Sunday, March 8, 2015

What happened when I got a C

"Did he grade your essay yet?" my classmate asked me.

I hadn't, so I immediately logged onto the website to check...and my heart sank:


Hmmm.. let's just say it's been a while since I've gotten a "C."

Rapidly cycling through the stages of grief, denial, anger, etc., I quickly pulled out of it and decided to ask the instructor for clarification later.

The next day in school I told the story to my honors chemistry students:

"Now you know how we feel!," said one young lady.

Funny... that's exactly what I thought when I saw the grade the night before. I thought about my students and how lightly I sometimes issue grades, and how I'd better be more mindful when I'm grading.

And it reminded me how inhumane grades are--a cold and crude reward and punishment system. Though I quickly recovered, and though I ended up contacting my instructor and revising the paper, when I first saw that C, it's effect was to make me discouraged and doubt myself. I felt the pang of being branded like a substandard cut of meat. And if I hadn't been allowed to revise it, what good would that grade have done?

I'd simply have a label, a brand, and a little more self doubt, and a little less excitement about the course and maybe even learning in general.

If I were some of my students, I may decide to just "play the game," working for points and grades and not worrying about what I was learning, just trying like heck to avoid the punishments and score the points. Or I might just give up.

As it turns out, I was able to dig back into the assignment, learn more, clarify my thoughts, and hopefully increase my mastery in the process. (Haven't gotten a final grade yet, but I feel good about my revision.)

My guess is I'm no different from my students.

I'd love to throw out grades altogether and opt for a 100% mastery-based approach. Grades are motivate to a certain extent, like electric shocks motivate mice, but what really motivates humans to learn is mastery, autonomy, and purpose, and that's where I'd like to see education go.

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