31 December 2012

SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE: 20th c grading in the 21st c.

I will never finish grading, because reading their writing is inspirational, in the most practical sense of the word. Right now, I am lost in King Lear "tests."  And the fundamental tension between my delight in my kids practicing their craft and then my angst as I assign a letter grade to their work is giving me agita, once again.  I can tell you exactly the difference between an A and a B on their final essays, but every time I assign a grade, I feel as if the learning that happens when they write evaporates AT THE MOMENT they see the letter--no matter which letter it is. If it is an A, they think they did everything "right."  If they see a B, then they are disappointed. If it is a C, then they are angry or hopeless. None of  these reactions are what I want our conversation to be about. Curses!
We read King Lear because it plays with ideas and situations which are great to investigate with 16-year-olds. We read it together because Shakespeare's address of common situations and the human error implicit in emotionally intense relationships is a tough road to navigate alone--no matter your age. See their blog posts as evidence. We ended up rewriting them in class to more truthfully address the complicated feelings involved with being a young adult and a child at the same time--which is what our culture demands of my young friends. I wish you could see what happened the second time around--for practical reasons, they are not posted publicly, but it was wonderful.
So back to my essay tests--some of them reached all the way from family drama to national drama to human drama, and I am thrilled. But I still feel frustrated that those who did not get there may not have done so because they are 16, not because they are not reflective or critical thinkers. If I "award" them high grades, considering their maturity level, then how do I "reward" those who already see past personal experience to symbolic intent? My conclusion is that GRADES DO NOT WORK. But that does not solve my immediate problem: I will assign grades now, and work on a real world solution for the future. I am not teaching in an environment that even has a vocabulary (yet) for this issue--who is? But I think that I must broach the subject, regularly. Maybe with my department, maybe with open minded administrators. If I am to prepare my young friends for their lives, something's gotta give.

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