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Category: Project 180 (page 1 of 19)

Project 180: 2017 – 2018 Grading Overview

Hi, all. Some readers have asked about next year’s grading since I am not going to use the give-’em-all-an-A approach in year two of Project 180. So, I put together this “Blog Graphic” using Canva to give folks a glimpse of the select-and-defend-a-grade approach for the coming year. I am fortunate to be joined by these two ladies who have helped me create our new grading policy. In addition to the graphic below, I am also providing a link to an earlier post discussing our Grading Policies in greater detail. There will likely be some final changes as we continue to collaborate over the summer, making final revisions, but for now, this is the gist of how we will address grading this year. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

A Meeting of Minds: Planning to Change the World

Met with these two awesome young ladies this morning to hammer out learning targets. Doesn’t feel like work when there’s passion involved. So excited to take a  unified gradeless journey  with these two next year. Jenna (left) and Maddie (right) are truly a dynamic duo. Thanks, ladies, for trusting and believing in me. Thanks for having the courage to turn your worlds upside down. Couldn’t do it without you.  Looking forward to doing, reflecting, and doing better with you as we venture into the expanse of the gradeless realm next year. Gonna be awesome.

#project180 Do. Reflect. Do better.

Project 180 Takes a Turn Down Under

Recently, Project 180 connected with Mr. Abe Moore and his class in the City of Glacier Park in South Australia. Abe, a fellow teacher, blogger, and Teachers Going Gradeless member came across Project 180 in the Twitterverse. Already on his own journey into the gradeless realm, he shared his discovery with his students, which then led to a rich inquiry and discussion about Project 180 and the role of grading in learning. And from their discussion, his students were inspired to create a Flipgrid  AMA (Ask Me Anything)  for the crazy bloke Monte, a teacher from Washington State, U.S.A. who gave all his students an A for the entire year. I will begin responding to their Flipgrid questions today, so be sure to check the site later or catch our interaction in a follow-up post.

In addition to the AMA , Abe’s students also recently posted reflections on their classroom blog, where they reflected on something that had resonated with them over the term. Hailey, reflected on Project 180.

In Washington State there is a teacher named Monte. At the start of the year he gave all his students an “A” and said they would get an “A” at the end of the year. He gave them work and homework but it was their choice if they were going to do it. Most of his students wanted to earn their A’s but there was a small group of students who took advantage of the situation. Why would someone give their students all “A”s? Was it a waste of time? Would you give students all “A”s? If I knew I was getting an “A” no matter what I would want to earn it because, when you do something you get something out it. Why does a meaningless grade provide motivation for a student. Do it for the experience not the grade. – Hailey

Hailey perfectly captured what Project 180 is all about. She is a pretty wise 12 year old. Thank you, Hailey. I could not have said it better myself.

A half  a world away it is winter, and Abe and his kids are still in school. Here it is summer, and my kids and I are on vacation. But, even on vacation, I am learning. Thank you, Mr. Abe Moore and the rockstar students from Hallett Cove South Primary for letting me participate. In the last few days, I have learned that there is a Glacier Park in Australia. I have also learned what Flipgrid and AMA are. More importantly, I have learned that there are teachers across the globe who are willing to challenge convention to create better learning experiences for their students. But most importantly, I have learned that Australian kids are pretty dang cool. See you on Flipgrid later today, cool kids.

Do. Reflect. Do better.

Coming Soon! Reflection’s Reality: A Summer Series


The perversity of such an approach was seductive; what was there to stop me, aside from my own fear of  being “unscientific”? I knew that if I told people I was studying “what it’s like to be a plant,” some would dismiss me as a joke, but perhaps others might sign on just for the adventure. Maybe hard work could stabilize scientifically shaky ground. I didn’t know for sure, but I felt the first delicious twinges of what would be my life’s enduring thrill. It was a new idea, my first real leaf. Just like every other audacious seedling in the world, I would make it up as I went along. –Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

From the Project 180 journey comes Reflection’s Reality, a summer series dedicated to exploring the discoveries big and small from my gradeless experience this past year. Look for a new post each week as I look back on and forward from my first P-180 journey. I am thrilled to begin this next turn of the 180 adventure, even if I am making it up as I go along.

Note: Right before publishing this post to introduce Reflection’s Reality, my wife, as she is wont to do, interrupted my thinking to share the above quote from a book that she is reading because it reminded her of me, and while I am not always as appreciative as I should be of such interruptions, this one smacked me across the face, reminding me that one should always listen to his wife, especially his lovely art teacher wife who is the best teacher he knows, for it perfectly–perfectly–captures the sentiments of his P-180 experience. Thanks for interrupting me, Sher. I will never not love your interruptions again. Promise.


