My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

December 15, 2020: Fall 2020 Lessons: Ungrading Works

[This has been without a doubt the most challenging and exhausting semester in my 16 years at FSU and 20 years of college teaching. But I’ve also learned a ton, and for this end of semester series I wanted to reflect on a handful of those lessons. Please share some of yours—and any other Fall 2020 reflections and thoughts—for a crowd-sourced weekend post of solidarity and support!]

On two unexpected, but ultimately not surprising, effects of my first work with a new pedagogical approach.

In another of my Fall 2020 semester preview posts, I highlighted my plans to work for the first time with (a partial version of) the pedagogical concept of “ungrading.” Rather than restate my initial perspective, goals, and questions about it, I’ll ask you to check out that post and then come on back.

Welcome back! I believe this mini-ungrading experience went even better than I could have hoped, and the first reason is a direct response to the one concern I expressed in that post: I believe students not only put as much time and focus into the ungraded papers and work as they would have if they were graded, but did so in ways that made them more personal and (it felt to me at least) meaningful than likely would have otherwise been the case. They certainly did and submitted that work on a more flexible timeline and schedule (in response as well to the absence of any late paper penalties that was part of my overarching policy of care I wrote about yesterday, and about which a little more later in the week), but that shift likewise, I would argue, made it more possible for them to make the papers what they wanted them to be, rather than being driven by arbitrary timelines or concerns over my grading focal points.

The other reason why my first ungrading experience felt so successful was perhaps even more unexpected, although again upon further reflection I don’t think it should be surprising. For many years now my main feedback on papers has taken the form of a long typed final comment, one that I either attach to the back of a hard-copy paper or email directly to the students when their papers are submitted electronically (as was the case with all work this semester. Usually that feedback includes a grade, of course; but for my first, ungraded papers in all my classes this semester, I only mentioned what the grade would have been on future work (so they could get a sense of my grading perspective and emphases). And judging by the number of students who responded to and follow up on my feedback emails, far more of them read and thought about my feedback on these ungraded papers than have ever done so with graded work. Which does stand to reason—when a paper is graded, of course that grade becomes the main focus of the feedback, and likely frames any other ways a student looks at that feedback; but in the absence of a grade, they’re freed to look at the feedback on its own terms, and see what stands out to them and what they want to keep thinking about. Given that that’s precisely the reason we give feedback, this was by far the best ungrading effect I could have hoped for.

Next lesson tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Fall 2020 lessons, challenges, reflections you’d share for the weekend post?

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