Beliefnet
Beginner's Heart

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….

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