More Visible Learning, NOT More Visible Grades #TTOG

Last week I went to check to see if a student had completed some assignments from earlier in the semester, and when I clicked, I saw a new panel pop up; here’s what it looks like for the Test Student:

From Chris Hofer I learned that this is a new “Student Context Card,” and my school chose to turn it on (without telling us, which is odd) when it was released last week. Canvas has invested what is clearly a lot of effort and resources in order to give us this new grade book view with information that shows me their latest graded items, ranking them compared to the rest of the class.

And I find this to be very depressing.

By emphasizing this “view” of students, Canvas shows us (the instructors, the students) that it really is all about the grades, ranking student against student. Not about the learning. Not about growth.

As I’ve documented elsewhere, I find the Canvas Gradebook to be mostly useless because I cannot include my own data fields (“Feature Request: Text Fields in the Gradebook“). In D2L, I could create little text fields to record important information about a student that I needed to remember (out with flu Weeks 3-4… needs Tuesday reminders… waiting on 2nd Portfolio story revisions… etc. etc.). Because the Canvas Gradebook refuses to let me enter information I consider important, I run my own spreadsheet outside the system. I definitely believe in analytics, but the data I need are not the grades: I need data about the whole student and about their learning process.

And that leads to my bigger concern here: by making it all about the grades, we are doing our students a huge disservice. We tell them to care about the grades as if the grades were a true representation of the learning. But we all know… if we are honest about it… that grades are a poor proxy for learning at best. And at worst, they are a huge hindrance to learning, a reward-and-punishment system that has negative consequences for many students. (Don’t believe me? Read Carol Dweck.)

To learn more and to learn better, students need FEEDBACK. Lots of it. And grades are a terrible form of feedback.

I have written about this often; here are all the posts at this blog labeled Grading, and I’ve also collected materials at, where you will find links and resources about the un-grading movement; see also the hashtag #TTOG (Teachers Throwing Out Grades) at Twitter.

Short version: I’m ALL-feedback and NO-grades. That has been my approach since I first started teaching online in 2002, and it works. How do I know it works? Because the students tell me it does: What Students Say About Un-Grading.

For information about what good feedback can and should be, check out my Feedback Resources at Diigo. Yep, that’s an RSS feed inside a Canvas page… and RSS is just one technology we could be using to bring real evidence of student learning from their own webspaces into the Canvas space.

So, instead of a dynamic whiz-bang Gradebook view of students, we instead need a dynamic whiz-bang LEARNING view that helps students and instructors see what their learning looks like and that also allows them to connect with others based on what we are all learning together. To get a sense of the dynamics of connected, visible learning in my classes, take a look at the blog hubs for Myth-Folklore and Indian Epics. Take a look at the student projects, past and present at eStorybook Central.

I’ve also proposed creating a Connected Learning Group here at Canvas; if you are interested, let me know!

To help students learn more and learn better, I need to see what they are learning. To help them in their work, I need to see their work. Not quizzes, not tests. Their work.

The work, not the grades, is what matters, and I show the students that their work matters by giving them detailed feedback about it, by creating opportunities for them to share their work with others, and by saving their work in the class archives to sustain my classes in the future.

Grades penalize mistakes… feedback helps you learn from them. That’s what we need: feedback, not grades.

Because I feel safe, I can learn from my mistakes.

A meme inspired by this infographic:

Crossposted at Canvas Community.

4 thoughts on “More Visible Learning, NOT More Visible Grades #TTOG”

  1. When teaching, I frequently told students I wanted to see the plans for their essays, not the drafts – I told them I wanted to make sure they had a good foundation for the essay; and to give them guidance if they were heading in the wrong direction.
    They rarely did. They brought me plenty of drafts, which, sometimes I had to let them know just how far in the wrong direction they were heading. I don’t know if they didn’t plan at all, or they didn’t believe that I’d have rather seen a mind map and a list of references they were intending to use.

    1. Figuring out how to make a visible process part of the class is definitely important, Emma! It works differently in different classes; in my classes, I made sure that the final project is one that is modular, and the students start planning and brainstorming in Week 2 of the semester, with lots of different options based on what they discover during that process. Here’s how I explain that to the students as they get started:

      This type of process also helps me so that I can spread out my efforts consistently over time from week to week too! 🙂

  2. Hi Judy! I know there is a comments field, although I far preferred the way that D2L allowed for multiple text fields which could be visible (or not) to the students, which could be used for multiple sorting. The comments field in the Canvas Gradebook now is not a very good way to communicate with students, and I’m hoping that it will allow for multiple text fields in the future. That would make possible some kind of flexible narrative grading if people want to use the Gradebook in that way. For more about text fields in gradebooks:

    The Canvas Gradebook is based solely on numeric grades, and the result is that you cannot do any kind of grading that is non-numeric, which has caused frustration for others who want to do any kind of non-numeric / alternative grading, as well as people who want to do narrative feedback. I hope it will improve in the next iteration of the Gradebook!

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