“Many teachers who are going gradeless have turned to social media to proclaim the benefits of a gradeless classroom in moving the focus off the points and back onto the learning. For students who need academic intervention, the additional potential benefit of going gradeless is keeping the focus on where they are in their own, unique learning journey, and off of comparing how they are performing relative to peers.” Lee Ann Jung, Going Gradeless and Special Education #TG2Chat
“Most importantly, the way we need to present data for reporting or even to guide our own reflection for instruction should never blindly drive the way we present data for the purpose of giving students feedback every day to fuel their passion for and engagement in learning.” Lee Ann Jung, Going Gradeless and Special Education #TG2Chat
Unfortunately, I did not get to participate in last night’s TG2Chat, Going Gradeless and Special Education. But this morning, fortunately, I did get to follow up on the chat from last night on Twitter. And as I was doing that, one question and response that I was tagged in caught my attention: number 5 (see both graphics below). One, it had the “J” word in it: journey. Those who follow me know that word means much to me and my approach to education in my classroom and beyond. Two, though the focus was special education, for me, it spoke of other implications in the gradeless classroom and the importance of “the additional potential benefit of going gradeless is keeping focus on where they are on their own unique learning journey…”(Jung). Coupled, then, with Brandon Brown’s comment below, “I feel like there’s a profound comment about ‘journey vs. destination’ to be made here. And all journeys are different.” I had to jump in. And while it may not be profound, I do have a comment to make. For I truly believe that ALL journeys are different, and as I think about ALL my kids, top to bottom, I think that the gradeless classroom provides a uniquely responsive environment for kids on “their own unique learning journey[s].”
Upon seeing question 5 and Brandon’s response, I revisited last night’s questions, and as I did, I was struck by the fact that with some minor tweaks, these same questions could also fit those who come to us ahead of grade-level expectations. For instance, number 3 could be recycled as, “With students who are ahead in all areas, how do we prioritize or select our focus?” Number 5, “How should feedback be different for those who are ahead in grade level expectations?” Please know that my goal in this line of thinking is not take away from what Lee Ann and Aaron prepared and presented for last night’s chat. To be sure, last night’s chat was significant in its own right, and I believe it addressed what special education teachers have always believed and advocated for, and I am thankful that it got its due consideration in the gradeless classroom. And I am sorry I missed it. Even so, it still carried weight with me, still impacted me, and that is why I am stepping in. And then, when “journey v. destination” got tossed in the mix…well, I couldn’t help myself. So I am entering the discussion to once again offer that for no other reason (though I believe there are many) than feedback is the emphasis not a grade, the gradeless classroom creates a superior learning environment to the traditional classroom.
In the classroom, when I think of journey, I think of growth. Each kid is on a journey–to grow. And when I reflect back on the myriad journeys that I have been blessed to join in the last twenty-one years as a teacher, I have met each and every kid at a different place; no two kids have been alike, and no two journeys have been alike. Some have been way behind grade-level expectations; others have been way ahead; and most have been at different places in between. But sadly, though that’s true, I have not always been responsive to that reality. And it’s not because I chose not to be responsive. It’s because I did not how to be responsive; I did not know I could be responsive. And now that I have stepped beyond the traditional classroom, I know not only how but also that I can, meaning that there are better alternatives to traditional grading, alternatives that consider learning and feedback, not points and letters, alternatives that consider each kid in her actual place, not just her relative place to her peers. Her journey. Her learning. Her growth. This is the “additional potential” I have discovered in the gradeless classroom.
Lee Ann, in her comments that I shared above, spoke to the different lens that exists in the gradeless classroom. “keeping the focus… off of comparing how they are performing relative to peers.” As I considered this lens, I reflected on my experiences in both the graded and the gradeless classrooms. In my graded classroom, I would often hear, “Why did she get a higher grade than me?” This reality bothered me for a couple of reasons. One, I didn’t always have a good answer for what made her 88 better than her 84. Two, kids obsessively worrying about other kids’ learning as “an indicator” of their own learning drove me crazy. CRAZY. But now, in my gradeless classroom, where feedback, not grades, is the currency, I never hear Susie wondering, worrying, or whining about Sara’s feedback because its Sara’s feedback. It fits her. It’s for her. It’s her journey. They are all on their own journeys, and I have found that when I join them in their journeys, I join them in their learning, and it is there where I feel I can make a valuable contribution to their growth in the form of feedback. I can’t say with the same confidence, the same pride, that I was able to do that before with grades.
In my journey, kids have come and kids have gone. And as I get ready to join this year’s kids in their journeys, I feel better equipped than ever to meet each where she is. If she is ahead, that’s where I will meet her. If she’s behind, that’s where I will meet her. In the end, I don’t really care where she is when I find her, as much as care about where she is when I leave her, a place where I am confident that I have helped her move farther down the trail, where she is better prepared to chase her next better.
Thank you, Aaron Blackwelder, Lee Ann Jung, and Brandon Brown for helping me think even further about the significant role that “journey” plays in room 211, where I chase better every day.
Do. Reflect. Do Better.