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21st Century Skills - Competencies without a Classroom Podcast - Episode 16 Recap

S2 E16: Johanna Brown - @johannabrown
Griffin Jaeger
April 25, 2021

In our 16th #21for21 episode of Competencies without a Classroom, we speak with Johanna Brown, a chemistry and computer science teacher in rural Washington. Along with teaching, she also does coaching for both the Science bowl and knowledge bowl. Johanna is changing the education game as a believer in the #ungrading movement.

What can you borrow from Johanna for your classroom to help teach 21st-century skills?

Johanna is not grading in her classroom. Rather, by not assigning grades she has been able to develop systems of providing feedback and teaching her students how to properly self-assess.

In her eyes, if students can more accurately assess their understanding and think about personal next steps from a young age - it will carry through and benefit them in their future professional lives.

Through this, the emotional weight is taken off of what would have been an assigned grade, and instead, students can work on applying feedback, as well as giving it to both themselves and their peers - removing the competitive nature of classroom learning.

While removing grades can be a shock at first, as it is what many educators are used to - Johanna describes it as quite like being a vegetarian. If you want to test out the upgrading model, you don't have to do it all at once.

Johanna recommends speaking to your students. Research shows that by speaking with your class about the strategies you are using in the classroom, they will likely be more willing to come along and be eager in doing so. Talk to them about why and what the plan is. Like being vegetarian, you don't have to do it all at once. Try it out with one unit or project, then get feedback from your class. This way you can test it out while seeing how you feel and how your students feel about it. From there, you can build off of it and see what works best in your classroom.

By removing grades-based assessment, students can work on skills like self-actualization, creativity, and collaboration.

Reflection Prompts for Your Students

Use the prompts below to have your students reflect on what they heard in the episode and consider how Johanna’s advice can be applied to them.

  1. One skill Johanna wished she had been taught back in high school is thoughtful collaboration. She believes that we need to be more thoughtful about how we create teams in school. What is your strategy for delegating work in a group setting? How can you work to ensure compromise is made while ensuring everyone's voice is heard?
  2. Self-actualization and the ability to understand your own strengths and weaknesses is an incredible skill to bring to the table. Think about your current classroom learning, what are two pieces of feedback you would give yourself? How can you come up with creative ways to implement that feedback?
  3. Think about what you are currently learning in school, what areas do you feel are your strengths? How can you use these strengths to help others/contribute both in and out of the classroom?

Yearning for more? You’re in luck! We’ll be speaking to educators all month long about #21for21 and the development of 21st-century skills in the classroom. Join the fun and head over to to sign up for episode recaps, lesson plans, and chances to win some awesome prizes.


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