A Teacher Who Stopped Grading Papers?

Meet Sarah Zerwin, a high school English teacher in Boulder, Colorado. She had enough with traditional grading and has successfully replaced points with feedback in her classes at Fairview High School. Today, I’m reviewing her book* about her experience and pulling out a few ideas that might work for your classroom, too.

*This is an unsolicited review. I have not received compensation of any kind for my review of this book. I don’t accept sponsorships or use affiliate links or anything like that on my blog. (Authors, please don’t ask me to review your book; I sometimes look into recommendations from my fellow teachers, but I don’t review books sent to me by authors or publishers. That’s just how I roll.) 

If you want to learn more about Sarah Zerwin, here is her website: https://sarahmzerwin.com/

Her book is called Point-Less – An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading. I bought my copy on Amazon.

In the video, I mentioned the project-based learning 20Time assignment I’ve successfully used in the spring semester with my classes. You can grab a free download of those materials here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/FREE-Project-Based-Learning-Materials-for-the-English-Classroom-20Time-Project-1918986?st=c69ae523006136ef88809557cad512dd

Okay, teacher friend, which of the ideas in the video do you think might work in your classroom? What other teacher books have been helpful to you? Leave your book recommendations or any ideas about how we might make education more valuable for students in the “reply” section below. 

7 thoughts on “A Teacher Who Stopped Grading Papers?

  1. Karin Riedel says:

    Dear Laura,

    I have recently discovered your channel and am enjoying your content. Thank you for your work in inspiring and powering teachers!

    My main purpose in leaving this comment is to let you know about a revolutionary school my children have been attending this year. Acton Academy is a school whose philosophies dovetail beautifully with the themes of Point-less, a school which holds dear the idea that empowered, excited, goal-setting children become responsible, critically-thinking adults, and a school which I think you would enjoy teaching at and perhaps even founding in your community. (I get no personal benefit from this comment or referral, just so you know. I simply kept thinking – repeatedly – during your book review that you would LOVE Acton’s ideas and methodologies.)

    Anyhow, I strongly suggest you find a copy of the book Courage to Grow and learn about Acton Academy. I truly think you would love it!

    Once again, I enjoy your work on your Youtube channel, and I thank you for it.


    Karin Riedel

  2. Thanks, Karin, for sharing your experience! I’ll look into Acton Academy and that book. Most interested in seeing what they have for the high school level, of course. Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Alison Toney says:

    Hi Laura,

    Teaching almost 100 percent remote this year, among other things, showed me that when students are totally dependent on the computer for communication, they often read what you write more closely.

    A consequence of this is that I had students—not a lot, but enough for me to take notice—who would respond with something like, “I see what you’re saying. Could I do it again?” and I would think, could you EVER?! Of course, part of their motivation was that they’d gotten a less than satisfactory grade on the assignment, but they really would attempt to revise the things I’d pointed out.

    I don’t know about huge overarching goals, but a medium goal for me is just to get students to wrap their heads around the fact that they didn’t do it perfectly the first time, and they need to try again. I fear the mad scramble for grades translates to quantity over quality, and we—WE—have trained them to drop each assignment like a hot potato and get on to the next one.

    I will read this book, but I am an 8th grade ELA teacher who has puzzled over this for a while and never quite figured out the right combination of steps to create a truly point-less system. It’s so much easier and makes me feel more secure to just slide back into my old habits.

  4. I hear you, Alison. We’ve definitely trained our kids to check those boxes and move along to the next task on our conveyor belt of education. I like that you’re seeing the upside of digital teaching. Feedback can be more detailed and sent to each student much more quickly. Tech supports revision and we’re wise to take advantage of these tools. As for Zerwin’s fully point-less system, I’m not sure I’d be able to pull that off at any of the campuses where I’ve taught. I do like the idea, though, of de-emphasizing grades and giving students more opportunity to determine and evaluate their own learning goals. We can be the dreamers, right?

  5. Garreth Heidt says:

    I’ve been “grade-less” for the better part of 4 years now. I would urge you to also check out the work of http://www.teachersgoinggradeless.com and anything by Starr Sackstein (Hacking Assessment is the key place to start.). Oh, and if you’re looking for a few more superstars in this field, Aaron Blackwelder and Monte Syrie are go-tos. Also, the recent book, Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead) is great.

    I’m pretty sure http://www.teachersgoinggradeless has interviewed Sarah, so maybe you already know about them, but I stumbled upon a Medium post by founder Arthur Chiarivalli in 2017 (https://medium.com/teachers-going-gradeless/teachers-going-gradeless-50d621c14cad) and that started this whole thing for me, though my students would say I’d been practicing a lot of the tenet (feedback heavy, etc) for a long time, as most English teacher have done.

    Thanks for leveraging the power of your network to bring more teachers to the light about these practices.

  6. Garreth Heidt says:

    Oh, and you should check out the work of Jesse Stommel https://www.jessestommel.com/how-to-ungrade/ . Follow him on Twitter.

    And Acton Academy is amazing, yes sir! I’ve read about them for several years. I have a class I started in my own HS that is based on self-determined learning, goal setting, and many of the tenets that Acton espouses. Actually ,there are many such classes around. I started mine after reading “Pure Genius” by Don Wettrick. Social Entrepreneurship is the focus of our class, but many students find there’s plenty of space to try out lots of different types of projects, and fail at them! without suffering at the level of their grades. See pvhsnovalab.com

  7. Thanks, Garreth, for this treasure trove of resources! Looks like I have a full summer ahead of me. 🙂

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