Back and Forth with Grading

Being a student in higher education, I often find myself thinking about grades—am I getting what I need to? Will I mess up my GPA? Will I make the requirements? I want to make a disclaimer before I get into this blogpost, I am a complete hypocrite—there it is, I am putting it out there. When working with students and they are stressing about maintaining their high GPA’s or getting a B+ instead of an A, I find myself trying to get them to step back and realize that the grade isn’t everything, what counts is if you learned. As well as I do truly believe that what matters is if you left the class having learned something and hopefully can apply the knowledge somewhere.

However, as an undergraduate student, I was that student that would obsess about grades and messing up my GPA. I did not want anything less than an A and dear sweet lord if I got a C. Even now, I can sometimes find myself slipping back into old habits of caring about the grade more than I care about what I am learning. This is not good and for the most part, I feel as though I have been more learning centered and not grade centered during my graduate school career thus far. However, I still get pained when a student confides in me about grades and needing to get a certain GPA—whether they learn something or not is inconsequential.

This has made me ponder about our grading system and the pros and cons that come along with it. I read the article “Could Grades Be Counterproductive” by Beckie Supiano, as I am interesting in learning about more perspectives about this area—as I am no expert. I think Beckie made some really interesting points throughout her article.

The first point I enjoyed was the fact that the article made the point that students need to learn how to evaluate their own work and be able assess where they are at. Grades assigned by the teacher or professor can diminish this.  David Boud in the article talks about how when they leave the institution, they need this skill to be able to succeed in their future endeavors. If you are not providing students an opportunity to assess themselves, “we have failed them” (David Boud, 2017).

A second point I enjoyed from this article was the fact that they discussed how grades don’t really articulate the learning that took place in the classroom. The article states that they don’t “tell you the why” (Supiano, 2017). Supiano further makes the point that this is bad for learning as it doesn’t let them know how to improve or accurately show what went on with learning.

A third point I really enjoyed was the fact that the author discussed how when you are assigning a grade to an assignment, and you do leave feedback, the first thing to be ignored or glanced over is the feedback. They have found that when students are given written feedback, they only care about the grade they are given for the assignment. Therefore, showing that the grade is what matters to them not the learning or the feedback.

A third point I enjoyed in this article was that they referenced some institutions that do not use grading—they only provide descriptive feedback. Growing up around St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland. I have heard of this concept before, but I was interested to hear about other colleges doing this. I think that it focuses more on the learning that took place and the skills the student has and not how they benchmarked on an assignment. Though, I will note, I am realistic that grades keep students doing assignments. I really liked how that the article shared that the institutions that do not use the norm grading method, how they are being more student centered. The article shared Rachel Rubinstein, said that “the grade locates all the authority in the faculty member, and makes the student a passive recipient”. This reminding me of what we have talked about with the banking method and Paulo Friere with the concept of “doing it with them and not for them”. I am a big fan of the view that the educational experience should be both a learning experience for the student and the professor. As well as the fact that the students should have agency in what they are doing/learning.

A last point I really enjoyed about this article was the fact that it noted by having grades with the societal importance of GPA, it makes students not want to step out of their comfort zones in their educational journey. By taking classes they don’t know much about or classes they don’t feel as confident in, they could hurt their GPA and some students will avoid that at all costs. If we place less importance of letter grades, we could perhaps get more students taking classes that would push them out of their comfort zones and expose them to new ideas/things. I know that in my undergrad, I specifically went out of my way to avoid a class that had high level math and science because I knew if I took it I would not get a “good” grade (probably a C) and I didn’t want to hurt my GPA like that. I look back and I regret not taking it because I was so afraid to hurt my GPA, it feels like such a bad reason in retrospect (eye roll at myself).

Inclusive Pedagogy

As I go to write this, I am having a hard time picking an article to base my thoughts around—this week highlights and dives into so many important aspects of education. So, if this feels a little rambly, it is because I am having a hard time picking just one angle.

I ended picked “From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces” by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. The title originally peaked my interest because a colleague of mine was talking the other week about how they were not necessarily a fan of the word “Safe Space”. Sadly, I did not get a chance to really dive into this as we both had meetings to get to. I have seen “Safe Space” in both my undergraduate institution and now in my graduate institution. Originally, I was excited that they were implementing this initiative when I first learned about it back in my undergrad—I thought it was a great thing to do to show that people that they were cared for and they had someone to turn to. I thought it would really show those who wanted to act in an “ally” capacity. However,  I have been learning that this notion of “Safe Space” can actually be exclusionary and just perpetuating privilege. I guess this is just my own point of privilege that I hadn’t done more of a deep dive into this and examined it from more angles.

This article really made me think and reflect about this concept and the experience the authors had. In this day in age, I think it is vital that we are learning about how to facilitate tough discussions with students who share opposing viewpoints, ideologies, beliefs, and life experiences. I think it is so important that we are teaching students how to have these conversations and really lean into the idea of being ok with being uncomfortable in some situations.

A salient point that stood out to me in this article was that it talked about how when doing activities like the privilege walk, how some students will just shut down and dismiss the point/concept and just state that they are not going to change their mind so why continue to talk about whatever it is. I think that if we just accept that every time that we are never going to learn and grow if we only stick and not listen to other viewpoints. College is supposed to be a time to widen your horizons and be exposed to new things. I want to learn how to better facilitate these conversations and also be more ok with being uncomfortable while creating the best space for all students— not further alienating students.