Sunday, November 20, 2005

A Is for Assonine?

After our November 16th class, I feel confused but validated in my confusion. I can't even count how many times I've encouraged students to ignore the grade and read my feedback instead, or how many times I've made statements like, "I don't care about your grades. I only care about your improvement as a writer." In my higher level graduate courses, grades were nonexistant, and I flourished in this setting. I used to worry about grades so much in high school and college that I developed stomach problems and chronically walked in my sleep; grades took a front seat to higher learning more times than I'd like to admit. Now I see this in many of students--particularly in some of my female honors students--and I don't know how to convince them that grades aren't worth their stress.

However, I still fail to see how dividing our grades into new groups really addresses the problem. After all, we're still assigning a grade and posting a grade and giving students and parents alike something to obsess over. So I come back to the question I posed in class that no one wanted to address: why do we post grades? If we want to remove the emphasis from our grading system, why do we post them and encourage students to check them all the time? And for some students, I really do mean ALL THE TIME. I understand that it's not in our power to do away with the American system of grading, but I wish there were something else I could do besides weighting grades differently. I don't mean to sound disrespectful at all; I think Tony Winger's idea is a good start, and I'd like to know if it's making a difference in our classrooms.


Blogger Karl Fisch said...

I agree, I wish we could remove grades altogether so that we could truly help them to focus on the learning. And I think maybe we can have that conversation as a faculty at some point in the not too distant future (probably not yet, though).

But, given that at the moment we can't get rid of them, what can we do to minimize their impact and maximize the students' learning? I think that's Tony's approach - by recategorizing at least he attempts to have students (and parents) focus on what students have or have not learned in his classes. Then at least as the students are checking those grades, maybe they can get some valuable and worthwhile feedback, other than just focusing on "Oh, I have an 89%, what can I do to get it up to a 90%?".

3:06 PM  
Blogger MollyG said...

I agree, but the ultimate dilemma is the fact that we must have good grades in order to get into a good school, where we must get good grades in order to get a good salary at a good company. It's just a slippery slope. And grading is beneficial in some classes where people aren't motivated at all, but in honors classes or other courses when the students wish to learn. For example, my favorite class in high school as of yet, I got a C in and failed out of the honors track. But I learned more in that class than I had in the last three years of schooling. So really, it's a hopeless effort, grades will simply never be eliminated, and people will always find something to obsess over whether it's grades or not.

3:54 PM  
Blogger James H said...

For many of the students and the parents, that is the only way that motivation can happen. If we stop giving grades and just focus on their learning, then do we only ask the students that want to learn to come to school?

12:41 PM  
Blogger Crosby said...

I have many of the same frustrations as you do, Kristin, and I understand your question about how dividing grades into new groups addresses the problem. The first time that I overhauled my categories I still used very product-related categories (tests, hw, etc.) But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that (for example) homework is about content just as much as tests are about content. Thus, my categories are evolving away from what the product looks like, to the reason why I assigned a particular task. I don't know if that helps, but I will say that I kind of think of this like writing - my fourth revision is always better than my first!

5:34 PM  
Blogger Hatak said...

I think that some of the problem is the educational society where we live and work. Everything is tied to outcomes. (Just look at state mandated testing.) What we do in the classroom is dictated by the ability of students to perform on a standard test. I know that a world without grading would be better for the learning environment but it seems as though the grades are a comfort blanket. I am not sure what the "new" groups look like but I know I want to try them.

I just had a conversation with a student about a "B" being a good grade. I would also like to get away from the "point-counting" conversation but I am not sure how to do that.

11:08 AM  

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