A Peek into Mr. Marshall's Sabbatical

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Brianna Yang Co-Editor-in-Chief It’s quiz time, and you’re guessing what Mr. Marshall did during sabbatical. Was it a. watch copious amounts of Netflix, b. take art lessons, or c. visit schools with interesting grading policies? As expected, the answer is d. all of the above. While it’s true that Mr. Marshall did spend an extraordinary amount of time watching The West Wing and re-watching Friday Night Lights, the focus of his sabbatical was to study the intrinsic and extrinsic learning, especially related to grades. “What I hoped to do is visit a lot of schools that don’t give grades, and I did do that,” said Mr. Marshall. “I went to a few schools that don’t give grades, but some of the other [schools I visited] were charter schools, where they were first devising what they wanted to do with grades.” Among the schools Mr. Marshall visited, a few stood out for their unique ways of assessing student work. One school, Valor Collegiate Academy in Nashville, grades students on behavior each day. “They have a system that’s [made up of] four compass points, and [a] compass point might be cooperation or determination. And then every day, a teacher has to go through his or her roll and check off whether the student demonstrates those behaviors during that day,” said Mr. Marshall. This method of motivating students is only being used on fifth graders at Valor Collegiate Academy, but Mr. Marshall was still unsure of its effectiveness. “From an outsider’s perspective, it almost looks like a Chinese re-education camp, where they’re sort of trying to bend people’s minds around an orthodoxy,” he said. However, Mr. Marshall also noted that this sort of “mind-bending” could also be used to describe the negative effects of grades. “One of the chief objections with grades is that they’re more political than educative—that the reason we really have grades is to coerce compliance, not to foster learning,” he said. When asked which school that he visited used grades or assessments most effectively, Mr. Marshall cited Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, New York. “[Saint Ann’s] is about the same size, probably has the same profile of student, similar backgrounds [in comparison to Latin], and they simply don’t have grades. They have a narrative assessment that they give twice a year to each student that’s about 500 words. When you walk in the door, if no one had told you that these kids aren’t graded, then their behavior would probably be a lot like our students’ in the sense that they were similarly really interesting. To some degree, though, I did see a bit more independence in them. They were more likely to disagree with their teachers than students here might be,” he said. Mr. Marshall hypothesized that students at Latin might be more inclined to agree with their teachers because they might think that disagreement might negatively affect their grades or their relationships with those teachers. Though Mr. Marshall found one school that seems to function well without grades, he still doesn’t know if going grade-less works. “That’s one of the big questions I still have: whether grade-less-ness is only right for some people and not other, or whether being graded is conditioned to everyone so that they can’t go back,” he said. “I wish I had more answers. I basically decided that it’s less a matter of grades, because we’re not going to get rid of grades, but it’s more a matter of how do we talk about them, how do we use them, how do we think about them in a way that is productive or at least the least destructive.” ]]>