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How one London, Ont. teacher is promoting authentic learning by ‘ungrading’

Click to play video: 'Scarborough Grade 8 teacher educates his students with the help of Hip Hop'
Scarborough Grade 8 teacher educates his students with the help of Hip Hop
For many Ontario students, the return to in-person learning after two years online—has been a difficult one. Many coping with concentration challenges and mental health issues. But one Scarborough teacher is working to make that transition easier—by going with the flow. Kayla McLean has more – Jun 9, 2022

In Stacie Oliver’s English classes, students choose their own grades. It’s part of a concept the London, Ont., high school teacher calls “ungrading.”

“We focus on feedback instead,” she said. “It’s putting the focus exclusively on the learning and the opportunities for students to be able to take risks without the fear of failure (and) receiving a (bad) mark.”

The A. B. Lucas Secondary School teacher says it saddens her to see students identify their self-worth with the grades they receive in school.

Read more: London students, teachers celebrate school year ending on a more normal note than it started with

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“It’s really problematic… Our whole academic society is transactional, but the bigger thing for me is kids are afraid to really put themselves out there and pursue interests,” she said.

And so, Oliver decided to make a change.

In fall 2021, she introduced a new grading system to 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.

Read more: Doug Ford warns Ontario teachers to be back in school in fall as contract talks loom

“They had no idea what I was proposing to them. They were excited (but) confused,” she smiled.

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Oliver began the semester by outlining curriculum expectations so students know what they need to demonstrate.

Students propose a midterm and final mark, “but they have to create a digital portfolio that houses all of their work (to) justify how their work is meeting the expectations,” Oliver explained.

One of her grade nine English students, Briseida Bode, says the self-grading system encouraged her to put more effort into her work.

“I’ve always wanted to give myself a lower mark, but I always try to look back at my work (and say), ‘this is what I deserve based on my actual work.'”

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Bode finished the semester with the mark she wanted “after a lot of conferencing,” she said. “It takes a lot of explaining 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.

“If we’re looking at the curriculum, we’re looking at these skills (and) then we’re moving on,” she said. “Because we are limited by time, (this system) better mimics the real world, because (students) are given a task and (they) go get it done.”

Read more: Scarborough Grade 8 teacher uses hip hop to teach language arts to students

Bode says Oliver’s class was a great experience and that she’ll miss the self-grading system.

“I didn’t like it at first but then as we did it more and more often, I kind of enjoyed it because it (gives) you a whole new perspective on how you can view grades as more than just a number.”

As for Oliver, the high school teacher says she’ll continue with 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’ve rediscovered the joy in pursuing what they’re interested in.”

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— With files from Global News’ Mike Stubbs and Alan Carter

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