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Page history last edited by Laura Gibbs 5 years, 5 months ago


Learning, Schooling, Grading


This is a statement of my own grading philosophy. Every class you take has a different grading policy, based on the instructor's own philosophy and goals. You will find my own philosophy and goals here:


What I Believe about Learning. I believe that learning requires two things: curiosity and passion. Curiosity and passion both come from INSIDE you; nobody else can give you the curiosity you need to ask questions, and nobody else can give you the passion you need to find the answers. Unfortunately, much of what happens in school is driven by grades, not by curiosity and passion. Learning should be the goal of school, but instead we have made grading the goal: your transcript shows your grades — but it does not show what you actually learned.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Fourth Grade. In fourth grade (early 1970s), I was in an experimental program called the "open classroom." There were maybe a hundred of us kids in a gigantic room with no walls, and "learning centers" in the corners and sides of the room (for math and science and art and music and so on), while the "reading and writing center" was in the center of the room. We did whatever we wanted, and the teachers helped us find things we were excited about. During the school day, for part of the time, the teachers would be teaching things in the learning centers (attendance was optional), and at other times the teacher was just there to help you do your own thing. Every day we filled out a form where we wrote in our own words what we had done that day. I loved that year of school… and I was ruined forever. When I had to go to fifth grade in a normal school the next year I hated it so much that I wanted to drop out of school. Even though I was only a little kid, I developed my whole philosophy of education right there in fourth grade. No curriculum. No tests. No grades. CURIOSITY. PASSION.

Grades and Goals. So here I am now, over forty years later, and I am part of the schooling institution. The only thing the university wants to know from me at the end of the semester is what letter, A-B-C-D-F, will appear on your transcript for this class. After fifteen weeks of learning, that is the only result that "counts." Not good.

My Goals as a Teacher. Teachers, of course, don't get graded (which doesn't seem fair, does it...?). For the most part, we are free to set our own goals. I have many goals for this class! I hope that I can stimulate your curiosity and inspire your passion for storytelling. I will try to offer you choices that will lead you along a path of learning that matters to you. I want to help you find great things to read and great ideas to think about, and I want to share with you the skills I have — research skills, writing skills, technology skills — so that you can see if those skills can be useful to you too. I will consider the class a success if you will feel proud of what you have learned, and I hope you will want to share what you have learned with others. Only you will know if I have succeeded in any of these goals at the end of the course. Yes, you are the one who will know if you have learned something in this course, or not — and you don't need a grade to tell you that.

How I Grade. Since, however, I am required to give you a grade, I use a grading system that (I hope) will not get in the way of your learning. As you saw already, this grading system is based on points which you accumulate day by day and week by week. Your final grade is based on the total number of points you accumulate. The points you accumulate will help you keep track of how much you are participating in the class, and I am confident that the more you participate, the more you will learn. You declare all the points in the Gradebook yourself; it has nothing to do with me. Meanwhile, instead of getting grades on your work from me, you will be getting lots of feedback, and you will also be getting feedback from other students in the class, while you will be giving them feedback on their work too. In educational jargon, this is called "formative assessment" (feedback to guide you) as opposed to "summative assessment," which is an objective test that you take at a specific point in time (a midterm, a final exam, etc.). Given my philosophy of learning, I would find it impossible to design a summative test that would accurately reflect the kind of learning that I hope will happen in this class: highly individualized learning that will be driven by your curiosity and passion.

Grade Anxiety. Grade anxiety is a common result of summative testing and high-stakes final exams or papers, but I hope the grading system in this class will eliminate any anxiety you have about grading. Does this mean that most students in this class will get an A? Yes, it does. The students who don't get an A are either students who choose to get a B or C on purpose (if you are super-busy with other obligations, you can cut back on the work for this class; that's fine with me), or students who miscalculate, slacking off on work early in the semester. It's simply a matter of time: if you have six to eight hours to spend on this class every week, you will have no trouble at all doing the work you need to do to get an A. 

Grade Inflation. Yes, this is an example of what is sometimes called grade inflation; I am the kind of teacher who gives a lot of A grades. As you can see, though, this is a logical consequence of what I believe about learning and teaching. Recently, there has been a lot of reporting in the mass media about grade inflation, and I get very frustrated when I read those reports because the reporters assume, wrongly, that summative assessment is the only possible basis for grading. I disagree: I believe that as teachers we each must choose the basis for grading that we believe is most effective. Speaking for myself, I do not consider summative assessment to be effective for the kind of classes that I teach. I am not interested in ranking students one against another. I want everyone to succeed in this class, and I believe it is my job to help you find your own pathway to success.


So, I hope this information helps you understand just why the grading system works the way it does in this class. As for me, I am very curious where you will go with the class and what you will learn along the way!




(Proverb Posters)


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