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Today we are joined by Dr. Susan Blum, Dr. Blum is a professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, and the author of many works and articles, including her recently released: Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead), which features fifteen different educators, such as Arthur Chiaravalli, Jesse Stommel, Aflie Kohn, and Laura Gibbs, speaking on their ideas and implementation of the practice. And as an interesting side note, more than half of the educators in the book have appeared on our podcast!
In this conversation we'll be talking about ungrading, framed on the ideas found in the book - the “how” of the practice, and particularly how ungrading fits within COVID-19 and promoting equity as a whole.
Dr. Susan Blum, professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and active author, with a recent focus on ungrading.
[00:00:12] Chris McNutt: Hello everyone. Welcome to the Human Restoration Project podcast. My name is Chris McNutt and I'm a digital design educator and I'm joined today by Dr. Susan Blum. Before we get started, I wanted to highlight three of HRP supporters, Simeon Frang, Erin Dowd, and Casey Nedry. You can learn more about Human Restoration Project and support us on our website, Human Restoration Project.org. Today, we are joined by Dr. Susan Blum. Dr. Blum is a professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and an author of many works in art, including her recently released, Ungrading, Why Rating Students Undermines Learning and What to Do Instead, which features 15 different educators, such as Arthur Girovelli, Jesse Stommel, Alfie Kohn, and Laura Gibbs, speaking on their ideas and implementation of the practice. Welcome to the podcast, Susan.
[00:00:56] Susan Blum: Thank you so much. It's great to be here. And I just have to also put in a plug for the name of your podcast, which I think is so essential, Restoration and Human Restoration. So just giving you a little props there.
[00:01:11] CM: For sure, for sure. And what a better time to talk about Human Restoration in a time where we have a chance to reinvent the system, and it's needed more than ever during COVID-19. And I think an interesting side note is too, a quick plug for myself, more than half the educators in this book have been on our podcast. Seriously, I think like seven of these people have been on the Human Restoration Project podcast. So you can go back and listen to that and learn more about Ungrading. Anyways, today we're going to talk more about Ungrading. We're going to talk about the ideas in the book, the how of the practice, and particularly focus on how Ungrading fits within COVID-19 and just promoting equity as a whole, the social justice nature of Ungrading within the classroom. So I want to start off with Alfie Kohn because he starts off the book with different movements to take towards ending grades. And it's very concrete and direct. And he points out that many of us are required to turn in a final grade, but we aren't required to decide unilaterally what that grade is going to be. Like we don't have to use grades as threats or bribes. And he describes this common theme of Ungrading, which is getting rid of the control function. So removing that power barrier between student and teacher. Could you talk about what it means to not give a grade systemically? Like how does that change the relationship between teachers and students?
[00:02:25] SB: Yeah, I think, you know, one of the things people probably need to understand is that you can't have business as usual and do all the same practices you've always done and just take away grades. There's a whole intertwined universe of practices that include giving students a lot more agency, trusting students a lot more, maybe having a lot more conversations with students about why you're doing what you're doing, what their goals are, rather than imposing the teacher's goals. And as someone, you know, I've been teaching more than 30 years, so I have a lot of entrenched practices. And so giving some of those up is not always easy. It's been a journey for me that I've been on for over a decade. But when you give up the control and you stop calculating all the points and averaging everything together, it ends up feeling a lot more like a human relationship and a lot less like a factory. And even though we've kind of been socialized to think that the grading system with precision is fair and objective, in fact, every dimension of conventional grading is arbitrary. And every educator has different metrics for what they're counting. I gave a workshop a couple days ago and I asked people, do you count participation in your grade? And some said yes, some said no. How much do you count it? Five percent, ten percent, twenty percent, it depends. Do you count absences? Yes, no, maybe sometimes. You know, how many absences are students permitted? It depends. Do you count homework? It depends. You know, some people do, some people don't. So when we give up this idea that we're actually doing something precise and we instead focus on the overall learning experience of actual humans in our classrooms, I think it ends up feeling so much more meaningful and humane. And it's really what we're here for, right? We're not here to be like, I don't want to say police, because that's a whole other topic, but we're not here to be judges of people's perfection and compliance, or at least I don't think that's what we all started by wanting to do. And we can really focus a lot more on the learning.
