Diverse ways of grading for a diverse education

I was graded for my homework and exams from primary school to PhD courses all the time, but this is the first time I sit down and think carefully about what grading brings to me. As grown up in China, I was evaluated by “numbers” for almost all of my academic work and I paid attention to these “numbers” heavily since they decide whether I can go to a better middle school, a better high school and finally a better college. Like most Chinese students, I was trained to grasp those “exam skills” to grab more points in exams, even though what I wrote did not make sense to myself sometimes. Every time after an exam, there are always some students go to argue their score with teachers, which really looks like a bargain in grocery store. Although many educators in China advocate education reform for years, our education system still rely on grading for college admission since students have such a diverse background and grading is a relatively “fair” way to evaluate each student’s ability. However, after students are enrolled in college, teachers and students still too focus on the scores to neglect their motivations and goals for learning. For example, teachers only tell students their scores of final exam, but they rarely send out right answers to students or explain those questions after exam, which is really ridiculous in education.

I also ask myself: do I have an experience of learning without grading? The answer is yes. I attended a writing class when I was in middle school to improve my writing skills. The class only had around 10 students and we met once a week at weekend. The teacher gave us a lecture each week and then asked us to write a composition as assignment. However, we never had exams and this teacher never grading our composition. Instead, he only wrote comments and gave suggestions in the part that he thought we need to improve. He also never compared each other’s work because he thought each of us had our own style, but he would like us to share our compositions to each us and to learn from each other. In this way, we did not feel any pressure about this class and each of us was highly involved in this class since everyone was praised by the teacher each week for the good part in their work and inspired by the comments to improve the weak part in their writing. This case also reminds me of Ken’s video (how to escape the education death valley) we watched last week. Education should be a diverse environment, each student had his/her own characteristic/background and each of them should be educated based on his/her characteristic. Rather than simply evaluate students’ work by numbers, teachers should help students to find out their advantage and weak points in a subject and encourage them to improve their weak parts. It may be more helpful if teachers can stimulate student’s learning interests by forming a “friendly” competition in class, encouraging students to pump out different thoughts without worrying to lose their points, and guide students to focus on the knowledge itself rather than their performance in one exam.

4 thoughts on “Diverse ways of grading for a diverse education

  1. This is the ideal situation, that a student is intrinsically motivated to learn in a safe and non-graded environment. It is interesting to see the rigid nature that scores have in China.

    Does this reduce the student to a number? While it can allow for a cross-comparision of students for admission, what does it say about the individual? What about that writing class stuck with you the most?

    The absence of pressure- the avoidance of failure. This is a psychological issue, success-seeking or failure avoidance. Often poorer performance is seen in failure avoidance.

    So the final question is: is social inertia or a stigma against the absence of grades acceptable excuse for why we still have them?

  2. First, I’m also from China, so I totally agree with your comments about education in China. Grade is important for some classes. If the class just need the students to memorize some facts or basic knowledge, grade is the most effective way to evaluate how much the student learned. However, the problem in China is that the teacher take this to an extreme. This is only convenient for teachers but is not helpful for students.

  3. I really appreciate your reflections on the writing class, and on how that experience helped you realize that learning can be more rewarding and valuable when process, context and interaction get more weight than a test score or grade. Whether you end up teaching in China or elsewhere, I hope you have the opportunity to develop a pedagogy that empowers students to learn in the ways you found so rewarding in the writing class.

  4. A really interesting post. What I’ve come to realize is that the end goal of any educational system usually determines whether grading will be unhealthily emphasized or not. I believe that China, like most high tech nations have a high demand for skilled workers who can understand a process and work with little intellectual and innovative inputs. In other words, training in a particular field is geared to working in that industry and not invention.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *