It occurred to me last night that I conducted a grading experiment of sorts last year without intending to do so. I had two sections of senior English students. With one group, I gave them traditional assignments with traditional due dates and graded them using a traditional rubric. I also gave them the opportunity to revise any of their assignments to get a better grade.
With the other group, I asked them to complete a total of five assignments (essay, short story, etc.) on any subject they wanted, at any time throughout the year, so long as they were done the week before classes were finished. I didn’t grade them, but instead allowed them to write for each other and simply gave them formative feedback for each of their pieces. At the end of the semester, they gathered up their assignments and I sat down with them to negotiate a final grade – marks hadn’t come into the picture up to this point. There was no rubric, and they could revise their work throughout the entire semester up until the very last day with no penalty.
In the first group, one student revised one assignment for a better mark.
In the second group, about 95% of the class made revisions to assignments, with the average student in this group turning in three revised copies (including their final copy) per assignment. The quality of work in this second group is also much, much higher than the first group, and this second group took far more risks in their writing (both style and content) than the first group. Some of these pieces were actually enjoyable to read, whereas the work from the first group was largely “student work”.
I know it’s probably redundant to say this here on the Coop, but here goes anyway: grading is absolutely antithetical to the process of learning. When you hand back an essay to a student with both feedback and a mark attached to it, the mark registers first, the feedback last (if at all). To the human mind, a mark on an assignment means that the assignment is over, and no more improvement to the original work is necessary. Moreover, I don’t know very many people that go back to a marked essay when they’re writing a new one in order to improve their writing. When most authors sign a publishing deal for their book, they don’t go back and continue to improve it – they call it done. The same goes for our students.
Grading robs students of the chance to become writers. What would you rather have in your classroom: students or writers?