Sunday, February 27, 2011

More on grading...

Oh, it's been a long time. Not that there's nothing to write about, just haven't been writing.

The issue of grading continues to occupy me for all sorts of reasons. There's the Dweck stuff that provides evidence of what we grade shapes what attitude students take (duh). If we grade products, students focus on performance and looking good; if we grade effort, students focus on learning.

There's also the publication of research alleging that students learn virtually nothing in the area of critical thinking skills in the first two years of college. This research was put together by looking at CLA exam data. The CLA (College Learning Assessment, I think) is an exam where students are given a bunch of documents and a task — along the lines of 'write a report for your boss making a recommendation for dealing with this problem.' None of the documents is perfect or without the possibility of error, bias, etc. Some of the documents are completely irrelevant to the task at hand and there's basically no way to arrive at certainty regarding the problem. All this is to say that it's working to closely mirror a real life situation. Not surprisingly, students who have learned how to take multiple choice exams well and who have been given assignments that tell them exactly what to do, well, these students don't do all that well.

Then there's a conversation I've been having with my brother-in-law about the college graduates he hires and the attitudes they have toward their own accomplishments. His experience has been that young people expect promotions and raises for simply doing what their job descriptions requires of them. They seem to not grasp that promotions are the result of doing more than what one's job description requires of them.

Now, me being me, I'm not inclined to blame the students. I think we've essentially taught them this. If they do what we ask and don't mess it up, they've gotten As. Why wouldn't they expect that doing one's job and not messing it up would be evidence of deserving a promotion? They've gotten As for being able to identify which, out of 4-6 available answers, is the correct answer, why would they know how to think critically?

So, here's my radical thought....what if grades were predictive of future success? How would we do this? What would grades have to measure?

I suspect that future employers would love it if grades played such a role. Students think/know that grades are important for getting jobs, but I doubt that they could clearly articulate what a grade says about them other than they got that grade in that class. Or, that they are able to get good grades. Not a hugely marketable skill.

I suspect that if we could do this, we'd really be grading for the things that we value (critical thinking, willingness to move beyond comfort zone, actual learning). And, I suspect that we can come up with a grading system that both ends up providing this information while simultaneously acting, during the semester, as a way of motivating students to accomplish the desired goals.

Now, when I tell me student these things (about my conversation with my brother-in-law, my intention to grade them on their learning in the course and the obligation they have to provide me with evidence of on-going learning and commitment to continual forward movement) they look like deer in the headlights. They report that the love the concept, they really do want to learn, they really do want to become better, etc. But they also admit that they've never really been asked to work this hard. They are used to having X number of exams and, thus, having to study for, maybe, 3X number of days and then also going to class. They are so used to school being paint-by-number, that when asked to move beyond this, they are both liberated and frightened (which makes sense since freedom is scary).

So, I do what I can to hold them to these standards, push them to take responsibility for their learning while, if nothing else, being with them in the frightening parts so they don't feel alone.

Anyway, those are my thoughts o' the day. There's more on different topics for later.....

No comments: