Answers in the Data? LO6679

Sherry L. Gould (
Sun, 14 Apr 1996 08:35:58 -0400

Replying to LO6657 --

Scott Simmerman says:

>Being a former college professor, one of the political messes one gets
>into is the need for a "discriminatory grading system" which can separate
>the Knowing from the Unknowing -- We MUST separate the A's from the C's.
>It is not PC to give all A's; you get Big Flack from department heads and
>academic deans.

At the same time, an institution that hands out A's like candy creates a
disincentive for students to produce. Such was the case with the
master's program I attended. There, it was PC to give all A's. When
you observed a student, who you were horrified to picture in the field
working with people, moving right along with you through the program,
it was disconcerting.

>And it is not appropriate to give "team" grades since one
>person will do more than another because they have more motivation,
>knowledge, interest, blah, blah. "We MUST," they say, "have in-class
>competition to separate the masses!"

I see team grades happening more and more. I am adjunct facility at
Springfield College School of Human Services, Manchester, NH Campus, and
we do team grades. In fact a chunk of the program is based on a team
project. I have just finished a stint on the Kearsarge Regional School
Board where we are implementing more team learning over time. This week I
was to attend my first DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) meeting.
The organization sponsors an essay contest for primary students. They
were explaining to me that there had been a misunderstanding this year, it
seems that four students wrote an essay as a team which is against DAR
rules. They were disqualified, however the members were having them
present the essay in recognition of their efforts. I responded with
enthusiasm that the school had promoted the team approach. You can bet I
will advocate a change in the DAR rules, (fat chance, heh?).

>The latter point addresses the primary problem, I believe. Our need for
>measurement of learnign in the schools forces us to test on rote memory
>skills and not on "learning" or "learning to learn," the skills we need in
>the workplace. Pick up one of your children's test papers and you will
>see exactly what I mean.

William Glasser said we are doing a great job of preparing future
Jeopardy Contestants, I agree.

>My point is that we are often measuring the wrong things and expecting
>things to improve. Our educational systems are caught up in measures --
>they are expected of students and teachers and can often get in the way of
>Grading systems set up competition.
>So what's a teacher to do?

I have taught a course at Springfield that I designed. This class is
intended to teach "second order social change" (Watzlawick, Weakland, and
Fisch, 1974) or the ability to challenging the basic assumptions upon
which we define a given problem. It became obvious to me that much more
could be learned about this by getting out of the classroom and
experiencing the difference between a first order solution and one of the
second order. It is a four day retreat style class wherein students come
having researched their local housing problems and solutions. They have
also read about Habitat for Humanity. The students are working
professionals from all around NE. We spend one day at an Inn in more
traditional class type efforts. Then we spend two days building a house
with the local Habitat for Humanity work crew. There is a panel
discussion with local providers, including HFH reps. Friday is wrap up in
more traditional class terms.

Grading is always an issue for students. I address it up front.
Basically I tell them that they need to show me they get the premise. I
conduct an orientation after sign up where I hand out the reading, explain
the research and offer them the _opportunity_ to write a three page paper
to bring with them. I explain that they are not penalized automatically
for not doing the three page paper. I insure that they will leave the
class with their paper critiqued to assist in developing it to the ten
page paper that is required at the end of the semester. So failure to do
the paper is their choice to not receive helpful feedback. I base grades
on observation of their skills, be they written, oral or demonstrative. I
do not assign a percentage to these skills as I am aware that different
folks perform differently in each of these areas. I assure them that if
they do not do the research, readings, participate in the discussions in a
meaningful way, write a coherent final paper or participate in the hands
on portion as an active building partner, they will certainly fail the
class. I assure them that because they are with me four days I will
observe their strengths as they relate to the goal of a professional human
service provider who has learned to challenge assumptions. Then I observe
a lot of anxiety from grown adult learners.

The question I have is, why is this so revolutionary? Shouldn't this be
the norm for education? I think when we accept that the norm is a room
with learners in seats with books, paper and pencil we miss the mark. It
is not enough to try and tinker with in that structure. But then I am a
woman whose office looks like an Albert Einstien Gallery. :-)

Sherry Gould

-- (Sherry L. Gould)

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