[00:05:00] CM: Yeah, and speaking of that systemic shift too, I think that there's a point to be made about humanizing the teacher in the sense that if you're going to do ungrading well without driving yourself absolutely crazy, you have to decrease the quantity of assignments and focus more on the quality of assignments. You have to lessen the amount because the common critique I hear of ungrading is, well, if I'm going to focus on feedback instead, that means I have to give feedback to every single student. I can't just go down the list and give ones and zeros, which can be a lot faster. So from a teacher standpoint, what that means is that I can focus on less things and ensure students are doing them well, as opposed to just giving this mass quantity of things that I had to go home every single night and dehumanize myself by entering in the spreadsheet. And with that too, just the concept of, well, if you focus on quality over quantity, the students' overall learning will probably be better. It'll probably be more, and I hate the word, but it's true in this context, it will be more rigorous in the sense of learning more beneficially.
[00:06:02] SB: Yeah, I think it's certainly a deeper, more engaged kind of learning if the students do it for reasons that have more to do with their intrinsic motivation rather than the threat of a bad grade or the promise of a good grade. I teach really, really high achieving students. So for them, they expect the reward to be the grade. But when you don't focus on the grade, then they can focus on the learning. And the response I've gotten over the years, and more and more as I've sort of improved my explanations to them, is that they can actually, and they often say this, literally, for the first time, I've been able to focus on my learning instead of the grade. And I get that in class after class after class. But I want to actually talk about the load and the work and the feedback, because that is something that a lot of people are concerned about. And we should remember that COVID is all around. And I've been teaching remotely since March, and that's hard. And a lot of people are teaching in what our university calls dual delivery systems, where some students are in the classroom and some are remote, and then there are hybrid classrooms where some students are there some days and some other days, and some people are teaching in person. So this is a moment of great turmoil. And as you noted earlier, this is a perfect moment to try new things, because we're all trying new things anyway. But I don't actually have my students doing less. I'm just not the only one providing feedback. And not everything has to be graded. Some things can be used for other purposes. So if a student does an interview, like I was teaching a class on the anthropology of childhood and education. And so students, one of the assignments was to interview somebody who was at least a generation older than my students to see what their experience of higher education was. And I didn't have to grade this. I didn't even have to give any feedback at all. They loved it. They interviewed their parents, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, some friend from somewhere, and it was so interesting. And then they brought that information back to the class and we talked about it. And so there's authentic feedback from classmates. And so the teacher doesn't have to be at the center of everything. And when you realize that not everything has to be judged, some things can just be experienced, that also takes some of the fear and the burden off.
[00:08:54] CM: Right, right. And speaking of that too, it starts us to question some of the stuff that we might have done to fill time. Like as in, like it was to hit a certain standard or we felt like it had to be done. Maybe we didn't need to do to begin with when we experienced doing these things in a different way. Maybe students actually learned more or produced better work or better learning when we took those things away. I found that in my own classroom, instead of focusing on 12 things this year, we're doing six, but everything is slower. It's more feedback driven. We do multiple peer review sessions and it's turned out way better in the long run. And that builds me into a question that Gamal asked in the chat, which is how do teachers navigate content standards, standardized achievement, and then balance that out with intrinsic student centered learning? Because it seems like those are in opposition to each other sometimes.
[00:09:49] SB: I know that's really an issue for classes that have standardized curricula or that are part of a sequence where the students you certify have to go on to the next level or something like that. I agree with you about deep learning being more meaningful and lasting than shallow learning. And in high school, sometimes people contrast AP tests with IB tests. I don't know if your listeners know what that is, but advanced placement tests are often very, very capacious. They test all kinds of things and everybody knows a little bit about a lot. And the International Baccalaureate is designed maybe to go deeper about fewer things. And if you believe, as I do, that you can sort of get to your goals in lots of different ways, that there's not just one way to learn something, and that the world is interconnected, then you can learn about virology by talking about SARS, or you can learn about virology by learning about COVID, or you can learn about virology by learning sort of basic terms and then basic rules. So there are lots of ways to get at the same goals, even the same content. And medical schools have changed the way they do things, as I understand it. They've gone to a more systems-based rather than a kind of disciplinary-based approach, or some of them have. So even in fields like the STEM fields where this question comes up a lot, I think there are lots of brilliant experiments with people in physics or chemistry or math. You take certain kinds of meaningful, deep, sort of, I don't know, rich problems and then you develop the tools as you need them. And so you'll still develop them, it'll just be in a more meaningful way. But that means rethinking things. It might mean you have to use authentic experiences to get there. But then once people are curious, then they're willing to learn the tools. So I think we often get things backwards. We think we have to kind of impose this really boring stuff for a really long time and eventually get to something interesting. But in fact, I think the reverse is the case. And so I think that that's not really a contradiction, even though it feels initially like it is.
