Can Throwing Out Grades Help Students with a Mental Health Illness?

You bet it can!

It also helps nearly all of our students reduce personal levels of anxiety. Don’t take my word for it, here are two examples of how my grade 7/8 students this year are experiencing a no grades classroom for the first time.

eliminate grades

Student A is an above average student who routinely works hard to produce her best work. Last year she would routinely worry about what grade she would receive on completed work. Often asking me to look at her work ahead of time and provide a preliminary grade so she would know how much more work she needed to do to achieve a higher grade. When she occasionally submitted lower level work for her (as well all do at times) she would begin to spiral out of control with worry about failing.

This year, without grades she is a much happier/positive person and is now finally enjoying the learning process. Recently we talked about how this year was different than last year and she told me it all comes down to not having the pressure of grades. Several times last year she came to me stressed that she lost marks (in this case 10%) on her writing piece (she got 90%) and how she could get to 100%. This past week she laughed about how much pressure she felt to get a certain grade and how she hated school because of it. Without grades she now focuses on the feedback provided and is finally able to celebrate the good that she is doing and focus on improving her skills to be ready for high school next year.

Student B is a hard working student who has academic and anxiety challenges. She explained to me that she was dumb. That it took her longer to complete her work than the ‘normal kids’ and that her grades proved that she is simple not smart and never will be. There is nothing that makes a teacher feel worse than to hear these words…you all know what I mean. She began this year with a high level of anxiety and little hope for her learning future. Her challenges with anxiety began to spiral out of control and led to some significant challenges.

After spending a significant amount of time working with her to understand the nature of her fears we realized it led back to her perception of her peers and the crushing finality of grades. Removing grades from the equation resulted in a fairly quick change in her feelings. As she expresses to me, I can now see past the number as there isn’t one. There are things I can do really well, but I did not know this before. I still struggle and get frustrated by things like math, but now I can usually get it by working hard.

In the span of a couple of months, Student A and Student B have reduced their anxiety levels about school in general, developed a more open mindset about learning in general (especially at school) and are much more invested in the learning process.

Elimination of grades = decreased anxiety

Elimination of grades = increase in positive self-esteem

Elimination of grades = focus on mastering skills, not achievement of a number

Elimination of grades = a more open mindset to learning

***Any students who wish to know their numeric grade on an assignment may simply ask me and I will provide it. No one has asked in the past 6 months.


Inspired by a Stranger

I have been an educator for 10 years now. Those who know me would say that I am a critical thinker, who loves to teach and work with kids but has little time for the bureaucratic nature of education. My passion is trying to make positive connections with them, to help them see their potential and work with them to achieve it. I have little time for sentimentality or those in the profession who ‘drink the Kool-aid’ and consistently see their vocation as being above all others in importance.

Recently I met a student, a boy I did not know before and to be honest do not know really well. In the short time I spent with him (in my role as an educator) I learned about a boy who struggles with an extremely complicated life, but also has a gentle  nature and outstanding courage. At first, I had difficulty seeing the complex puzzle that is this kid. As I talked with him I was filled with questions. How can a person be both gentle, positive, courageous, and engaged in harming behavior at the same time? How can a person seemingly be so private and reserved yet openly honest and relaxed when discussing his personal challenges, with a couple of people he does not intimately know? I have been grappling with these question for days.

Rarely am I blind sided by a student. I generally am able to break down barriers with my students and create positive relationships that set the tone for learning and sharing together in my classroom. I am one who loves my work, enjoys my school relationships but tries to keep a professional divide between my work and my home. Much of my home life is spent focusing on my wonderful wife and two great kids.

This week however I am having difficulty accepting the fact that I will not have further contact with this student (as he is not one of mine). His honesty and ability to smile when sharing such difficult information has left me shaken, amazed, humbled, confused, saddened, worried, astonished, and INSPIRED.

I am inspired by the trust he showed in us by telling us the truth.

I am inspired by the courage he has shown to make the difficult personal decisions he has made – to be true to himself. When making different decisions may have been easier.

I am inspired by the way he is not hiding from others – when many others (perhaps even myself) would relent to outside pressures.

I am inspired by him.

I hope that I get the chance to see him again, I also hope to have the courage to tell him all of these things.