I had a conference a few weeks ago with a student about an upcoming paper. It was obvious that she had little confidence in her writing ability. She isn’t a terrible writer, but does struggle, and part of what holds her back was a lack of self confidence. She didn’t believe she was a good writer or could become one, and therefore she wasn’t.
It occurred to me at this point that perhaps on this essay I could go a little easier on her. After all, grading writing is largely subjective. Unlike math, for instance, in which there is little room for grade improvisation, I could grade this paper in the spirit that good enough would earn her the grade she wanted. A bad grade (in her mind a C or worse) might only reinforce the fact that she’s a bad writer and force her to give up. Would grading this particular essay help to get her out of her funk? I wasn’t talking about giving her a perfect on it, but giving her the benefit of the doubt on some areas.
Here are some things that went through my mind as I pondered this question.
I’m really torn on this issue. I have to go back to what my job as a teacher is: to educate. And I have to always keep in mind what best accomplishes this goal. Clearly the classroom environment and my demeanor is the first place it all begins. If the students feel that I am really invested in their education, then the will work hard and try to succeed.
I’m not sure how this applies to grading, though. One thing I could do is give completion grades for certain assignments. This would allow students an opportunity to do better by simply doing what they’ve been asked to do. However, there’s a movement afoot in education that grades should reflect what students are able to do on assessments. Completion grades don’t fit into this. Eliminating grades for homework is the next logical step in this approach. I tend to agree with this idea.
It’s also important to consider the tests that students will take: graduation tests, ACT, SAT, and AP tests, none of which give you any points for trying hard. We need to make sure that we honestly prepare these kids for these tests by honestly assessing their ability to do well on them.
I imagine I’ll wrestle with this issue my whole career. For now, though, I’ve made peace with my inconsistencies. I can’t help but grade at times from my heart, and that means that occasionally students will get a break.
But hopefully in ways that will help them.