[00:12:30] CM: Yeah, I feel like that's the case for a lot of just like progressive education in general. The ideas that we take for granted tend to be very counterintuitive to what the mainstream view might be. And the research backs up what you're saying too. And there's a load of research out there that shows that when you focus on students just doing things that matter to them and really diving into those things and having those experiences, and then over time you coach students by saying like, hey, have you thought about this? And then as a content standard, students will retain that information more. And even though I don't think achievement tests are necessarily a good measure of someone's understanding or their ability, they do achieve higher test scores in those studies when they focus on less. Just because you covered it in the class doesn't mean that students are going to do that on the test. I think as pretty much any teacher knows from experience. Just go into any classroom the next year and talk about something that you spoke about in the class. Chances are that many of the students do have no idea what you're talking about. That was actually the moment for me where I realized that traditional education doesn't work very well because I would spend months when I used to teach history talking about the industrial revolution and I would walk into another history class and the kids would go like, oh, what's that? It was like, it's like one of the most important things that we spoke about the entire year. It was so frustrating. There was like a lot of like anger there. But you had to self-reflect and think about giving up that power and perhaps what you're saying is not the most important thing to what the kids are thinking about.
[00:13:53] SB: Exactly. And students know it. I mean, I've been interviewing college students for 15 years at least and they know that they learn things for the test and then they forget it immediately. And there's almost no doubt about that. You know, the research bears it out, teachers experience, students experience bears it out. You know, I've talked to people about what they learned in college and they said, well, I didn't, none of the classes taught me anything. You know, I've learned the social things and I've maybe learned to work hard. That isn't true for everybody. There are people like me who learn pretty well in a conventional way, or at least I used to, but we are the minority, I think, and we shouldn't be designing our schools for that. But yes, I think all the research shows that doing less in a meaningful way, connecting it to interests that students actually have or are allowed to have makes all of this much more meaningful and lasting.
[00:14:52] CM: When you turn over that power too, it leaves space for people who learn maybe in that more traditional way to continue doing so. We're just now allowing for everyone to learn in their own experiential way that matters to them. I want to bring up that idea of surrendering power. I was really struck by Jesse Stommel's in this book and he talks about giving up responsibility. And this quote just really stood out because I feel like if you were someone who wasn't already on grading, this might be considered pretty far-reaching. So here's the quote. He says, if I am going to give the responsibility of grading to my students, I have to let go of my attachment to the accuracy of that process. Instead, I give feedback and the need for objectivity or accuracy gives way to a dialogue, one that is necessarily emergent and subjective. So basically, it's getting to that idea that perhaps that need for objectivity isn't there. Instead, the subjective dialogue is more important. What would it take to help teachers make that leap of basically saying, my grade may be less objective than hypothetically it might have been?
