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by Erica Fischer on May 12, 2015

De-emphasize Grades and Promote a Culture of Learning!

Connecting with a Student - the Power of by cityyear, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  cityyear 

Last week, Langchatters met to brainstorm how to create a culture of learning in the world language class when stakeholders are focused on traditional grades. They reflected on what a culture of learning looks like, shared strategies that contribute to such a classroom culture, and described steps that teachers can take to de-emphasize number grades. Participants then discussed how to convince different stakeholders of the value of a learning-centered classroom culture. Lastly, they considered reform that is needed in the education system to shift the focus from numbers to learning.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to this inspiring chat! A special thank you to last Thursday’s moderators: Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Laura (@SraSpanglish), Kris (@KrisClimer), and Cristy (@msfrenchteach).

Question 1: What does a culture of learning look like?

Participants started off the conversation by describing a culture of learning in their words. @SraSpanglish wrote, “[A] culture of learning [entails a] growth mindset and personalized pathways to achieving overarching goals.” @KrisClimer said, “For me, a culture of learning eliminates COMPARISONS, [RANKINGS], [ENDS], [and] focuses on GROWTH, JOURNEY, [and] PROGRESS of [individual learners].” StefaniaMonti18 added, “I believe that a culture of learning is where students are genuinely excited about gaining knowledge and not an A in the course.” @SraWienhold phrased this idea in different terms: “In a culture [of] learning everyone is more concerned with ‘[What] do I know?’ [and not with] ‘[What] is my grade?’.” As @rlgrandis pointed out, “The end goal of getting the A or getting to college is NOT a bad focus. [Instructors] just need to emphasize the [learning] process too.” @SraSpanglish added, “ALTHOUGH if [students are] genuinely excited, the grades probably will reflect that to some extent,” and @KrisClimer agreed, writing, “Almost always, a focus on learning leads to even better grades.”

Question 2: What practical strategies most contribute to a culture of learning?

Next, Langchatters offered some practical strategies to foster a culture of learning. We have summarized some of their main suggestions below:

  • Clear expectations: Some instructors highlighted the importance of “routines and clear expectations” (@senoritasatar). @Mr_Fernie wrote, “[Let] the kids know that [the] emphasis is on what they can do at any time, not just on a test day.” @rlgrandis echoed this point, writing, “Recycle, recycle, [so that] students know they are always held accountable for what they learn, not just on one test.”
  • Regular feedback and celebrations of growth: Others mentioned the importance of celebrating growth in student proficiency. @kltharri encouraged “[performance] and proficiency-based assessment where ANY growth is celebrated.” @MagistraHasner noted, “Comparing assessments side by side overtime helps the students to see their own growth.” Additionally, @KrisClimer commented on the value of highlighting what students are capable of, “using CAN do statements, [always] thinking and [talking] about what [students] CAN do.” @MarciHarrisAA also recommended “[daily] feedback that does not always [come in the form of] grades, [such as praise], encouragement [and] motivation.”
  • Choices: @SraClouser recognized the value of student choice: “Provide opportunities for students to show what they know – give them choices!” For more discussion on student choice, check out this #langchat summary!
  • Retakes and revisions: Some participants commented that retakes and revisions positively contribute to a culture of learning. @MadameMoodle said, “[Allowing] for retakes and revisions is practical … Fewer [students] give up.” @SraSpanglish wrote, “I’ve had luck with my redo approach to portfolios:”
  • Enthusiasm: @SraMcNeilly observed that presenting material with enthusiasm can make students want to engage and learn for the sake of learning: “[Position] the material as AWESOME, not as bitter medicine to pass the test. Enthusiasm can be contagious :).”
  • Communication with students and parents: @CTracy7 encouraged fellow participants to “educate the students and their families.” @K_Griffith suggested that instructors could “[send] a positive e-mail home to a [different] parent every day (Stolen from @SraWienhold),” adding, “Parents will get on your team if you care.”

Question 3: What steps can teachers take to ‘de-emphasize’ number grades in their class?

Langchatters had helpful ideas about how to shift the focus away from number grades. Their suggestions centered on downplaying numbers, educating students about proficiency, and implementing more formative and project-based assessments.

