote, based off of their grade average? So that's the doubling down on grading side, the people that are trying to make grades even more objective, as if they could be really that objective at all. On the other side, you have people like the economist Thorstein Velleben who said in 1918, the system of academic grading and credit resistlessly bends more and more of current instruction to its mechanical tests and progressively sterilizes all personal initiative and ambition that comes within its sweep, which is very similar to the argument of progressive educators today. The more and more we see harsh grading initiatives or what some people call common sense reforms or back to basics, which in other words means going back to just saying these are the standards that matter and let's do those, the more trivial education becomes because we're only focused on four core subject areas and those classes are very traditional and not a lot of room is placed on a student actually learning. It's more on them just being given a certain set of information and taking it with them. There's not a lot of focus on all the other things of education that are important, like figuring out what you care about or all the things that you were interested in before you went to school. Why can't we develop those? And really my favorite quote from this era was in 1935, it was a teacher. She wrote in this journal and the source is unnamed. She said that she rejected report cards. She saw those against report cards as a challenge from a group of young crusaders who have chosen to be known as the intrinsic clan against the entire family whose surname is extrinsic. Of course, this is exactly the same as it is today. You still have the vast majority of educators and really people in general because it's a part of our educational culture who see the extrinsic motivation of grades as very important. For example, why would my kids do anything if I don't give them any kind of grade? Which essentially is saying what you're doing isn't inherently valuable to a kid because kids would do it if they thought it was valuable. It's only valuable because that grade exists versus those of us who are more progressive who see intrinsic motivation as the key goal. A student will learn something just because it's important. The reason why this stuff resonates so much is that a lot of progressive education is based on the thoughts of John Dewey and wouldn't you know, John Dewey was the writer of the early 1900s who influenced most of this thought. As you're probably aware, John Dewey published many of his works on experiential education in the early 1900s, but as you obviously know, grades aren't going anywhere from there. Not only did teachers of the early 1900s see grades as an important extrinsic motivator, but when schools kept expanding and when more and more universities were built, grades still were the most practical way to communicate what was going on. So you have someone like V.L. Beggs who was a critic of report cards, especially in elementary school, who said in 1936 that, quote, conclude that a school's most important contribution to a child's education is recorded on that card. Again, we see in the early 1900s the same issues that we see today. People heavily concerned that people are only cared about that extrinsic reward of a grade and what that grade means other than the actual important part, which is learning. And again, we see the value that teachers and administration sees in these grades has nothing to do with learning as much as it does with, one, forcing people to learn something, but two, and this is probably the bigger one, easily communicating what's going on. When you have a system that's rapidly expanding, it makes sense that you want a simple way to organize all this. We see that pushed even further in the 1910s onward when you start to see the IQ test being used in the military and then later the SAT test, which is modeled after the IQ test, and you see more standardization in terms of objective grading as well as objective tests. People wanted to find ways to measure intelligence based off mathematical principles or rationalist principles. Of course, there's a lot of problems with this mindset because not only is it very difficult, if not impossible, to measure someone's intelligence based off of rational thought because there's so many issues with what questions you're asking and so on and so forth, but there's also a lot of very big problems when it comes to the racist observations that came out of this. For example, the founder of the IQ test had a lot of basis in the eugenics movement. Again, as we move into the 1930s and 1940s, we see a lot of educators push back against the objectiveness of grading, but grading is still seen as a normalized practice and it's just seen as the best effective way to communicate anything. Now there are alternatives that people try. For example, in 1936, there was a small group of teachers who attempted this thing called a narrative letter. It was where they sat down together and they wrote a really long letter about a student's progress to parents and it was formatted using the standardized form. What was really interesting from it is that they reflected and they said the letter, quote, would become as meaningless and as stereotyped as the subject marks they replaced, and later they said that the letters would become false standards of value among our pupils. In other words, similar to the alternative grading methods of today, no matter what system you replace grades with, as long as you are still assessing students based on some form of standardization where they are ranked against each other, students will only value that ranking instead of what they're learning. A little bit more here as we come