I’m Not Judging You, But I am Grading You.

I personally like to view grades the same way I view the number that pops up on my scale: it’s just a number and it holds no barring on my value. I admit that it’s not always easy to tell myself those things after receiving a less than ideal grade on something I studied my ass off for or seeing a larger number than I had expected after eating lean protein and veggies. Just like we are constantly bombarded by media of what “beauty,” “health,” and “attractiveness” are, society tells us that our success is dependent on our education, our GPA’s, and our careers. College is an incredibly difficult time for numerous reasons and some students get wrapped up in letting grades define them instead of focusing on their growth as individuals. screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-9-28-38-pm

Our mindsets have shifted from choosing a major that interests, fascinates, and lights a fire within us to what will be the most lucrative in the long run. These mindsets have almost turned us into intelligent  and incapable robots. We take in information (sometimes), regurgitate it (sometimes), and spit it back out with little to no comprehension of what’s been heard or read. We look for buzz words, formulas, and other people’s work in order to (re)create work of our own.

For example, in the Public Speaking class I teach, there is a set rubric we are taught to follow and then grade from. It includes your basic public speaking skills such as eye contact, articulation, hand gestures, and a clear organizational pattern. These are all good things that I believe are important when public speaking but the rubric itself and the way the course is designed stifles any creativity on the student’s part. I’m obligated to knock off points for memorization, performances, and slam poetry pieces. It’s almost painful to write in the comments “I appreciated your creativity but…”

Something I struggle with is determining whether to grade to the student or grade to the curriculum. Do I punish a student for not performing to the rest of the classes standards even though they’ve improved tremendously? In a student’s mind, is a C+ really that much better than the C they’ve previously received? How am I suppose to motivate and encourage their improvement if I’m bound to “grade everyone on the same scale?” I understand the logic behind this but am still unsure as to how I feel about it.

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8 thoughts on “I’m Not Judging You, But I am Grading You.

  1. The title of your post caught my attention! I guess I have been in situations when I witnessed my friends being judged by the instructor for not achieving top marks, especially when assessments are given out in order of highest to lowest! I always took assessments and grades so seriously, including the number on the scale! lol I better start chilling a little bit.

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  2. It’s definitely a tough balance! Rubrics make sure students hit certain benchmarks at the expense of creativity. But how else can we as instructors make sure they learn the required material? I think one of the only solutions to this is to have more flexible rubrics that encourage students to be creative while exploring the same topic areas without getting too off track. Easier said than done though!

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  3. Hey Jessica, thank you for sharing your thoughts! I really enjoyed your post, I find your struggle of not being able to grade based on improvement extremely relatable. With something like public speaking where people can improve with time and practice it almost makes no sense that students are not being graded based on improvement.
    On an unrelated note, what is the course number for the class that you teach? I think I need to take it.

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  4. But do you step on the scale every day? Just to be sure?
    It is easy for one to say that your weight, your beauty, your physical well being etc. has no bearing on your self-worth when those are all in the clear. But when they are in jeopardy, if for someone they have any reason to feel unattractive, then that number or that attractiveness designation’s importance begins to bear down.
    The reason I am bringing this up is because the analogy you started with (somewhat non-chalantly, sorry :D) is actually quite good, because just like the things that make us feel attractive, I do feel like when our grades our good, we don’t think they are that important to our mental health and well being, but when they are in trouble, they start to take away from our feelings of self-worth.
    In a lot of ways, stepping on that scale every day to make sure you’re in that target weight is like checking your grade constantly to make sure you’re still above the a B+, we keep telling ourselves it doesn’t affect out feeling of self-worth, but we wont know until we get there.

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  5. This is a tough spot to find yourself in, however, I am sure others charged with holding to the rubric format are there with you. Do you have the flexibility of adding content to the course, or do you have to strictly stick to the script? If you have some flexibility, try adding space for creative pieces. Be clear about your intentions and tell the students when to turn it on and when to stick to the rubric format. I think both you and the students would appreciate the creative moments, and the aims of the course will still be achieved.

    …call it “creative moments” and you can pay me for my suggestion later. ;o)

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  6. You bring up some really great issues. Regarding your public speaking example, it reminds us, I think, of the outcomes we hope for from our teaching. I’ve come to increasingly value having students leave my class eager to learn more about the topic, and how who they are as an individual fits into that story. Maybe I’m a little lax about teaching toward some pre-defined set of skills for my courses (and I don’t teach public speaking!), but I hope to engage them in some big and beautiful questions about the course’s topic. And for me, I’m interested in the student’s growth and learning as an individual… and far less with there performance compared with their peers. They’re all so different…

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  7. The good news is that you’ll be in charge of making the rubric for your own course soon enough. And I’m thinking the one you’ll design one – maybe with your students – will be a lot better than the one you have to use now.

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  8. I am reminded of an economic example of a logic I think is analogous to what you describe here: “How am I suppose to motivate and encourage their improvement if I’m bound to “grade everyone on the same scale?”” A similar case was made for the adoption of city currencies instead of national by Jane Jacobs. Cities, she argues, need their own currencies to act as a litmus test for the need to expand imports, or expand exports (very basically). The problem with a national currency is that, although it operates in exactly the same manner as that of the city, it is not guaranteed that all cities in a given state will need to expand or contract simultaneously. Thus, some cities will be thrown off balance by the national currency fluctuations. Same thing with grades? LOL?

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