Thursday, July 22, 2010

Come Join the Abolish Grading Movement

I want to develop a page on my blog dedicated to exhibiting teachers who have abolished, are abolishing or want to abolish grading from their classroom.

Below is my story with abolishing grading and my contact information for others to get in touch with me. If you are interested in being a part of a group of teachers who want to share their abolish grading stories, please e-mail me your story.

Joe Bower
Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
Middle School Grades 6-8
language arts, science, physical education
Twitter: @joe_bower
Skype: bowerjj

At what stage of the abolish grading game are you?

Six years ago I stopped grading. The only grade that my students ever see from me is on their school board mandated report card. That's it.

Why do you want to or why did you abolish grading?

Six years ago I became very angry and disenfranchised from the education system. I came close to quiting. I hated marking. I hated grading. I hated the judging. Rather than quitting, I began searching for a better way - I came across Alfie Kohn's The Costs of Overemphasizing Achievement and it blew my mind. I quickly came to understand there is no good reason to grade.

What do you do in replace of grading?

Assessment can be simplified as the process of collecting information about student learning and then sharing that information (only sometimes would you ever need a hint of an evaluation). I use Jerome Bruner's Law to shape my collecting and sharing: "Students should experience their successes and failures not as reward and punishment but as information." Bruner provides us both with what we shouldn't do (reward and punish) but he also provides a rich alternative (information). First and foremost, I utilize verbal, two-way conversations with students to provide feedback. Secondly, I use written comments that take shape three ways: I describe what I see the student doing, I provide suggestions (continue to... or consider doing...) and finally I ask reflective questions about their learning.

How do you establish a grade if you have no grades?

Firstly, even if a grade is demanded of you for the report card, it makes very little sense to me that the only way to come up with a final average would be to take a list of other averages and average them together to get a final average. I'm no mathemagician, but that smells fishy to me.

1) My students collect the evidence of their learning in their paper and electronic portfolios. The paper one is nothing fancy - just a file folder while the electronic one takes the form of a discussion forum or a Ning that I created using or

2) I am a professional. I spend hours everyday with each of my students for 10 months of the year. I get to know them quite well, so my professional judgement and intuitive thinking count for a lot - and have proven to be quite accurate (there is a wealth of evidence to support that teachers assessment of their students may be the most accurate form of assessment we can depend on). There is no substitute for what a teacher can see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears when observing and interacting with students while they are learning.

3) I ask the students to self-assess. It is amazing how close they come to picking the same grade that I would pick. Interestingly enough, when there is disagreement between me and them, they are usually too hard on themselves - and the odd time a kid over-inflates their grade, I either decide to let it go or I have a conversation with the student and make the adjustment.

Together, I use these three components to justify the grade that the student and I come up with.

What fears did you have about abolishing grading?

My fears are almost too many to count. I've feared being different from my colleagues. I've feared being challenged by a parent or administrator. These fears still nag at me despite my confidence and research - I routinely have to tell my amygdala to shut-the-hell-up.

Interestingly enough, my fears have never been about the kids.

What challenges did you encounter with abolishing grading?

The high achieving students have the hardest time with this initially, but after a detoxing period, I've yet to have a student not appreciate this moratorium on grading. I received very little comments from parents - either they trust me that much, or they care that little - I have a feeling it was a combination of the two. I reflect on this often. I was fortunate enough to have very supportive administration for almost my entire career.

I am both well researched and well experienced in the game of abolishing grading. I jump at the opportunity to discuss this with parents, colleagues, administrators, anyone. If you wish to abolish grading, you have to be well spoken on the topic. Research comes first - read anything and everything you can. Start with reading Alfie Kohn and then my experiences. And if this page is successful, I hope to share a plethora of educators who can lend you a hand.

Are you willing to speak with others who are interested in abolishing grading?

