3 Reasons for Ditching Grades on Projects

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photo credit: Barrett.Discovery via photopin cc
photo credit: Barrett.Discovery via photopin cc

Grades distract from student learning and inhibit higher order thinking.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with student projects. As a teacher, I’m guilty of creating rubrics with such specificity that little room is left for student creativity; the rubric served more as a checklist for the students and me.

Checklists as grades

  • Graphics and pictures make it easier to understand – Check
  • Title and subheadings are clearly organized – Check
  • Sources are accurately documented – Check
  • No grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors – Check

Instead of focusing on the learning process, student questions are product related, so there isn’t much higher-level thinking.

Grades inspire product question

  • How many pictures do I need?
  • Is it OK if I use two poster boards?
  • Do the pictures need to be in color?

It shouldn’t surprise anyone then that on the project’s due date I can essentially sort projects into two piles: the students who spent the appropriate amount of time going through the rubric checklist would earn A’s and those who rushed their project and failed to meet the rubric’s requirements.

As Chris Lehman says, “If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that’s not a project, that’s a recipe.” Far too often my rubrics serve as recipes.

So instead of having students follow a recipe, just so we can easily come up with grades, let’s encourage them to explore, create, and discover by recognizing that process is as important, or more important, than the finished product.

3 reasons to ditch grades on projects

  1. Student questions are the seeds of real learning. By eliminating rubrics and the grades associated with them we’ll encourage trial and error.
  2. Learning should be challenging and messy. Projects without grades attached provide an appropriate balance of structure and choice.
  3. Instead of rubrics and grades, require students to reflect by writing journals. Journals should include project proposals, time spent on learning and what was learned through the process.

By ditching the grades, we’ll encourage risk-taking, critical thinking, curiosity, and exploration. Isn’t this what learning should look like?

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Reed Gillespie

Reed is a longtime educator and coach, who is passionate about progressive learning and 21st-century assessment practices. Read more of his work here. "I'm a co-moderator of #VAchat, a Twitter conversation for Virginia (and non-Virginian) educators that meets Monday's at 8 ET. Most importantly, I'm a father of four wonderful children and a couple grandchildren. In my free time, I enjoy cooking, reading, sports and, of course, spending time with family."

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