Wednesday, August 4, 2010

So I wrote Alfie Kohn... by Pernille Ripp

It is my pleasure to have Pernille Ripp guest blog here today. She has an interesting experience to share with you about her journey to abolish grading. I also welcome you to visit Pernille's blog: Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension.

Here's Pernille Ripp:

This weekend marked the first ever Reform Symposium, which was an incredible experience of people involved in education all coming together to tear it apart and perhaps puzzle it all back together.  There were many stellar talks but my favorite presentation was by far Joe Bower´s on Abolishing Grades, although I must admit I am partial here because I already admire Joe´s work and dedication.  Joe did not disappoint and the backchannel talk was lively as well.  I certainly only became more passionate about my quiet revolution in my own room of perhaps, just maybe, removing grades.

However, to do so though there are people I must get on my side, the first one being my principal, so as any passionate teacher does, I have been gathering my research, thoughts and ideas as I prepare for it.  Once again, it has been a wonderful experience to find that I am not alone in this frustration with grades and a particularly grateful thanks go to 
@MrMacnology and @Joe_ Bower for their non-exasperated answers to my endless questions.   

And yet, I wanted to see if there was anything I was missing, so I decided to write to Alfie Kohn and by golly he answered my request for help to speak to my principal.

Here is my plea for help:

Dear Mr. Kohn,
I am 3rd year 4th grade teacher struggling with why I grade students.  For 2 years now, I have fudged grades, assigned worksheets to make sure I have enough stuff to make an average from, and dashed students love of learning when they received a poor grade.  For 2 years I have fielded parent phone class on why their child got a particular grade and graded papers until i was ready to fall asleep.  I have dozed off during meaningless book report presentations, and fought with homeless students to turn their homework in.  I am done with grades but have to still convince my principal.  Do you have any strong points that i should bring up to him to convince him that learning should be for learning's sake and not to produce a grade? 

Pernille Ripp

Here is the advice I received:

Thanks for your note.  I've written about why grades are unnecessary and harmful in two books (Punished by Rewards and The Schools Our Children Deserve) and in two articles ( and  The first of those articles is a little more accessible, I think.  It's focused on grading at the high school level, but I think one can argue that its points apply more strongly to teaching younger children since there is even less of a case to be made in favor of giving kids grades.  (One can't even rationalize them on the grounds that colleges care.)

A Canadian teacher has lately been working hard to persuade other educators to join him in refusing to give grades on individual assignments (even if they have to turn in an end-of-term grade).  Some of the resources on his blog may be useful to you:  Of course, persuading the principal to stop using grades at all -- on a schoolwide level -- would be much more desirable.

Also of possible interest:  this account of a middle school administrator and a high school teacher who have gotten rid of grades ( and the first two clips from my DVD that summarize some of the key reasons that grades don't make sense:
Any or all of these resources can be shared with parents and other teachers, the idea being to organize opposition to grades so you're not fighting this all by yourself. 

Good luck!

-- Alfie Kohn

I am once again amazed at the power of reaching out to others for help in this quiet revolution against grades.  I am excited to meet with my principal, and hopefully persuade him to let me try this.  And most of all, I am excited about joining up with all of you that think,  discuss, evaluate and listen every single day; never too tired to ponder, "Are we doing the right thing?"


  1. Well done, Pernille! As a principal, I look forward to the day when a teacher comes to me with the same questions you have. Having said that, there are a few primary teachers in my school that are already doing this and I have learned a lot from them.

    Joe, how is this for motivation for you? I like the term "quiet revolution" that you have used in the quest to abolish grades. To hear Kohn's words about you must make the revolution a little louder!

    I think we need to look to primary teachers as leaders in this because so many just teach for learning and not for grades. We, as teachers, show kids what marks are by giving them out. If we never do this, they will not know about the extrinsic motivation of grades and marks. I taught a bit of grade 1 this year and it was a joy to see kids excited about learning and not worried about marks.

    Good luck to you Pernille... I'm sure that you will find a large support system on your side for this issue. Thanks for sharing!

  2. @Chris, for me I can see teachers asking more and more of these tough questions about our traditional practices. I am optimistic that this kind of grass roots movement can and will make a difference. It's the only way things will ever get done.

  3. In our school system, letter grades begin with grade 4--which is what I teach. I have created a bit of leeway during the reporting periods by writing comments and suggestions without marks. I have learned that comments aren't read if marks are given. I also use rubrics showing levels of student understanding. It still frustrates me that I need to record marks on the report card and even though I tell the students not to count A's or to compare with their peers, I know it happens.
    I am happy that our school board is leaning towards recording mastery of learning outcomes rather than grades. I hope the parents buy in--but I know that we still need to sell some teachers on this too.
    I want to keep questioning and challenging our traditional practices--thank you for this blog--it is inspiring and thought provoking!


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