October 14th, 2008

Grades in the Context of Learning


I was with a group of faculty yesterday. We were bemoaning how strongly grade-oriented most students are. Some of us thought faculty were too grade-oriented as well. One participant shared a small but unique way he tried to emphasize learning over grades.

“When I meet with my advisees, I never ask them what grade they got in this or that course. I do need to know how well they’re doing but advisors have access to advisees’ transcripts so I can find out their grades.” When he meets with students to plan a schedule for next and subsequent semesters, he asks about current or previous courses. “I see you’re taking World Regions this semester. Tell me what you’ve been learning in that course.” Or, “Let’s see, you have taken Environmental Biology—that was last spring. As you think about that course now, what was the most important thing you learned?” Or, “You’ve done your required math course work now. What skills did you discover were important to successful problem-solving?”

Obviously if you’ve got 35 advisees you may not be able to pursue learning topics extensively in every advising session. But I so endorse the principle. If teachers are regularly asking students what they learned that may not reorient the grade-tilted world but it might begin to put grades in a larger and more meaningful context.