into the modern age, moving up through the 1960s, almost every single college takes on grades, but that doesn't mean you don't see more and more critics as well. You see the old arguments from restoring intrinsic motivation from the 1800s, as well as this new almost worrisome thing that was warned about in the late 1800s, which is the increasingly low levels of social and emotional well-being among students in relationship to grades. As in, as colleges become deeply more and more competitive, students are more anxious and nervous and worried about their grades, which was not really the case before this time when college wasn't a necessity or at least seen as one. So now we're kind of coming full circle. We're faced with the challenge of replacing the system, which really isn't that old. Our argument is that we should return to those original feedback systems of the early 1800s, restoring intrinsic motivation to education, basically ditching grading altogether. However, we have to also look at all these historical problems that came along the way. For example, how do we compare one student to another? Do we have colleges that are always going to have some kind of competitive gains for admission, or at least we can assume that? How are we going to rank them? Should we? And then what about teachers? How can they possibly give detailed feedback to all these students without giving them a summary in the form of a grade, especially when their class sizes are so large? In summary, the debate of the last 150 years is essentially the exact same as it's always been. Do we accept grading as a measurement of student learning and find ways to make it increasingly objective, or is that possible? Or do we find a way to communicate knowledge without ever assigning a grade? Our stance is obviously on the latter, and I'm going to share a lot of research and data to why soon, but first I want to make a note about how recent this is. Not only was grading really developed towards the end of the 19th century, but it was really all not ever agreed upon. The strong argument to why grades were needed was more a point of simplicity and necessity for the time frame. As schools expanded, they needed something quick and easy to do. The goal of why they did grading wasn't necessarily because they thought it was best practice, although it was for some, but more so because it was just the easiest thing to do and as the system grew larger, it became harder and harder to change. That newness, that recognition to how recent it is, is so important to this discussion because the more recent the institutionalized or systemic change was made, the easier it is to change it. The longer we wait, the more and more it becomes commonplace. It seems like many of the progressive voices were silenced, or at least marginalized, because the main system, the apparatus, was just so sadly obvious to everyone. Now let's move into the modern day, and what backs up everything that I'm saying here. It's my view that grading is a practice that hurts kids. It makes them demotivated if they're doing poorly, and also worrying, it makes them motivated towards an extrinsic goal rather than learning. It seems like most of us succeed in spite of how grades are given, rather than achieving because we're achieving high grades, and it's a situation that I'm sure most people are familiar with in their classrooms. It happens to me all the time before I adopt a grade-less learning. So I would hand back a student a lot of notes on their project, and at the top there would be some form of grade, or even the last page, it doesn't matter. The student would search for where that grade is, let's say a B, they put it in their backpack, and that was kind of it. They might take a quick glance at their feedback, but it really wasn't all that important because what they really wanted was to see how they did on the assignment overall. Now let's say a student gets a D, and let's say they really worked hard on it. Not only does a student give up, which is worrisome because we did nothing to actually help them, but many of them get much worse. They might make a comment about how useless school is, and they just kind of stay in the exact same place, and there's a correlation between those who achieve low grades, getting lower and lower grades over the course of the year, as well as just dropping out of school altogether, and the system seems to almost support that. If you constantly get Ds, there's nothing really motivating you to do any better, and I'm sure you could make the argument, well, they should just push harder and work harder, that way their grades get better. But if you're constantly working hard and getting a 60% while all of your peers are doing much better than you, there's no denying that's not going to really make you want to do better, especially in adolescence when the most important thing to many of us is how we compare with others and how people see us. And then also there's the student who always gets As. That student might be motivated to always achieve an A, but it becomes really the only important part of their worldview. If they don't get an A, a lot of times they'll go into a frenzy and they'll demand that you change it. They're so obsessed, they'll cry if they'll get a B, and many parents support this almost. They punish their kids if they don't get all As. The problem with that is that it's hurting who they are. It's not making them happy anymore. They only care about extrinsic motivation. There's no intrinsic motivation left. These students, they don't necessarily even care about the content. They only care about the gray at the end. And if our goal is to restore intrinsic motivation, seeking to learn just to learn, which is what humans naturally do, we're going to inspire