I have a confession to make: I am terrible at handing back papers. That sounds silly, right? I mean, you literally just hand the paper to the kid whose name is at the top.
But teachers everywhere know how disheartening that small act can be. (It can’t be just me, right?)
There are the eye rolls and the whispering to each other of “What did you get?” and “She gave me a ___.” Next thing you know, the paper you spent so long reading and marking has been shoved into the abyss of the backpack or tossed carelessly in the recycle bin.
Wow, glad I put so much time into that assignment, said no teacher ever.
I honestly got to a point where I would just wait so long to give things back, the kids would kind of forget, and then so would I. Oops.
In English I ask my students to write a lot. I don’t grade everything they write, but when it comes to the “big essays”—the graded, polished drafts—what grade they will receive becomes the sole motivator for their writing. This frustrates me, and, in my opinion, distracts them from what they should actually care about: writing.
This intense focus on the all-important grade was my least favorite part, and it was definitely what kept the stack sitting on the counter behind my desk…for an embarrassing amount of time. It really bothered me that kids didn’t care about the feedback I put on their essays, not just because I took the time to do it, but because I did it to help them. I want them to grow as writers, and most of them do throughout the year, but so many only seem to care about that number.
I won’t lie: It made me angry. Not only did I feel like I had wasted my time, I felt like they just didn’t care. And then the snowball of thoughts would start: How will they survive if they don’t care about feedback? What’s going to happen in college? Or when they get jobs? Ugh! I’m done!
After dealing with this for about nine years, I couldn’t take it anymore. I either had to get over it or fix it. Since I’m not usually one to give up, I set out to find a way to get my students to actually read their feedback and care less about the grade.
The Fix for Ignored Feedback
The solution was remarkably easy and accidentally originated out of my laziness (score one for being a little lazy!). Last year, kids had turned in essays on Google Classroom, but rather than pasting a completed rubric into their essay as I usually did, I made hard copies of the rubric and wrote on them. This meant that I could return papers with comments but without grades.
And from this a whole new system was born: Return papers to students with only feedback. Delay the delivery of the actual grade so student focus moves from the grade to the feedback.
The simple act of delaying the grade meant that students had to think about their writing. They had to read their own writing—after a few weeks away from it—and digest my comments, which allowed them to better recognize what they did well or not so well. The response from students was extremely positive; they understood the benefit of rereading their essays and paying attention to feedback. One boy said, “Mrs. Louden, you’re a genius. I’ve never read what a teacher writes on my essay before, and now I have to.”
1. Grade the Papers
After collecting student papers, grade them (hard copy or electronic) as you usually would with comments on the written piece, but keep the rubric separate.
2. Plan Independent Work
Plan accordingly by creating opportunities for students to do independent or group work for a few days when it’s time to return papers to students. This is probably the most vital part of the process, because it will give you time to conference with individual students.
3. Return Papers
When you finish grading the papers, return just the written work to students, not the completed rubric. When I first tried this with students, I put the following directions up on the board when I returned the essays:
- Read over your whole essay, including what you wrote and my comments.
- Write THREE observations based on your reading and TWO follow-up questions to discuss with me at our conference. Ask about comments, how to improve things, how to do things differently, etc.
- Use the rubric (posted online) to grade yourself.
- Be ready to discuss all of this.
I now incorporate these instructions into the student copy of the rubric. Below is one page of that rubric, which includes the reflection section.
Student Reflection Form (get a blank copy here)
4. Time to Reflect
Return the essays during class, allowing time to explain, time for kids to read their essays, and time for them to clarify if needed. Encourage them to go slowly. (Bonus step: Walk around and listen. Hear the difference. Honestly, you probably won’t hear a lot of talking or comparing. If they are talking, it will be to themselves about what they are noticing.)
5. Conference with Each Student
This step is where the magic happens.
Since you’ve planned for independent work, you will have time to meet with each student individually. I do my conferences on a large whiteboard-painted table; I have found that since moving these from my desk to this table, our conferences are more productive. I’m not distracted by the stuff on my desk, kids are able to spread out (Chromebook, reflection, essay, etc.), and as a bonus, we can use the surface of the table when we need to do some planning. These meetings don’t have to be more than a couple of minutes per student.
