As educators everywhere are drowning in finals week grading, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with tales of grading woes. Towards the end of the week, some positivity popped up: threads about ungrading. After scouring the internet for discussions and examples of eliminating grades, I have decided to attempt to convince my students this spring to give it a go.
One of the courses I will be teaching this spring is Women in Art. I consider this the perfect place to experiment with ungrading. 1. I anticipate the class size to be a manageable 15 students. 2. If we are dissecting how patriarchy has affected the artworld, we may as well challenge its structures in the classroom. 3. The planned assignments lend themselves to this approach.
I had already planned to give students a fair amount of agency in the course, allowing them to vote between a blog and a reflective journal, and to individually choose the format of the final project. They will also have the opportunity to contribute course material with a presentation on a female artist of their choice.
Here’s the plan I will propose to students:
Instead of grades, I will provide each submitted assignment with only feedback on how to improve.
Students may resubmit assignments after revision if they wish to do so.
Students will keep a journal in which they reflect on their learning.
Mid-semester and end of the semester, I will give them a series of questions to address in their journal and ask them to assign themselves a grade.
I will meet each student individually to discuss their learning and to come to an agreement on their grade mid-semester and during finals week.
I will introduce this concept the first day of class and give students a couple days to ruminate before voting whether or not to go forth with ungrading for the semester.
Maybe throwing out everything you have learned and doing something you have never seen in practice isn’t the wisest decision when you are only in your second year of full-time teaching, have a 4-4 load in addition to service and scholarship requirements, and are teaching the course in question for the first time. I am hoping that copious use of group discussion and having each student give a short presentation on an artist will cut down on the countless hours of time that I typically spend creating Powerpoints when teaching a course for the first time. I know that giving detailed feedback, accepting resubmissions, and meeting with each student at least twice will require a whole lot more time than grading with a rubric. But it will be worth it, right?
My goal is to divert students' focus from getting a good grade to personal growth and skill-building. I hope that this experiment will encourage students to take initiative, reduce student anxiety, and build positive relationships with education.