that lifelong love of learning rather than diminish it. You can see this replicated in pretty much any type of learning. Whether that be, you know, many kids like to read, but the second a new reading program provides them, let's say, with pizza after reading five books and they take a quiz, they become purely focused on eating that pizza at Pizza Hut rather than really caring at all about what they read. You'll find students who used to read books all the time and now they just skim through books and take simple quizzes online through like the accelerated reader program. They really lost any desire to read just because they enjoyed reading. Again, it's all about that reward. Or you'll find, let's say, students who enter school with a lot of interests, but they're silenced and they just kind of stop asking questions because those questions aren't going to be on the test. Why would I waste, quote unquote, waste time by learning about something I'm interested in when I'm not going to get a grade for it? And there's so much research that supports this notion, it, it nauseates me. I don't want to imply that research doesn't have any faults, obviously some things are hard to replicate, and you can't measure with data a lot of things that make learning important. For example, a lifelong love of learning is hard to measure, it's very subjective or what makes someone happy. But there is a lot of hardback data that shows why grading doesn't work regardless. And I want to give you some research studies in the last 30 years or so quickly to give an overview. Probably the most important one and the one that's referenced many times is in 1987, which is then followed up in 1988, repeated through other various studies from other researchers. The original was by Ruth Butler, and she found that students have by far the highest motivation when they were only given feedback for their assignments, as in they worked way harder and learned way more when they only received substantiated feedback. That was followed by people who received feedback with a grade, and then in last was just a grade with no feedback at all. In other words, students learn more when they didn't receive grades. Then in 1991, another researcher named Hall Beck found that students who have a quote unquote grading orientation, which meant they cared primarily about their grades, actually had lower GPAs and more importantly, lower social and emotional wellbeing than those who had a learning orientation, which meant they just wanted to learn new things. So ironically, those who were more extrinsically motivated by grades actually performed worse in school than those who just wanted to learn without grades. Then in 1993, we have Adeline Moeller, who found that when students were taking a test, they were not more any motivated for that test when they knew grades were involved. They took multiple groups of people, one group of people knew that the test was going to be graded, the other group of people didn't think the test was going to be graded, and the students that took the test, knowing that there was going to be a grade, actually weren't any more motivated. Again, which rejects that notion that we have to have grades in order for kids to do something. In 1996, John Krumvoldz outlined how the competition that arises from grading practices made students lose their sense of safety in the classroom. As we all know, safety is widely regarded as the most basic need from learning. When students felt increasingly competitive towards one another, they felt judged by their peers and when they did poorly, or felt judged, they did not feel safe and therefore they shut down. Eric Anderman in 1997 researched that when students saw the test as a measurement for incentives, they were more likely to cheat than those who saw it as a method for improvement. That shouldn't be shocking to anyone. If you know that a lot is at stake and it's very stressful, you're going to be much more likely to cheat at that than if you just feel like it's a way to make yourself better. Then we got in 1998, Gary Nattriello, who found, but there's a correlation between those who receive low grades and those who stayed in school. In theory, and this was what Horace Mann proposed in the 1800s, monthly report cards were meant to show a growth mindset. You would get a grade, you knew you weren't doing too well, and the teacher would do extra things in order to make sure you did better, but that's not how grades work now. Even though that might be the teacher's intention, there's no denying that when a student consistently gets low grades, that doesn't really propel them to work any harder. In fact, we know from all this research that it makes them work much less. In fact, to jump ahead here for a second, 2015 Astrid Porthias found that students who received a low grade on their semester or halfway report card, they had consistently lower scores in the second half of the year, showcasing even more demotivation. If grades worked the way they were supposed to, you would assume that they would actually receive at least marginally higher grades. Going back, in 2008, Anastasia Lipnovec replicated Butler's study, the motivation without grades component, and proved it. Again, they found that without grades, students had much higher motivation. In 2011, Caroline Palfrey did multiple experiments and showed that students when placed with a project that did not have a grade actually performed better than students who were placed on a project with a grade. And kind of along the exact same lines, in 2015, Anne-Sophie Hayek found that groups were less cooperative and not willing to share as much when they knew they would receive a contribution grade. In other words, when someone walked into a group and they knew they