[00:16:03] SB: Right. Well, I know that and Jesse has been one of the great proponents of ungrading for a very long time. I discovered his work after I sort of independently invented the idea of ungrading also. And then I saw that he'd been at it way longer than I had. The idea that we are objective in our grading is something that I have had also. I've given quizzes, I've added up little teeny tiny points for this and that, and you didn't do the proper format for this bibliography. Anyway, so I understand the belief in objectivity. But again, all the research shows that grades are completely inconsistent. And for 100 years, people have replicated these studies of giving a number of educators the same work and asking them to grade it. And 100 years ago, there was this incredible study that we refer to in the book. And in three different disciplines, the range of grades that these teachers gave to this body of work was extraordinary. Some thought the work was great. Some thought the work was terrible. And somebody asked one of the reviewers of the manuscript of this book, surely there's been progress on grading consistency in these 100 years. And then last year, somebody replicated this. They said, okay, here are some pieces of work of students and people volunteered to grade it. And the range was like A through F. I mean, it was amazing. Some counted format, some didn't count format, some counted one thing, some counted another thing. It might as well be completely arbitrary. And that's between educators. But if you have a test and you say this question counts 10% of the test, and these are the answers, you have arbitrarily decided on what you're going to count as meaningful learning. And you're going to count as which part matters more than another part. And once you realize how arbitrary all of that is, even if you get numbers out of it, it still is, I think it's not, that kind of thing isn't subjective, but it's arbitrary. And so the inconsistency from semester to semester, you know, one semester I might say participation is 50%. Next semester I can say participation is 10%. So it's arbitrary on my behalf also. So if I have a shy student and they never talk, and one semester participation is 50%, then that student is going to do badly. And then if I have a revelation, oh my goodness, there are introverts and I shouldn't penalize somebody for being an introvert, so participation doesn't count, then they might not be penalized. And so the arbitrariness, I think, recognizing the arbitrariness frees me from agonizing over the nuances of a grade. And so I think if you ask students, did you learn, you know, what are they measuring? I ask my students, what did you learn? How do you feel about your learning? What grade would you give yourself? And I obviously reserve the right to change it, and I sometimes do. This semester I'm going to raise the grades of at least a couple people because they were imposing kind of arbitrary standards on themselves that they'd internalized from previous classes. But if some of them are talking about work, some are talking about improvement, some are talking about absences, and I didn't tell them that any of those things would be incorporated into the grade, but they're just thinking it is. So I think Jesse's quite right that if you ask students, how much did you learn, how much did you engage, how proud are you of your work, or at least your improvement, or your learning, or where you got to, they know. I mean, there are certainly some who game the system or try to game the system, and it's, in my view, the system that needs to be changed. But I have stopped really losing sleep most of the time about these little nuances of grading.
[00:20:48] CM: And the fact of the matter is, too, I think if we were going to compare this, I don't know if there's a study for this or not, but I would imagine that there are probably more people gaming the traditional system that we see left and right people. I mean, I game the traditional system all the time. About every online test I cheated on, I graduated, I had a 4.0, whatever. I think I turned out all right. That's just the way you play the game at school. And speaking of which, that myth of objectivity, that idea that there really isn't one standardized practice that people fall on when they're teachers. I think about, too, how that objectivity, quote unquote, relates to social justice and equity work. So we know across the board that students of color, students from marginalized communities, tend to get lower grades when they complete the same level of work as students who are not. And we also see students who live, perhaps, in communities that are disadvantageous for schools. You'll see practices that focus more on homework completion or on participation and more objectivity, or subjectivity, I should say, about what they are producing. And I personally have come to see on grading as part of a greater liberatory pedagogy. SJ Miller talks about this. When you lessen the relationship power dynamic between teacher and student, you then promote students to have more power over what they say and what they can do. And it also diminishes that judgmental attitude of the teacher and allows people to flourish within their own learning. Do you want to talk briefly about how this connects with just equity as a whole?
