My Revised #Ungrading Plan

All, Reflections

Have you considered #ungrading yet? As I noted in 3 Changes To My Pandemic Teaching Plan, I made two adjustments to my #ungrading protocol this semester. My #ungrading journey has spanned more than two years now (eighth semester currently in progress) and can be explored in more depth in  Ungrading Reflections. I remain committed to #ungrading because it allows students agency over their own writing development and work while offering me the opportunity to focus on supporting that development by designing a class with that goal in mind. Thanks to #ungrading I can spend my time and energy guiding the process and community rather than assessing the product. #Ungrading allows me the opportunity to teach and coach and helps my students focus on the journey rather than the destination. This means our class community is centered around the writer and their writing rather than the product. Where does your assessment strategy focus the time and energy in your classroom?

I want to emphasize that #ungrading is not one thing – in fact it may not even be a thing but more of a mindset. If you are new to thinking about #ungrading then I suggest diving in via Twitter. That is how I found the mentors who inspired my journey, but now there is also an Ungrading book which inspired a more formal community. Exploring the different approaches taken in a wide variety of teaching contexts can help you better understand how ungrading might look in your own. My intent is not to advocate for one particular flavor of #ungrading, but to challenge you to think about how you can shift the locus of power in your class and grant your students agency over their own learning journey. Think about what you and your students can accomplish when the focus shifts off grades and deliverables to actual education.

Your flavor of #ungrading will be influenced by both your teaching style and context. My own #ungrading journey began as conference grading which seemed to fit well into my workshop-based writing classroom. Conference grading meant students prepared notes and met with me at the end of each unit where we discussed both their deliverable and the work that led to its development. The pandemic contributed to my shift to reflection grading which I found an improvement, but the system still needed tweaking as the plan was unnecessarily complicated. This semester I replaced my weekly academic check-ins with self-assessment quizzes (inspired by Laura Gibbs’ declaration quizzes). The weekly self-assessment quizzes are set up as autograding true-false quizzes featuring just three questions:

  1. Did you complete the work of the week as expected and directed?
  2. Did you provide support for the community as expected and directed?
  3. Did you complete the weekly reflection and post to Direct Line as directed as well as review instructor responses and respond as necessary?

The three questions align with the three expectations detailed on my Weekly Overview #HyperDoc:

Asking students to self-report on these weekly tasks reinforces to the student the value I place on working through the process, supporting our community, and reflecting on the journey while simultaneously placing the responsibility for that journey in the students’ hands.

As you can see the quiz is part of their expected weekly reflection process. I want them to consider their own role in their writing development and success in the class. The quizzes put their fate squarely in their own hands as they are auto-graded. After two weeks, I will need to approve the grade but that is just a way for me to be aware of students who are falling behind the community. The combination of the weekly self-assessment declaration quizzes and reflections with our unit logbooks has offered me the opportunity for multiple conversations with each student about their work on the unit in progress. These conversations also help me clarify to students that this process is really how they will be graded and that I am much more interested that they meet the spirit rather than the letter of these class policies. While I know many people worry that students will try to game the system, but in my experience most students are far harder on themselves than I would ever be because that is how our rule-shark education system has trained them to think.

I really like the addition of the declaration quizzes, but still believe that reflection is essential to the growth and development of the writers in my charge. Without reflection it is too easy to forget the lessons and achievements and how those can illuminate future writing challenges and tasks. Therefore, as each student reaches the end of the unit, signaled by posting the final draft of their deliverable to the unit logbook, they then write a longer reflection about their journey that unit. Students are asked to look back over the weekly reflections for that unit to consider the highlights and challenges of the unit as well as what they wish had been different about the experience. I ask my students to think about the goals they want to set based on those experiences. I also ask them to reflect on what they learned on this journey as humans and critical thinkers. Finally, I ask students to reflect on their deliverable for this unit and whether that work reflects a good faith effort to meet or exceed the expectations of the unit as well as the work of a college-level writer and critical thinker.

I was and continue to be drawn to #ungrading work because my why has always been focused on the writer and I believe in human-focused progressive education. #Ungrading supports my pedagogy and praxis, can you say the same about your assessment practice?

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