were going to be judged by their peers and receive a grade, they were less likely to share information, which seems very counterintuitive, but again, it gets into that competitive judging aspect of your peers. You don't want to appear stupid, or at least stupid based off of the grading practice, which again is a problem with how we grade people if we're labeling people as stupid if they get low grades. And then finally, in 2014, Carine Socheil found that competitive grading practices impacted the psyche of girl students in science classes, as historically those tests were seen as favored towards male students. Male students always were kind of seen as the scientists and mathematics people, and we still see that problem today, despite some ways to fix that. And girls actually performed worse on these tests knowing that, when they found that there was a competitive grade associated with it. This phenomenon is really well explained in the book, if you have a chance to check it out, Whistling Vivaldi by Claude Steele, who goes into how race and gender and many other facets that one feels judged by actually makes them perform worse in many areas, even though they might be on equal or even greater footing. So that's just a rough overview of, let's say, 15 studies of the hundreds that exist. There are so many, not only from recent years, but also the 1800s and early 1900s, and the exact same themes are in every single one of them. Grades hurt a student's interest in learning, and at best it seems like grades motivate high achieving students for the wrong reasons. If our goal is to engage every student and make them better at what they do, it seems completely counterintuitive to issue them a grade telling them how they're not doing well, because it completely destroys any element for them to do better. The system works to make the gap larger between those who are performing well and those who don't. Those who fall further behind increasingly become demotivated, and those who do well basically stay at the top. And it's not like those at the top are really doing that well. They might have higher grades, but all A's does not mean everything is okay. They have a tendency for higher anxiety rates, they have a tendency towards lower social and emotional well-being, and they also tend to have fewer and fewer student interests outside of school. That typical all-A student is programmed into the system, they're only good at following orders, meeting parameters, and listening. They don't really know why they're doing what they're doing, they don't really explore their passions, they lose their imagination, they lose their creative thinking skills, and most importantly, they're just not as happy as they should be. Schools are meant to be places of learning, and it shouldn't be a charged statement to say that students should want to learn at school. And it's not that people don't naturally want to learn, any small child can't wait to explore anything they can't get their hands on, whether that be books or experiments, playing with their friends, whatever that is, it seems like the longer that they're in school, the more they just go through the motions, and grades do play a big part in that. And I don't want to imply that getting rid of grades is going to completely solve this issue, we'll talk about those more later on future podcasts, but they are one of the practices that seem the most plausible to change. So now let's move into what we can do differently. I'm going to introduce a few things that we can do right now to improve assessment. Each of these involve a risk depending on where you're teaching at, and I'll talk about that in a second. These assessment techniques are outlined thoroughly, with links to learn more in our free resource available on our website, which is called Grading is Not Equal to Assessment. If we're not going to place grades on students anymore, that doesn't mean we're not going to assess them. Obviously, the teacher doesn't just do nothing at all if they're not giving out grades, we have to give them substantiated feedback. That becomes very difficult when you have very large class sizes, or you have a lot of content to cover. So first off, and this is obvious and it's easy to say, not necessarily to do, but part of it is going to be giving up some of those standards. It's ridiculous to think that, first off, all those standards are important, but also that we could get through all of them within the year. If we give up more of those standards and we teach just a fraction of what those things are, that will allow us to easily give more substantiated feedback, to remediate on work, and to really help students actually learn something. In terms of actually giving feedback, a lot of times we put way too much weight on teachers' shoulders. The teacher is doing way too much work, whether that be planning or grading or assessing. So why not put more power in students' hands when it comes to learning and taking charge of it? For example, self-assessment is by far one of the most efficient means to learn how to do something. In fact, that dates back to the early 1900s with John Dewey. He came up with experiential education, and the core tenet of experiential education is reflecting on what you've done. He actually said that it isn't the experience that makes you learn, it's the reflection after the experience where you look at how you got there, what you did, and everything you took out of it, and how that informs you, that's when you actually learn. So when we give teachers all of the grading or assessing to do, and they write down what a student could do better, the student is missing that valuable part of reflecting on what they did. It's not just what they did well and what they did wrong, it's also why they