Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Grades, schmades

Tonight I talked for several hours with one of my best friends on Earth, and one of my most reflective fellow teachers of mathematics, Griselda. (Tired of this and that, and longing to move closer to friends and family in the Northeast, Griselda recently left her job teaching at a public liberal arts college in a nearby state to teach at a boarding school in Pennsylvania.) As usual, our conversation was broad and far-reaching, and dealt with issues in every corner of education.

My most meaningful self-realization of the evening: the only reason I still give grades in my courses is because I have to; the school requires them from me at the end of the term. And the only reason I give grades throughout the semester is to provide substantive justification for those end-of-term grades.

Don't get me wrong: I love responding to my students' work. My responses make up my half of a conversation with the students about the discoveries they're making. It's an ongoing dialogue, and often an exciting one. They say something to me, I say something back, and after one or two iterations we might make some sense of what it is the other is trying to convey. Eventually we'll come to a consensus regarding the meaning of whatever matter we're faced with. I love these conversations. They're where learning takes place.

But grading? Uh uh. I'm over it. I'm tired of this competitive academic economy based on artificial and extrinsic rewards.

How can I break the cycle? Maybe if I rebel and refuse to assign grades...?

Something to think about...

...Griselda always leaves me something to think about.

Thank you, my friend.


Bret Benesh said...

As you suggested before: portfolio grading seems to be a step in the right direction. Done right, it could at least minimize the amount of grading done during the semester (there would still be plenty of the feedback you mentioned, though).

DocTurtle said...

Hear, hear, Bret! How's portfolio grading going for you?