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Ungrading is unbullying

Posted on: June 13, 2021

The worst thing about attending a US-based webinar was not the 12 midnight start. It was the inability to sleep after the event because my mind was stimulated.

I attended the webinar on ungrading on Saturday night. It was organised by the Big Questions Institute and featured Jesse Stommel.

In Stommel’s own words, ungrading is not not grading. It is questioning its practices and doing better, e.g., prioritising feedback and learning.

Stommel referred to ungrading as raising an eyebrow. Given how grading has become such a huge monster, I prefer to see it as standing up to a bully. We can do this alone or together. The latter is a better option, and as there were almost 500 attendees of the first webinar, many will stand with you.

Stommel offered four ideas to start ungrading. 

I am glad that he rejected best practices. They simply do not exist here because upgrading is not a standardised process — it is context dependent. Yes, some patterns might emerge and there will be shared practices, but this does not make them best.

If we think about it, teachers and educators have been pressured (or even bullied) into assessment practices that have a short history, undermined learning, and taught students to value extrinsic motivation.

I see at least two levels of facing the bully of current assessment practices (unbullying). The first is the individual educator level of ungrading. It is easy enough to find examples of ungrading and alternative assessments by searching online.

Less easy is implementing, managing, and sustaining such a change beyond the individual educator level. We need to organise ourselves to beat the bullies. This is the second level of unbullying — collective and organised effort to ungrade.

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