Ungrading Workshops

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How do we define success in education? We often point to quantitative metrics. As a student, I might say “Of course I’m successful, I got an A.” As an instructor or an administrator, I might use that same grade as a proxy for course or institutional success, especially when working with accrediting bodies. The contributors of Susan Blum’s recent work on ungrading unanimously contend that these practices emphasize ranking over learning and the move toward adopting feminist care ethics in the classroom further proposes how we can support intellectual mattering and avoid marginalization. Merging the relational pedagogies of the ungrading movement and care ethics, this workshop will envision an educational future focused on intellectual mattering and student thriving rather than conformity and schooling.

POD23 Activities

Workshop Activities

Preparing a Course without Grades

Description: Want to try ungrading, but not sure where to start? Worried that students won’t engage projects without a traditional graded experience? In this session, participants will discuss the first steps to developing a course with alternative grading, focusing on assessment development, syllabus design, and strategies for communicating alternative forms of evaluation to students.

Teaching a Course without Grades

Description: In this session, participants will discuss strategies and practices for supporting student learning without grades. A feedback-intensive, reflection-driven course will be modeled. Bring your concerns about alternative grading as we discuss challenges and solutions.


Sample Syllabus Statements

Busywork-Free Zone

This course will focus on qualitative not quantitative assessment, something we’ll discuss during the class, both with reference to your own work and the works we’re studying. While you will get a final grade at the end of the term, I will not be grading individual assignments, but rather asking questions and making comments that engage your work rather than simply evaluate it. You will also be reflecting carefully on your own work and the work of your peers. The intention here is to help you focus on working in a more organic way, as opposed to working as you think you’re expected to. If this process causes more anxiety than it alleviates, see me at any point to confer about your progress in the course to date. If you are worried about your grade, your best strategy should be to join the discussions, do the reading, and complete the assignments. You should consider this course a “busy-work-free zone.” If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions.

Jesse Stomel: Ungrading an Introduction
Dialogue and Chemistry Exams

“We will be using a process called ungrading to incorporate feedback into the exam grading process. It’s a fairly complex system, but the point is that I want to make exam grades more of a conversation between you (as the student) and me (as the instructor) than they are now. This process involves a multitiered system of feedback:

– After the exams are completed and “graded,” I will hand back the exams with only feedback (no scores). I will, however, use a spreadsheet for scores that I think each student earned for each exam question.

– Based on your work and the feedback given, you will write the number of points that you think you earned for each question. (Total points for each question are determined and shown before the exam is handed out initially.)
– I will then share the points that I think you earned from the spreadsheet.
-We will discuss any discrepancies. If my point total is higher than our point total, we’ll typically count my point total. Generally, the final point total for each exam question will be an average of your core and my score.
– To keep students from artificially inflating their grade, if your overall score is within one standard deviation (1 SD = typically 8-15 points historically on my Organic II exams) of my overall score, then you will recieve +5 bonus points. If your overall score is outside of three standard deviations of my overall score (that’s somewhere between 24-45 points off of my score, folks), I will deduct 5-10 points off of your exam. The point here is that you need to evaluate youreself fairly based on how you think you did versus how I think you did (given that I have more historical experitse with this material and have access to the entire class’s performance).

Clarissa Sorensen-Unruh, “A STEM Ungrading Case Study” in Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead).
The Anarcho-Philosopher's Syllogism

The following argument is from Marcus Schultz-Bergin. “Grade Anarchy in the Philosophy Classroom” in Ungrading.

  1. Grades do not track learning (or anything else of importance).
  2. Grading reduces student learning.
  3. Only receiving feedback increases student learning.
  4. Self-evaluation and self-reflection improve student learning.

  • ∴ Student learning would be improved by eliminating instructor grading.
Promoting Student Autonomy

In this course, you have complete autonomy over your grade. To me, grades are not a true representation of learning, so I’ve given them over to you—handing you my red pen, as it were—to decide what’s best. You’ll assign yourself a letter grade at the end of the semester and you’ll write a narrative statement to support your chosen grade and discuss your learning. I’ve included some guidelines for your narrative below. Individual assignments are not graded, so until you write that narrative at the end of the semester, you’ll be the only one who will know for sure “how you’re doing.” My hope is that working without grades allows you some space to try new things, fail miserably, laugh at yourself, and try again, without pressure. We’ll do the work of the course for its own sake—for the sake of learning something new. I trust you. I trust your work ethic. I trust your integrity. 

Jessica Zeller, “Pedagogy for End Times: Ungrading and the Importance of Arson.” jessicazeller.net/blog/pedagogy-for-end-times
Reflective Self-Assessment in Research Course

The following syllabus statements are from an honors seminar on literary depictions of tobacco.

Growing as Researchers

I want to celebrate your progress as an emerging researcher in this class. In the short time we have (6 weeks!), you will experience different forms of research from close and distant readings to searching through a digital archive. Since research is a communal task, though it may seem solitary in certain disciplines, you will move back and forth between individual work and research sharing through the discussion forums and the final digital exhibit project. The main takeaway from the activities in this course is that communication of insights and knowledge is at the heart of the role of the researcher.


This will be a feedback intensive course. Assignments will be engaged to support your development as a researcher. I will have feedback released in D2L for you no later than a week after submission.


Since we are focusing on research, I am limiting a barrier that often gets in the way of taking risks, finding your own voice as a researcher, and taking ownership of your research: grades. When you complete a larger research project such as a senior capstone, thesis, or dissertation, the grade progressively fades away because it doesn’t really matter to the process of research. This course will follow a modified form of ungrading in which completion assignments build to larger portfolio assignments that you provide the grade for through a reflection.

Sample Course

Ungrading with Self Reflection

  • Red pen marking paper. Ungrading with Interactive H5P Reflections - Imagine a moment in your life when you learned something deeply. Did it end with someone giving you a grade? If you answered “no,” how would that moment be different if it was graded? In my own life, I can’t think of a single time that a grade led to me learning more deeply or […]

Ungrading with Peer Assessment

Steve Pearlman has a unique take on ungrading in which he supports the radical potential of the movement but expresses concern over the focus on feedback without assessment. Instead of removing assessment, he proposes that we should train students how to assess one another.

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