I recently received the following email from a parent:
Dear Dr. Haiken,
I wanted to send you an email regarding the substantial Genius Project just completed this semester. The project assigned was very ambitious, and very welcomed by XXXX. She jumped at the opportunity to delve independently into a task of her interest and choosing. This was not an easy task; it was one that required tremendous planning and tenacity. I must admit that, at first, I was wary of the ambitious project XXXX envisioned, but she rose to the occasion. She made a timeline, sketched (and re-sketched) the designs . . . She documented her work all along the way, and created the trifold board presentation and brought it to school along with all of her finished designs–and all on time!
I attended the parents reception and saw that a wide variety of projects were presented with varying degrees of difficulty. While I understand that it is a difficult task to grade projects of varying scope, I do not think that it is fair not to grade them at all when some of the students dedicated so much time, energy and passion to the assignment. I think that XXXX’s grade should reflect the high caliber of her work. I am sympathetic to the grading challenge this project presents, but it was assigned, and XXXX’s GPA should be indicative of a wonderful project completed. As a teacher, you rightly encouraged the students to reach for more, and I applaud you for doing so and for stepping outside the box. Those who responded and took on the challenge should be recognized and rewarded.
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Is a grade a reward? Does everything completed in school have to have a letter or numerical grade? What does a grade really show and mean to teachers, parents, and students?
These are questions that I have been thinking about over and over again as I rethink another school year. I decided not to grade my students’ genius hour projects this semester. Genius Hour is about allowing students to take learning in their own hands and as I wrote back to this parent, The genius hour project is a project that lets students make choices and take the lead in their own learning. Not everything that students complete in school is nor should be graded with a number or letter. The purpose of the genius hour project is for students to excel in an area of personal interest without the fear of failure.
I do have my students complete self reflections and plan out monthly goals for their genius hour project. I do not grade these items either, but these reflections and plans help me to support my students in their genius hour quest. I have yet to have a student tell me they are disappointed that their project is not being graded. Rather, I want to encourage students to pursue their passions, accept challenges and failures, and at the same time be motivated by personal interests rather than a stamp, sticker, check mark, letter or number.