[00:22:32] SB: That's a huge topic, but absolutely. I think when you demand compliance and you demand uniformity, you're making a lot of assumptions about what the point is of the whole enterprise and what it is that you're assessing in terms of outcomes. So this has been so clear during COVID. And the New York Times had an amazing story about two students from the same class. And one during COVID in March, when they sent everybody home, one went to her family's second home in Maine and had a room where she could have the good Wi-Fi. And the other one went to work in her family's food truck in Florida. And she was working full time to support the family because that was the only income and they didn't have Wi-Fi at home and she didn't have a laptop. And so if we are going to say, okay, now you have to write a 12-page research paper and it has to have footnotes and you have to have 20 sources, who is going to produce that? Any guesses? But what's the point? What are we trying to do? Are we trying to just get the product to be uniform or are we trying to say, given what you can do in your circumstances, engage with this material to the best of your ability and think about what you've learned? And I think we can do that in all kinds of meaningful ways. There are students who come to college and some have gone to really richly resourced private schools and they've had extraordinary training in how to write and how to do math and they've had summer enrichment camps and they've traveled the world and they've been to museums and everything is going to be easier for them. They have the means to fly home or to replace their laptop if it's not working and then there are first-generation students, students of color, where they may be still, even in a, even if they have a lot of financial support from a college, they still may be responsible for people back home. So they may not have the time to devote to going to the writing center or something to get help and they may, it's also, they bring a richness of experience that is often really beneficial in a lot of fields. I'm an anthropologist. We want diverse experience to inform our conversations and there has to be a kind of respect and gratitude for students who are willing to engage with whatever they bring to the classroom and we know students come with different racial backgrounds, different economic backgrounds, different languages, different immigration status, different parents advantages and disadvantages, different abilities and disabilities, different genders and sexualities and all of that is necessary to understand the complexity of the material that we're talking about. So if you kind of make some people feel like, okay, you're the good one and everybody else is deficient, you're really losing the point of putting a lot of people together in an interaction and I think, you know, COVID has made all of this really, really clear, but it's clear if you open your eyes to the diversity of interactants in our educational settings, then you want to honor that diversity, not to penalize it.
[00:26:33] CM: I'm worried that when we don't look at this from a systemic angle, because I would consider ungrading to be the first step of systemically changing how grades work because at the end of the day, many teachers who ungrade still have to input a grade, which if it was truly systemic, we would get rid of that altogether, but we can at least take a systemic step within our classrooms to eliminate that objectivity of assigning every single person a grade. And I think those that want to maintain the status quo would focus on this issue as saying, well, let's give implicit bias training to educators. That way, when they look at student work, maybe it's anonymous, but that ignores all the things that you're talking about right now, which is it's not only academic. There's a cultural piece, a socioeconomic piece. There's so many different things that are behind what we assume is quote unquote quality work or quality learning or whatever it is that we want to call it. And with that being said, when we are participating in this work, we are not just motivating students, but we're ensuring, as you just said, that everyone's voice is heard, validated, and that people continue to press on and learn more, and we have much more fulfilling, rich experiences. To me, that is the motivating factor behind doing this is you feel like an organizer, an activist, someone who is helping others, which is great for us as teachers. I did want to jump over quickly. So we've covered some benefits of ungrading, but Mary and Matthew brought up a really interesting point in the chat, which is concerning how do you convince others within your profession that this is actually worth doing, who are very much steeped in traditional assessment. I've been doing this for a long time. It's one thing to convince admin, which in my experience has been, just ignore admin. You're still giving a final grade, and we can have that conversation later after more teachers adapt the practice. But how do you actually start that micro-revolution of other teachers coming on that practice with you?
[00:28:36] SB: I'm not an evangelist. I'm not trying to convince anybody necessarily. I'm trying to show people that there is another way. And I think in my own experience, people who are really struggling to figure out what's going wrong, why are they unhappy, why are their students unhappy, why doesn't it feel like we're on this adventure of learning that we should be on, this is giving people a new way to think about it. And so if you talk about it, people can see that, oh my goodness, what is Susan Blum doing over there? Are those students just lazy and they're not doing anything? And I think the students can speak about their experience, and I can talk to other colleagues who might be willing to try one little thing, or they might be willing to really reflect on their goals in a little bit different way. And I don't advocate that people plunge in totally ungrading for the first time before you've thought this through, but it's got a bunch of dimensions that include giving interesting assignments, maybe having assignments that aren't graded at all, but small ones you can start with, and having an audience that is beyond the teachers, so de-centering the teacher's authority and focus, giving people choices, allowing them to choose among five or three, or even to generate their own topic or approach. I mean, I kind of, I went crazy this semester and I had un-essays, so students could do whatever they wanted, and they could do podcasts and videos and paintings and songs and essays if they wanted, or interviews, but you can do that in a confined sort of way at first and see how that goes, and ask your students, talk to your students. The students, in my experience, know what's happening, and if you actually ask them, like Joy Kerr did in the chapter in the book, you know, what do you think about grades? What are grades for? Who cares about grades? Your students have thoughts about grades, and if you listen to them, if you talk to them, if you talk about the assignment, why they're doing things, you might be surprised at how easy it is to at least make small adjustments, and then once you realize that those are more meaningful, it's easier to add to it, so that's, I think, what I would say. There are whole colleges that have no grades, and they've been around for decades and decades, and Hampshire College, Evergreen State, there are lots of them, and their students learn, their students go to med school, their students publish articles, they have art exhibits. It's not that there's no learning or product to show at the end of it, it's just it takes a dialogue, and that is something that you have to be willing to undertake.
