RENEW
Jun 11, 2014

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I Don’t Like Grading, And, Uh, I Don’t Think I’m Gonna Grade Anymore

There is a scene in the movie Office Space where the main character, Peter Gibbons (Ron Livingston) is on a first date with Joanna (Jennifer Aniston). Peter is accidentally stuck in a hypnotic state of relaxation. This is the dialog that follows when Joanna asks Peter about his job.

Peter Gibbons: I uh, I don’t like my job, and, uh, I don’t think I’m gonna go anymore.
Joanna: You’re just not gonna go?
Peter Gibbons: Yeah.
Joanna: Well, what are you going to do about money and bills and…
Peter Gibbons: You know, I’ve never really liked paying bills. I don’t think I’m gonna do that, either.

This scene resonates with me whenever I think about grading. I don’t like grading, and, uh, I don’t think I’m gonna do that anymore. In fact, I haven’t graded a project in over a year… but more on that later.
 
No Grading
 
Last summer I read a blog post by Joe Bower about abolishing grading. I followed the post to Joe’s website where I discovered a plethora of articles about not grading. As I read through each article, I started to question my own grading practices. Why did I grade? Was my grading informative or restrictive? Was my grading punitive? I didn’t like my answers.

Like many art teachers, I was grading projects with rubrics. The rubrics helped my grading be less subjective, but what I didn’t realize was how restrictive they were. As an example, when teaching shading, my rubrics would give a top score to those students who used five values from light to dark. A student wanting an “A” would demonstrate the five values I requested. However, five is such an arbitrary number. Are there only five values? What if I didn’t put that restriction in place? Would the student have created more values?

The next question I considered was if grading was a good method for assessment. I listened to questions my students asked about their grades: “Mr. Sands, what grade did I get on this?” “How can I improve my grade?” “Why did you take points off here?” “If I don’t get at least a B in this class, my parents will kill me!” If the goal of my grading was to create a GPA, I was doing a great job. However, my goal was to teach art. I started to realize that grades had nothing to do with that.

Finally, I asked myself if I had used grades punitively. Had I ever given a grade because a student hadn’t done what I had said? Had I used grades to correct behavior? Or worse, to punish bad behavior? If I was being honest with myself, I had to admit that I had.

It was at this point I decided not to grade projects anymore. I would provide verbal and written feedback and would do individual and class critiques, but none of it would end alphanumerically.
 

It was at this point I decided not to grade projects anymore. I would provide verbal and written feedback and would do individual and class critiques, but none of it would end alphanumerically.”

 
The first project I gave after I eliminated the rubric was on linear perspective. One of my students asked how many vanishing points he could use. I explained that I could show him one, two and even three point perspective. He asked, “What about four?” He later went on to create a five point perspective drawing, an accomplishment that my old rubric would have never challenged him to create.

Since I was still required to give grades for report cards, I needed some way of quantifying a grade. I developed the “Snapshot Blog Post.” The students are asked to write two blog posts about the progress of their projects. Once, during the middle of the project and again at the completion. I ask them to answer specific questions and to post images of their work. I use the completion of the blog post as a means of grading. In essence, I no longer grade the project, I only grade that they blog about it.

My goal, and I believe the end result in this has been, that my students create art for the sake of creating. They strive to do better, not for a grade but because they want to improve the quality of their art.
 
 

Would you ever consider abolishing grading?

If you decided to do so, would your school district support you?

 
 
 

IanThis article was written by AOE Team member Ian Sands. Ian is the incredibly creative HS Art Teacher from Apex High in North Carolina. Ian is originally from NYC where he received a BFA from the School of Visual Arts.

About Ian | Ian’s Articles

 

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  • Cathy Robey

    I thought this was really good. I face the same challenges that many art teacher face…..many students want to just do enough to get an “A” on each project, feel as if they fail if they get a “B”, etc. I am always trying to look for ways to increase “creating art for the sake of creating” and increasing that “internal motivation”.

    Great post! Great ideas! Thanks for sharing Ian!

    • d8ug

      A few years ago I taught Art 1 classes…I tried an experiment for the entire year…check out my blog at
      Djochum.blogspot.com…students set their own rubrics,wrote their own tests, and graded their own projects…be sure and read the very first entry to really understand the premise and overall conceppt…that was 2010 and i still have views worldwide…drop me a line at dougjochum@mac,com with your reactions…thanks

      • Ingrid

        can you link that first entry? I don’t see it. :(

        • d8ug

          Click on home button at blog…a menu will come up to take you there

          Sent via the Samsung Galaxy Note® II, an AT&T 4G LTE smartphone

          ——– Original message ——–

  • Teresa Diaz

    What wonderful timing! I was just thinking this week about the hundreds of grades I complete each marking period and how much a grade doesn’t matter in the real world for getting a job in the art/design field. I was planning on looking into our teacher handbook to see if there is a certain amount of grades I have to complete and here, your article gives me an alternative. I will consider this!

  • Hilary

    At NAEA there was a session with a title that had “skeptical” in it that was about assessment. It was hilarious, and made me feel sane about the ridiculous task of grading. Your post does the same. Thank you.

