Giving Up Grades – Part 2: An Example

Leng 7 reading club assessLast Monday, Ylonka – our 7th grade Spanish Language Arts (Lenguaje) teacher – came into my office holding a pile of notebooks and wearing a huge smile as she said, “Carla, It works!!”

The Friday before, in our professional development meeting, we’d discussed changing the way we assess students and handing the reins over to them (you can read about that here). Ylonka is the kind of teacher who’s willing to try anything that makes sense to her – she grabs onto a new idea and runs with it, enthusiastically and wholeheartedly. And this was no different – she’d been up till midnight on Sunday night working the kinks out of her lesson plan, and on Monday she jumped straight into it. She told me all about her lesson and the amazing experience she’d had with her kids in 7A, so I watched her teach the same class with 7B. This is what she did and how her kids reacted:

Ylonka started the lesson by explaining to her students that when she evaluates their reading homework, there are a series of criteria that interest her. She asked them to tell her what they thought she looks for in each of three types of assignments: stop ‘n’ jots (reacciones), extension (ampliación), reading response (repuesta a la lectura independiente). They began by talking about what Ylonka expects in their stop ‘n’ jots. On the board she quickly wrote down her students’ ideas. They said things like: the date, the page number, the title of the book, a minimum of 3 reactions, short/no description, and including emotions/opinions. Then they move onto the next type of assignment. It’s obvious that the students know what she looks for.

Reactions, Extension, Independent reading response

Reactions, Extension, Independent reading response

Ylonka - assessment 11

Next, Ylonka explained that they’d find 3 Ylonka - assessment 12assignments hanging on the walls. On a post-it notes, students were to grade the assignments and explain why they gave the grade they did. Students moved from assignment to assignment, reading, thinking, and evaluating the work they saw. Several of them hesitated on the actual grade they’d give, saying “This isn’t that easy….” One student said to Ylonka, “It’s kind of hard to grade this. And you have to grade all of our work and make comments for all of us?!?” When they were done, Ylonka lead them in a discussion of the work. The students had no difficulty pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each assignment – however, they had a harder time deciding what grade to give them.

Finally, Ylonka asked them to take out their reading notebooks. She told them that they were now going to evaluate the last two pieces of work they did in reading – one was a series of stop ‘n jots and the other was an independent reading response. They were to give themselves a grade and a reason for the grade. Afterwards, she would read the work and tell them if she agreed or not with the grades they gave themselves.

Ylonka - assessment 18

Afterwards, in looking through the notebooks, Ylonka was amazed. She had several observations:

  • Some of the students gave exactly the grade she would have given while others were harder on themselves than she would have been, but none of them gave themselves grades that were too high.
  • Students began to reread their work critically and saw areas where they could improve the next time they did this kind of work.
  • Ylonka - assessment 7Students found the grading difficult and had a newfound respect for the grading Ylonka has to do. She heard comments such as: “Wow, this is hard” and “How much grading do you have to do?”
  • Ylonka felt that her workload decreased. She said that she graded in half the  usual time it takes her, as most of the work was already done. Also, she felt less pressure – she could simply agree with a student or raise their grade if they had been too hard on themselves (as she did in the assignment to the left. The student had written “6/10, because it doesn’t include evidence, it doesn’t show feelings, and it doesn’t explain much.” Ylonka responded: “Actually, I don’t agree with this grade. Your responses do show feeling, you’ve given 3 responses, and included the title of the book. The only thing you’re missing is the page number. 9.5/10.”)
  • Ylonka’s students no longer felt like she was “giving” them a low grade. Through their own assessment, they could see the grade they deserved.

By having students grade their own work, we’re teaching Ylonka - assessment 15them the very important skill of self-critiquing. Once they can see where they’re weak, they can begin to make improvements. Students also  learn to take responsibility for their work as we see in the post-it to the right in which the child has written, “I think I would give myself a 0/10 because I wasn’t responsible and didn’t bring my homework.”

Changing the way we assess puts the important work into the hands of our students. They take ownership of their learning and begin to judge their own work, becoming much more motivated to do a good job. Teachers work less. students learn more, and everyone is more excited about classes – a win/win situation!!



  1. Love this so much! Nice job Carla!

  2. I am so inspired by my colleagues. Thank you Carla for sharing this piece!

  3. This is really, really smart work. I will share this post with my colleagues. I especially liked how the providing a description of each type of writing was so simple – using that 3 column chart – rather than huge, elaborate rubrics. Also, I liked how the students first evaluated the assignments on the walls and then moved to self-reflection. Thanks for sharing the process!

    • teachingexperiment October 26, 2014 at 9:27 pm

      I was impressed with her work too….thanks for reading!

    • Thanks for the positive words about my work Dana. I have to admit, when I taught that lesson I didn’t know if it would turn out, or if it would be meaningful to my students. I was nervous, but I decided to take the risk. That lesson helped students become aware of their mistakes and they were able to take steps to improve their work.

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