Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart


grading ~

I hate grading. I hate ranking things. I actively dislike hierarchies of most kinds. And yes, I know I shouldn’t use the word hate. I hate that too. :)

I’m not against assessment. It’s very different from grading, at least to me. To assess something — a situation, a condition, even the weather outside — implies you’re just checking it out. Seeing where it’s at. There’s not necessarily ranking & judgement that goes along w/ the assessment.

Grading, on the other hand, means I have judged or been judged. And possibly — almost certainly — someone (me? my students?) was found wanting in some area. But I don’t think my students — or most of us, for that matter — should be defined by lack, by inadequacy.

Once I had a class where I had complete control of the assessment process. So I did away w/ grades on papers and other assignments. I offered to meet at any time, w/ each student, and give him or her a detailed analysis of where they were in the class, what they might want to focus more on, and how to improve their overall outcome.

There was mutiny. Seriously. Students were ready to go to the dean because they weren’t being graded! I repeated the offer to meet. Asked them to think about the one-on-one, face-to-face conversation. PROMISED that I would disclose all they needed to know to ‘get good grades.’ It was a no-sell. And I eventually caved. Even the dean was on my side, but he had to cave too.

Human beings want input, but I don’t think grades — judgment — is the best way to go about it. I’d like to know how I’m doing on so many levels. I wish someone would tell me what my writing is like. I wish my sons would help me understand the outcomes of parenting them. In lieu of that kind of assessment — that kind of check-in — I fall back on reflection. It’s the poor girl’s self-grading rubric :).

But reflection won’t help turn the light back on in my students’ faces when I hand back drafts they’ve slaved over, that don’t achieve the numbers desired… And nothing I can tell them seems to convince them that learning is always hard. That the ‘learning curve’ is, by definition, not  instantaneous.

I’m stuck w/ grades. So are my thoughtful, talented, creative and NOT inadequate students. Unfortunately, ‘grades’ reflect very little of what they’re capable of….



  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Arthur

    I read your post with interest. I teach at a “portfolio school,” which is a school for people who want to get into advertising and need guidance in order to help them develop the skills to build a competitive portfolio. At the beginning of the class I always let them know exactly what they have to do to achieve a certain grade. In addition to that I give them an evaluation, which seems to be their favorite part. The thing is that in this particular case (as I point out) grades don’t matter, since no prospective employer is EVER going to ask them what grade they got in Motion Graphics. They will look at the work, and if it’s excellent they will get hired and if it isn’t it won’t matter if they got straight “A”s. Of course, it’s different in different industries, but I like to be sure they understand that ultimately their efforts are what makes the difference between success and failure in life. Sometimes they deem to “get” it!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Hannah M

    I feel like, when I was in your class, the way you graded was both fair and reasonable and left us with the ability to excel where we excelled- not just in the area you wanted to teach us, or where you wanted us to excel. I really appreciated that (especially now with so many class that have one hundred points, and are made up entirely of a paper, midterm, and final!). And I agree that not having actual grades is the completely ideal; but the we’re taught that that’s okay. As soon as we hit first grade, we start getting graded on things- I am still haunted by my first 0 on a multiplication quiz, because I’d been sick the day the rest of my class learned them. But I had to have a grade- and it eventually ends up leaving us feeling like we’re doing something wrong if we DON’T have a grade.

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