May 3, 2021

My current focus for my sabbatical work is to revise and reimagine the course assignments for Play and Learning in Early Childhood (ER 2155). I know that I want students to have more choices as they select activities to support their learning. I think that this mirrors how I approached the Open Education Resource (OER) I recently developed for this course, see more in Using Pressbooks to Curate Course Resources, as well as my thoughts about student engagement. When students have a voice in the learning process, they are able to take more ownership of the work. I started sketching out my ideas in various ways and each time I stopped or hesitated with the work.

I have to say that I am stuck. I began this work thinking about how I could connect play to the way students would select activities to support their learning. I want to provide more choice and support their interest in play as they navigate the activities. I tried several iterations of this work and using different tools to help me convey my thinking. But, I never got to a “finished” outline of the assignments for the course. Something didn’t feel right and I didn’t know exactly how to proceed. Below you can view some of my attempts.

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I decided that I needed to read a little bit more to help me with the redesign of the course assignments. I have used ungrading the last several semesters in some of my courses and I am still working on how to best support students with ungrading.

As I looked for ideas, I rediscovered Jesse Stommel’s blog. I read several of Stommel’s blog posts (How to Ungrade, Ungrading: an FAQ and What If We Didn’t Grade? A Bibliography) The post, What If We Didn’t Grade? A Bibliography, was particular helpful as Stommel shared a long list of resources that allowed me to explore other perspectives about this topic. I also read two books, Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways To Go Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School by Starr Sackstein and UNgrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead) edited by Susan D. Blum. I would like to say that after spending time with all these resources that I had a clear path. I did not. If anything I had more questions. Here are some that I jotted down as I explored these resources.

  • What is my role in the creation of assignments? How much structure do I provide? How does this framework influence student voice and choice?
  • How can I focus on metacognition with students as they reflect on their learning?
  • Could students create a play portfolio as a way to gather evidence of their learning?
  • What might be the pros/cons of contract grading?
  • How could we use peer feedback in the play course?
  • What is the role of the learning outcomes in the syllabus and student learning in the course?

I think a big idea that I am grappling with relates to my role and how to support students’ learning without taking over. From my perspective, the following quotes highlight some of the tension I feel as I navigate the revision of the course assignments.

Most assignments provide a single path to learning taking away student autonomy. (p. 44)

Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless In a Traditional Grades School by Starr Sackstein

I ask everyone to be a full human person in my classroom. I trust my students. I see myself as their co-learner. I encourage them to take as much agency in their learning as they can.

Adventures in Ungrading, Technology, Teaching, & Medieval Stuff by Heather Mitchell-Buck

I’m committed to playing the long game of learning, rather than the short game of schooling.

Continuing Adventures in Ungrading, Inside Higher Ed by John Warner

…getting rid of grades is not enough if our classrooms are still more about performance than learning. (p. xvii)

UNgrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead), Forward by Alfie Kohn

Because I don’t have another way to describe my thinking, I am going to call it artificial choice. This idea relates to my thinking because I wonder if students truly feel that they have agency in the work they select or if they are are trying to figure out the hidden rules. How do I support students in taking ownership? And probably more importantly, how do I make sure that I don’t get in the way? This aspect is very important, especially as I consider these words from Stommel.

…students themselves are the best experts in their own learning. (p. 29)

UNgrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead), How to Ungrade (Chapter 1)

Since, I needed some more support, I decided to spend some time talking with Martha from the CoLab to gain her perspective as well. Martha asked me some tough (but great) questions about my goals for the students’ learning and for the course. One idea that Martha shared related to the conversation with the students and how these discussions about ungrading needed to happen throughout the semester. This idea shifted my thinking and I left this conversation feeling like I knew how I could move my thinking forward.

I decided that I needed a plan for these discussions and approached this work as I would planning for the content of the class. Below you will see a portion my first draft of the outline.

First Iteration of Outline

I did make some progress with my thinking, but I still feel that I am stuck. I find myself asking more questions and feeling unsure about how to proceed. My prior experiences seem to make it more challenging to move forward in finalizing this work. I keep thinking, “Am I doing this right?”

I have to say that I felt a little uneasy taking this journey into learning about ungrading. This was not part of my sabbatical plan. Would someone call me out? I am not even getting grading (or am I?), but I feel the pressure to conform. This is very interesting to me and I don’t know if I would have noticed these feelings without immersing myself in this work. I know that I needed to spend this time on ungrading, yet I some how feel that maybe I shouldn’t be on this path. This is something that highlights the challenge. My students have had many experiences with grading. How do I help them make this huge shift? If I am having trouble, they will too. I think that this is probably what I need to focus on more and perhaps I have found a place to continue?