reThink ELA #003: Interview with Aaron Blackwelder

reThink ELA Podcast
reThink ELA Podcast
reThink ELA #003: Interview with Aaron Blackwelder
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RTE Podcast Aaron Blackwelder

What would you think if your principal said, “We're doing away with report cards, but you still have to tell your students and their parents how they're doing in class.” How would you measure a student's success?

In today's episode, we delve into the idea that teachers, students, and parents place too much emphasis on grades and they have lost the joy of learning for the sake of learning. When every test or project hinges on a grade, students are expected to perform well for a grade instead of performing well because the subject matter is interesting.

Also, think about the makeup of your classroom students. You have the top-of-the-class students who fight for every last point; you have the average students who question if fixing an assignment is worth the effort in their grade; and you'll have the struggling students who think, “What's the use in trying?” Every student in your classroom knows which category the other kids fall into and these categorizations as well as grades are demoralizing to those who don't or can't perform well in class. 

My guest today is Aaron Blackwelder, a high school English teacher in Washington State who has implemented a no-grades policy in his classes. We discuss how he came up with the idea to implement no-grades, the reaction of his principal and coworkers when he presented this idea, as well as how he communicates the students' progress to their parents.

Grades don't communicate learning! Listen to this #reThinkELA Podcast to learn how to toss grades in your #ELA class! #tg2chat Click To Tweet

Resources mentioned in today's episode

About the author 

Michelle Boyd Waters, M.Ed.

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my doctorate in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education and co-Editor of the Oklahoma English Journal. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify students' voices and choices.

  1. Very interesting idea, Michelle. I’m so entrenched in the old thinking that I’m having a hard time thinking about how this would work, although I was quite surprised when I told my 10th grader about this and she said a teacher last year mentioned it (didn’t think it would work) and another teacher this year was talking about it (she seemed more positive). My daughter also said she and lots of her friends use grades as incentives to do better and to stay focused, although she also admitted that sometimes after a test is over, the information disappears, which is NOT encouraging. But it also sounds like much more work for the teacher, to find ways to stay in communication with the kids and parents; or would you equate that level of work with what you have now when grading papers, tests, etc??

    1. Personally, I would must rather spend my time conferencing with students and (not as much at the high school level) parents than sitting at home writing labels (grades) and comments on papers that will have zero effect on student learning. When I provide my students with feedback and action steps to improve their work, they learn. When I give them grades, they just slide back into their safe labels and live there.

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