July 29th

Now, we will start to reimagine how we can shift our classroom toward liberatory, feedback-driven learning. Given the different perspectives and contexts we all come from, we can begin to recognize that our perspective and schooling shapes our understanding of our classrooms - and deconstructing that is an important part of our planning.

Reflecting on yesterday's activity, it's fascinating how many of us self-categorize ourselves as academically oriented or purpose-driven (which only makes sense as we've chosen to make academia/education our profession.) It's a huge gap. (At the time of writing, L-Z had no respondents in the "disengaged" or "struggling" category, and I'm the only one in "apathetic." There's a couple more in A-K (yet still no "disengaged.")

Further, a quick glance just demonstrates how many of us had negative experiences with grading - our self-worth, anxiety, and pursuits completely altered by something that's meant to show areas for growth. This is reflected in Dr. Astrid Poorthuis' research on grades: those at the top want to defend their position of power and are crushed when they don't succeed - usually in a constant state of anxiety; those at the bottom are pushed out; those in the middle tend to pick the first path they're successful at. Overall, everyone loses when we rank and file.

And there's a connection between an inequity of grades and an inequity of possibility - economic or otherwise. Check out this clip of Dr. Richard Wilkinson from TED. How does this relate to our classrooms?

The more power we share with students, the more likely our class will service their needs, especially those at the margins. When planning for our classrooms, it can be difficult to individually and uniquely meet the needs of every student. Therefore, we suggest a systems-focused approach. Ungrading is just one of these systems that can be modified and implemented in different ways.

That being said, as we shift to ungrading we’ll also be shifting systems other than assessment. A lot needs to be done in order to simply say, “no more grades!!” then run out of the room. In addition, when we tackle ungrading and don't shift our other practices...it can be overwhelming! It's undoubtably easier to incorporate ungrading when students complete experiential projects, or have more voice in the classroom, or spend additional time reflecting on their learning. Further, ungrading contributes to other progressive systems such as critical pedagogy and democratic thinking. It's all connected! At HRP we outline these as 20 relative systems.


Today, we’ll be completing four steps:

  1. Examining how educators are incorporating gradeless learning in their classrooms.
  2. Reflecting on how ungrading is part of a greater narrative in equity.
  3. Complete one more Google Docs-centered collaborative activity on shifting systems.
  4. Visit our Discourse and/or connect on Twitter #ungradingDPL2020 for a few reflection questions.

Implementation Strategies

Here are some resources meant to conceptualize the practice of ungrading. Note that ungrading doesn't have to be "all at once", depending on your experience, department, school, or tenure - this may not be an accepted practice. We push for calculated risks that make sense for our students while simultaneously not losing any impact we may make by promptly being fired.

Like last time, don't feel pressured to read/watch any/all of these. These are just some ideas of what these practices actually look like:

  1. Getting Rid of Grades by Laura Gibbs
  2. Grades Can Hinder Learning. What Should Professors Use Instead? (featuring Susan Blum, Jesse Stommel, Starr Sackstein, Clarissa Sorensen-Unruh, and Christopher K. Riesbeck)
  3. (18:07) Human Restoration Project Evidence Journal + YouTube Video
  4. A Shift Toward Towards Student Self-Reporting by Abe Moore
  5. Human Restoration Project “Grading =/ Assessment” Techniques
  6. Creating a Culture of Feedback by Christie Nold

Equity-Based Practice

Ungrading is not just important for promoting motivation, engagement, and counteracting negative SEL. The way we grade and assess ranks and files students, and perpetuates a system of white supremacy where mostly white, privileged students are placed at a major systemic advantage in the education system.

As you read the following article, self reflect:

  • How do grades promote the hegemonic, dominant culture that tends to be associated with schooling?
  • When we get rid of grades, how do we help promote equity for all learners?

Chapter: Confronting Class in the Classroom by bell hooks, from Teaching to Transgress (1994)

Shifting Systems

Visit our collaborative Google Docs link. Be advised that anyone can edit this, so watch you don’t accidentally delete someone’s writing!


Tomorrow we will use all we've learned to make an implementable ungrading system unique to your classroom.

~ Read next post in Creating a Virtual, Liberatory Feedback-Driven Classroom ~

Part 4 - Prototyping an Ungraded, Liberatory Classroom

Posted by Chris McNutt

2 min read