What happens when you just don’t grade it?


This week I had my students present in front of the class and did not grade it – but the students in the audience were required to provide feedback to each other about the presentation. It was amazing. Those kid honestly are starting to get it! #teacherwin

Last week we started our technology unit and as a way to grab their attention, we started with the most common form of handheld technology students use -the phone. #bringbackthepencil

Students had to design a survey by deciding on a population to compare (boys vs girls, day students vs boarders, middle school vs high school etc) and then had to create a few questions to ask them about cell phone use in their lives. This was as varied as using phones before bed, impacts of phones on grades, to the number of hours and the apps students use – all in all not bad for a first attempt at designing our own questions. We discussed being bias and leading questions. We discussed giving people options vs having students openly respond to answers. We then learned how to build Google forms, how to compose an email that was more in-depth than “please fill this out” followed by a link and then we waited.

After a few days we learned about the neat feature to link a google form to a google sheet, we learned how to sort columns and how to create charts in the google sheets. We learned what types of graphs are good for what types of data, how to manipulate the scales on the graph and what that means for the data we are displaying. We reviewed how to properly title our graphs. We then learned how to export graphs to the google slides and then, we started to prepare our presentations.

Students had one slide, in the style of the 3MT (3 minute thesis)This has changed presentations in my classroom. It is not perfect for every presentation, but it was perfect for this one. Students had one slide with one to two graphs on it and 3 minutes to talk to us about what they found out and what they thought it would mean for the bigger population.

Students pushed each other by asking questions about sample size, graph selection (why did you not use this other type), the wording of questions that could have been misleading. My favourite was two back to back presentations that had asked the same questions but had totally different results despite having surveyed the same population. The depth of analysis and discussion was amazing. The students decided, on their own, that it might have to do with when the survey was sent as it was asking students to look at their typical phone use. One was sent on a weekday, early morning and one was sent on a weekend mid-afternoon. We talked a bit about lived experiences and how people answer surveys based on their recent experience and not as much based on their “average” experience. I could not have planned a discussion that rich. It was authentic. It was lived and they understood the limiations of their survey. 

The discussion was rich, the students learned so many valuable skills and the best part, all of the feedback was student-driven and the kids who were presenting towards the end were pointing out their own flaws and how they would fix them should we do this again before opening the floor to the other students to given feedback. I hardly said anything in a feedback way, I mearly moderated to be sure everyone who wanted to voice an idea or suggestion was heard.

The kids all took the feedback graciously, the kids giving feedback were nice, but direct. I wish I had videotaped it so I could share it with you.

My HoD also popped in for a little while and caught up with me later that day and said he could not believe the richness of their discussion and the feedback they were giving each other given that they were grade 8. He was also very excited about how the students could talk about the trends they saw in their graphs.

This has been a long term goal – to use more authentic data and graphs in science and have kids be able to say something about them. It stems from my math teaching days and it was so nice to have that pat on the back that I’m seeing results from my efforts. 

Perhaps you can use the 3MT or only student feedback for your next presentation?


2 thoughts on “What happens when you just don’t grade it?

  1. Thanks for the amazing share @mwilcox. Your general pedagogy is inspiring: seamlessly integrating hard-skills with essential soft skills. Your formative perspective of learning is ensuring your students are well equipped for learning and life well beyond science science class. Amazing. I can only imagine that the richness of feedback and discussion is a direct reflection of your thorough and thoughtful approach, the well-established culture you’ve created in your class, and the extent to which you’ve centred learning in a topic central to their lives. Have you thought yet about what the meta-cognitive piece may look like? I’d love to hear more about the ways in which students are able to identify and describe this process.

    Thank you again Mary-Ellen!

    @mneale @acampbellrogers @jmedved @gnichols @ashaikh

  2. I love how this approach to data visualization and interpretation starts with a topic that is familliar to all and then allows for voice and choice in the decisions around questions and presentation format. That investment in student direction improves engagement and ownership over the presentation of outcomes. The synthesis and evaluation of results through student-led discussions is such a higher-order skill – and such a transferrable skill across disciplines! Thanks for sharing the 3MT approach, that is new to me!

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