Friday, November 16, 2007

Teaching for Learning...NOT Grades

In my previous post I discussed my frustration with students who are not as interested in education as they are in grades, specifically those students who have something of an entitlement mentality. I said, there argument is something like this: "I have paid a lot of money to be in this class. I have shown up every week and have stayed relatively conscious. I have turned something in every time something is due. Therefore, I should receive an 'A' for the class."

When a student says something like this, I attempt to remind them of several things:

1. You are not paying for a grade but for an education...specifically, to be taught by those who have experience and training in the field they are teaching. You are essentially paying for their time to help you become better equipped to do whatever it is you are attempting to do in life.

2. Attending class and remaining conscious in class is not the requirement for an "A." That is the minimum requirement to pass the class - which is the definition of a "C".

3. I try to explain to them that if you look at the minimum requirements of the papers and other assignments and aim for the minimum requirements, do not be surprised to receive the minimum grade you can get to pass. This really outrages them for some reason. When an assignment is given that says, for example, 10 to 15 pages with 5 to 8 sources. This does not mean that any paper which has 10 pages and 5 sources is an "A" paper. It means that any paper that falls within these parameters passes with some grade. Unless the student is an extremely gifted author, the changes are those that match the minimum requirements will not be as good as those papers in which the student has gone the extra mile, looking up extra resources, writing clear statements (which may take a bit more space), and things like that. I tell if you aim for the minimum, do not be surprised with the average grade.

4. I finally tell them, "I cannot just give you points or grades. You earn them. Besides, it is more important that you have learned something in the class and not necessarily what grade you received in the class."

Most of the time, these comments fall on deaf ears.

In one class I wrote a big "C" on the board and asked the class what this grade means.

"Average," everyone said.

Then I asked them what an average paper would look like.


Then I said something to this effect: "When you look at the minimum requirements to pass and aim for that, you are aiming for a "C." If you paper is riddled with APA errors (which is the convention used at this school) then that is average, because the average student will not be concerned if they have APA errors or not. The "A" paper will be one in which the student strives to find the best sources, and worked hard to fulfill the requirements prescribed by the assignment. They took time to proof-read their work and looked up how to correctly cite those sources used in the paper. That is an above average paper."

The student began to complain: "If the assignment is 10-15 pages, then anyone should be able to get an "A" for any amount of pages they write in that range!" "You are saying we all cannot get an 'A' because of averages." Etc.

I tell them, "I am not talking about grade distribution. I am not talking about the number of pages dictating the grade. I am saying that probably at this level of education, the minimum amount of writing does not produce the quality which is described as 'above average.'"

We go round and round. Needless to say, I have never be the most popular teacher at this school. But that is not why I am there. I am there to challenge these students, to make them strive beyond where they are at. I am there to help them but not pander to them. I am there to teach and not to pass out good grades. I am doing no one any good if I give out A's which are not A's. That would only be cheating the student and compromising the academic integrity of the school. And I would not be faithful to my standards.

My next post will deal with how I have dealt with something similar in the church
environment and differences that creates. For now, I would just say that I am not the world's best student. I do not pretend to have "it" all down. However, I know that the instructors which were most influential in my educations where those who were toughest on my and demanded the most from me. I learned from these instructors. I pray that eventually, my students may have the same experience from sitting in one of my classes.

Part 2 of 4 (1 2 3 4)