did what they did, and that's the big part. Finding more and more ways to model and show that is important. We have a lot of research in that document. Also, in addition to self-reflection, there's peer reflection, which is the exact same thing. You're still self-reflecting on what you did, but you're also looking at someone else's work. You not only have to look at what you did and why you did it, you have to look at other people and what they did and why they did that. Again, it's another way to actually learn from what you're doing and take charge for what you're doing and learn for yourself, inspiring that lifelong love of learning. Obviously, teachers can provide feedback from time to time. But that's really just the start. If we're going to eliminate grading, we have to really completely change how we assess. We still need authentic formalized assessment, and we still need to push students to succeed, but if we're going to push students to succeed without grading them, that means they have to intrinsically want to succeed. So we need to find ways to promote skills that are important to the 21st century that everyone naturally wants to improve upon, for example, creativity or self-sufficiency. And there's a few of those that come directly to mind. The first of which is a student-led conference. A student-led conference takes place where normally a parent-teacher conference would take place. But instead of a teacher just rolling through all the things a student can improve upon, which again is that traditional notion of grading, a student sits down, which they've prepared for weeks for, and presents on everything that they've learned. And the family and the teacher both provide feedback on what they could do to get better. And there's no better way to relate to a student than having the parents there, because the parents know way more than the teacher does about that student. And as a result, everyone learns and everyone knows what to do going forward, and the student is way more likely to reflect on that because they're the ones presenting what they did. There's no secondhand information. Now building upon that is a formal presentation. Instead of taking a test or a bunch of quizzes, why don't you just present at the end of the semester or the end of the year what you learned on? There could be checkpoints built in where various people give feedback on what you're doing and tell you how to get better, and then at the end, you present to those same people on how you've learned. And in a perfect world, that would be parents, other students, a bunch of teachers, community members that could give feedback on how a specific kid is doing. It's looking at a student from that mindset of growth, seeing how they track over time, not standardizing them in any way, they're learning just for them. Finally, the last idea, and this is the one that's closest to me, is a portfolio. It can be combined with any of those other assessment techniques, but it's just finding ways to either take a few of your content standards or perhaps a few of your skills, which is what I prefer, for example, like a creativity portfolio. Students take what they've done throughout the year, they add it to the portfolio, they make it better and better, they choose their best works from that portfolio, and then they share it. It's proof and demonstration of what they've done, they can see how they've done over time, and there's a lot of cool apps, for example, Seesaw, that allow you to do this very easily. Seesaw is a phone app, a website app, that allows you to upload your work, and it almost is like Instagram, you can just scroll through it and see everything that's going on. Parents can see that as well, which is great. Also, portfolios are a place that higher education is going, which I'll talk about in a second. Now I said before that each of these requires risk. There's no denying that in many school districts, moving away from grades is meant with resistance, and I really like the author and education reformer, Debra Meyers. She describes the people that she hires, as well as teachers that she likes, as people who practice creative non-compliance. It's essentially the teachers that are willing to pull a wool over administrators' and districts' eyes. They say one thing and kind of do another, and I don't want to elicit deceit, but we have to recognize that rebelling isn't always a bad thing. If we know these problems exist, the solution is going to have to come from within, from educators, because the ones who are benefiting from these grading schemes are those organizing all of it that want the most simple solution, those at the top. So why don't we mess with the system a little bit? If your district requires grades, why don't you just let students assess themselves, let them give their own grades? And I'm sure you might say, well, students are just going to give themselves all high grades. Yeah, they will, probably. If we know that grading isn't really doing anything for them, and it's just demotivating, why not just let them do it? You still get a grade that you can put down. Better yet, and it's the one that I use, we still have to report grades, I just tell students at the beginning of the year they're going to get an A. And I'm not going to pretend like this doesn't get you in trouble, okay? Parents are going to say that you're not getting their kids ready for college. Students might say that you're the easy teacher because you're not giving them as many tests, or they're getting an A for, you know, as being there. Education might be concerned about your bell curve or what this is doing to students. But regardless, you're going to find that students enjoy your class, you'll probably find they learn a lot more, they're going to back you