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Read more about the latest student-faculty research collaborations.

Exploring Non-Traditional Grading Methods

Assistant Professor of Math Education Miriam Gates, Lecturer of Mathematics David Earls and Mia Puglia '24

Are there alternatives to traditional grading methods that would be more supportive of student learning? Grading is used by educators to provide accountability for students; return useful information about where students stand relative to their understanding of the course content; and provide information about how students should proceed in their coursework. However, traditional grading methods have been heavily critiqued for their lack of actionable feedback and a separation of content understanding from classroom behaviors or other school-based skills. Some research suggests traditional grading can narrow student opportunities and compound inequities based on race and gender.

Assistant Professor of Math Education Dr. Miriam Gates, Lecturer of Mathematics Dr. David Earls and secondary education and English double major Mia Puglia ’24 are working together to catalog the range of non-traditional grading practices that are currently in use in higher education, such as take-home assessments, standards-based grading and gradeless assessment.

They are addressing the research questions: 1) What non-traditional grading practices are higher education faculty using? What are the conditions under which they are using these grading practices? 2) What is the prevalence in the use of specific non-traditional grading practices? Under which conditions do these practices occur?

Puglia, who has been involved in the project since its inception, has supported the shaping of its trajectory through her work on literature review, interview protocol construction, and completion of phase one interviews in spring 2023. In summer 2023, during the rollout of the second phase, Dr. Gates and Puglia shared a survey with a larger group of faculty at the same institution institution in order to identify the range of non-traditional grading practices. Based upon the survey results, they conducted interviews using a semi-structured interview protocol.

In a future third phase, the team will revise the survey so that it can be delivered to a group of faculty beyond the current single institution, and will follow those with interviews based on the survey results. This research strengthens the field’s understanding of educators’ practices in higher education, and ultimately, Dr. Gates hopes to contribute to identification of some best practices for the field.

Literacy Learning

Associate Professor of Education Christine Leighton, Kierstin Giunco '17 and Grace Tumushabe '25

Since Fall 2018, Associate Professor of Education Dr. Christine Leighton has been involved the project, “Making it all fit: an upper elementary-grade ELA teacher and literacy coach solve ongoing problems of practice,” in collaboration with Kierstin Giunco ’17, who is currently a doctoral student at Boston College and formerly a 4th-6th grade English Language Arts (ELA) teacher at a Boston-area Catholic school.

During this study, and while Dr. Leighton was serving as Giunco’s literacy coach, they used Giunco’s experience, questions, and concerns to guide the collaboration and literacy interventions while keeping track of students’ literacy learning outcomes. In the summer of 2022, they were joined by elementary education major Grace Tumushabe ’25, and began analyzing Leighton’s and Giunco’s coaching collaboration to determine how Giunco’s professional growth and development progressed as she designed and implemented literacy instruction consistent with her views, while remaining aligned with curriculum requirements.

Their work has led to several research questions and projects resulting in five presentations, a peer-reviewed journal article, an invited article, and two invited book chapters since 2018. In spring 2019, they we awarded the Massachusetts Reading Association’s Sylvia D. Brown Scholarship to support their work.

In May 2023, Leighton, Giunco and Tumushabe presented at the New England Educational Research Organization (NEERO) conference in Portsmouth, NH, on how a sixth-grade unit grounded in critical literacy can nurture students’ views of themselves as social justice advocates.

In summer 2023, the group is continuing to organize their research data in preparation for a potential 2023 presentation at the annual meeting of the Literacy Research Association in Atlanta, as well as a book proposal.