Joy Kirr is a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. Her 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of their learning experiences... Want to have her speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is Joy's PORTFOLIO.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Introducing Feedback in Lieu of Grading to 7th Graders

One full week of school was finished. This was the year I was not going to put one grade in the "grade" book until the end of each quarter - with EACH of my ELA classes! I'd already put in two pieces of evidence in the online grade book - with feedback on enunciation and volume (from their short presentations) such as these:

There had been no talk of grades yet - we were building classroom culture! It was time to let students know that there would be NO GRADES in the online grade book this school year, as I felt I needed to give a heads up to parents prior to Parent Night. How I would approach the subject took some planning, as I wanted to make sure students knew WHY we were going this route.

Step 1: Let students know we need to have a serious discussion. In order to have the discussion as a large group, we need to first hash out how each person feels by having smaller discussions - where every voice can be heard. Show them how "Marker Talk" ("Chalk Talk" from Making Thinking Visible edited by Ron Ritchart) works, and show them what valuable comments and not-so-valuable comments look like for this activity. Inform them that after this quiet activity, everyone will have time to voice their questions and concerns with the class.

Step 2: Execute the Marker Talk activity. I used these four questions: What do you think about coaches? What do you think about learning? What do you think about points on school work? What do you think is unfair about grades? I put these questions on large pieces of construction paper so that students could write around them.

Step 3: Bring everyone together - no tables or chairs - all on the floor in a group. Display the construction paper discussions on the board. Share Dylan Wiliam's ideas about feedback.

Step 4: Ask how this idea relates to the questions they were asked during the Marker Talk activity.

Step 5: See where the discussion goes, and address concerns and questions... And hand out these two sheets to help us keep track of what we've done, what we've asked feedback for, and what we'd like to keep for evidence.

The first two classes before lunch were so quiet! One student "wants grades." One student figures after he gets three pieces of writing back that are good, he's done working for the quarter. One wonders if she'll have help along the way, so she can get the grade she wants.

I AM SO EXCITED. I recorded reactions, but my last class gave me this priceless screenshot from the video - right after I said I would not be putting any letter grades in the grade book...

My resources so far: "FaR" tabs of our classroom Weebly
                                    Feedback Instead of Grades LiveBinder for parents to inspect
                                    My own reflections on this journey


  1. Such a neat concept! As a soon to be English teacher, I would love to have the opportunity to implement a similar approach one day. Thank you for the idea. :)

    1. As a soon-to-be English teacher, know that you'll have resistance from other teachers, but administration may be convinced easily! ;) Check out the LiveBinder link for more teachers doing the same thing. :D