Absolutely! You can contact me by:

Twitter: @joe_bower
skype: bowerjj


If you are interested in being a part of a group of teachers who want to share their abolish grading stories, please e-mail me your story. You can follow my format above or personalize your story anyway you choose. Please consider providing contact information for others to get in touch with you. I'll then post your story with mine in a page that I hope will grow and grow and grow.


  1. reading the article now... definitely interested in finding more efficient and effective ways to learn and assess achievement and comprehension with my digi natives =) I'm learning lots too! MERIT (Making Education Relevant & Interactive through Technology) rocked my educational/professional world... Let's change the way we "DO" Education!!!

  2. Hey Joe, solid statement on the assessment thing... I'm left wondering whether any opposition to what you describe is based more on a lack of understanding than fear or top-down direction to the contrary.

    Portfolio-based assessment, two-way dialog (I would argue group dialog has a place here as well, and peer evaluation too...) is nothing new, but like many logical and pedagogically sound elements of what we do, we think we've discovered something new, and some immediately begin to resist it out of ignorance. Seems to me the assessment issue is a black swan- we think we've discovered something, and now we're busy trying to justify it. Teachers don't have to justify pedagogically sound and responsible assessment, they just need to do it. Morphic resonance will take care of the rest.

    At the core of professional, responsible assessment is really strong and meaningful (real-time) communication (feedback) with students. Everything you present speaks to this. The tipping point depends on how palatable and well-presented the paradigm is to the masses and also to the educational leadership... the support of leadership is critical.

    You've inspired a post of my own on this... thanks for your efforts.

  3. Thanks to both of you for your comments.

    Sean, you make some interesting points. I would never declare that I invented anything. My ideas and assessment practices were someone else's from a long time ago.

    Why is it then that we seem to reinvent pedagogy perpetually in education?

  4. Joe, I'm with you on this. I'm a fairly new teacher, but the whole grade thing has had me frustrated before I even stepped foot into my first classroom. I am really excited to learn more about this and be a part of the moratorium. I'm a big proponent on student/teacher communication and providing students with choice (just blogged about it and will be doing a guest post on better assessment strategies).

    I really hope that I can keep up with you in all this. I'll be using this group of educators as a pool to glean ideas and resources from.

    Like you and Sean said, this is nothing new. Education is very cyclical. I've only been doing it for 5 years, but I can see it. I think that is where the perpetual reinvention comes from. Often ideas show up (again) with a new coat of paint and a fresh set of tires...but some of those ideas are still the same old jalopy. Its the great ideas we need to keep cycling through. I don't think most teachers are afraid of change, I think they are afraid of "more". Often educators associate change with more-on-my-plate; so they begin to whine about not having the time. I understand what they are saying. Then my response is, teaching is a selfless service, and being selfless has never been convenient, but its always been worth it.

    Thanks for taking a lead in this change. I'd like to email you some ideas and questions. I'd like to correspond more with you. Thanks Joe.

  5. @Mr. Macdonald I'm glad to hear you found this valuable. As someone early on in your career, others would benefit from your story. Would you consider sharing your story & contact info?

    Email me and we can continue this dialogue.


  6. Very Interestesting stuff Bower. Was nice seeing you in Chapters the other day. I'll give you some updates what I see when I start my practicum. You were still one of the best teachers I've ever had.

    I also believe that two way conversations are a definitive way of judging whether or not a kid has a suitable grasp of the subject. The current system seems to be running off of a fundamental fact-Kids are stupid. And they aren't. Truly, they are being bombarded with so much information and absorbing most of it like a sponge. To make sure it stick inside their memory, a conversation, or a series of them will stand out MUCH more clear then simply seeing that they got a c- or a 70% on a paper.

    Excellent stuff. I'll repost your site on my facebook(if its okay with you Joe) and I'm sure some of my other Education students(many who have had you as a teacher, surprisingly a large amount of people I went to school with in West Park Middle want to become teachers-most of them 6-8. Imagine that;-)) would at the least be interested to read it.

    -Matt Attfield, loyal student.


There was an error in this gadget

Follow by Email