Why I’ve Gone Grade-Less

I have always hated grading papers.

It is right up there with watching state-mandated online training modules and filling out our labyrinthian teacher evaluation as one of my least favorite parts of the job.

Before moving on, I want to make it clear though that I don’t mean reading or responding to student work when I say “grading.” As I discussed earlier this year, grading and responding to student work are often used as synonyms, but they are actually highly different tasks. Feedback is the act of giving students information that they can use to grow and move forward; grades, on the other hand, are static markers meant to communicate to the student and others where a student’s skills are right now. And as a teacher, I have always felt much more comfortable with helping students chart a path forward than I have with rating them.

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What Makes Writing Authentic?

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Last spring, during my month spent blogging about teaching the essay, a teacher asked me a question that I had no ready answer for:


It is one thing to have students write narratives that they share with others or practice argumentation through writing letters to real people, but how can teachers make essays about books in their classes authentic?


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Feedback 2.0: Using Digital Resources to Give Better Feedback, Faster

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I am a luddite in so many ways. I don’t own an e-reader, I prefer vinyl to my Alexa, and I look forward to the times where I can hike or travel far enough away for my phone to get no reception.

This tendency sometimes follows me into my classroom as well, as I find that while we are often quick to proclaim technology a universal savior, there are plenty of places where it can be an unnecessary complicator that detracts from the core work of the classroom—namely reading, writing, and thinking. 

The one area where I am utterly convinced that technology is an unequivocal upgrade, though, is in responding to student work.  

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Three Lessons to Build the Confidence of Young Writers

One of my first writing assignments of the year is I ask students to tell me their stories as writers. I want the whole thing: the ups, downs, frustrations, inspirations, breakthroughs, and breakdowns.

And while I know what is coming, every year I can’t help but be a bit blown back by what I receive. While some students come in glowing with confidence and ready to gush about their rich writing lives, most students, year after year, have a clear message for me:

“I am not a writer.”

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September is For Stories

Last week I was in need of some inspiration to start the school year, and so I picked up Linda Christensen’s Teaching for Joy and Justice, one of my go-tos for centering myself and finding inspiration. Teaching for Joy and Justice was the first book that helped me peer beyond the old orthodoxies of the language arts classroom–the grammar worksheets, the endless succession of five-paragraph essays, and the practice of attacking student papers with pens of any color–and towards the world of possibilities that this blog explores.

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Five Ways to Spend Less Time With Papers This Year (Without Sacrificing Your Impact)

Last week I tweeted out a simple question in preparation for this post: How many students do you have on your student load for ’19-’20?

I tweeted this because while teachers struggling under massive student and paper loads is a pretty well-documented problem (the very first English Journal from 1912 opens with a discussion of this; see below), I wasn’t sure how big student/paper loads across the country were. I know how things tend to work in my little part of the world (130-160 students spread across five sections is a full-time load for most Southeast Michigan districts), but I had no idea what the national scene looks like.

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