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« Self-contradiction | Main | This Week's Acquisitions »

August 25, 2005



Instead of "I always get an A," my students usually come up with, "But I'm an A student!" This always leaves me reminding them that there is no such thing as an A student, there is only work that earns an A. (And then I usually point out that their work has not, this time, earned an A.) I find it both frustrating and difficult to try to teach students to separate their identity ("I'm an A student") from their grades. This is not only important because it's best if a student doesn't think their life is over if they get a B, but also because they should realize that each time they approach an assignment, they have a responsibility to do the work in such a way that it earns the grade they desire. Plus, they actually might learn something from the feedback that I work so hard to make constructive if they don't think I'm commenting on their essential worth as a human being.


I don't think I've ever seen that happen to someone I know individually, but occasionally I've seen the marks of everyone in the class 'equalized' simultaneously. That happened in first year calculus , second part. I don't really like when that happens either. I can understand there might be cases where it's a valid thing to do (example, if a mistake is made and too difficult material is taught...blah blah), but in this class I don't think it was.

The problem was that no one studied (most were engineering students, not that I'm trying to generalize here), and not only that but the exam questions were taken directly from the textbook and I think that made everyone too complacent.

As a result the profs decided that in all sections the marks should be increased (I don't know by how much since my mark could not be increased), and that was that. I think it happened in the physics labs too.


Here's my favourite grading story:

I had a student in a Shakespeare class a few years back, who did very spotty work throughout, with the excuse that he was busy *being* a Shakespearean actor (this proved to amount to playing Lysander in an excruciating Dream in the park). He turned in a final paper, late, that began something like this: "to understand the problem play (not my assigment, btw), we must first define the term. Webster's defines "problem" as ... Webster's defines "play" as...

So I gave him a "D," which he was lucky to get, and he turned up and complained. I told him that the paper wouldn't pass in high school, to which he replied (wait for it): "Well, the last professor I handed that paper into gave it a B-!"

I kid you not.

david mazel

If a student's grade-change request is at all reasonable, I usually suggest that it be put in writing. Nothing excessive--just a brief, well-written argument whose cogency demonstrates that the student really is the A student he or she claims to be. Some students withdraw their request at this point, but some come back a day or two later with a genuinely convincing argument on their own behalf.

In some of my classes I assemble student papers into a packet and distribute it to the whole class. I do this mainly because in a subsequent assignment I require students to respond to each other's work, but it also allows them to see how the quality of their own work compares to that of their peers.

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