I have just ventured into new territory.  I have gone through all the protocols and today I took the plunge.  My senior level course is going to pilot the idea of abolishing grades.  Yes, I just said that.  No. More. Grades.

Well, maybe kinda sort of…Okay so abolish is a scary word.  Something has to go on the transcript and how will I communicate to parents and students what they are learning and how well they are understanding if there isn’t a grade?  So, now that I have your attention I’ll start at the beginning.

I have an incredible senior level course with only ten students.  Lately, they have been producing some awesome work.  They are taking their knowledge to the public and are participating in #biomedchat (shameless plug – a classroom-connecting twitter chat that you can learn more about here) and generating their own research projects (looking for mentors…you don’t have to be local…if interested please email me!).  They are creating PSAs for the school and applying their content knowledge in various formats.  What I found as their teacher (and over the last few years) is that it is incredibly difficult to assess their knowledge or level of learning through these types of assignments.  Sure, I can create rubrics and scoring guides.  But when I do, the majority of the scores are based off of mundane minutia that doesn’t demonstrate what the student has learned but rather, how well they can follow the rules of a rubric.

So after discussing the details of what the class will look like with our learning coach, department chair, colleagues and principal, I have created a system that I think will bring the learning to a new level.  (I am absolutely terrified but I am very excited.)  The course will be defined as follows:

Course Expectations:

You are expected to learn.  You are expected to engage.  You are expected to explore.

How you will know you are learning:

Together you and I will work to create your portfolio of knowledge.  Included in your portfolio will be examples of your work, journals and reflections of your experiences and what you have learned and (of course) how you were able to perform on quizzes and tests.

How transcript grades will be assigned:

10% course grades (Tests – Quizzes – “homework”)

10% peer evaluation (how well did you work in groups, did you contribute? data collected through anonymous constructive feedback by peers)

80% Portfolio of Class work

I know what you are thinking…80% is based on their portfolio!?!?!?  I thought the same thing too, but the students actually came up with this plan.  As a class we have set the expectations of what a portfolio should look like and this is what they came up with:

Overview of an Effective Portfolio:

Your portfolio is a professional reflection of your work.  In the adult world, portfolios are how professionals show their contributions to their field of study.  In this class, your portfolio will highlight how you have contributed your knowledge of biomedicine to society.  Included in your portfolio can be examples of notes, assignments and laboratories, however the bulk of the material will be representations of your work as it was, is and will be presented to the real world.  Examples include your contributions to the global #biomedchat conversations, your PSA on antibiotics to the school community, your research project and your presentations of your findings to the community, any and all published work that may result from your journal submissions.  The purpose of the portfolio is to get you, the student, to take your knowledge outside of the classroom and start contributing to society today.

Isn’t that incredible!?!?!  These kids are AMAZING!  They are putting themselves on a global platform and by doing so they are raising the level of expectations…for themselves.  Some of the best results from this endeavor has come from the excitement and pressure that a global audience provides.  I have discovered the impact of publication in my classroom.  I have always loved the idea of portfolios however, most of the products my students produce are…well, let’s just say shabby at best.  Now that we have 1:1 integration in the classroom, student are able to put their work “out there” and knowing that people will see it, judge it and evaluate it has made all the difference.  It was easy to give me an assignment they weren’t exactly proud of, but to show their friends, family, and future admission directors the quality of their work has made all the difference.

This is just the beginning and I’m sure you have questions…believe me so do I.  So let me know your thoughts, how you have engaged your students in the world of minimal grading and are you willing to take the plunge?