Student Well-Being Opinion

Shifting the Grading Mindset Starts With Our Words

By Starr Sackstein — February 14, 2016 2 min read
Image of a teacher in a classroom full of kids.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Language matters. It’s that simple. What we say and how we say it has a big impact on how students and other stakeholders respond to our choices.

Students are always waiting for a variety of cues from their teachers and peers to determine what and how much they are learning. So rather than perpetuate the issues around grading by using the same language we’ve always used, it’s time to be deliberate in the shift as we change our assessment practices.

Getting rid of grades is a big and challenging step to make, but it can be done and even if you aren’t ready to go all in, there are ways to adjust small things in the classroom that will lead to important growth for students.

Start with the words you use when communicating learning.

Look at the below chart from Hacking Assessment:

The traditional grading language is passive and judgmental and subconsciously by using this language, we are putting the focus on the wrong things.

When we say to each other or to kids that we are “grading”, it reduces the work that we are trying to do. What we are actually doing is “assessing” growth and understanding.

Rather than “scoring”, again use “assessing” because we are spending time trying to see what students know and can do. When we start to adjust what we call what we are doing, students will do the same.

What grade did I get?” or some variation like “What did I get?” is a question that most teachers don’t enjoy having to answer. But imagine if we could get students to think instead, “What did I learn?” This has the opportunity to be a rich conversation. So parents reading this, fight the urge to ask your child, “What did you get on the test?” and instead ask, “What did you learn in school today?”

When students see a red x on their papers or we tell them they are wrong, we are shutting them down and ending a potential learning experience. Why not say that “you aren’t there yet” or “try another way” to encourage students to keep going.

As we start to shift our words, the behaviors will follow. And once all of these things are in sync with each other, then changing the way we assess in class becomes the next logical step.

Learning should be equipped with an endless feedback look rather than a terminal grade. Start the loop of communication by changing the words you use in conversation about learning and then it will become about the mastery instead of getting great grades on a report card.

Think about the words you use in class. Which ones can have potentially negative connotations and how can they be adjusted for a growth mindset? Remember, words matter.

How can you shift the way you talk about learning in your space to impact growth in your students? Please share

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion Educators, Be Future-Ready, But Don’t Ignore the Present
Being ready for what lies ahead is important, but we also need to gain a better understanding of the here and now.
5 min read
shutterstock 226918177
Student Well-Being Opinion How to Prioritize Student Well-Being This Year
Use the Student Thriving Index to find out where your kids stand. Because you cannot manage what you cannot measure.
2 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Student Well-Being Spotlight Spotlight on Supporting Teachers & Students
In this Spotlight, evaluate your district and what supports your schools offer, assess attendance policies to avoid burnout, and more
Student Well-Being What the Research Says Child Hospitalizations Spike Under Delta, Particularly in Low-Vaccination States
Nationwide, the number of children and teens hospitalized due to COVID-19 has ballooned nearly tenfold since midsummer, new CDC data show.
2 min read
hopital stethescope 1222194507
Aleksandr Titov/iStock/Getty