You’ve just returned from a Teaching Professor Conference or read of an innovative teaching strategy in a book you devoured. You desperately want to incorporate the innovations you’ve learned into your own courses, but at that exact moment, you feel your energy drain when you imagine hearing unsupportive administrators utter their stern objections “to keep things the way they are.” You pause to look around, seeing older colleagues who have more teaching years behind than ahead of them—“I tried that once . . . “—knowing that they never received the administrative nod for their innovations.
Faculty know that holding student writing conferences will overwhelm them, or at least that is what they’ve heard from colleagues. They’ve even heard such advice from those who never conference with students to provide individualized attention and feedback on their writing. Perhaps the most disheartening is that conferencing faculty need to take on new and enervating roles as scheduler, negotiator, and time manager. And yes, reader—let’s not forget all those papers conferencing professors “have to read” before students arrive at their office doors!
Effort and habit are instrumental to learning and writing, but they are often dimly lit in our grading systems. That light needs to brighten with the help of new research and popular literature that highlight how essential habit, effort, and perseverance are to learning. I’ve used an effort-aware grading system in my teaching for some time now, a B-grading contract that locks hardworking students into a minimum final grade of B. For grades rising above B, the quality of the writing is the focus (the product), but only for students who fulfill the contract (the process).
The final portfolio of student work (be it writings, drawings, or a collection of different kinds of work) presents the instructor with a conundrum. As the culmination of student work, it needs to be submitted at the end of the course, but feedback opportunities then are severely limited. Those of us who use portfolio assignments do provide feedback at multiple points throughout the semester, but when the portfolio is completed, the course has ended and this final version cannot be discussed with students. Worse than that, for years, I cringed as I saw the graded portfolios accumulate outside my office. Some were never picked up.