Make a Mark, Not a Grade

Photo by Peter Harrison

” My dilemma is that I don’t know how should I grade/evaluate them? Actually, no, that’s not the issue. The real problem I’m having is that I just don’t know why I should.”                              ~@royanlee~

My son Ben and his two classmates discovered the reality of film work this week, realizing that a HUGE number of stills need to be taken to make the 30 second PSA they are creating in their grade 8 class (all @techieang and I could do was smile, well perhaps there was some smirking and cackling in there as well). But, the kid who ‘hates homework’ spent over an hour working away (with 2 or 3 more hours to come this weekend) and all we could hear was the sound of purposeful chatter, laughter and lots of meaningful productive talk  ‘flowing’ from the dining room.

Later that evening I read @royanlee’s post on the struggle he was having with assigning a grade to the wonderful film work that his students had completed and the powerful, reflective writing they had created in response to their works. It reminded me of the short tribute film to Holocaust survivors that a group of grade 8 students created when I was still in the classroom. After viewing it I told them my tears, and the tears of their classmates, were worth more than any mark I could possibly give; they made us notice, they made us care and that is the point of creating something. Whether it is a film, a poster, a piece of writing, all I ever asked of my students was to create something that would make an impact. These were the ‘success criteria’ that were shared in my classroom (and the ones I now share with the teachers I’m leading).

I’m more interested in having our students leave a mark than get a mark, and so are they. So, lets be genuine with them. Push them to create  great stuff about important ideas and students will not only rise to the challenge, they will be able to articulate what they have learned and why it matters.  Do this and don’t cheapen it with a mark, share your descriptive feedback offer  a genuine response. Let them know that when it comes time to write the report card you’ll turn the great things they have created into a grade and all they have to do is keep creating things~the wonderful thing about people is we actually do great things when we are given the chance, a purpose feedback and an audience, after all, look at all of us bloggers.

This entry has been cross posted on my personal blog thesmalleroffice


  1. Jeff Russell said:

    This has been a struggle for me for a while. I think that this year I have finally come to a good place with grades – by not assigning them. My co-workers often believe that I am not giving my students feedback, or wonder what my role is in the classroom because of this. A world without grades seems so alien. But, I have become a facilitator, a sounding board, a guide, and so many other things that grades often prevent.

    One of the main reasons that I moved in this direction was reflection. My students had no reason to think about their work – I, as the grade giver, would reflect on their work for them. They now reflect on their work and assign themselves a grade based on the level of effort and the product they created. It’s a chance for them to see that what they do and what they think really matters. If I took control of the grades then the reflections would be like an empty promise. All talk, no action.

    December 11, 2011
    • I appreciate courage it took to act upon your reflections. Anytime a teacher abandons one of those deep seated cultural practices (and grading is one of the biggies) it always creates some tension in the ranks. What fascinates me about grades, is not so much the power they seem to hold over people and our system, it’s the reality that, in most cases, grades turn learning into a transaction and treat knowledge as if it were a scarce resource. I don’t think either of these are true, certainly not in the world we now have.

      Thanks for the response, I look forward to learning along with you 🙂

      December 11, 2011
  2. Joe Dillon said:

    This is an awesome stance for a veteran teacher to take publicly about authentic assessment and feedback that supports lifelong learning and exploring. Thanks for sharing. I hope this encourages others to think about feedback and success criteria that empowers students. My firm hope as an educator is that traditional grades and assessments are exactly as mandatory as vocal teachers make them.

    December 11, 2011
    • Thanks for the response. One of the great things about blogging is we have a medium through which we are able to connect with one another and engage in conversations that push us to really think about our practice. This is particularly comforting to those among us who are trying to move away from traditional practices (like grading).

      December 11, 2011
  3. […] Like most parents, I remember very clearly the day that our son and our daughter were born. Holding them in my arms that first time, I can guarantee you my first thoughts were not, “I sure hope they do well on their Provincial Achievement and Diploma Exams!” In fact, when I think back to their first days of school, I didn’t wish for that either. I wanted them to be healthy and happy. I wanted them to enjoy school like I did, to make friends, to love learning. I wanted them to love their teachers and for their teachers to really love them and to make them feel special. Although I’ve been reflecting on this for the last while, the point further resonated with me when I read the article, “Leave a mark, Not a grade.” […]

    December 11, 2011
  4. At our school, we’ve been talking a lot about formative assessment and descriptive feedback. Your post speaks to the value of both. I just commented on Royan’s post too that I’m going to share his blog with the staff at my school, and I’m going to share yours as well. You both give us so much to think about!


    December 11, 2011
  5. Deb said:

    I just found this blog site and LOVE it! I am a veteran teacher who teaches middle level students with differing abilities. I have never been one to teach to the book, have always tried to teach for as much understanding as possible. The glitches I have found have been when other colleagues teach for grades, and homework. It seems I spend way too much time “catching” ids up with completing homework…not deeper understanding. I will check this blog as much as I can for more ideas to keep the learning train moving along with the whistle blowing!
    I am looking for online reading sites, for reading levels 2-4, that read content to students and have pictures. Any halp would be appreciated. I am also looking for a way to scan docs., create PDF’s and have a reader that will read the PDF’s if there are pics. on them. Most readers won’t read if there are drawings. Thanks for letting me “ramble”. LOVE teaching even after 20 years!!

    July 19, 2012

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