Why This Is a Gradeless Course
and What That Means
Assessment in this history course will likely be different from other courses you’ve had in the past, as it is based on goals, growth and feedback — not points or letter grades.
Why I approach grading this way
Points and grades focus student’s attention on whether they received an A or a B, rather than what they are learning and why. Traditional grading leads students to focus on collecting the points they need for the grade, rather than pushing themselves to take risks needed to learn. For example, a student might choose to do a project on a topic they are already familiar with because they know they can get a better grade on it, rather than exploring a new topic. (For a fuller explanation of the research-based drawbacks of traditional grading systems, see Alfie Kohn’s The Case Against Grades.) Instead, I’m interested in truly engaging students as readers, writers, thinkers, communicators and citizens.
What is different in my gradeless classroom?
The grade book still boils things down to a percentage as we move through each marking period. But, this number reflects nothing more than how much of the work you have completed — it is not your grade. That percentage simply represents how much of the course’s tasks you have completed. If it’s not 100%, there is work you haven’t completed. At the quarter’s end, that percentage will only be one data point of many included in the final determination of your quarter grade. In other words, that percentage does not equate to your grade, but you should still worry if it drops below 90% — that means there is a lot of work you have not submitted. If you won’t be able to honor a due date for any assignment, outside of the weekly reader and journal, I ask that you send an email to notify your caregivers (and me). Identify the assignment, the reason you are behind, your plan to complete the task and identify what support you need to complete the task. I will still accept work until a few days before the end of the marking period, but I want your caregivers to be in the loop.
Below are the student learning pursuits for this course. Rather than focusing on your grade, I want you to continually reflect on your learning journey. Ask yourself, am I actively participating in the pursuits below? How can I get better at this?
I am expanding my knowledge of United States history; learning about new historical figures, events, trends, concepts and frameworks that help me make sense of the world.
I regularly interpret the relevance of this new historical knowledge in relation to myself, to my sense of identity, and to my understanding of the world and the present moment.
I am strengthening my ability to take on different historical perspectives, understanding and empathizing with how people in the past viewed their world and why they did what they did.
I read and annotate texts carefully and critically to arrive at unique, individual interpretations, to analyze the author’s evidence and perspective, to learn from the writer’s craft, and to connect what I’m reading to questions of historical and current significance.
I strive to write with purpose, to silence my inner critic in order to produce something unique, creative, and meaningful. I seek out feedback and revise extensively to improve my craft.
I am able to integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations to develop a reasoned argument about the past.
I’m a regular participant in class discussions, sharing my own unique questions, perspective, and understanding, citing evidence from texts, my life experiences and past learning
I patiently and actively listen to my peers, not interrupting, waiting for them to finish before raising my hand, valuing everyone’s voice, monitoring the time my own voice takes up, and citing my classmates' ideas in my responses.
I contribute positively to the class community joyfully engaging with peers, participating earnestly in small-group and whole-group conversations and tasks, and actively seeking to ensure all group members are heard and valued.
I practice effective self-reflection and self-evaluation (metacognition). I know what I know, what I want and need to know, what I’ve learned, and how well I’ve learned it. I regularly reflect on my own patterns of thinking and work to address my own biases.
I use the term “pursuits,” as a nod to Dr. Gholdy Muhammad’s work. Muhammad studied Black literary societies in Philadelphia and other cities in the 1800s. She found that
“as part of a broader struggle to counter multiple attacks of oppression with violence, they used their minds and pens as weapons to battle injustice. Books and other forms of texts became ammunition to fuel their progress. They worked toward cultivating the minds and hearts within themselves and among others, which led them to being equipped to face and alter the nation’s harshest realities. Literacy was no longer just a set of skills to possess, but the instruments used to define their lives and the tools to advocate for their rights.”
It’s in this spirit that I constructed the 10 student learning pursuits.
But… how will my grade be determined?
If it were up to me, I would give you only constructive feedback and no percentage or letter grade, but the School District of Philadelphia requires that I give you a percentage and letter grade for each quarter. But the grade I put in for you will be determined only with your input. I’ve found that often students have a better sense of their own growth and learning than I do — yet I am the one who is supposed to be “evaluating” them.
So how will we evaluate your progress together? Pursuit #1 and #10 you will demonstrate regularly through weekly reader and journal (#1) and unit and quarter reflections (#10). In addition, you will choose two learning pursuits above that you want to focus on all year and at least two additional pursuits to focus on each quarter. At the beginning of each quarter you will set goals related to the learning pursuits you’ve chosen (see a goal setting document here). Toward the end of each quarter you will evaluate your growth related to your goals and give yourself a grade as part of a narrative end-of-quarter reflection on your learning (see an example end-of-quarter reflection here). I reserve the right to change a grade that seems inaccurate and will conference with you if I plan to do so, but typically you will get the grade you give yourself.
You or your caregiver may request, at any point in the quarter, a conference where we look at your work together to identify where you can focus on for improvement. I am always eager to discuss your progress. Please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns.