Practical Theory - The Origin
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ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grades

What is the purpose of grades? For whom do we use grades? What do grades mean?

Grades are supposed to provide the teacher and the scholar with an accounting of what the scholar has achieved in the class. How this has been achieved is totally arbitrary and usually solely in the hands of the teacher. Sometimes the scholars has input, but usually. How a teacher arrives at a grade is voodoo as far as I'm concerned. Sure some rubrics may be involved or some other standard devised by the teacher. But generally speaking it is one way: teacher to scholar. So when a scholar asks, "What grade did you give me?" to the teacher, the scholar is correct, but the teacher invariably responds, "What grade did you earn?" The scholar is correct, it is the grade given by the teacher, whether earned or not. Grades can be rewards or punitive. Again I have seen them used in a punitive way and lower than deserved so the scholar has room to grow. Too often I have seen those incentive grades turn into discouraging grades.

Grades are used to help the teacher show the administration and colleagues something about their class. Do low grades show a tough teacher? Do high grades show a soft teacher? Some determine the quality of a teacher based on the grades that teacher gives. Listening to teachers speak about their grades is horrifying sometimes as they find ways to justify failing a scholar or even giving a lower grade than deserved to serve as incentive.

What grades mean is elusive to me. I do know that one thing they do is make the scholars react in a corresponding way to the grade. I don't really believe lower grades or failing grades inspire the scholar i a positive way. The affect of grades has a direct reaction on the scholars behavior and performance.

A number of years ago I read The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander, and Benjamin Zander. A chapter written by Benjamin spoke about a class of inspired and accomplished musicians was not really going well because the scholars would not experiment or take a chance because they were afraid of jeopardizing their GPA. So he decided to give all of his scholars an "A." Immediately he saw them experiment, take chances, and otherwise soar beyond their wildest dreams. This inspired me to try this with my "grade grubbing" scholars. I told them they would all be getting a 90 at the end of the semester. Only one scholar in in three classes of 30 students each did nothing. He paid for that mistake as hs academic career continued. For those scholars use to 90 did better as we negotiated for a higher grade. The key was in the other scholars and how those used to failing or "just" 70's did far better than they had expected. In all cases, but that one, the scholars rose above their level of expectation.

Recently a colleague spoke about how the scholars responded favorably to a computer generated grader of essays. She commented on how the grades may have been liberal. The positive aspect was how scholars who were not doing well responded and worked to raise their scores. She attributed it to the liberal minded scores to the scholars too used to low or failing grades. She was elated for them and finally made a connection. She converted. Another colleague was concerned about his "grade inflation." In a department of six members his grades were higher than theirs and there seemed to be some concern. What concern, I wondered. His scholars were working well, were improving, had good attendance, and were graduating at the end of the school year.

So the question is aren't we trying to show the scholars the path to success and to make success part of their culture, their life, their modus operandi? Of course it. So why fail them. Isn't their failure our failure in some way? yes, it is. I want my scholars to succeed and I have to help them understand that. One of my scholars remarked in her essay that the idea of being the 90 should transfer to the other parts of our life. Exactly!
Mr. Nellen believes that we all are capable of earning this "true 90". Let's prove that we can do it. Then we can use this attitude in all of our other classes to earn a 90 in those subjects. Eventually, ALL of us will have a "90" average. Hope we never give up on this "90"!!
So maybe you want to consider revising grade strategies to provide the scholars a more positive attitude.

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