  • Downplay number grades: @klharri encouraged instructors to “stop giving number grades [or to] at least try to stop [giving them] for some tasks if [they are] too scary [for students].” @SECottrell echoed this suggestion: “Call me a broken record but it was a huge successful step when I STOPPED WRITING NUMBERS [or] LETTERS ON ASSESSMENTS.” @StefaniaMonti18 added that instructors should limit their discussion of number grades: “[Simply] don’t talk about [number grades]…unless absolutely [necessary].” Alternatively, @rlgrandis shared his view that more number grades can sometimes work to de-emphasize individual grades and shift the focus to growth: “This may seem counterintuitive, but at times giving a LOT of grades helps […] [Giving] grades for all sorts of assignments shows and focuses on growth, and one grade does not make or break success.”
  • Educate students about proficiency: @SECottrell said, “If you want [students] to stop harping on grades, you gotta get ‘em informed on proficiency.” She shared a resource that she uses to explain proficiency to students and parents: @snesbitt1972 offered another way to train students in proficiency: “[Students] ask what they can do to improve their grade. @Michelle_Kindt tells them to ‘show her they’ve learned more.’ [I love] it!” @kltharri commented that students are very capable of reflecting on their proficiency if teachers avoid labeling all of their work with number grades: “[Hearing] my students articulate their growth surprised and humbled me. They DO see it if we stop labeling their work.”
  • Increase formative and project-based assessments: @MagistraHasner recommended replacing summative assessments with formative assessments, and @camccullough1 advised project-based assessments, writing, “I did more projects this year. It takes [students] longer to work on them. [There are fewer] grades, but they are more communicative.”

Question 4: How can we convince different stakeholders of the value of a learning-centered classroom culture?

Participants noted that it is not difficult to convince informed stakeholders of the benefits of a learning-centered classroom. They also recognized that students have the potential to serve as instructors’ greatest advocates in promoting a culture of learning.

  • Inform stakeholders and show them the benefits: One instructor wrote, “I only see cases where the public needs convincing of [the] benefits of a learner-centric classroom when they are NOT well informed.” @khtharri added that “[stakeholders] fear the unknown so [instructors] need to make it known [in the form of] examples, testimony from [students], [can-do’s], etc.” @SraWienhold suggested that instructors “send home a parent newsletter to show them what [instructors] are all about from the start.” @SraSpanglish shared an infograph that she uses at open house to help parents understand her learning-centered classroom: Finally, @VTracy7 added that instructors should “emphasize that this is a partnership.”
  • Make students your biggest advocates: @LisaShepard2 wrote, “Evaluating proficiency, rather than memorizing grammatical rules enables more students to be successful-happy stakeholders.” @AHSblaz noted the potential of happy students to serve as advocates: “[Kids] will do the convincing for us [when] they are so happy to be able to communicate! Kids [are] our best advocates.” @rlgrandis observed, “[Parents] will buy in when they see how much we care and what their kids say.” In order to make parents more aware of student progress, @Mr_Fernie suggested instructing students to teach something to their family: “I try to get [stakeholders] hooked early, [telling students,] ‘Go home and teach a [family] member what you learned.’ [Parents] love to hear [their student’s] progress.”

Question 5: What reform is needed in the education system to focus on learning more than numbers?

At the end of the hour, Langchatters reflected on reform needed to shift the focus away from numbers to learning. @LisaShepard2 recognized the need for “[a] system to record progress using words instead of numbers,” recommending standards-based grading, where “[students] are assessed [based on] whether they are developing/meeting/exceeding each [standard].” [Want to learn more about standards-based learning? Check out this recent #langchat summary!] @silvius_toda also encouraged a decrease in the use of standardized tests: “[There is a need for movement] away from all of [these] standardized assessments purely for data, [which are] causing [students] to focus on getting the right answer.” @LisaShepard2 added that the “[percentage] of students [that] increased a proficiency level is data.” @SraSpanglish commented, “I think if we develop purposeful assessments that truly convey proficiency, that would be the biggest step.” @camccullough1 acknowledged that this entails a “[mindset shift with recognition that problem] solving, critical thinking, communication, [and] collaboration [come with] no [numerical] value, yet [are] invaluable.”


Langchatters offered a wealth of advice and encouragement for those looking to de-emphasize grades in their classroom. They provided strategies that contribute to a culture of learning and described steps that teachers can take to downplay number grades. Participants also highlighted the importance of educating students and other stakeholders about proficiency and recognized that students can serve as their biggest advocates. Finally, they reflected on ways to reform the educational system to emphasize learning and de-emphasize grades.

Thank You!

You can find us on Twitter every Thursday night for the weekly chat. *Reminder*: In case you can’t join us at that time, now you can also #langchat on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET – Same questions, more chat time!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Got a topic you’re eager to discuss? Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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