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).

6 Replies to “Back and Forth with Grading”

  1. I totally agree with your point on assigning a grade without providing feedback is probably not a good practice. I think it is important to let your students understand your goal or expectation when grading. And to help them, address gaps and deficiencies, good feedback is necessary. I have noticed that some instructors will have a one-on-one session with all their students, to discuss class projects and assignments, seek clarifications on assignments and even request rewrites on assignments based on discussions.

    1. Hello! Thank you so much for your comment. I think explaining the “why” to students always helps with motivating them to do or complete something so I totally agree with you on that point. The point you make about instructors meeting with their students to discuss work, really resonates with me. I know that I have always enjoyed having that time with the professor to go over what I am doing and how I can improve. One semester, I had a class where we had a midterm paper and a number of us, didn’t get the grade we wanted and the professor ended up providing feedback and making it our final to redo the midterm with some added elements. I found myself really devoting time and effort to the assignment since I now knew the areas of growth I needed for the paper. I know that if I go into the teaching profession, I for sure want to make sure I keep this in mind! Thanks again for the comment!

  2. When it comes to the issue of being a hypocrite regarding grading, i can tell you that the majority of people are, at least I am. Not only with grading, but with the entire education system. I remember when i was an undergrad that i used to go to class in the morning, not pay attention and waste time, then I would go teach the same day in the evening and wonder why some of my students were not paying attention. Same thing would also happen when I find myself consolidating a friend after he gets a bad grade and explaining how its not the end of the world, while i fail to get a good night sleep whenever i get anything less than an A.

    1. Hi, thank you so much for your comment! It is good to hear that I am not alone in being a hypocrite! I try so hard to not let grades get me down, but I cannot let go of that feeling of needing that “A”. I was all about the grades in undergrad and now in grad school, I am trying to tell myself its about the learning. However, at the end of the day, I have maintain a certain GPA to remain in my program– so grades are still a motivator for me. I think this is something I will need to continue to work on as I try to get students not to focus on grades. Thanks again for your comment!

  3. Hi Zellie,
    Thanks for sharing the reflection on grades and grading. I, too, find myself going back and forth about it. I really want for my students to care about learning new things–not worrying about maintaining their perfect GPA’s (although I’ve been there before!)
    I think we all go back and forth on what to do about grades. Students have to have them, but what’s the best way to do it? This will be a question that might burn for eternity! Kudos to you for continuing to think about it and find meaning in what you will do as an educator.

    1. Hi Sarah, thanks so much for the comment! It is so tricky to pratice what you preach on this one. I talk with students all the time about how grades are not the end all be all, however, I do sometimes feel guilty when I get on my soapbox about this when I am stressing over getting good grades myself. I for sure will continue to think about this as my educator journey continues and are excited to see how the grade debate continues. Thanks again for the comment!

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