- When kids get to my table, I start with “What do you want to talk about?” and let them guide the conference. It is so cool to hear what they have to say. So many of them make comments like “I can’t believe I did <insert careless mistake>” or “I’m sorry I turned it in like this” or “I’m embarrassed; I see so many mistakes!” Or my favorite: “You specifically told us not to do this.” The level of reflection is deeper than any I’ve ever encountered. I assure them that it is fine and I don’t expect perfection, but on the inside I’m so excited that they’re seeing the things I see.
- Next they usually ask questions. This is exciting because some of their questions make perfect teachable moments! I have watched many students grow this year from these conversations. Take Alex, for example. He writes the wordiest sentences I’ve ever read, but he’s gotten to the point where he puts his own comments on his essay as he writes so we can discuss while he’s still in the writing stage. At least half of these are related to wordiness. I’m excited that he’s learned to identify it, if not quite how to fix it yet.
- Finally, I end by asking students how they graded themselves according to the rubric. I enjoy this part because more often than not, they were much harsher on themselves than I was. I then share the rubric with the grade and the rest of my general comments. For once, kids are usually happy about their grade because it was higher than they expected, contrary to the old days when they’d say “she gave me C” but they thought they deserved an A.
I always offer students the opportunity to rewrite their essay. Above all else, my goal is to help students become better writers. If this means they have to do it a couple of times, then so be it. Depending on the assignment, these are the usual requirements:
- The student must meet with me 1 to 3 times (depends on the student and the essay) before it is due. These meetings are quick “check-in” style meetings: What are you planning to do? What have you done? What questions do you have?
- The student must make substantial revisions, not just grammatical edits.
- The student must turn in the original and the updated draft on time.
And that’s it! Okay, looking back over what I said, it sounds like a lot, but really it’s very easy for you. I think this is the best change I have made to the writing process in the last few years. Students have become more reflective (and sympathetic of how long it takes me to grade—haha!), their writing has improved, and I return papers much more quickly—and happily—than ever before. ♦
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Essay on Grade Inflation
The phenomenon of grade inflation is affecting the quality of education throughout the country. Most of the students- at every level including high schools, colleges, and universities- are receiving higher grades to which everyone is not entitled to receive. Grade inflation is similar to the concept of inflation in which price of commodities rise, impacts students, instructors, their parents, and standard of education. Several studies made in this regard confirm that grade inflation is a reality and a fact. The problem of grade inflation is continuously increasing compared with the past.
Grade inflation a Common Phenomenon Compared with the Past
Several studies confirm by making comparison of grades being currently obtained by the students with the grades obtained in the past that educational institutions are deliberately awarding higher grades to their students. Partial motive of awarding higher grades is market factor in which their students become competitive while applying for a job or moving to the next level of education. (Bok 211) Today, schools, colleges, and universities are using grade patterns in which students get higher grades for the similar quality of work being done by the students in the past and getting low grades. It means that it has become easier now to get higher grades like 'A' than in the past.
A general perception among parents and students is increasingly developing that by paying more tuition fees, students should be assigned higher grades. This phenomenon is similar to paying higher price for a product and getting maximum benefits from it. Furthermore, lower grades are also non-competitive in the marketplace. Grade inflation has significantly impacted those colleges and universities that have set high standards of education. (Cohen 401) Students with higher grades which they do not deserve meet the stringent criteria and students getting real grades are left behind. Grade inflation shows that students today are less educated than in the past.
Grade inflation in today's education has made it difficult to discriminate best students from very good and very good from good. Awarding unduly higher grades has resulted in the loss of morality among teachers. (Bain 76) For getting best results to show their performance, teachers award better grades than deserved so the main focus of faculty is their performance and not teaching. (Bok 209) It is pertinent to mention that one of the most important responsibilities of faculty is to evaluate the work of their students. For making justified and real evaluation, faculty members should develop perfect understanding of the grading system. Failure to do so can result placing students in unjustified grades. However, faculty members, at the same time, should have the autonomy of assigning grades which they think appropriate. As such, there should be a delicate balance to be maintained between understanding grading system and the autonomy of assigning grades as feasible.
