Ungrading: Prototype II (General Chemistry II)

I decided to try ungrading in my general chemistry classes this past Fall (2019), but I wanted to give my students the power to have a say (i.e. vote) for the ungrading if they wanted to try it. The vote was administered via a google form:


The vast majority of my students (97%) agreed to implement the new version of ungrading, which was modified from the original (discussed as a series that starts here) based on student feedback gathered at the end of the semester during the original prototype. The original feedback used was collected via an anonymous google form survey and via student reflection blogs specifically on ungrading.

Here is the version of ungrading we implemented during the Fall 2019 semester in both of my General Chemistry II classes.

Ungrading in this class would entail doing corrections on each exam with an ability to argue for points taken off (the argument must be logical and must have 2 peer-reviewed citations to back it up). If the corrections are submitted on time and are completed for every problem missed, then 1/4 of the points originally taken off on the raw score of the exam would be returned to the individual student.

This prototype was particularly interesting because it was the first time I implemented ungrading in both face-to-face and blended learning environments. A blended class is a distance learning class that takes exams in a Testing Center on campus, so my face-to-face interaction with blended students is minimal. While my students in my face-to-face class turned in their corrections/grade analyses during class time, my students in my blended class turned in their corrections/grade analyses either in person during office hours or via scanned submission sent by email.

The first exam

I’ve found the first exam is typically where the first major holes in a well thought-out prototype reveal themselves. The first exam in the two General Chemistry II classes went badly: the exam was too long and had some pieces of missing information, and my students weren’t as prepared for it as well as they’d initially thought. I handed back regularly graded exams and the average was in the low 50s for both classes. Because fault could be placed on both sides (teacher and student), I changed the amount of points my students could earn back (½ of the points they missed) and I clarified the ungrading requirements slightly:

Ungrading involves
1. Doing corrections for every question you missed, which means:

– For conceptual questions (i.e. organic and not mathematical problems), write out the reason the correct answer is correct and the reason why each wrong answer is incorrect.

– For mathematical problems, just show your work and make sure you get the correct answer.

2. Reflection

– Why did you get the missed problem wrong?

– How are you going to correct whatever it was that made you get the question wrong (was it a misconception? did you have the wrong formula? was your note card lacking) for the final exam?

3. OPTIONAL: If you felt a question was confusing, you may make a logical argument to try to earn back full credit on that question. But you must provide two citations to back up your argument and those citations need to be scholarly and peer reviewed. Your book can function as one of these citations. The other should be obtained from a scholarly journal. Possible places to find such journal articles include: https://chemrxiv.org/ (the preprint server for chemistry), https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/ (NIH’s Pub Med), and google scholar (https://scholar.google.com/).

Your ungrading work should be done on separate sheets of paper from your exam or on the blank exam provided. You may pick up your exams during my office hours, or, if you want to do so (because coming to campus is sometimes difficult), you can just rework (using ungrading) the entire blank exam attached. However you complete this work, the ungrading assignment is due one week from today at the beginning of class (I send out a solutions key to the exam 1 at that time). You must hand in complete and correct work on time to get the score in the post-curve column. No exceptions are made for late work.

However, you are allowed to use every resource you can find on this ungrading assignment. The point here is to learn the material, and if you can find someone in the class or in the tutoring online or in the tutoring centers on CNM campuses to help you, that’s awesome.

If you so choose, you can also drop this exam as your lowest score.

The ungrading is the only curve for this exam, so, should you fail to complete it, your exam 1 score will revert to your raw score.

I thought these directions thoroughly clarified what I needed my students to do and they, in fact, did help students submit what I wanted to see. The conversation (the original point of ungrading for me) began on paper. My hope was that we will continue it orally student by student once they’ve turned in their submission. The oral conversation, however, did not occur as hoped (see the next section for more information).

I wanted my students to see ungrading as a benefit in their own learning process. I hoped this version of ungrading would help in that process.


Reflections and Lessons Learned

I learned some things along the way that constitute important considerations. These things include how feedback is given, how student agency is encouraged and empowered, and how the conversation is structured.

I’ve found that encouraging student agency is difficult in beginning chemistry classes because students are often more comfortable being told what to do. Giving students the ability to have control over their grades can come with overwhelming feelings, including a lack of confidence in their ability to evaluate their own work and/or imposter syndrome.

Student agency feeds directly into how this ungrading conversation is structured. The conversation needs to exist within safe and respectful space and both parties need to have the time to give to the conversation. I have had significantly fewer conversations with students this semester than I had in the original implementation, and I think part of that decrease has to do with time constraints and the environment in which the conversation would need to happen. The time constraints exist in that this is a larger class with more students who lead busy lives with full-time jobs and families. Also, time was not specifically set aside in class to converse about the exams. Perhaps the latter is the more important of the two reasons – all CNM students are busy but committing class time to the ungrading process is vital for the conversation to occur.


Concluding Thoughts

I’ve been asked many times how others should implement ungrading in their classrooms. What I have to say is this – ungrading takes a deep commitment to helping students build skills – like understanding what they know and what they don’t know, understanding their own preparation needs, understanding feedback and using it to propel their own learning – that will hopefully help them in their future learning. The likelihood that you’ll see the benefit of this intervention immediately is very small; the real benefits must come in a student’s ability to better understand their own performance, to recognize the holes in their own prior knowledge, to become self-directed learners. Ungrading is an investment in who a student is and the skills they need for their future studies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s