Jennifer Fraser, Prof. of Ethnomusicology & Anthropology, Oberlin College 

Systems I’ve used over last 8 years

  • Self-grading
  • Specifications Grading
  • Ungrading

A few guiding principles. Think about

  • The learning objectives of the class
    • It is centered on the process of learning particular skills or on production?
    • Note that different classes might require different approaches
  • The level of the class & experience of students
  • How to be very intentional and clear with students, making time to discuss both in class and individually
  • The time commitment in these systems

Advantages of all systems

  • Encourages students to make the connection between their learning & their engagement.
  • Encourages students to weigh personal strengths and weaknesses
  • Individualized for students to recognize what deep engagement looks and feels like to them.
  • Empowers students to recognize and claim grades relative to engagement.
  • Often collective writing of rubrics
  • Rewrites encouraged.


How it worked

  • Reflections on each major assignments, get personal feedback, students use rubric to self grade as S+/S/S-
  • Two reflections on learning: midterm & final
  • Personal conversation with me at midterm (required). End of semester conversation available.

Specifications Grading

How it works

  • Each assignment lays out specifications to get a particular grade
  • Reflections on each major assignment, get personal feedback, students use rubric to self grade as S+/S/S-
  • Personal conversation with me early to identify personal learning goals & concerns about the system
  • Two reflections on learning: midterm & final


  • Consult Jan Miyake’s materials

Take aways

  • Be personally reflective about what works and when & be willing to be in conversation with students and tweak.
  • Specifications grading has worked the best so far to lessen anxieties around grades. Multiple students have told me how it has motivated them more than any other class to invest in learning (especially when outside their major).

My teaching philosophy

The world we currently occupy is structured to privilege white, cisgendered, male, heteronormative, able bodies. My pedagogical practice–course construction and materials, teaching style, and assignments–is designed to intervene in this practice as much as possible by decentering whiteness and white pedagogical systems (like privileging certain kinds of writing or voices of white folx) to work towards an antiracist pedagogy. Note I deliberately say “work towards” to acknowledge that there are always ways to do better. I recognize multiple intelligences, diverse knowledges, and the epistemic violence that has and continues to be done in educational institutions.  Research shows that adopting these approaches benefit ALL students. 


It is important to cite the intellectual work of others. Some of the language has been borrowed, with permission, from Prof. Karla Hubbard in Geology.

In my work moving towards antiracist and inclusive pedagogies, I wanted to engage a grading system that recognizes everyone, no matter their personal background, year, or major, has the capacity to achieve an A and that there are multiple intelligences and diverse paths to demonstrating learning. This system aims to lessen anxieties around grades–both for individual assignments AND the whole semester–by laying out the specifications necessary to achieve a particular grade. You can elect to work towards a particular grade given your own personal and educational goals. I make no judgment if you just need to earn a passing grade in this class. You know what you need. I hope that it is a system that motivates you to learn as you have, as one of the inventors of the system argues, a “sense of choice, volition, self-determination and responsibility for their grade, as well as less grade anxiety.” (Linda B. Nilson, Yes, Virginia, There’s a Better Way to Grade)

I will be up front and clear as possible about the expectations for each LS, MS & HS assignment. I will comment on your work, and either confirm that you have met the standard for the assignment (S), exceeded the standards (S+), it was below expectations (S-) or did not meet the standard (U). If you do not meet the standard or received an S or S- you will have the option to resubmit, if you wish.

HOW WILL MY LEARNING BE ASSESSED? (300-level class Fall 2022)

This is a class in experiential learning, meaning learning by the process of doing. The emphasis is on the word “process.” Therefore, successful learning in this class will demonstrate two things

  1. engagement and commitment 
  2. evidence of deep learning

There will be a number of ways to show both these things.















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