“Unprecedented” is a word that somehow manages to overstate and diminish every era, and its overuse in the last five years - let alone the last five months - should be enough for us to unanimously agree to excise this basically useless descriptor. To describe each moment of our continuously unfolding present as unprecedented is often a meaningless call to inaction, and to define our age as unprecedented is to isolate the humanity of the present as a special creation distinct from the past. Events and developments in human history have their precedents in technological innovations like writing and space flight or the development of new political systems but, as the first storytellers and artists understood, the fundamental themes of the human experience - identity, struggle, purpose - are unifying and transcendent. The particular tools, technologies, and systems will vary to meet - or not - the challenges of the day, but the fundamental question conscientious people should ask remains the same: who does this humanize?

As educators in a profession under siege, rather than connect our students to the transcendent - that is, to engage in the process of humanization - we’re incentivized to lead with tools and strategies that isolate them, couched in the latest consulting buzzwords meant to eke out marginal gains in assessment. Over the next several months, we’ll sit through even more meetings focused around instructional efficiency to show how we are “managing the pandemic” by “accelerated learning” and recovering some percentage of educational ground ceded to living in “unprecedented times” (tactics which sound like they were designed for the battlefield rather than the classroom, and who are we in conflict with?).

Grades and grading will no doubt be a necessary part of this discussion, and by participating in this session you’ve already signaled a desire to reform and abolish grading systems. Though humans are inherently learning beings, grades are a recent arrival in the history of education that in practice have been used to rank and sort, isolate, and demotivate students, especially those at the margins. The shift to a liberatory, feedback-driven classroom is a necessary step toward fully humanized and inclusive classroom practice.

We can create an assessment system in light of what hooks’ describes as “liberatory learning”, where students are engaged with rather than to, and the collective power of the room is shared between educator and student. By deconstructing the power narrative and reframing assessment, we not only motivate students to succeed, but create a different system that shares, elevates, and promotes student power. This has far-reaching ramifications beyond assessment, such as democratic thinking, the continuation of student voice, and building a more holistic future. The liberation is not just of the student in relation to their learning, but the liberation of the system itself.

The purpose of this session is not that you take away a specific lesson or a particular tool, though we will use examples and learn from each other what has worked in a variety of institutional contexts. We want you to leave our week together understanding how to use your role to restructure the system itself by understanding the research and practice of “ungrading” rather than - yet again - introducing and expecting fidelity to a buzzword.


Schedule

Our workshop is entirely asynchronous and serves the dual purpose of providing a space to engage in this transformative practice, as well as model potential asynchronous learning in your classroom. Each day (MDT), we will post a new update. Almost all updates are part-activity, part-collaboration. Our goal is to provide a framework for you to utilize your collective experiences to learn and grow from, just as we would our learners. Check back on our workshop page each day!

  • Part 1: Research, Background Information, and Introductions (July 27)
  • Part 2: Framing Assessment and Practices (July 28)
  • Part 3: Shifting Our Classroom (July 29)
  • Part 4: Initial Implementation Ideas (July 30)
  • Part 5: Learning Journey (July 31)

Facilitator Bios

This workshop will be led by Chris McNutt and Nick Covington of Human Restoration Project.

Human Restoration Project is a non-profit organization aimed at systemic change in K-college classrooms. Our goal isn't to present one-and-done workshops that provide educators with a specific strategy, but to recognize underlying systems and transform the practice itself. We pride ourselves on supplying ample research, featuring prominent voices, and modeling progressive education within our professional development. We host podcasts, feature writers, provide monthly free PD, create resources, and supply free coursework (and an upcoming microcredential!) All of our work is Creative Commons (feel free to share any/everything, as well as modify it with credit) and sponsored by regular people over at Patreon.

If you find yourself enjoying this session, be sure to check out our upcoming Summit (August 1st, 10AM EDT) on virtual activism with Inspire Citizens and Out of the Blocks, as well as our upcoming asynchronous Summit (August 2nd-4th) on the hidden curriculum.

Chris McNutt

"Hey, everyone! Nice to connect with everyone. My name is Chris McNutt and I teach digital media (and sometimes US History/Government) to 9th graders at a public STEM secondary school. I am also the founder and Executive Director of Human Restoration Project. I'm fascinated by progressive pedagogies and systemic change and have witnessed first hand what's possible when we reframe mindsets and openly experiment. Within our courses, students and I co-develop the curriculum and build projects that connect to the community. Two highlights over the last couple years have been:

  • Developing video games that recognize veterans and their lives after Iraq/Afghanistan/Syria, where students interviewed recent veterans, incorporated their stories, and build games in conjunction with StackUp, a video-game focused veteran's charity. We sold these games at our school's expo night to raise money for the organization.
  • Developing projects in the wake of school closures in March/COVID-19, one of which was an isolation design study where students journaled, reflected, and "checked in" with me throughout the semester to express their ideas via art, while simultaneously recognizing well-being, wellness, and coping mechanisms (e.g. self-reflection, yoga, getting outside.)

All of this was done...without grades! I experimented one year with literally giving everyone A's. It worked great with students (the first example, in addition to a theatrical performance and outdoor woodworking project were done without grades...), but administration wasn't keen on it. Now everything is done via portfolio and students negotiate their grade at the end of the course (P/F). You can find my writings and reflections on this topic on HRP's website as well as via our podcasts."

Nick Covington

Nick Covington has been a high school social studies teacher in Ankeny, Iowa for eight years, and since June 2019 Nick has also been the Creative Director of Human Restoration Project. In this recent role, writing and developing resources for teachers on a variety of topics in progressive education, co-planning and leading virtual professional development, expanding the progressive education community into new virtual platforms, as well as writing and hosting a podcast on education research called "Re:Teaching" on HRP's podcast network. Nick's work as a classroom teacher has focused on humanizing education by making room for student voice and choice through project-based learning and helping students communicate their learning absent grades through the use of alternative assessments and reporting practices such as portfolios, evidence journals, and student-driven narrative conferencing.


We don’t have to live in unprecedented times to do the work of humanizing institutions. Thank you for joining us this week as we work to restore humanity together.

-Chris & Nick

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

Part 1 - Research and Background Information

Posted by Chris McNutt

2 min read