Vol.#84: “Is This A Grade?”

They say there is no such this as a bad question, but, “Is this a grade?” makes me think otherwise. This is one of my least favorite questions of all time, and teachers are asked this by students often.

It reveals a student’s thought process on if a learning experience is important and worth their time or not.

I have tried several approaches to this question. I have tried to ban  the question from the classroom without success. I have tried consistently using the vague response, “All things in life are assessed.” They have been undeterred.  My students have even gotten savvy enough to know to ask, “Is this formative or summative”?

I decided I do not want to answer this question again. To that end, I have created a flow chart to post on my wall:

Is this a GRADE-

PS: I love you Piktochart.

If you would like it for your classroom as well, it is available in my TeachersPayTeachers store here.

What habits of your students do you try to break?


8 thoughts on “Vol.#84: “Is This A Grade?””

  1. In my elementary world (and as an intervention teacher) I don’t get questions about grades. My students either haven’t figured out to ask the question yet, or they know they are with me because they need extra help. I do get, “Do I have to?” and, “I don’t want to.” Both annoy me since what I am asking them to do is for their own benefit. My approach is similar to yours, I try to detach my emotional response and ask the student to take responsibility for their own learning and decisions. Our students aren’t just learning the curriculum we are teaching. They are learning their own preferences and work ethic as well. I try to see these questions/comments as a part of their development as individuals rather than laziness or defiance (it can be really tough in some situations!).


    1. That’s a really good point. In elementary schools in my district, students don’t get grades but 1, 2, 3, & 4 mastery ratings. I need to remember that when they come to me in 6th grade, it’s their first experience with letter grades. They are trying to figure out the system. I want them to value the learning and show me their best and trust the grades in my class will follow. I allow retakes, re-attempts, and so on. Just DO YOUR BEST!

      Thanks for your comment Melt!

      ~Erica :o)


  2. Hi Erica-

    Thanks for sharing this. Have you read Alfie Kohn’s rather compelling work on the problems with grades? Might explain some of the common reactions to grades you see, or inform future versions of your chart.

    A good start on his work: http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/degrading-de-grading/

    Not sure if the link above will come through in my post, so if not just look up “From Degrading to De-Grading.”



    1. Hi Sean,

      Thanks for the link. I agree with much of what Alfie Kohn says on grading, however many of his ideas on grading have to be heard by those in power above the classroom teacher level. I am not at liberty to say I am not giving grades. In fact, at my school and in my PLT, a range of expected grades per quarter have been outlined in documents such as the School Improvement Plan (SIP) and handbook.

      I take many formative “grades” as data that don’t count toward an average but inform the parents and students about mastery as we go before summative assessments. As I reference in the post, when we start a learning task students have learned to ask if it was formative or summative. All I want is for my students to see giving their best effort all quarter is the best option, always.

      In short, while I may appreciate the “learning orientation instead of grade orientation” in theory, pragmatically I need my students to give their best effort to their learning, regardless of the grade that may or may not be attached.

      I hope that makes sense. Thanks for your comment!



  3. I had this situation in my class just today. Funny how I happened on this article now. However, I could have use this earlier today. I had my students take a PRE-assessment for the new unit we are starting and the students immediately went to the, “Is this for a grade?” question. I told them everything you do in my class is for a grade. That answer sufficed for some but not for others. One student wanted to know what grade he was going to get and if he could retake it after he studied. It was a 15 minute discussion and did not end until his classmates told him to just shut-up and take the test. he finally did. I think I may look into getting your pictograph cause that would have saved me much time today.


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