People kept asking me what I would do to improve things. And I said that if I could make one change, I would get rid of grades.
A group of elite private high schools has proposed posting a transcript of "mastery" instead of grades. Sounds great! But I fear that if there is a list of “competencies” and “skills” that elite students achieve, there will be summer boot camps and counselors advising them on how to raise their “competencies” so that their non-transcript will still stand out.
It will still be a game, but a non-numeric game.
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]
We academics are lucky, in a way: we get a fresh start at least twice a year. We have a new school year in the fall and a New Year in the winter. With this luck, though, comes the requirement to start anew. Old schedules and habits are over; we have to commit ourselves to new ones. Whether we like it or not, we have to start over.
Following peer pressure—something nobody should ever do—I am therefore setting out some of my winter New Year’s resolutions. These are public, and idiosyncratic, so I will probably regret them many times over before I do it again next year. I am already afraid (see number 7) about posting them!
Academic life comes in three forms—teaching, research, and service—and then there is the personal. I’ll skip the exercise, yoga, meditation, clutter-conquering, calling-my-parents, eating-more-kale, bringing-my-own-bags (hey! I already do this one!) resolutions. You can find these everywhere you look. Instead I’ll look at my academic resolutions.
1. Procrastinate and fret less. The plan is to start doing the things I’m putting off—grading, bureaucratic reports, polishing articles, reviews, grading, making decisions about scheduling, responding to complicated emails, and, by the way, did I mention grading? Once I am in the midst of a semester I often find myself constantly worrying about getting responses back to students. Once I start I almost always find it takes less time than I expected. So, in order to get to these things, I just have to begin. Preferably this occurs in an empty room with the Internet disconnected.
2. Plan my daily writing in advance. I already reserve mornings, my most productive time, for writing, but I don’t always get to the writing part. This resolution requires having a concrete plan about what exactly to do. The Pomodoro Technique takes care of this.
3. Work on fewer things at a time. Instead of compiling lists, starting new things—Oh the joy of starting!—and having oodles of unfinished work weighing down my heart, I will keep in mind what two of my productive colleagues have revealed in the last year, as I’ve asked about work habits: (a) Work on one thing at a time. (b) Recognize that the last 10% takes 90% of the effort. So in order to work on fewer things at a time, I will have to finish the half-dozen articles that are on my list, so I can get to the 600-page manuscript that I am especially excited about.
4. Stick to my resolution about taking on only tasks to which I feel I can offer something unique. Keep relying on my “No Committee” (my next-door colleague and friend) when asked about new obligations. Each talk, manuscript review, committee, independent study, conference seems intriguing itself, but they add up to an unmanageable whole.
5. Continue trying innovative approaches to learning, aiming to reach my students where they begin and move them to a new understanding and inspiration, rather than blaming them for not being academically oriented.
6. Remember that my position is one of a certain amount of privilege—in comparison with many other academics, and in comparison with many others in jobs that bring only a livelihood, not a calling, and then with so many without employment at all—and that with that comes obligation.
7. Be brave. Speak the truth, as much as I have evidence for this, even if it is frightening. Stop waiting to write the strong views I hold. It might mean people dislike or dispute what I say, but that is supposed to be the point of public discourse. In that vein, I turn to resolution 8:
8. Blog. I’m starting the New Year able to check this one off right away. But like yoga, exercise, flossing, eating kale, calling my mother, and all the rest, it must be done regularly in order to be effective. And though I give my blogging some thought, I usually let the posts go without stewing too long. They are somewhat risky, but writing helps thinking and responses bring additional clarity.
So now I’ve publicly stated my plans. With the theory that accountability helps, I hit “submit” and enjoy the clean slate that January 1 brings. I wish you a similar hopeful beginning. Happy New Year!
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.
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