“I can’t ever go back…” Adventures in #Ungrading

I have spent the last three weeks shirking responsibility for grading my students’ exam 1’s in General Chemistry II and Statistics. Exam 1’s (I think we’re on Week 6 or 7 out of 12!?!?)! [To be fair, I sent out a solutions key to the exam a week and a half ago, but still…] And it has been a really difficult journey because I started grading three weeks ago (right after they turned it in), and something just wasn’t right. It’s taken me this long to figure out what it was.

Through a series of factors including student input, I decided to regularly grade this semester. After all, summer was shortened and ungrading takes awhile and, and, and… Every reason I gave for not doing #ungrading seemed like a valid one at the time. And I’d spent like 15 ish years grading traditionally, so it would be no problem to pick it back up again, right? RIGHT?

But here’s the kicker, folks. Once you #ungrade for awhile, you can’t go back.

Especially this semester, when I have been trying to practice a pedagogy of care with my students via our class Slack channel and in student drop-in (i.e. office) hours.

I wish it were that easy to give up. But, here’s the thing – once you see your students as human beings in grading, once you gathered the data that makes Jesse‘s “flattened” automatons become three-dimensional people with lives and interests and contexts, it’s damn near impossible to go back to business as usual. And every point deduction feels remarkably arbitrary.

If you don’t get the flattened automatons analogy, you might watch this exceptionally helpful video that helps explain why #ungrading matters:

So, I needed to change things. Mid-semester. To be able to live with myself and to actually get these exams graded and returned to my students.

I needed a plan. And so I came up with one…😈

My students are currently doing their take home exam 2’s. Once they’ve turned those in, I’ll send out an answer key to the exam 2 (I usually make them do corrections, but it’s summer and this is how I’m saving some time here), a word document with a table (like the document found here) where they can fill in the points they deserve for each problem as well as justification as to why the points are the ones they deserve (if it’s not obvious), and the pedagogical reasoning behind changing our grading modality mid-semester. They will then fill in the word document, write a reflection about their growth during this exam, and send it back to me. And I will count their grade as their exam 2 grade unless there’s something blaring that forces a conversation (like they gave themselves points for problems they didn’t complete).

As always, if a question was ambiguously worded, my students can write an argument (using at least two peer-reviewed (open review counts here) cited sources) to justify a return of all the points taken off. Usually, if they choose this option, their arguments are very good, I learn something about the test and the way I write exam questions, I award back full credit on the question, and we both are happier. If the argument is exceptional, I award back the points to everyone who missed that problem.

I’m a data hound. I like the information provided by my students during the ungrading process. I’ve come to rely on it. It helps me understand them as human beings, and, most importantly, it doesn’t undermine the relationships I’m building throughout the semester.

One thought on ““I can’t ever go back…” Adventures in #Ungrading

  1. Thanks for sharing this. I enjoyed the conversation between you and Jesse as well. I have taken on ungrading over the last few semesters and implemented it in small chunks. A little here, a little there. However, after the experience of this past winter I can see too that there is no going back. It was quite a job to move everything online and then to manage student expectations for the conclusion of their classes, and their trauma(!). Almost everything moved to some format of self-evaluation. So, thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

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