Today we talk about grading policy again

I’ve been blogging over the past week about how some students in my inquiry course are unhappy about my capstone-for-an-A grading policy. Here are what some students had to say in the anonymous feedback I asked for:

“I know there are some people who aren’t as invested in science as I am and are now settling to make a B simply because they’re not passionate about discovering something new, or don’t enjoy science. I feel that, in a way, it’s like punishing those who don’t like science, even if they put forth their best effort

“I’m worried that I can’t get an A in this class, and I’m an A student. It irks me that if I try my best, I’ll still just get a B”

“I find the grading policy system extremely frustrating, because why try? You won’t get an A unless you do a paper… I’m so frustrated, I am willing to just settle for the B.”

“I’m worried that I can’t get in A in this course without sacrificing A’s in the my five other courses”

“I don’t understand how you can say a 100% is the same as 83%. 100% should be an A no matter what

Emphasis is added throughout.

Mindset is a really interesting issue here. The effects of a schooled culture is a interesting issue. The real and perceived importance of grades is an interesting issue.





5 thoughts on “Today we talk about grading policy again

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  1. I talk with students about the difference between good, quality work and excellent work. We distinguish between good and excellent all the time in our work and home lives. I want my grading system to be able to distinguish this difference as well. And by the way, we certainly know the difference between the good teachers we have had and the excellent teachers we have had. Those difference are not accounted for in compensation (nor, often, in formal recognition). So especially in preparing future teachers it is reasonable to establish the professional expectation that excellence comes from internal engagement rather than from following orders.

    It may be too late for this second way of framing things, but one could imagine a course in which the capstone is required of everyone. In that course, it would surely be required to do the capstone to get the A. You could talk about why the course you have constructed doesn’t require the capstone of everyone.

    Man, you’re gonna learn a lot this semester. I so greatly appreciate your empathy with and desire to understand your students. Do they know about your blog? Will you tell them about it at the end of the semester? I think they could learn quite a bit about teaching from the respect and consideration you show here.

    And remind me sometime to tell you about the College Algebra mini-revolution of Spring 2010. It started in Week 2 and never stopped simmering. I’m a better college teacher because of it.

  2. Wow. What jumps out at me is identity. Excellence (in the form of a teacher’s recognition awarded in a grade) is something they are, not something they do (I am an A student). This makes losing it seem existentially frightening, and changing it seem impossible.

    This is borne out by students who seem to think they are incapable of a capstone (various comments about “best effort”).

    If I were to paraphrase your policy, I wouldn’t say that B is good and A is excellent. I would say that B is learning about science and A is doing science. Is this accurate? In a skating class, I might give a B to a student who knew all about skating, but would reserve the A for students who could skate.

    This sounds like “identity” to me again. “I’m just not a skater,” a student might say, “and I don’t see why I should be punished for that.” (I’m not even touching the point about grades as a reward/punishment).

    I wonder which step in the process it is that they think they are incapable of or that is existentially alien to them. Are the capstones intended to be substantially different from the cycle of the rest of the course (which I’m understanding it as “proposing a question, investigating it, integrating it with what you believe and have learned, use that to propose further questions”). If it is simply more of that, but individually instead of in groups, you could frame everything you’ve done so far as “practice capstones” — possibly they could come to see capstones as something they have already done.

    Is it the time commitment that they fear will spiral out of control? This is a logical fear. If so, can you give them a ballpark figure of how much time it should take? My students do not need to come up with an answer to their original question, especially if they learn something new that makes them realize it’s a much bigger question than they thought. I require them to learn something and synthesize something — not necessarily the original proposal. Ways to scaffold this: have them generate 3 possible capstone outlines (very rough — maybe a paragraph) and discuss with them which ones would take an appropriate amount of time.

    Is it writing the paper? Would you be willing for them to turn in a video or a screencast or give a presentation to the class?

    Do you require them to generate the project question themselves, or do you provide some suitable examples? If it’s “generating the question” that they think they can’t do, because they don’t have any questions, would you be willing to have them brainstorm question in groups and assess the questions against a rubric to determine which ones are suitable, then share them among the group?

    Ultimately it sounds like the goal is helping them understand that this is just something you do, not something you are. Otherwise, every change is going to seem like having something amputated. But on a superficial level, I can’t help thinking it would help to stay away from the big “100%” number (as in 100% + project). Just putting that on a course outline makes people lose their minds a little.

  3. Brian,
    This is so fascinating. I’d say that right now, using a very similar policy for my students (though 90% of my grade is performance on standards, and capstones are max of 3pts each above that), most of my students and parents seem to get the idea and really be enjoying the process. I’m not completely sure why this is, but I think part of it is I do just about everything I can to talk about setting up a growth mindset atmosphere in the class that sees learning as the ultimate goal. Most of this is trying to emulate the incredible dialogue you have with your students, but it’s also taking time out to read Carol Dweck’s work, talk about growth mindset, decorating the walls with quotes to foster this idea, and really trying to align everything in my room with this idea, since outside my classroom, students are in a very fixed mindset world.

    So I guess my advice would be maybe to try to be more explicit about how everything links together in your class, so that the grading policy doesn’t feel like some weird outgrowth, but instead a logical conclusion of the class you’re trying to create together.

  4. These comments are fascinating to me. They don’t seem to think that “best effort” includes doing a capstone project. I am surprised, particularly by students who claim to be “A students” who are refusing to do capstones because it’s not fair that they understand the material and still cannot receive an A.

    If you were to assign a mandatory project for the whole class, the would have to do the project to get an A. I am sure this happens in their other classes all the time. The only difference is, you are allowing them to explore something that they are interested in and requiring them to take responsibility for their own learning. I am not sure why they are so resistant to this… Very interesting.

    I would suggest the same thing that John stated… really emphasize a growth mindset and maybe there will be less pushback. There seems to be a lot of focus on grades here in these comments, even though SBG is meant to take the emphasis off of grades and on to learning.

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