Living and Learning with Risk: Against Rubrics and Grades. How "Ungrading" Allowed My Students to Try Some New Things
I gave my students freedom to write (present) what they learned however they wanted. They were terrified; how could they get an A without a rubric??--and then they reveled in it. We took risks together, and learned together.
Parents of college students: When you see your kids at Thanksgiving, don’t ask them how they are doing (in terms of grades). Ask them what they’ve learned. Ask what they have enjoyed. Ask what is magical, transformative, even useful.
And students: Don’t play for praise. Don’t learn for me.
Sink in, really be there, and forget about your teachers. Forget about me.
Play, learn, climb the log for yourself.
Strategies are the main learning outcome of all those years of school. Anyone who flunks strategy basically flunks school.
The Proceedings of a conference, Learning In and Out of School: Education Across the Globe, held at the University of Notre Dame's Kellogg Institute for International Studies on May 22-23, 2012, are now available!
This is envisioned as a contribution to broadening the scholarly but also the public conversation about the nature of learning and its relationship to the formal institutions we know as schools. In that sense, posting proceedings is a necessary offering.
We—anthropologists, psychologists, human development and education scholars from as far as Korea and Alaska—met for two full days during a gorgeous spring week just following graduation, with flowers and warmth and the peace of an academic year just completed. We ate wonderful food throughout the day and night, and had many informal conversations along with the formal proceedings. As convener, I aimed to implement my best understanding of how people learn and how they interact by structuring the conference with no papers delivered. This is somewhat like “flipping the classroom”: the independent preliminary work that could be done in advance was done in advance—writing and reading papers and preparing comments on others’ work—and the precious face-to-face time was used for what could only be done that way: discussing, asking, brainstorming, and laughing together.
I have been thinking a lot lately about money and grades. Not for the reasons you may think: that I want more and better of both (or to “give” tough grades). But because they share interesting qualities. My thinking is analytical rather than greedy.
Money and grades, I propose, are both supersigns.
[Also see this and comments on PopAnth: Hot Buttered Humanity]
In an exasperated Facebook post, one of my young friends complained about her first-semester college class. “Don’t you hate it when you raise your hand and know the answer and your teacher doesn’t call on you?” I replied, know-it-all professor and adult that I am: Isn’t it about what you’re learning?
And she replied, “No, it’s because you have to answer questions a certain number of times to get points.”
The point of learning is to get the points.
My visit to the American Automobile Association (AAA) office to renew our membership on the eve of helping my college-graduate daughter move out of state brought a lot of information—about the loquacious employee’s life and family. But the memorable core was about her school-challenged son’s effortless passing of his driver’s license examination.
I opened the class thinking that I would get students to design the assignments and evaluations themselves. I began with a discussion of what grades mean. They watched me suspiciously. What does she want? They assumed it was a trap. Then I required a page-long self-assessment. It asked them to spell out their goals and to discuss how they had and had not met them. It asked them to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their paper, in terms of both content and form, and to explain this. And, finally, I asked them to grade themselves.
Joey and Katie both got A’s in their classes. Joey read about 30 pages, and Katie read about 3,000. Joey took 15 quizzes and a final exam, and wrote a four-page paper. Katie wrote 15 weekly position papers and four more substantial papers, each with two drafts that received comments from both the professor and fellow students, and ended with a 15-page research project. Joey enjoyed the class and learned some important things about how to analyze the role of sport in society. Katie’s life was transformed by the class. Both learned, both succeeded, but there were some substantial differences.
Susan D. Blum
Who doesn't think there is something wrong with education? Anthropology has a lot to offer when we think about how to raise up our young--in often unexpected ways! Join me as my thinking about higher education unfolds.
SusanBlum.com by Susan D. Blum is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.