Tuesday, October 25, 2005
More on grading
S. L. Kim has an A-worthy post at Printculture on how grading affects classroom dynamics:
Last week, I returned the first batch of essays to my students, giving them their first grade in my class (and since they’re all freshmen, possibly their first grade in college). I dread that moment in the semester when the honeymoon period comes to an end. Before that first grade, everything is potential and possibility. We have animated discussions in class; everyone’s on board with arguable thesis statements and the importance of analyzing evidence; everyone’s eager to impress me and each other. The stories with which we begin are enigmatic, ripe for interpretation. Even when they write their descriptive drafts with messy structures and undigested examples, they get ample feedback from me and we meet for a one-on-one conference, so it’s kind of like a do-over. The time between the draft and the final version seems to stretch out into the bright future of promised happy endings.Read the whole thing.
When the grades—mostly B’s and C’s—are handed out, when the coaching ends and the judging happens, there’s a distinct change in our relationship. Precisely because of the extensive coaching that precedes the judging, the shift is painfully palpable. There’s no teaching assistant to blame, no big lecture hall of 200 students to serve as a buffer; if the students can’t hide, neither can I. On the day I hand them the papers, I have to brace myself for that inevitable loss of innocence. It can be a difficult process of adjusting to new expectations, especially for students who have been so praised and rewarded for their efforts. But as much as I wish the honeymoon could last, I know the grades mark a necessary transition. The real learning can’t begin until the grade concretizes the stakes and gives them a measure of the distance they must travel. Still, I hate it when it happens right in front of me—I want students to leave as soon as I give them their essays, but some of them always linger and do the flip then and there, scanning the stapled sheet at the back for that letter, and then struggling to keep their poker faces and avoid eye contact. The suspense is too much, the knowledge can be crushing.