Articles and social media are buzzing about a trend called ”ungrading,“ a practice in which feedback and reflection replace assigning points or letter grades to student work.
In the ungrading classroom, written and/or oral feedback is tied to a course’s learning objectives and focuses on what could be improved moving forward. Additionally, ungrading calls upon students to self-evaluate, making them responsible for understanding the material and understanding that they understand, i.e. adding metacognition to the pedagogy.
While instructor workload and systemic administrative procedures such as assigning grades at the end of a course provide valid reasons against ungrading, adherents of the learning strategy believe the practice is more student-centered. One professor who hasn’t graded in 20 years goes so far as to say that grades “frustrate intrinsic motivation” and continues to use ungrading as a way to encourage deeper learning.
Of course, most adopters of the ungrading philosophy must assign final marks, and these instructors have come up with a variety of methods to do so. One way is the self-evaluation, which hinges on the belief that students are the best monitors of their own learning. Therefore, requiring them to write about their work and comment on their own progress is a more valid measure of true learning. In this scenario, some instructors have students justify their own grades with the proviso that the instructor may change those grades.
Other evaluative protocols include the portfolio assessment, which uses an entire semester’s work to appraise the trajectory of a student’s learning. This method has the benefit of acknowledging that students begin the course with differing knowledge and skill levels. Another way to assign grades using is specification grading. This modality uses a binary approach to grade assignments—pass/fail or satisfactory/unsatisfactory. However, at the beginning of the semester students choose which letter grade they want at the end of the term. To earn the chosen mark, students complete bundled assignments that increase in number and difficulty the higher the desired grade. All assignments contain grading specifications the work must meet. Instructors do not assign points when grading but do provide feedback explaining why or why not the work was acceptable. Instructors who opt for this type of assessment say students take ownership of the grading process, which provides buy-in and motivation.
Undoubtedly, writing instructors would have to believe strongly in the merits of ungrading to adopt such a novel approach. Below are some of its pros and cons.
- Ungrading shifts the focus to the what and why of learning instead of focusing on grades.
- Research suggests that ungrading reduces students’ stress and promotes good learning habits.
- Work performance evaluations, which look toward improvements in the future, are more akin to ungrading, especially in business.
- All students may not possess the ability to accurately self-evaluate.
- Learners from less privileged backgrounds may not benefit from the removal of traditional grading guideposts.
- Students are left on their own to figure out how their work could be improved or why when a simple “meets objectives” evaluation is assigned rather than a letter grade.
- Writing instructors already provide copious commentary on assignments, and adding more to an already substantial grading burden could cause burnout.
We all know the current grading system is fraught with problems. Whether ungrading is the answer is up to the individual to decide.
Kenyon, A. (2022, September 21). What is ungrading? Duke Learning Innovation. Retrieved from https://learninginnovation.duke.edu
Stommel, J. (2020, February 6.) Ungrading: an FAQ. JesseStommel.com. Retrieved from https://www.jessestommel.com
Talbert, R. (2022, April 27.) What I’ve learned from ungrading. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com