[00:31:49] CM: Right, right, and I think that from what I've seen, the best way to convince others to adopt this practice is just to showcase what students are doing, like to make your classroom very public in the sense that maybe you have like a presentation night at the end of your semester, maybe you upload their work online, you ask kids like, hey, do you mind if I put this on the internet so I can show people what you're doing, and then over time, you'll have the other teachers come like and say like, how did you do that, how did you make that project, how did you structure it, and instead of having a conversation about like, well, I did one, two, three, and four, it's about, no, I implemented a system into my classroom that allows me to do this kind of work, because when we shame educators and say what you're doing is wrong, and it's hurting others, that's just going to cause someone to shut down. We know that from practically anything that anyone does, no one wants to feel like they're being lectured, and that goes for teachers as well, and there's a lot of social slash political things that might prevent an educator from adopting on grading, so we really have to meet people where they're at. A first-year teacher is not going to have the same capabilities to do this than a 10-year teacher, a teacher with tenure, a teacher with a union, etc. So as you're saying, there are shifts that we can make that are maybe slightly more minor but more radical at your institution, like maybe you have three choices instead of one, but there's still a grade, and maybe you do like self-assessment all the way up to I'm not going to give a grade at all, and here's some narrative feedback, we're going to send it home as a whole team. It really just depends on where you're at, but we're making small differences one step at a time.
[00:33:22] SB: In my department, a lot of graduate students and younger faculty and postdocs are really interested in on grading, so I don't know what's happening exactly, but there seems to be energy among emerging teachers to try this, and I think part of that may be because they themselves have been so oppressed by the ubiquity and the power of grades, and so they are actually willing to try it, and even if it's risky, and I really applaud them, I've been so awed by their courage to try it out.
[00:34:00] CM: I bring this up I feel like in every other podcast nowadays, but that creative non-compliance piece is really huge. It's finding ways to say one thing but kind of do another, as at the end of the day, if your students are producing quality learning and you can showcase that, chances are the administration, the department head, etc. isn't going to come in and say like you need to stop doing this, this is wrong, because they're going to be focused on what the students did. I mean these things just they seem very logical, but when you're doing it in your class it can be absolutely terrifying to think like what if it doesn't work out, etc., but we can find ways around that. Now with that being said, I think that right now at the time of this book's release, which is excellent, I love this book. It's super practical. It has so much stuff in it. It's very much just like here's an idea that you can do, and there's a lot of questions you can ask yourself, etc. We also are teaching during COVID-19, so it's made the classroom very difficult to be in. Many of us are entirely online or hybrid, or if we are in person it's certainly a lot different. It's pandemic teaching and there's a ton of work. It's awkward, etc. So do you see a place for implementing systemic shifts which feel like they might be a lot of work while simultaneously balancing the workload of what's going on with COVID-19?
[00:35:18] SB: Yeah, I mean it is a lot of work to completely redo the way you teach, and even if you're in the classroom, if students can't move around and if they're so distant, then how does small group work happen? You know, we've been advocating active learning for so many decades now, and now active learning is really COVID-spreading, so we want to be really careful about that, and so you have to really rethink your goals and how to implement your goals, and every educator I know is exhausted and burned out and frazzled, and so to colleagues out there, if you can't change any more than you have to, just try to get through this. This will end, but for me, ungrading has really not required as much shifting as probably other people have experienced, so things like participation or timeliness or something have been much harder for students during COVID. You know, our campus is almost fully in person with complete density in the dorms and everything, and we've had a lot of cases, and so a lot of the contacts have gone into isolation and quarantine, and thankfully nobody's gotten really sick as far as we know, but if you're moving to quarantine all of a sudden for two weeks, you might be late on an assignment, and it seems to me this is a really perfect moment to let go of the timeliness dimension of your grading if that was there before, and asking people what do you need to do to accomplish this goal. If it's three papers instead of four papers, maybe this is the time to allow that, so ungrading means you're not committed to a formula that you've established, and a lot of the LMSs, the learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas and things have a kind of formula built in, and I think that's probably even more the case in K through 12 schools, but if you have a kind of flexible grading system, then you can modify it even as you go, as you find out like what I thought was going to work in August in October I see isn't working, and it doesn't throw everything out of whack because you're still focused on the students as human beings. You're focused on their well-being, and you're focused on their learning, and if they don't do three papers, they might still be learning a lot.