  • Wendy

    I am so grateful you posted this! We stopped grading projects at our high school a few years ago. Our grades are based on many other more authentic traits an art student should exhibit, and the bulk of the grade revolves around a portfolio. We give constant formative feedback in the form of one on one conversations, group conversations ( which the students elicit among themselves), group critiques and posts in the students’ ongoing digital portfolios and now blogs. Sometimes I wonder if it is the right thing, but I feel the grades are so much more authentic and honest in that the student owns them; they are not based on my demands or opinion. I too have seen a rise in creativity, confidence, risk taking, revisions to re-try’s and work ethic. I have had to consider and reconsider things like taking a stand on what a “D” means and what do I offer to that student who took my class (for which I’m so grateful in these times of AP and honors stress) but really wants that A+. My district is starting to adopt Rick Wormeli’s methods of grading and the entire district is looking to Art as the pioneers and leaders for this transition. ‘Bout time!!!

    • Kimberly Moe

      Can you expand upon the authentic traits that you use to grade? How are the portfolios graded- as one, overall grade? I am so fortunate to be receiving student touch screen laptops this coming year, and will be having my students create their digital portfolios, as well as blogs. I would love to know a bit of how you manage these items as well. Thank you!!

      • Wendy

        Hi Kimberly,

        Here is a link to the blog I use in our beginning level Art & Technology class where we describe our use of portfolios and how we grade them. I have not updated the blog since June. :)
        http://gussvat.blogspot.com/p/portfolio.html

        Please know, we are constantly altering, rethinking and even frustrated with our grading methods, especially in the parameters of the online gradebook we use and this data driven world we live in. But I do feel grading this way puts more power in the students’ hands, and they do have to work to earn the grade they want to earn. I also love that I don’t hear them say, “oh Photoshop, I bombed that project”, they say things like “I’m not that great at Photoshop yet but I’m working on it” or even better, ” I want to take your Graphic Design class so I can get better at Illustrator”. We have come to look at taking art/design in our department as a journey- whether it takes five months or four years- and the portfolio records that journey. That is exponentially more important to me than the grade at midterm. But to appease those that need the grade, we developed this way to assess how the student was displaying and understanding their own growth. Is it effort based? Absolutely. In what field or experience in life is one not rewarded for effort? The more you put in, the more you get out. In growth, products and rewards.

        So the basic grading is this:

        For each project we complete in class, I expect it “turned in” (via Google Drive). They earn one point for doing this.

        We often share the project with the class for feedback. Sometimes that earns a point and sometimes it doesn’t. But what they get is feedback from me and their peers, which means they have the opportunity to revise the project to improve it (could be a technical skill they don’t yet have, or a design weakness they figure out how to improve).

        If they are not done with the project by the turn in or share, a zero goes in the gradebook (they are now failing the course- why? it alerts them, their parents, caseworker, etc that they have a project missing)

        At midterm check, every four weeks, they turn in the portfolio. This usually has a required amount of work that is listed by the instructor to earn at least a B. If they revised a project (optional) they can include version one, two, three, etc). They can also include any extra practice. They can also include any work that wasn’t ready when we shared. In essence they get the entire four weeks to build that portfolio before I check it.

        When I grade the portfolio, all ones or zeros are deleted. They only grade is what they earned at portfolio check.

        So the single points are really just a checklist until the full grade comes in.

        If they turn in the portfolio and it is missing things or it is not showing enough to earn an A, I give feedback (written in the comments or through a verbal conference) on how to improve that grade. I give them a deadline date to resubmit. If it shows improvement, I will change the grade.

        Again it is not a perfect system- its a LOT of grading at one time- when we conference we typically spend a week doing that while students work on their own. And sometimes the regrading becomes a bit much. We get angry at ourselves, at them, at not teaching for a week… but really each student deserves our attention and feedback so they feel in charge of their grade.

        I know it’s clear as mud, but I do hope it helps you. Feel free to follow up with me if you have any more questions, or if anyone else does. :)

        Touch screen laptops- wooo hoooo! Enjoy!

        • Kimberly Moe

          Thank you!

  • Susan Legere

    I despise grading! I have used rubrics, just looked at a project and gave it a grade, and even asked my daughter to give the art work a grade and these methods all came up with the same “grade.” Students usually grade themselves a lot lower than I would. I also add 5 extra points into the total points for an assignment so I have a buffer for work that has not really followed the rubric, but still came out with amazing work. Art is so hard to judge… it is a personal thing for the student and I do not like judging that. I am revamping my curriculum and I am hoping to have rubrics for units/techniques and grade them because they are more task/ application of skills instead of the creative process. It is difficult to grade! My college had Pass /Fail with the chance to get a written grade clarification. That was nice. If a student was superior, they could receive “honors” in a course too.

  • John Post

    I like the reasoning in this post. It seems like an excellent way to teach kids to “think” and reflect as artists.

  • ArtfulArtsyAmy

    YES. SO. MUCH. YES.

