Grading Without Comparing

In my system of contract grading, my students write a final reflection at the end of the semester discussing their learning in the class. As part of this reflection, they are welcome to make a case for what grade they earned, although it’s wonderful to 

Is Throwing Out Grades Too Idealistic?

I teach composition, critical thinking, and literature at a community college in the San Francisco Bay Area. For over two years, my teaching has been gradeless, as much as my institution will allow. I assign no letter grades or point values to essays, quizzes, or 

Slow Teaching

This summer, I’ve been raising caterpillars in my backyard garden. It’s a slow business. Every day, there is quiet, incremental change. Day to day, the caterpillars look mostly the same. But over the course of weeks, a new Monarch caterpillar, only a quarter of an 

Is Teaching a Sustainable Profession?

After spending a weekend at a retreat with a group of other teachers, I came away worried about whether teaching can be a sustainable profession—whether it can be done over the course of decades, with vigor, love, and increasing excellence. So many teachers I know 

Why I Scrapped All Lesson Plans

A few years ago, I shared some student essays with my colleagues, as part of a teacher training program I was co-facilitating. I was proud of what my students had done: They had read a series of difficult texts, formulated their thoughts on a profound 

Student Self-Feedback: One Key to Gradeless Classrooms

The first time I sat down to “not grade” a stack of student essays, I panicked a little bit. To read the papers without giving them a number, letter, or any evaluation whatsoever felt so disorienting that I went crazy providing narrative feedback. That day 

How Meditation Changed My Teaching

It was an evening class in spring, a literature class held in the geology classroom. Rocks sat immobile in glass cases. Students sat at small tables, equally immobile. This was supposed to be my fun class: “Banned Books,” for literature majors. I had hoped to 

Words I’d Like to Nix: Assessment

Almost twenty years ago, when I started teaching community college English, no one used the word assessment. Teachers assigned homework and group projects. They gave tests. Then this word started popping up, and soon, it became a major part of our job to “assess” whether 

Lessons About Process-Oriented Feedback from Art Class

This semester, while on sabbatical from teaching, I entered a classroom as a student. I did so feeling as I think most of my students do: anxious, tentative, and totally lacking in confidence. This was a drawing class, and if I knew one thing it 

Reasons to Stop Using Rewards and Punishments in the Classroom

Teachers, I know. Going into a classroom of willful, exhausted, and sugar-infused individuals without an ample supply of carrots and sticks—it’s sheer insanity. My carrots (the As, the extra credit points, the gold stars) and sticks (such as a big fat zero) are precious tools