In Stacie Oliver’s English classes, students choose their own grades. It’s part of a concept the high school teacher in London, Ontario, calls “no judging.”
“We’re focusing on feedback instead,” she said. “The focus is solely on the learning and opportunities for students to be able to take risks without fear of failing (and) getting a (poor) grade.”
The AB Lucas Secondary School teacher says she is saddened to see students identify their self-esteem with the grades they get in school.
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“It’s really problematic… Our entire academic society is transaction-oriented, but the most important thing to me is that kids are afraid of really putting themselves on the map and pursuing interests,” she said.
And so Oliver decided to change something.
In the fall of 2021, she introduced a new grading system for her two English classes, one grade nine and one 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 proposing to them. They were excited (but) confused,” she smiled.
Oliver started the semester by outlining curriculum expectations so students know what to demonstrate.
Students propose an intermediate and final grade, “but they have to create a digital portfolio that houses all their work (to) justify how their work lives up to expectations,” explains Oliver.
One of her 9th grade English students, Briseida Bode, says the self-assessment system encouraged her to put more energy into her work.
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“I’ve always wanted to lower myself, but I always try to look back at my work (and say, ‘This is what I earn based on my actual work.'”
Bode finished the semester with the grade she wanted “after a lot of meetings,” 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 interests.
“When we look at the curriculum, we look at these skills (and) then we move on,” she said. “Because we’re limited by time, (this system) mimics the real world better because (students) get a task and (they) go to get it done.”
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Bode says Oliver’s class was a great experience and she will miss the self-assessment system.
“I didn’t like it at first, but as we did it more and more, I kind of liked it because it gives you a whole new perspective on how you can see numbers as more than just a number.”
As for Oliver, the high school teacher says she will continue to use this system for future classes.
“(The students) talked about how it’s been a process for them in personal growth,” she said. “For many of them, they have rediscovered the joy of pursuing what they are interested in.”
— With files from Mike Stubbs and Bill Kelly of Global News
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