Grade Inflation Creates Misconceptions about Quality of Education System
The phenomenon of grade inflation is believed to gain momentum in the decade of 1960s. The significant rise in grade inflation took place in 1980s when most of the private educational institutions adopted the aggressive policy of assigning higher grades compared with public institutions. The issue of grade inflation, therefore, is continuously aggravating creating misconceptions about educational system as a whole. Research made in this regard reveals that public schools and colleges are awarding GPA mostly around 3.0 while almost all students in private institutions receive GPA higher than 3.3. (Hunt 174) It means that the issue of grade inflation is prevailing more at private schools, colleges, and universities compared with public educational institutions.
Problem of grade inflation aggravates when student at the time of admission are aware that at the end they will be getting at least a B+ grade. Resultantly, most of them do not strive hard and do not make their best efforts in the studies affecting the overall quality of studies. This approach has developed among students for the last two decades or so and it was non-existent prior to that. Students in the contemporary age are aware that by spending money on education they will be successful in getting desired grade with minimum of efforts and with maximum of ease. Academic success, today, depends more on grade points and less on knowledge. In the current education system, grades do not exhibit knowledge base rather they make students want to please their teachers. (Fraber 385)Getting higher grades easier mean that students are spending less time on their studies compared with past and giving more time on other objectionable activities like addiction to drugs or alcohol. Therefore, the increasing factor of grade inflation is not only impacting quality of education but also creating different other social problems. Non-relevance of assigned grades with the standardized performance required for that particular grade shows the declining quality of education. Grade inflation has increased the importance of specific standardized examinations such as 'LMAT, GMAT, or MCAT' which are required to assess the real abilities of students even they have cleared the regular examinations. (Rudolph 287)
As mentioned above, several market forces seem to favor assigning high grades eventually supporting the phenomenon of grade inflation. Students getting real grades will be at disadvantage and non-competitive while competing with the students having non-justified high grades. When these students enter practical life by serving in business firms, teaching children, and providing social services etc, they have not developed the required set of skills and not acquire necessary knowledge needed to perform their duties.
Arguments against Grade Inflation
A segment of scholars believe that getting 'A' grade requires same efforts by the students as in the past and no term 'grade inflation' exists. This segment of scholars believe that requirements of schools and colleges have not entirely changed implementing standards that were set in the past for evaluating abilities or judging knowledge of students. In case grades of most of the students are higher compared with the students in the past is not a justification to prove that students getting 'A' grade were not evaluated properly. Students are submitting their assignments regularly, taking their examinations as usual, and attending schools and colleges as previously done by the students. (Cohen 155) Therefore, getting 'A' easier today compared with the past means that the knowledge base of students have increased as technology has gigantically supported to broader the vision and knowledge of students. Especially, with the advent of internet, students gain more knowledge in less time means they have to make fewer efforts today as more time was required in the past to acquire knowledge. (Johnson 143) Moreover, educational institutions in today's world have designed student-friendly systems and allow them more choices according to their aptitude as well as availability of time. It means that getting 'A' grade is also not easier today as it was in the past.
The paper has presented an overview of the term 'Grade inflation'. Most of the students- at every level including high schools, colleges, and universities- are receiving higher grades to which everyone is not entitled to receive. It is believed that getting higher grade like 'A' has become much easier than in the past. Arguments on both sides of the issue have been presented in the paper. However, by analyzing arguments on both sides, it can be asserted that it is easier to receive an 'A' in today's college courses rather than in the past.
Bain, Ken What the Best College Teachers Do Harvard University Press, 2004, p. 76
Bok, Derek Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should be Learning More Princeton University Press, 2007, p. 209
Bok, Derek Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education Princeton University Press, 2004, p. 211
Cohen, Arthur The Shaping of American Higher Education: Emergence and Growth of the Contemporary System Jossey-Bass, 2007, p. 401
Farber, Jerry A Young Person's Guide to the Grading System Student as Nigger, 1969, p. 385
Hersh, Richard Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk Palgrave Macmillan, 2006, p. 155
Hunt, Lester Grade Inflation: Academic Standards in Higher Education State University of New York Press, 2008, p. 174
Johnson, Valen Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education Springer, 2003, p. 143
Rudolph, Fredrick The American College and University: A History University of Georgia Press, 1991, p. 287