[00:38:08] CM: For sure. Yeah, I mean it builds on how the conversation started, which is allowing grace by slowing down, focusing on the individuals as humans, and that goes for both students and ourselves, and recognizing that if you're trying to upkeep what you were doing last year at our current point in 2020-2021, you're going to drive yourself bonkers. It's going to be absolutely absurd to maintain that level of work and work-life balance, and I mean people have been asking, like, well, how do you actually still produce projects when all this is going on and students are all over the place? Well, the answer is exactly what you're saying. It's giving students a ton of choice in what they're doing, so they want to do it, slowing down to the point where last week we had three or four just straight up, just like all we're doing all day is working, and I spent all of that time giving feedback. I just sat at the front of the room and said, hey, if you have any questions, let me know, but I'm just going to be giving some feedback on your stuff, and it was pretty low-key. Just put some music on, and it was fairly relaxing, and that doesn't mean that students are learning less. They are being given the time to process what's going on and learn things on their own and just really self-navigate the things that they care about, and that's okay. Normally, we wouldn't have that much time, but right now it's needed. We need that time to learn. Is there anything else that we didn't hit yet that you would want to throw out there when it comes to ungrading?
[00:39:36] SB: I think I wanted actually to just add a thought to what you just said, and we've all experienced a kind of trauma and a kind of grief and losing the life we're used to, and that takes a lot of energy, and everybody's a little bit confused together, so I think having music playing and giving people a less intense moment doesn't mean they're not learning. It doesn't mean you're not being a rigorous, committed teacher. I think we all need a little bit of space like that. Ungrading is something that has really reinvigorated my own teaching. It's given me a lot more enjoyment of my own classes and my students, and it's made the conversations much more honest. It's allowed students to take risks in trying something new that maybe they've always wanted to try, but they never dared before because they were going to be penalized if it wasn't good enough. It's allowed me to preach the gospel of perfection being the enemy of the good and having good enough first drafts and allowing me to implement a lot of practices that are really helpful for life beyond school, and if my students can take that with them, then that's a wonderful thing and I'm really happy that that's been made possible by letting go of this other mechanistic approach.
[00:41:08] CM: And Susan, I seriously appreciate you coming on speaking about this. I'm going to do some some promos here. First off, Ungrading the Book. There it is in focus. This is available through the West Virginia University Press. You can find it right now. You can order it directly through their website. It's also available in bookstores soon or now that came out earlier on the publisher website. I'm pretty sure that if you go to also the Ungrading Book Talk, which Susan, could you buy me who's the person who's organizing that?
[00:41:42] SB: David Beck…book? I don't know him actually at all.
[00:41:44] CM: He has, I think, 150 people signed up now to do the Ungrading Chat on Twitter and it's also like a monthly like Zoom meetup book club, but on that website, which I'll link in the show notes slash chat here in a second, you can get 30% off the book. The other thing, quick promo for HRP. Again, almost half of the authors in this book are available on our podcast. Susan and I also spoke before. David Buck. Thank you. Sorry, David. We have all those people on our podcast. We also have an Ungrading Course slash Booklet that walks you through how to do this systemically. It's all free and you can check that out on our website, which is humanrestoration project.org. Other than that, Susan, seriously, I appreciate you coming on. I appreciate you talking about these things and putting together this work because it really is a really cool piece.
[00:42:36] Well, thanks so much for having me and stay healthy and we will get through this year.
[00:42:42] CM: Thank you again for listening to the Human Restoration Project podcast. I hope this conversation leaves you inspired and ready to push the progressive envelope of education. You can learn more about our cause, support us, and stay tuned to this podcast and other updates on our website at humanrestorationproject.org.