Written By Starr Sackstein

Many of our practices are ingrained in us since long before we were teachers. Many began to set in our early formative years, sitting in classrooms taking in our own learning experiences.

Those of us who loved school enjoyed the learning and the game of it. The accolades and challenges are inherent in a broad academic program meant to push us into readiness for college or life. 

As an overachiever, the deep satisfaction I got in receiving As or 90s or whatever the highest in my class were, was unmatched by few other things.

I hated group work because I was often at the front of it doing everything, denying my classmates the chance to even try. I loathed the injustice of other students who clearly didn’t try as hard as I had and still managed to get decent grades even though they didn’t follow the “rules” at all.

So when I became a teacher, I knew the type I’d be. I knew the kids I’d like. I knew what my expectations and goals would inspire.

Or so I thought.

In the beginning, I took points off for everything. Rather than offer students positive experiences for growth, I penalized them for everything and I proudly wore my failure rate on my sleeve. “This time 30% of them failed because they couldn’t keep up.” Like this was some kind of evidence of the rigor of my space.

But I was so wrong.

This idea about learning and assessing didn’t inspire children, it stifled them. Fortunately, I had a great rapport with my students and they desperately didn’t want to disappoint me, so they worked hard for me, even if I wasn’t working hard enough for them.

Eight years into my career and I realized everything I was doing was wrong. 

All it took was the right reading material, Ken O’Connor’s A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes For Broken Grades. It was the first pedagogical book I had read that really made me question my practices. Feeling ashamed of what I had done to students, I started implementing change immediately.

Starting with one class at a time, I shifted what achievement meant and allowed students to really be a part of the process.

It took time and work, but I’ve moved to the other end of the spectrum. School is no longer about playing a game or rewarding or talking points. Learning is about mastery; developing skills to become more adept and inspired to continue to grow.

These are the key things that have changed:

Since these changes have been made, my students are enjoying learning more and they have a much more specific sense of how they are doing in the classes. No more, “what did I get on that?”

Are you ready to change your grading policy? Maybe it’s time. What’s the first thing that would go? Please share

Does this sound like something that would be helpful for your school? Click here to schedule a call with a Mastery Learning expert.

This post originally ran on Starr Sackstein’s Education Week Teacher blog in May 2015

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