A Gradeless Classroom for Distance or In-Person Learning

Dotted blue decorative line - ASSISTments Images

See how Andrew Burnett uses ASSISTments and the other tools in his edtech toolbox to enhance his instructional practice. Andrew Burnett is a 7th Grade Math Teacher in Newton, Massachusetts. He is an ASSISTments Ambassador who has been using the program as a tool for formative assessment in his classroom since 2008. Read more from Andrew on his math education blog, where this post was originally published, and on Twitter.

A Gradeless Classroom for Distance or In-Person Learning

I decided to transition to a gradeless classroom in 2017 and it is the best decision that I ever made as a teacher.  My school is not a gradeless school so I still need to give students a grade at mid-quarter and again at the end of the quarter.

Fortunately my gradeless classroom transitioned really well to distance learning.  My students had the tools to reflect on their work and gauge their level of understanding of the material and it created some great conversations about their work.  I plan to be gradeless again in the upcoming school year if my district has in-person learning, remote learning, or both.

Here is my process:

1. Show Me What You Can Do

When I feel that the class as a whole has a decent grasp of a learning standard, I will give them a short assessment (often one question but sometimes two questions).  I call these assessments “Show Me What You Can Do.”

I use the Activity feature on Seesaw to assign the question(s) to the students.  They do their work on paper, take a picture of it, and upload it to Seesaw.  This, more than any of my other assignments during distance learning, gave me a very clear view of how well students understood the content especially.

Example Math Problem - Assistments - Formative Assessment Solutions - Image

2. Next Day Feedback

Seesaw has a feature that allows me to annotate the image of student work while recording my voice.  After my students complete the Show Me What You Can Do, I record myself giving them feedback on what they did well and what gave them difficulty. 

When I started my gradeless classroom, I only gave students written feedback but I soon found that when I returned an assessment there were always some students that did not understand what I had written no matter how careful I was to make it clear. That is why I decided to record myself giving that feedback.  With the video feedback students can see and hear me explaining the problem to them.  It has made a HUGE difference with students’ ability to understand their mistakes. 

I ALWAYS get them the video feedback the next day because there are educational studies that show that immediate feedback promotes learning. 

3. Self-Assessment

Students watch their video the next day in class (or at home during distance learning) and then they self-assess their understanding of the concept.  Here is the rubric that students use to self-assess.

NMVWU Self-Assessment Process - Assistments - Formative Assessment Solutions - Image

When I started my gradeless classroom I used rubrics represented numbers (1 – need more time understand to 4 – I have shown understanding) but I have moved away from numbers because when some students were determining their grade they were simply finding the average of all of the self-assessment numbers.  I really want the students to think about their body of work as a whole and their overall level of understanding rather than simply averaging the numbers.

4. Retakes

I allow students to retake if they had difficulty in order to show me that they now understand the material.  The problems on the retake are similar but not the same.  Prior to taking the retake, I have the students complete some similar practice problems to show that they now understand the concept after watching their video (this is done online on a site called ASSISTments and I wrote a blog post about how I use ASSISTments to for homework which is similar to how I use it for practice before the retake).  If they are unable to show understanding on these practice problems, then I will spend time working with them on the concept before they do the retake.  If they still have difficulty showing understanding after the retake, I schedule time to work with them individually before they are allowed to retake again.

5. Gathering Evidence

Before each progress report and at the end of each quarter, students reflect on their work and gather evidence of their learning.  They use the images that are in their portfolio on Seesaw and create a Google Presentation of their best work for each learning standard.

Example Math Problem - Assistments - Formative Assessment Solutions - Image
Example Math Problem - Assistments - Formative Assessment Solutions - Image

6. Determining a Grade

Students use their evidence and self-assessments to determine the grade that best reflects their understanding.  I give them a little guidance if they are having difficulty determining a grade (this normally happens early in the year because the whole process is new to the students) but I mostly leave it up to them.  Here is what the summary page of their Google Presentation looks like.

Example Math Problem - Assistments - Formative Assessment Solutions - Image

Most students do a wonderful job determining a grade that reflects their understanding. There are, however, a few students either over inflate or under value their level of understanding. In these cases I conference with them to help them establish an appropriate grade.


Going gradeless has made my students focus on the content as opposed to grades.  I no longer field questions like “How can I improve my grade?” or “Do you offer extra credit?” Students understand that their grade is based entirely on their understanding of the material.  It has created a more relaxed atmosphere in the classroom for not only the students but also for me.

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