Tag Archives: Contract Grading

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TLH Office Hours Recap: Ungrading

On Tuesday, September 14th, we held virtual TLH Open Office Hours with the Mellon TLH Faculty Fellows. We had 11 participants, who shared their experiences with grading and ungrading (alternative forms of assessment).

Some of the challenges discussed included the tedium of grading in Blackboard; helping students understand how scaffolding works (and that missed assignments can snowball into weaker bigger-stakes assignments); guiding student decisions in co-created assessments; and, more generally, increasing student engagement and self-motivation.

Faculty also shared useful tips and strategies, such as:

  • talking students through HOW and WHY a given type of assessment or type of assignment works can help them understand the mechanics and gain a grasp of how syllabi and even institutions function–learn the unspoken rules and how to navigate them, an especially important skill for those who feel underprepared for college;
  • using group work (and peer review) to help extroverted students manage their speaking-time and help shier students open up (e.g., put all of the “extroverts” in one group and all the “introverts” in a different group);
  • asking students to set goals and learning outcomes for themselves at the beginning of the semester and, later, asking them to self-assess how close they came to achieving those goals (individual and/or collective) by the end of the semester;
  • making connections between the course content and students lives (e.g., ask students what they are most curious about).

I also presented a brief slide deck with some examples of ungrading, which you can view here.

[The cover of the book, Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead), edited by Susan D. Blum, appears in the foreground, standing on top of a pile of more copies of the book, in front of a vase of flowers and a window with a view of a red brick building in the background.]

Resources

Mellon TLH Faculty Fellow Michael L. J. Greer kindly shared some further resources with me after the workshop:

  1. an article about self-grading that she used as inspiration for her own ungrading methods (he students do a self-assessment which counts for 15% of their final grade) https://www.hsmitchellbuck.com/2019/08/14/adventures-in-ungrading/
  2. a resource on alternative grading that has been circulating in graduate student circles: https://docs.google.com/document/d/149qAwct6amhY1YnDIxjDKw_6w0AkfpV8hMg515LPRzU/edit

If you’d like to dive in further this semester, there is an #Ungrading Edcamp happening this November 4-6, 2021 (registration is free and the agenda will be informed by what participants are most interested in, so sign up and add your thoughts here).

For further reading, see:

What is Ungrading? An Interview on Contracts and Peer Evaluation

For anyone interested in ungrading, contract grading, and peer-to-peer evaluation, Aaron Blackwelder of “Beyond the Curriculum” has done a great job interviewing Cathy Davidson and Christina Katopodis about their chapter in Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (And What To Do Instead), edited by Susan D. Blum (West Virginia University Press, 2020). We discuss such things as Carol Dweck’s idea of “growth mindset” and how ungrading focuses on the learning process not just learning as a product. We talk about how, by having a contract based on all assignments in a course, a student can plan in advance. Not every student, we’ve found, wants an A; in a busy semester, they might not be able to do all the workload in a course and be happy to contract to do enough of the work to earn a B. (That kind of mature, careful planning allows the student to be in control, to not simply “flake out” of assignments and look irresponsible when they are simply not able to do the A-level workload during a time when, for example, they are juggling jobs or family responsibilities.) Continue reading