Grade-free semester

Image: Experiential learning in the Common Curriculum 2016

Why the grade free semester in the Common Curriculum:

It is essential that we develop a learning space where failure is positive, as it is a catalyst for growth and change. Students need to recognize that taking a risk and not succeeding does not mean they are failing: it means they need to try another way.”
– Starr Sackstein

Having a grade-free semester in the Common Curriculum helps reduce student stress, enables them to adjust to university life, and also helps them develop motivation for learning beyond grades.

In the first semester Common Curriculum:

  • Faculty need to manage student behavior without using grades as leverage. No longer could you “remind” a disengaged student that they will perform poorly on a test
  • Each lesson needs to serve a specific purpose, something larger than the acquisition or maintenance of a number
  • Faculty should try to articulate a convincing and meaningful answer to the ubiquitous student question of “Why do I have to do this?” All this hieghtens the faculty’s responsbility to foster authentic leanring to spur on motivation.

NARRATIVE FEEDBACK IS REALLY IMPORTANT.

You can communicate criteria clearly by using a rubric

  • Provide timely and regular feedback.Doing so offers scaffolding and skill development opportunities for students as they incorporate the instructor’s feedback in future course requirements
  • Self-assess or peer-assess.Peer assessment can be done in pairs or in large groups, anonymously or not, and often requires you to structure the process and the assessment criteria for students (again, you can develop these collaboratively with the students) and to discuss how to offer constructive feedback to peers.
  • Whole-class feedback activities.In some contexts, whole-class feedback can be helpful. This can be done by showcasing samples of old or current students’ work, usually anonymously, and asking students to provide affirming as well as critical feedback according to a rubric.
  • Encourage reflection on the learning process at every stage. This may also help students figure out areas of strength and weakness, which can enable you to provide each student with individual and targeted feedback and support early on.
  • Reduce impact of mistakes on the final shadow grade. Offer many small low-stakes opportunities to develop a skill before it culminates in a larger assessment that will affect the student’s shadown grade
  • Assessment process (improvement) not just product.

Prepared by Nancy Gleason, 2017.