up, and it's all worth it in the end. It might get you in a lot of trouble. It could potentially lead to you being fired. But I, as well as you, didn't go into this job to accept that school sucks and that when we see things that we know are wrong, we just have to deal with it. We're education professionals. We have degrees. We study learning. We're willing to listen to some random dude talk on a podcast for 30 minutes about grades. We care about students. We care about children and we care about education. And every situation is different. But we should be able to stand up for students using research-backed practice. And it's hard to take a small step on this. A lot of people are trying to find new ways to issue grades. For example, having mastery as a percentage and saying mastery or non-mastery, or having a 21st century skills rubric where you get a four, three, two, or one based off different skills. And it's not like these aren't well-intentioned. But the fact remains, even if you try to hide it, the problem isn't giving out the A or the B. The problem is that this is an extrinsic reward. It could be a four. It could be mastery. It could be pass. It could be an A. It doesn't matter. As long as they're shooting for something that isn't just learning and they're shooting for that extrinsic motivator, you're going to run into the exact same problems. Therefore, taking on the cause of just going gradeless altogether is really what's worth it. Finding ways to make this work in your classroom, or better yet, finding other teachers who agree with you and doing it all together, helps you make a framework for helping students achieve success and changing the system altogether. And I'm going to highlight again, it's a risk. But again, we went into education not as mindless grading robots, not as people who constantly get attacked for their professionalism or their accountability or their expertise, not to become people who just go with the flow and eventually just get so bogged down that we just accept the fact we'll eventually retire. We did this because we enjoy teaching and we try what's best. Now thankfully, there is change on the horizon. Real change that's going to change the education system. It's a lot of changing. And I encourage you to promote the ideas I'm about to share with you to others, especially administration, to show that gradeless learning isn't just best research, but it also has a lot of reflections on where higher education is going. There's a lot of colleges that already accept going gradeless. They don't have GPAs or don't care about class rank, they don't care about standardized testing. But more importantly, there's a push towards portfolios in schools. And we're going to have Tony Wagner on next week, who's one of the contributors to the Mastery Transcript Consortium, as well as a representative eventually from the Mastery Transcript Consortium. And they're probably the leaders right now in getting portfolios into schools. And it's really cool. I encourage you to check it out. Seriously, I was floored by it, by going to mastery.org. They're an organization, a nonprofit, who's trying to work, and so far have been successful, by changing college admissions and offering an alternative, where there's no standardized testing and no grades. And instead, there's this really cool looking portfolio that students submit, that they've worked throughout high school on, that they submit to colleges. And what's really important is the transcript is adamantly against any kind of numerical or graded score. It's just a bunch of skills that a district assigns to teachers, or even the classroom assigns themselves, where they work towards specific goals, like let's say, creatively solving a problem could be one of the skills. A student uploads proof of that on this website, and it's standardized, at least to the point where a college admissions counselor can know what the different skills are and look through them. They're going to meld together some form of standardization, so that colleges are all familiar with the process, while still really radically transforming the system. Imagine for a second that colleges no longer care about standardized testing and they use these portfolios. You no longer have all that time ate up test prepping. Instead, what schools are going to have to do is teach students these skills that they're going to need to do well in the portfolio, which means more projects, more focus on skills, less focus on content, and just, in general, way more focus on improving students rather than just issuing them some random score. I encourage you to check out our next podcast with Tony Wagner when we'll talk more about that. Before we conclude, I hope that this was informative. I hope that you enjoyed listening to this. I've never done a podcast like this, so please provide feedback if it has any point whatsoever to you. If it gains any traction, I'll do the same exact thing on a variety of different progressive ideas. I'm thinking mindfulness, restorative justice, critical pedagogy, democratic classrooms, stuff like that. You can share your thoughts by tagging us on Twitter, which is at humrespro or H-U-M-R-E-S-P-R-O, or contact us on our website at humanrestorationproject.org. Again, thank you for listening and joining me today. Let's restore humanity together. Hope you enjoyed this podcast. We want to connect with you and hear your thoughts. Follow us on Twitter, YouTube, Medium, and other social media, and be sure to check us out on our website at humanrestorationproject.org. If you want to support us in our endeavor of starting a movement towards progressive ed through high-quality resources, consider supporting us on Patreon. Thanks again!
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