Grading is hard. Among the steep learning curves I’ve had to hike in my stint as a First Year Seminar professor is accounting. Setting up a gradebook is the least of it. Next comes the day to day accounting of grading the assignments, making the judgments, and confronting your own rubric shortcomings. For instance, what do you do when you have required that powerpoint and outline are turned in, in addition to actually giving the presentation, but the rubric only covers the presentation itself? I’m asking for a friend.
It’s hard to reconcile black-and-white policies with the gray of everyday life. What do you do when a student who does good work while attending class and no work when not attending class runs into a rough patch and doesn’t show up for two weeks, jeopardizing his ability to pass based on attendance deductions alone. This student needs this class to graduate, and the work is there. But he isn’t. How do you give this student a fair chance to make amends and do the work you know they can do? Do you even give them a chance? Have they earned it? Who earns it? What is “earning?” What is fair to the other students in comparison? What is fair to you? How much more time should I spend worrying about this one student?
I am very sensitive to solving these kind of accounting problems in a way that is fair not only to the particular case but to the other students. I’ve been the student who showed up to every single awful class because missing class meant missing points only to find out that the prof couldn’t be bothered to take attendance and every person got full attendance points, even the ones who never showed. I know how terrible that feels. (Obviously the ones who never showed didn’t pass for other reasons, but that’s not the point.) I don’t want to be that prof. I also don’t want to be the prof who stands between a good but flawed student and graduation when a little bit of gray and some serious work on the part of the student could mean the two points that make a difference.
Black and white is about the big picture, the generalizations. Individuals are gray. Even though you are supposed to be teaching a classroom, you are also teaching 21 unique students. Sometimes the answer to “how does this class measure up to standards” isn’t as important as the answer to “how can I best teach this student.”
I turned in my final grades. All in all, I am pleased with how class went. I have a long list of things I would do differently next time, including being more precise on rubrics when I choose to use them. I’ve learned a ton from this experience in little and big ways. I’m sure I’ll be writing more about it in the future. For right now, I’m deep in reflective mode, as it relates to FYS, my job, and my life. One of the confounding pieces I will continue to turn over in my head is the way that classroom experience, observation, student reflection in different contexts, and rubrics can tell very different stories about student learning and experience. Together they might give a big picture and that picture might be nuanced, but they rarely agree in a way that is easy to assimilate. What is the truth of this experience, for them and for me? What might we all say about it in a year’s time?
Wishing you a fruitful reflective season. See you in the new year!