As the Turtle Turns: Project 180, Day 180

And then it was over. No big fanfare. No bells. No whistles. No fireworks.  No welcoming committee. Just a weary traveler 180 days farther down a road without end, coming to a quiet rest, so he may reflect and recharge for that which still lies ahead. And as he looks back on the road last traveled, he remembers the times when he was lost, alone, and far from home, asking himself, “What the hell am I doing?”  But he remembers, too, the times when the path was clear and others were present, and he wondered, “Am I changing the world?” But that is all behind, now only food for thought, as he replenishes his stores, preparing for the next turn, where he will walk in circles without knowing, for the landscape changes with each cycle, a mirage of promise, ever luring him around the bend.  And so, here he is, come to rest 180 degrees from where he began, upside down, inside out, a turtle on a perpetual path, tipping and turning, trying to find his feet, so he can find his way.

Not entirely sure what I expected with this latest half turn, but in the end I did learn. And I will take what I have learned and use it to make even better the gradeless experience for my kids next year. And while things are still coming together on what that will look like exactly, one thing is clear: I will never go back to traditional grading. What’s more, I will use I what I have learned–and seek to continue learning–to convince others that we can do differently, that we can do better. We have a choice, and if we have the courage, we can change the world. I believe that. I really believe that.

Signing off for the summer. Will post on occasion. Thank you all for your support over the past several months. Could not have done it without you. Thank you for believing in me.

Last of the Treasure

Last few coins. Had to type Ralphe’s. His handwriting…

There ought to be a hundred things I should say. Too many times in the past I’ve stood by and said nothing. I have let the world pick me up, and I’ve let it carry me where it may, but for all that I have traveled, I am profoundly grateful that the winds took me to this classroom. Grammar and language make up so much of my life, and in this classroom, I’ve learned to hone my mastery of them to a degree that I am proud of, but it isn’t that that I am grateful for because it is in this classroom, this sanctuary that I learned to expand my thinking beyond that of language and instead embrace compassion and empathy as a path to understanding, instead of simply observing. And that is the greatest gift of all. You’ve opened my eyes, Mr. Sy, and I will always be grateful for that. –Ralphe

More Treasure

The Most Important Final I Have Ever Given: Project 180, Day 178

Last fall before saying anything to my new group of kids, I began handing out wooden A’s that I had made over the summer. Along with the A, I gave and read to them a letter.

Dear Learners:

Welcome to Honors English 10. I am beyond excited to begin and share this journey with you. And while I am not certain about all that we will encounter and experience along our way–or even where we will land at our journey’s end, I am certain that it will be unlike anything we have experienced in the past.

As you entered the room today, I handed you a wooden letter A. It is my gift to you. It is your grade for the year. No, I did not misspeak, I am giving you an A…for the entire year. It is yours to keep. I will not take it back. Promise. Cross my heart.

But, my young adventurers, take heed. For, after all, what I handed you is just what it appears to be: a wooden letter A. It is nothing. Oh, don’t worry. I am not going back on my promise. I will type the A into your transcript at the end of each semester, but even that is merely a digital character, a mark on a screen. It, too, in reality, is nothing. So, before you sit back and relax with your gift and chalk me up as your “best teacher ever,” consider the following.

In truth, I gave you nothing, but I did that, young traveler, to give you everything. When I handed that A to you as you came aboard today, I really gave you ownership. I gave you the keys to your learning. I gave you choice; I gave you freedom. I gave you responsibility. And that is the essence. In the end, young friend, you are responsible for your learning. I cannot give it to you. In this arrangement that we find ourselves, I am responsible for providing opportunity and support, and I can and will give that freely and abundantly, but I am not responsible for your learning. You are. This reflects, then, the terms of our agreement for our journey.

So, we set out. 180 days from now we will set anchor in some unknown harbor. But before we set sail, pick up your A. Look at it. Feel it. Right now it is an empty gesture, a simple symbol. It won’t mean anything until you give it meaning. Months from now, as we look back on the calm and storm of our journey, and you hold this symbol in your hand, what will it mean then? I can’t wait to hear about your discovery. Thanks for letting me join you. I am honored.

Welcome aboard,


Today and tomorrow (we have a block schedule for finals), I, wooden A in hand, will read the letter again. And then, I will ask the kids to briefly pen their discoveries. It will be their final.

Yesterday, Abby got the jump on me.

She had stopped by earlier in the morning, and though she obviously had something on her mind, there were two other teachers in the room, and so, she told me it could wait. Later, in 2nd period when I had her in class, I asked her about it, and she looked around the room full of students, and again, she told me it could wait. Day got on. I got busy. I forgot about it.

After school. Abby, backpack in hand, looking a little anxious entered my room, stopping before she got to me to dig something out of her backpack. It was an A. A black wooden A. And she approached my desk, stopping in front of me, taking a deep breath.

“Sy, I have carried this in my backpack all year. And I want to give it back to you now because I feel like I have earned it.”

“You don’t want to keep it?” I asked.

“No, I’m good. I want you to have it back.”

“You, know,” I continued, “I was thinking about you the other day, thinking about your year, and how you turned it around at the midpoint, and how strongly you’ve ended the year. I agree. You have earned it. I am so proud of you.”

