The Case for Collaborative Grading: Empowering Students and Reducing Stress


In the pursuit of creating a more inclusive and student-centered learning environment, I adopted a collaborative grading practice in my English classes this year. The approach involved engaging in discussions with students to determine their midterm and final grades, essentially, I ditched the traditional “teacher knows best” approach and adopted a collaborative grading practice rather than relying solely on unilateral teacher decisions. My aim was to address several key issues: the distress caused by traditional grading, the limited effectiveness of grades as motivators, and the detrimental impact of grades on real learning. By embracing collaborative grading, I hoped to empower students, reduce stress levels, and foster a deeper understanding of their own growth and achievements.

Teachers are required to submit a final grade


There is no requirement to decide unilaterally what that grade will be.

The Downside of Grades

From a student’s perspective, grades suck! They have this sneaky way of stressing students out and messing with their learning. The pressure to get good grades can actually make it harder to learn effectively. It’s like the brain goes into panic mode, and that’s not helpful at all. Plus, did you know that stress can even shrink the brain? Seriously, it does! Scientifically speaking, the physiological effects of stress, such as increased amygdala activity, impedes critical thinking and memory retention and chronic stress may even lead to the shrinking of the prefrontal cortex, a crucial area responsible for learning and memory.

Let’s not forget how grades mess with motivation. If students are focused on chasing grades, they’re missing the big picture of what they’re learning in the first place. It becomes all about jumping through hoops and ticking off boxes and students aren’t invested in the learning process itself. Alfie Kohn, in “The Trouble with Rubrics,” states that graded assessments often result in superficial thinking, risk avoidance, and a decreased interest in the learning process itself. The extrinsic motivation provided by grades is short-lived and fails to foster deep learning experiences like intrinsic motivation does.

Collaborative Grading to the Rescue

But fear not, my friends, because there’s a solution: collaborative grading! Because we know that putting too much focus on grades actually gets in the way of the student learning journey, I implemented this approach where students are more involved in the whole grading process. Educational psychologists have found that an excessive emphasis on assessment can actually hinder students’ pursuit of excellence. Studies conducted by Martin Maehr, Carol Midgley, and other researchers have consistently shown that a grading orientation and a learning orientation are inversely related. When students are solely focused on their grades, they become less engaged with the learning material.

Here’s how it works: I have regular chats with my students about their progress. I also get them to do self-assessments and reflect on their own learning. Instead of just slapping grades on assignments, I give detailed feedback. I try to help students see what they’re doing well and where they can improve. I want students to understand their own growth. These practices promote a student’s understanding of course content, as well as their awareness of their own learning processes.

The promise, power, and practice of agency require spaces for students to build those skills

  • Advocating for their educational needs.
  • Participating in class in ways that elevate their identities outside the school-sanctioned forms of identity expression and classroom participation structures.
  • Determining where, when, how, and with whom to exercise agency.

The Collaborative Grading Process

Throughout the academic year, students had multiple opportunities for submitting work for feedback and grading. However, the emphasis is not solely on the grades themselves but on the evidence of understanding, growth, and achievement. Prior to major grading periods, such as mid-term and finals, collaborative discussions took place. Students had the chance to present their evidence of learning, self-advocate, and propose a mark that reflected their understanding. I also contributed my observations, conversations, and product evaluations. Part of this process involved having frank conversations with the students about triangulation and how to collect evidence. I wanted students to collect their own evidence to back up their assertions.

By working together, students got a better understanding of their strengths and areas for improvement. They felt more in control of their own learning. And guess what? Students took the feedback and work on their assignments again, to show their true understanding and mastery of the subject. It’s like a chance for a do-over, and students thought that was pretty awesome!

Student Feedback

So, I reached out to my students to get their thoughts on this collaborative grading thing. And guess what? They’re loving it! They appreciated that it’s not all about nitpicking their mistakes. Instead, it’s about recognizing their effort and what they’ve actually learned. Collaborative grading takes away the stress and anxiety of traditional grading. It made the students feel seen, heard, and valued as active participants in their own education.

Audio Feedback about the collaborative grading process from Sophia, a grade 12, University level e-learning student.


So collaborative grading was a a game-changer! It reduced student stress levels, empowered them to take charge of their learning, and focus on their growth rather than just grades. Students were no longer passively waiting for a teacher to tell us what they know or don’t know. Students got to shape their own educational journey, and it was a really amazing thing to see.


Beck, H. P., Rorrer-Woody, S., & Pierce. The Relations of Learning and Grade Orientations to Academic Performance. L. G. Teaching of Psychology, 1991.

Butler, Ruth. Enhancing and Undermining Intrinsic Motivation: The Effects of Task-Involving and Ego-Involving Evaluation of Interest and Performance, Journal of Educational Psychology. 1988.

Butler, Ruth. Task-Involving and Ego-Involving Properties of Evaluation: Effects of Different Feedback Conditions on Motivational Perceptions, Interest, and Performance, Journal of Educational Psychology. 1987.

Kohn, Alfie. The Case Against Grades. Educational Leadership. 2011.

Lipnevich, Anastasiya. Smith, Jeffrey. Response to Assessment Feedback: The Effects of Grades, Praise, and Source of Information, ETS. 2008.

Martin L. Maehr & Carol Midgley. Enhancing Student Motivation: A Schoolwide Approach, Educational Psychologist. 1991.

Further Reading

Teachers Going Gradeless:  A collection of works surrounding a movement away from grades.

Zerwin, Sarah M. Pointless: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading. Heinemann, 2020.

One response to “The Case for Collaborative Grading: Empowering Students and Reducing Stress”

  1. […] Writing and Reflection: Incorporate reflective writing assignments into the curriculum. Ask students to critically reflect on their reading experiences, identify the main ideas, and evaluate the effectiveness of the author’s arguments. This will help them develop their analytical skills and express their thoughts coherently. Self-reflection and meta-cognition are two other powerful ways to incorporate reflection that involves deep critical thinking, read more here: “The Case for Collaborative Grading: Empowering Students and Reducing Stress.” […]

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