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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Grading Agony

At the beginning of each semester, I explain to students how I grade and what the typical essay grades in my courses are. I tell them that it's not unusual at all for students to fail their first college-level essay. I tell them that the most commonly-received essay grade in my course is a C and that's a fine grade. A C represents a competent, college-level essay. And yes, a C is average. Most of us, whether we like it or not, are average. That's just how it is. I do give Bs, and they are well-earned. But an A on an essay in my course is hard to earn. A is outstanding, stellar, extraordinary, and so of course, an A is a rarity.

But I often wonder if I grade too harshly. Am I, in my attempt to prepare my students for the next level up, demanding too much from them? Holding them to unrealistic standards? Students say I am tough and that it's nearly impossible to earn an A. And yet, I have given As in the past – but only when they are well-deserved.

This week, as I graded what is a pivotal paper in my course - a paper which, despite all other essay grades a student receives in my course, they must pass to pass the course - I agonized over my decisions. And I scrutinized my students as they workshopped their writing in class. Are they ready? Can I send them on to the next level confident that even if they struggle, they are competent at this basic level and capable of the challenge of the next? Am I grading too harshly? And as a result holding back students who really should be moving forward and at the same time, demoralizing them?

I received my answer in a an email on Friday from a former student - one who had my class last year and whom I advanced to the next level course, English 214. I can’t help myself folks, here's her email:

Hi Bird!
How's your semester going? As for me, this semester is bit more hectic than last. I'm doing lots of extra studying for my courses and working a part time job. But I wanted to let you know how things are going for me in English 214. On my first essay, I had to analyze the poem "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost and received an A! And I've continued to do well. Overall, 214 is not as difficult as I thought it would be - because of the difficult assignments you gave me last year. Those assignments prepared me for papers that I'm currently working on in 214. The only change for me in 214 is that I receive less in-class preparation than I did in your class. But with all the tools I learned in your course, I am fully equipped in the preparation of my essays. I just want to say thank you for believing in me and giving me the chance to prove I can make it through 214. I hope you have a wonderful semester and hope to hear from you soon!

On most days, I consider myself a competent, college-level teacher. If I were to grade myself on a daily basis, I would often give myself a C, and sometimes a B.

But I’m framing that student’s email. For this is gold – a student has given me that rarity of rarities: an A.

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Blogger Jack K. said...

Bask in the glory of knowing that you have achieved that which you sought-guiding a student to become a discerning, careful writer.

The grade she gave you is just icing on the cake. You well know that the results of your teachings will not be revealed to you very often, if ever.

So bask in the glory that at least one student was astute enough to "get it".

There is no doubt in my mind that you are an excellent teacher.

btw, I am currently in class for the last day of a four day course.

There are only four students. I have covered all of the material and still have about five hours to cover. Fortunately I ordered review quizzes which they are working on now. I let them do it in a group with open books. It is interesting to listen to their efforts.

Make it a great day.

November 11, 2007 9:41 AM  
Blogger Aunty Belle said...

HA!!! YEs, show off yore "A"!!
Lucky kids...
I'se been aeay, but did see yore Nov. 6 post--ha ha ha ho ho ....marevelous--left ya a note back thar' too.

So happy youse still swoopin' around the BAy.

November 12, 2007 12:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yup Jack, you got that right. Teachers never truly know if they've made an impact - or a postive impact. We have to trust that we do.

AB: yeah, I'm alive and well-busy with school and parties and such. You were away where? Travel adventures?

And guess what? I gave a student an A- this weekend on an essay. First grade within the A range this semester. I am a tough bird. And damn proud of it.


November 12, 2007 1:17 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

What a great way of looking at the situation... you were, in fact 'graded'!
My mother was a professor and also struggled with the grading issue. Often students would go to the Dean and complain about her class and grading. She was called on the rug many times and even pressured to give in, but she held her ground. I remember her reading me a few of these type letters. I bet if I dug through some of her papers she would still have them stashed away. They are, as you mentioned, like gold!

Have a great week!

November 13, 2007 6:52 AM  
Blogger boneman said...

I KNEW you were lucky to have that job!

Nice grade, Teacher!

November 13, 2007 7:49 PM  
Blogger Pete Bogs said...

I did pretty well on most of my college essays, English class or otherwise... I actually enjoyed those, while most other students hated them... is it any wonder I am now doing what I am doing?

I wonder how you would've graded me, bird? you ought to read a post of mine sometime, critique and grade it!

I don't think an "A" should be impossible to reach; it's "A+" that should be given only to the best of the best...

November 14, 2007 6:27 AM  
Blogger Jack K. said...

Dream on, Bogs, dream on.

You're a braver man than I.


November 14, 2007 6:49 AM  
Blogger J Cosmo Newbery said...

I think you summed it up pretty well: "A is outstanding, stellar, extraordinary, and so of course, an A is a rarity."

I wish I had had you for my English teacher.

November 14, 2007 3:25 PM  
Blogger Pete Bogs said...

you talk good...

November 15, 2007 6:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...





November 16, 2007 3:19 PM  
Blogger Pete Bogs said...

bird - did you fly south for the winter?

come on over to BogsBlog... the final stretch begins today, with the first of my last six posts...

November 19, 2007 6:32 AM  
Blogger NameChanged said...

Congrats Bird!! I am so proud. I also feel that sometimes grading is too subjective, but you have proof that your "severity" is necessary. Good job, Gold Star!!!

November 27, 2007 6:14 PM  
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February 21, 2010 8:01 PM  

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