Thursday, August 24
After years of trying to help my students learn how to decipher the way other people evaluate them (just one of the many life-lessons folded into my courses), I think it's time I took the plunge and developed a grading rubric for my written assignments. I don't want to for several reasons, failing to teach them how to read their environment is one, flexibility is another. But on the flexibility front, I'm especially worried that I'll forget to include something on my rubric, like, "Oh! You can't use the religious text you've been studying since you were three years old as the only source for this paper." Now, I'm trying to brainstorm about those invisible spaces. But the thing I'm most anxious to include and be explicit about is a set discount factors. At the top of my list will be a thing I learned from a colleague I never met who ran a writing boot camp for some of the greatest 20-year-old political minds in the [name a region] US. I taught a class that attracted many of his students and they would come in groups of three or four to tell their tales of woe from those seminars. And this is where I found out that you can actually cure a student of his-or-her-but-usualy-his sophomoric writing style. My colleague who ran the political honors group didn't use a grading rubric, of course, but he excelled in teaching humility to gifted youth who had yet to learn exactly how big the world really is, and he would not hesitate to just write it across the top of their papers, "Your pompocity score is off the charts." Oooooh! That makes me happy!!!


Orange Ina said...

Oooh, ouch, that sounds harsh. I hope your colleague also had something constructive to say (something concrete that is), because otherwise it's really hard to be left with that kind of a reaction and not know how to address it.

I'd be curious to hear more about this:
trying to help my students learn how to decipher the way other people evaluate them

Do you mean how they are evaluated in courses, or more generally in life? And how do you approach this topic?

Mahogany said...

Hi Orangina, Don't worry about the pomposity factor. There is much to love about their writing and everybody says so, even/especially when mentioning pomposity--which is really just a matter of tone. And, from what I hear of that politics seminar, they love it. They say it's the most difficult thing they've ever done--20 pages or writing a week with no-holds-barred criticism to follow, blood, sweat, tears, raw passion, and brain power. (They come to my classes in packs, which tells me that it's a bonding experience.) I have to say though, that's much easier on undergraduates. Graduate students and junior faculty quickly learn to feel frightened and alone. You can't handle their egos the same way. The tenured ego is probably worth a couple hundred posts on this site.

As for the life lessons, I am referring to the abstract idea of evaluation and the fact that you can learn something about outside-world evaluations from classroom evaluations. I have a little system that lets them have a fake non-threatening experience grading a whole set of papers, so they can see how much everyone agrees on what constitutes a good paper. (This amazes them.) Then we use that for discussion (so they can feel out my idiosyncrasies). But my point is that you can't ask a potential date for his or her grading rubric, nor can you do that in every employment situation. I see this as part of a larger problem in which students think they need college to be a thing that generates predictable grades, and they want to trim all the noise away from that relationship. I, on the other hand, want it to be a thing that improves their lives. (Grades, are no doubt important for that, I agree, but I think you should be able to get something from a class you flunked.) If there's one mistake we're making in higher education, today, I think it is that we fall into the trap of believing that our job is to generate Cliff Notes for people who ought to be learning to do that for themselves. Oh. Rant. Sorry. Cheerio! I'm off to pretend that Gitmo is Nirvana.

Ignorance is bliss!.

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