  • Mrs.C

    I HATE grading artwork with a passion! I find it wrong on so many levels to put a letter/number grade on someone’s creativity… unfortunately, I don’t have a choice in my situation but to grade. Your post did give me something to think about… how can I change how I assess my students that will make me and “the powers that be” happy….

  • artprojectgril

    I have no idea how you managed to do this! We are told, required, lectured on why this assessment, grading, common assessments district wide in art, are the way to go and oh yeah REQUIRED! I just got my fourth quarter grades finished. Each student gets 6 final grades totaling 5,500 about for me! It took me three days about 12 hours!!! I did some at school calling kids up to my desk wasting our class time. But it saved me four hours.

  • Art Teachers Hate Glitter

    I loathe grading. Fun fact: Our REQUIRED grading system just got MORE complicated about two years ago. It is not unusual for me to evaluate each project on 23 different criteria. That’s 23 different marks per project, PER STUDENT. Then, for the report card, I take all of those marks into consideration in order to give each student 5 grades. Let’s say, for fun, we get two projects completed per quarter, with an average of 26 students per class, and the fact that I teach 10 classes (I’m part-time)… that’s… how many grades per quarter? Way more than I can fathom. Did I mention I teach Elementary Art? ELEMENTARY! It certainly doesn’t need to be this complicated. I kid you not, it can take me three hours just to grade one project for one class. So you can understand why, come the third quarter, I start making grades up. I’m already burned out from grading at that point.

    • Art Teachers Hate Glitter

      I did the math. If my calculations are correct (which is questionable), that’s about 13,260 grades per quarter! (Dear god, please let my math be wrong). Of course, most classes complete 3-4 projects per quarter, and a couple of my classes have 30+ students, and… *BANG!*

      • iansands

        Wow! That a crazy big number! Hey, but if you had a nickel for every grade… :)

  • http://veganlifeisgood.blogspot.com Jennie

    Hi Ian,
    Thanks for this article! I’m applying for my first art teaching job and have really been wondering how I will accomplish the grading. This was great food for thought.
    What blog site do you use for the kids? I would have to set this up, as none of the teachers at our site use blogging.
    Thanks!
    Miss Farnham, Santa Cruz

    • iansands

      Hi, first, good luck with the position! As for blogging, we currently use Blogger. If the kids have a gmail account, and most do, it’s pretty easy to set up. However, we now have all students at Apex blogging (art one thru AP) and blogger isn’t meaning the needs for multiple classes. We are considering switching to weebly this fall. Thanks

  • iansands

    Update: Next year I’m going to take this concept a step further. Instead of grading their projects or their blogs, I’m simply going to track their work. Our grading software allows us to mark projects as “complete” or “missing” where grades go. When it’s time to enter grades, I’ll sit down with each student with a copy of this spreadsheet and have a conversation about what grade they think they have earned in my class for that period of time. Instead of grading project, or grading blogs, I’ll simply give them a grade for the class.

  • Joules Newton

    I, too, use rubrics, but they have a minimum grade of 70-72. Texas has no “Ds”, so the lowest passing grade is a “C”. Per our district grading policy, we’re supposed to have 3 tests per 6 weeks. I use the website Illustration Friday as a test grade. They start the drawing on one Friday and it’s due the next Friday. They can work on the drawing all day that first day, and if they are not finished, they can work on it during down time all the next week. Next year, I am also going to implement a “speeding ticket” on projects/assignments that were just slapped together and turned in quickly. It will still have a minimum grade of 70%. Another step I use to keep kids caught up is “Pickles and Ketchup”. On at least one day a 6 weeks, I have “Pickles and Ketchup.” If the student is finished with all work up to that day, they are a Pickle. If not, they need to Catch-up.

  • TLH

    I too use rubrics. I would love to use a different method, but my school requires 2 grades a week and it is tough! I like the blog idea. I will have to get something set up on Weebly. Thanks

  • 2Dv8

    I am working on this very idea right now! I will start my PhD work soon on
    “Art for art sake” in the classroom. I am here to teach art and get kids excited about their own creativity. Not sure my district is ready to follow my lead but I feel it is a good fight!
    Lee Darter
    Art Room Blog

  • D. Mac

    Uh, I do not want to grade anymore either! I have rewritten enough rubrics and they never feel adequate. My school has adopted Marzano’s scales and I feel in many ways that we have dropped back in time to just looking at it and giving it a grade. I like the idea of grading a written piece about their work, but how do you grade that? Can you post more about grading the blog post??? Are you looking for certain understandings, checking grammar??? How does this relate to learning art? My school will also be requiring written assessments next year (middle school). I almost feel like this is actually a more fair way of knowing a students true knowledge gain, but on the other hand art is something that students, who aren’t always test smart, can be successful in. Am I really going to take that A away from my super creative student because they couldn’t remember the vocabulary words? Yet, to be a good artist don’t you need to know your vocab??? Ugh, the grading dilemma just keeps getting bigger for me. I would love to see more options on grading for art class.

  • Clyde Gaw

    Bravo! Looking forward to visiting with you soon Ian! Warmest wishes….Clyde

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