February 3, 2013

Grades are stupid. I’m not the only teacher who will openly acknowledge this. Grades try to do too much and end up doing not much of anything. Ideally, grades should tell you who tries really hard and who really understands the material, but they almost always end up representing more one than the other.  So, generally, I don’t have much use for grades. Kids do though, and that can be manipulated.

One of the constant challenges of teaching an AP class is convincing them that they need to do their best. They have spent their lives giving minimal effort and being rewarded with high grades. That’s not learning, not really. So this week, I upped the ante. They were assigned a paper and with the paper came the rubric. I want to show the description of a D paper:

 D – This paper manifests some thought and some exploration of the topic. It includes an introduction with a thesis statement and a conclusion. Body paragraphs include both concrete details and commentary and make an attempt to tie the analysis to the thesis. There may be some summary. Grammar and punctuation errors do not seriously hinder understanding.

They were not happy when I read that to them. In probably every other class they’ve taken, that’s been an A or a B. But, you know what? It won’t be in college. Not if they have a good professor with high expectations. In that class, the paper described above will be a D. My class is supposed to be a college-level class, thus, that paper is now a D.

They don’t like it. I don’t really like it either. What I want to be able to do is just tell them to use what we’ve talked about to write their best paper, remind them what I expect and then see what they can do (which really is what education is at its purest – try hard, fully engage, see what happens). But that isn’t realistic (lest you think I am naive, I never thought it was). I believe all the students in my class are capable of writing a true A or B paper. They certainly understand what a good paper looks like from what we’ve done in class. But I haven’t seen many produced. So now, I’ve made it a requirement. Many of them will accept Bs or Cs, but none of them want a D. Ds get you grounded. I know this, and so, I’m forcing their hands. Show me what you’ve got kids, and then will go from there.