Grading – Half Empty or Half Full?

Grading – Half Empty or Half Full?

December 5, 2018 0 By JR

Tis the season it seems. Grading is on the minds of students as well as instructors I work with. This is not going to be a post about the merits or grading, or going gradeless, or better workflow, etc. Instead I need to reflect on a comment an instructor recently said while we were talking about giving feedback (and eventually grading). Sidenote: I am currently working with this instructor on using a single-point rubric to provide space for narrative and oral feedback, and they are quite excited about using that approach.

So, think about a time that either you were teaching a class, or you were in a class. Assignments were handed in. Grades and annotated paper were distributed back to students. Now, think about a student coming to you, or you going to the instructor. What is a common question or statement from the student in this scenario? Say it outloud to yourself, and then check against the hidden statement below:

Reveal Statement
“Where, or why, did I lose marks?”

Was your statement similar? Was it exactly that?

I find this statement really interesting. Maybe because I am currently invested in learning in a domain completely outside of higher education, or maybe I’ve just hit that point in my career. Some might hear or see that statement and think, “oh they’re asking for feedback for improvement”. But when I heard it today I couldn’t help but wonder what it implied about one’s understanding of learning or how learning happens.

For example, if I ask that question, it presumes that I started with full marks, total proficiency, perfection. Then from this point of perfection the instructor came along (or grader, or whoever) and took points away, diminishing the perfection I started with. That’s just at the assignment level. Consider that as a course or program level. If this is my understanding of what assessment is, then before entering my bachelor of education program I was a perfect teacher candidate. However, through training I became a 90%, or 80%, or 70% perfect teacher candidate. I would have been better off without the training. I’m sure it’s rare for someone to think they were better off without courses, training, programs, etc. but that is the implication of that viewpoint on assessment. Reflecting back on my days in the K12 system I hear this kind of speak all the time as well.

What other disciplines or activities do we take this approach? I’ve never met someone who assumed they were a 100% guitar player the first time they picked one up. Quite the opposite in fact. Usually outside of a formal education context someone will be a bit more timid about their perceived ability in a new domain. Why is it in formal contexts then we use the language of “losing” something?

Thinking about my journey into Judo and Karate, there is exactly the opposite view point. Definitely as a 6th kyu or 9th kyu respectively (white belts), I never thought “where did I lose ability, skills, or knowledge”. The perspective is that it is a journey and continuous learning and improvement. Even on techniques or Kata (formal demonstration of a sequence of techniques) where I have demonstrated ability to a level expected to advance. Performing a certain throw as a 5th kyu in Judo means something completely different from a 1st kyu (brown). Although I would be performing an O-Soto-Gari at both levels, I better have improved over the years. Today I should be better than yesterday.

So what would formal contexts look like if the typical view was that of DO (the way) as opposed to a destination? What if it was about filling our glass rather than taking from it?


Photo by manu schwendener on Unsplash