Missouri State professor focuses on feedback instead of grades

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Imagine taking a class where feedback is more important than grades.

Some students at Missouri State experienced this last semester.

Kaitlin Kilby took Dr. Chloe Bolyard’s “Issues in Elementary Education and Curriculum” class last semester.

“When I heard there weren’t any grades I was just like ‘how am I going to know that I’m on track? How am I going to know that the work I’m doing is quality work,” Kilby said.

Alfie Kohn, one of her professor’s favorite authors, helped write a book called “UNgrading” and it inspired Bolyard to try out this teaching style.

“It made total sense to me what he argues at the beginning of the book,” Bolyard said. “For example, when you give students grades and narrative feedback in the form of comments, students tend to look at the grades and not look at the feedback.”

“I felt that was kind of challenging,” Kilby said. “So I was nervous for sure.”

Feedback reassured Kilby.

“I have never had a professor respond to a discussion post with this much for me to go off of,” Kilby said. “It almost kind of felt like you were having a conversation rather than ‘oh I got an 82% on this and there’s no comment telling me why.'”

Throughout the course, Kilby and her classmates were given a target due date for their homework.

If they couldn’t get it done by then, Bolyard assigned a later date towards the end of the semester.

“That was honestly what saved me the most,” Kilby said. “And I think that ties into just being mindful that students are humans too.”

Since the University requires a final grade, at the mid-point and the end of the term, the professor asked the class to suggest what theirs should be.

“Which was really weird, I’m not going to lie,” Kilby said. “I’ve never been asked that question. But it was really a nice way to think about all we’ve learned and reflect on it with her.”

Kilby passed the class she got an “A.”

“This course, the way that it was structured, made me value growth so much more than grades,” Kilby said.

Which was Bolyard’s plan all along.

“When you center learning, I have found and others have found, that students feel freer to take risks, to be more creative,” Bolyard said. “I would argue that is more motivating than an arbitrary, subjective letter grade.”

Bolyard says she hopes this approach encourages students to evaluate their own work.

Kilby actually teaches at an elementary school in Kirkwood, Missouri.

She says it’s early in her career but she would consider this style of teaching.

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