Sorry in advance for those of you not interested in the current teaching of undergraduate English.
Feel free to skip this entry.
Those of you who know me IRL know that I'm a pretty laid-back teacher. I want my students to do well; I want them to feel that they 'run' the classroom (although that is, to some extent, an illusion); I want them to make the grades and progress they are happy with. In fact, I struggle every single semester between giving the students the grades that will make them happy (and either keeping them hopeful or giving them a false sense of their writing ability) and giving them the grades that I would give their essays if I had no context and didn't know them (and either making them upset/angry or giving them an understanding that there is room for improvement). By and large I have solved this dilemma by reference to two competing principles.
First: That when I assign a grade, it is the equivalent of a contract with every other professor/AI/instructor on this campus
. This contract states that *if* the student puts in the same amount of work for another class that s/he did for mine, this is the level of *written* prowess the instructor can expect. When I think in terms of this contract, I realize that I'm not doing ANYONE any favours if I assign 'A's willy-nilly. Such grading will give the students a false sense of what to expect in a Uni classroom, and it breaks faith with the rest of the educational community. Normally, I'm not overly fond of rules and structure, but when I agreed to teach for this University, I became part of a larger structure that must conform to certain standards in order to function successfully. Perhaps the two largest components of that structure (at least as far as the day-to-day experience is concerned) are classroom preparation and grading. I have a duty (and I signed an agreement) to come into the classroom prepared to give my students useful information on how to write in academic genres. I also have a duty to evaluate whether they meet the standards of those genres.
The second rule/principle is where my "wiggle room" with grading comes in. It is that I embrace the Browningesque failure
. Robert Browning was a proponent of the theory that there is no real achievement unless one strives for something beyond one's reach. His dramatic monologue "Andrea del Sarto"
is based on this theory. It's also reflected in the modern affirmation to "reach for the moon, because even if you fail, you'll land among the stars." I tell my students--and I truly mean it--that I would rather see them stretch their thinking, wrestle with the more difficult thesis, try to explain ideas they are not quite sure of, rather than turn in a completely uninspired though formally clean essay. This is the sense in which I grade on effort. Everyone works hard to write formal essays. Academic writing is not easy (though it can provide pleasure), so I'm very wary of the "but they worked so hard" grade. On the other hand, I do want to reward stretching one's brain. I use this second principle when a student has shown extraordinary effort and a mental leap, but even so, I rarely raise the grade above 1/3 of a letter (a C+ to a B-, say).
I'm rabbiting on about this because one of the instructors from my Department sent out a highly inflammatory email this morning, condemning the Department as a whole and trying to gain support for a sort of resistance movement. The text that follows is her (expurgated) email, some quotations from her blog, and my thoughts on some of the major issues cited in both.( What is a "student advocate"?Collapse )