31 Alternatives to Traditional Grading

While most classrooms still use traditional A–F grading, some instructors are experimenting with alternative methods of feedback to improve student learning. Asao Inoue raises questions about the inequity and racial bias of traditional grading, while many others point out the impact it has on student motivation and learning.

Whether you choose to use traditional grading or try an alternative approach—or a combination of both—it’s worth exploring some of these conversations on your own and with your students. Transparency and clarity about what, why, and how you are grading are key.

Additional Resources

  1. Gradeless Classrooms

    Alfie Kohn has written extensively on “ungrading.” His article “The Case against Grades” is widely cited in conversations around changing how we think about feedback, evaluation, and ranking. For a short version of his argument, see the video “Why Grades Shouldn’t Exist.”

    O’Connor and Lessing’s article “What We Talk about When We Don’t Talk about Grades” is conversational, practical, and specific. It includes case studies of how students learn in classrooms.

    Jesse Stommel blogs about teaching, writing, and going gradeless. His posts on “How to Ungrade” and “Ungrading: An FAQ” answer many of the questions and concerns that instructors raise when they consider moving away from traditional grading.

    For a larger study on gradeless classrooms—with some mixed results—see “Assessment and Learning without Grades? Motivations and Concerns with Implementing Gradeless Learning in Higher Education.” (This is a permalink to OSU libraries; if you are outside OSU, please search for the article in your own library’s holdings.)

  2. Labor-Based Grading

    Asao Inoue literally wrote the book on labor-based grading. It is available online here: Labor Based Grading Contracts: Building Equity and Inclusion in the Compassionate Writing Classroom.

    Inoue answers some practical questions in a more conversational way in this interview: A Q&A on Labor-Based Grading. He has also created a list of suggested readings here: Labor-Based Grading Resources.

    For a brief and helpful handout on labor-based grading and how it impacts learning, see When Your Grades Are Based on Labor. This works well as a quick introduction or conversation starter for students too.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do grades motivate learning? Why or why not?
  2. What does a grade represent? What does it tell us about a student? What does it not tell us?
  3. If I get an A and you get a C, is that “fair”? Does it need to be? Is that a reasonable expectation in a classroom?
  4. What are some potential problems with the traditional A–F grading system in a writing classroom? What are the benefits?
  5. What are some potential pedagogical benefits of removing grades from writing? Are there potential downsides? How could we avoid those issues?
  6. How have grades affected your approach to writing in the past?
  7. Think of a time when grading helped you improve. What was helpful about it specifically? Why has it stuck with you?
  8. Think of a time when grading has impacted you negatively. How did it impact you? How did it affect your approach going forward? Why has it stuck with you?


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A Dam Good Argument Copyright © 2022 by Liz Delf, Rob Drummond, and Kristy Kelly is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.