Why students should be in control of their own learning

At Peergrade it’s no secret that we are huge advocates of putting the learner first, so we were honored when one of the biggest names in the gradeless movement took time out to further discuss student-centered learning with us.

Not only is Arthur Chiaravalli a public school teacher and founding member of Teachers Going Gradeless, he is also a prolific writer whose 2017 article, Teachers Going Gradeless caused quite the stir in the education world.

Grading is a false currency

The concept of going gradeless harks back to the late 80s when a study by Ruth Butler showed that students who received feedback alone, rather than grades or grades with feedback, saw the greatest improvement in their studies.

But why is grading so ineffectual?

As Arthur told us: “Grade inflation has been going up since the 1970s. Grades have been inflated more and more and more, and teachers and professors have all sorts of idiosyncratic ways of doing their grades. Grades are getting to a point where they’re almost meaningless. Since they are meaningless, let’s not let them do us a double disservice by hindering learning.”

So, we stop grading and start giving feedback, but what are the benefits to both students and teachers if students control their own learning?

Understand the scoring guide, not just the subject

Your students may well have a firm grip of a subject, writing about and discussing it with the confidence of a professor but, without a thorough understanding of the rubrics and scoring guides, they may be at a big disadvantage when it comes to assessment.

By applying student-centered learning that relies on students giving each other feedback based on a scoring guide, students learn the criteria they must fulfill in their own work.

The more your students understand how their work is assessed and what is expected from them, the better judges they become of the quality of their own work.

As Arthur told us: “I want my students to get familiar with the scoring guide. I’ll have them look at that and use wording from the scoring guide and provide evidence as to what did they see in the paper they are marking that is evidence of this statement in the scoring guide. And I love that because it helps them become familiar with that criteria.”

Students learn how to defend their grade

Unlike traditional grading where students receive their card with an array of letters, student-centered learning empowers the student to use evidence to fight for the grade they believe their work is worth.

An assessment becomes a meaningful two-way conversation, generating deeper learning.

Back to Arthur: “One of the things that I mention in the article (Teachers Going Gradeless) is Descriptive Grading Criteria. And it’s got four bullets: What an A looks like; what a B looks like, what a C looks like, and then below that I don’t even bother with – you’re going to have to do better than that to even get a grade.

“I just really want it to be based in reality and for the student to be able to provide evidence for those bullet points. We have a conversation around those and I might point to this and that and if someone comes back and says ‘I very much disagree with what you said and I want to talk about it again,’ then we can have that conversation.

I feel although there’s some tension associated with that, it’s better than the alternative, which was just a one-way, not even a conversation, just a one-way, here is your grade.”

Cut down your grading time

The paradigms within education may be shifting, and with student-centered learning so is the workload.

At Peergrade, while we live and breathe giving feedback, we have no wish to see an education sector fueled by the midnight oil. But with student-centered learning, the students are empowered to give feedback, dramatically cutting the workload of the lecturer, tutor or teacher.

We return to Arthur: “Feedback should be more work for the student than it is for the teacher. Because the one who does the learning – and feedback is part of the learning – is the one who does the work.”

“I think students just making sense of that feedback, documenting their own growth, understanding the criteria for an A, understanding the criteria for a B, for a C, putting that on them as much as possible has actually has freed me up from a couple things that I used to do when that was my responsibility.”


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