We high-fived, and she left. And as I sat there, A still in hand, I wondered why she didn’t want to keep it. It was a gift, handcrafted. Admittedly, I was a little hurt. Until. Until, I reviewed the letter this morning and remembered. It was nothing. It was an empty gesture, a simple symbol. She didn’t need IT, for it was never “it” to begin with; it was her. It was her all along. What a discovery.

Happy Wednesday, all.



Try to Fail: Project 180, Day 176

As I look back on the trail that now fades behind me as I come to the end of this year’s 180 journey, I feel the above graphic reflects my pursuit of, if not constant, then–at least–consistent improvement. Fortunately, I have improved, progressed a lot over the past two decades, but even so, I feel as if I have a long ways to go to get to where I want to be as a teacher.

I tried a lot of “stuff” this year, and as I failed with that stuff, I learned from that stuff. Consequently, my biggest try was perhaps my biggest fail–for some. As I have already stated in previous posts, I never intended to continue the give-em-all-an-A approach. I did it to jump from the edge, a radical first step to take grades off the table. And while for many of my kids this was a liberating, largely successful move, for others it was a leap too far. The move was too radical, the new was too unfamiliar. For them, the absence of grades was not liberating; it was debilitating, for they did not know how to fully function without the compliance-creating conditions of traditional grading. And so, consequently, their experience with 180 was less than I hoped it would be. And while I cannot go back and change the past, I can shape the future. And so, with this particular fail, I have, indeed, learned. And, as such, I have already made major changes to my approach next year, which I believe will not only continue to produce the proficiency levels we achieved this year but will also provide a better structure for individual growth. I have high hopes for the select-and-defend a grade approach next year. Looking back, this, I believe, would have better served those who never really embraced their gifted A’s this year. We live. We learn.

Importantly, this new approach is an approach, not the approach. I have not arrived. Many roads to travel. Many tries and many fails lie ahead. Thank goodness, else I wouldn’t know how to progress. Keep trying. Keep failing. Keep moving.

Happy Tuesday, all.

I Almost Passed the Test: Project 180, Day 175

Came across this checklist in the Twitterverse and decided to do a quick self-assessment, looking through the lens of my 180 year.

  1. Treat students as individuals? Yes. Evidence: choice in nearly everything they did, one-on-one conferences every chance I got, focusing on individual growth.
  2. Recognize the strengths and needs of each student? Yes. Evidence: conference, conference, conference. This is the most important thing I do for learning.
  3. Provide students with VOICE and CHOICE in their learning? Yes. Evidence:  Project after project, I would give kids freedom in the form of flexible guidelines and parameters, allowing them to take greater ownership of their learning.
  4. Encourage students to make mistakes as part of the learning process? Always. Evidence: spent a lot of time establishing, supporting, and sustaining growth mindsets. The word “yet” was in the air all year long.
  5. Give opportunities to reflect on mistakes in order to improve? Certainly. Evidence: Reflection was a part of our learning all year long, both formally and informally.
  6. Let students take chances? Absolutely. Pushed them to. Evidence: every project was a chance to push the limits and grow. With grades off the table, risks were less-risky.
  7. Provide opportunities for students to make, create, invent, and tinker? Yep. Evidence: most recently their cartoons.
  8. Take time to learn with your students? As often as I could. Evidence: wrote nearly every assignment along with them. Love writing with my kids.
  9. Model empathy for your students? To a fault. Evidence: Connor came to me, shaking, letting me know that he could not muster the courage to deliver his speech. I patted him on the back and said, “Okay.” He handed me his speech, and we called it square.
  10. Inspire your students to be better people? I tried. I really tried. Evidence: Most recently our Change the World projects. I shared my own, real, try-to-be-a-better person projects with them. Project Feed Forward. Project You Matter. 
  11. Teach students to ask questions? All the time. Evidence: the What? So What? Now What? approach has been central to our work all year long. Learning begins with questions. We have to ask questions. I also try to reinforce the idea that “Why?” may be the most important question of all.
  12. Provide feedback to students? It’s all I had. Evidence: I no longer called it grading; I came to call it “feedbacking.” With grades gone, it’s all I had. Turns out, it was all I needed.
  13. Give students the chance to provide feedback to each other? Yes. Evidence: peer feedback on writing, but also process feedback opportunities in their collaborative experiences.
  14. Empower students to take control of their learning? They had no choice. Evidence: literally handed them a wooden A on the first day, telling them that they were in charge of their learning for the year. Grades were truly off the table.
  15. Provide authentic learning experiences? As best I could. Evidence: always tried to link what we were doing with the real world.
  16. Do everything you could? No. Sadly no. Evidence: too much to do for too many kids, and it turns out–despite my many Superman shirts–I am only human. Some days, I just simply did not have the strength. Do better next year.

In all, I am proud of how I did this year. But as evidenced by the last item, I have to do better. Always have to do better.

Happy last Monday, all.

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