Things I Know 265 of 365: I’ve been worrying over grades

But there are advantages to being elected President. The day after I was elected, I had my high school grades classified Top Secret.

– Pres. Ronald Reagan

I’ve decided, if possible, to take all of next semester’s courses pass/fail.

It was a decision I almost made when I registered this semester, but the schooly devil on my shoulder shouted pretty loudly.

I’m not failing any of my classes and I’m reading and learning more than any aggregate moment of my undergraduate career. The problem is that I’m worried about the grades in a way that makes me uncomfortable and that leaves me wondering if the learning I felt like I was doing matched the grades on my assignments.

This problem works both ways.

Earlier this week, I received a graded stats assignment (and you know how much I’m loving stats). Along with the comments from the Teaching Fellow (what Harvard calls TAs) was an A. I received an A on the assignment.

Then I got angry. I’ve been reminding myself any B I’ve received this semester was someone else’s interpretation of my learning and not a reflection of what I’d actually learned on the assignment. Most of the time, I’ve interacted with the grading TF no more than a sum of 10 minutes. Even if it’s been more, the samples of my work and thinking my graders have seen have been minimal. It’s a little like a standardized testing window.

My anger at the A rested in how quickly I was willing to accept a complimentary grade when it validated my self concept.

I can’t have it both ways. No matter my reaction, the effect is the same. Grades distract me from learning.

This is not to say, as Dave Thomer commented the other day, that I don’t respect and internalized my teachers’ critiques of my work. I’m here to study with experts and learn from them. Part of that means submitting my work for their response.

Whereas a grade hits me like a period of exclamation point marking the end of my thinking on the matter, a paper returned riddled with questions and comments begs a conversation.

I read a grade as, “We’re done here.”

I read comments as, “Say more.”

One of these is internalized as a statement of worth.

The other is read as the invitation to keep thinking and asking questions.

I’m hoping removing overall grades will cancel out some of the background noise and help me focus on my learning and my professors’ coaching of that learning.

4 thoughts on “Things I Know 265 of 365: I’ve been worrying over grades

  1. I love watching you take this journey, Zac! We have observed a profound change in Emily's response to learning this fall with grades taken out of the equation. The online public school requires 80% on every lesson to “pass” but we set a family minimum of 90%. Often she'll work toward a goal of 100%, especially where she falls a bit shy of 90% the first time she takes an assessment and has to study the material a bit more.The contrast is especially great when listening to the 7th grade girls in Meg's carpool. They are extraordinarily savvy at working the system to achieve what they want to achieve – and I don't mean gaming the teachers, but doing just what needs to be done to get the grades they want for entering Junior National Honor Society, for example. What's utterly and completely lost is joy of learning and exploring and growing. They are like little adults.When the goal is learning not for a grade, but simply for the sake of learning, wonderful powerful magical things happen – and the most incredible, phenomenal growth imaginable. I bet you will enjoy next semester so much more. Keep us posted!

  2. Pingback: Things I Know 285 of 365: I’m thinking about next semester at Autodizactic

  3. Pingback: Personalized Assessment | Dean Shareski

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