In Stacie Oliver’s English classes, students choose their own grades. It’s part of a concept the London, Ont., high school teacher calls “downgrading.”
“We’re more focused on feedback,” she said. “It focuses exclusively on learning and opportunities for students to be able to take risks without fear of failure (and) receiving a (bad) grade.”
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“It’s really problematic… Our whole university society is transactional, but the biggest thing for me is that kids are afraid to really put themselves forward and pursue interests,” she said. .
And so, Oliver decided to make a change.
In the fall of 2021, she introduced a new grading system in her two English classes, one in grade 9 and one in grade 12, and received support from her administration.
The system was that students could choose their own grades.
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“They had no idea what I was offering them. They were excited (but) confused,” she smiles.
Oliver started the semester by outlining the curriculum expectations so students know what they need to demonstrate.
Students offer a mid-term mark and a final mark, “but they must create a digital portfolio that contains all of their work (to) justify how their work meets expectations,” Oliver explained.
One of her ninth-grade English students, Briseida Bode, says the self-assessment system encouraged her to try harder at her job.
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“I’ve always wanted to give myself a lower grade, but I always try to come back to my work (and say) ‘this is what I deserve based on my actual work. “”
Bode finished the semester with the grade she wanted “after a lot of lectures,” she said. “It takes a lot of explanation and a lot of justification.”
Oliver says this system allows students to fail and recover because they have multiple opportunities to practice and explore their interests.
“If we look at the curriculum, we look at those skills (and) then we move on,” she said. “Because we’re limited by time, (this system) mimics the real world better, because (students) are given a task and (they) will do it.”
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Bode says Oliver’s class was a great experience and he will miss the self-assessment system.
“I didn’t like it at first, but then, as we were doing more and more often, I kind of enjoyed it because it (gives) a whole new perspective on how you can see notes as more than ‘a simple number.’
As for Oliver, the secondary school teacher says she will continue with this system for future classes.
“(The students) talked about how it has been a process of personal growth for them,” she said. “For many of them, they have rediscovered the joy of pursuing what interests them.”
– With files from Mike Stubbs and Alan Carter of Global News
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