Wednesday, March 14, 2012

00A #5 Peter Elbow Revisited

In this week's readings, Elbow talks about "evaluation-free zones" and "liking" students' writing as a better alternative to ranking and grading.
What would happen if grades were not given for a class or for assignments? Consider the pros and cons.
As an instructor, how would you balance ranking, evaluating, and liking? Would you use all three methods?

Peter Elbow makes, as usual, very poignant arguments in regards to ranking (grading) versus evaluation (comments). The question that leads out of this conversation, of the possibility of success with a gradeless class or assignments, is a difficult one. There are many pros and cons obviously but the need for this discussion to be situated specifically to new teachers is necessary. The reason for this is because a more experienced teacher may have the resources and experience to see pitfalls and potential issues that relatively inexperienced teachers may not be equipped to deal with. This does not mean that we are not capable as new teachers to implement a system more reliant on evaluating then ranking, rather it predicates that necessity for a greater sense of caution if we decided on this type of system. The pros remain the same across the board regardless of experience: the students get a specific sense of feedback that individualizes their worker rather than an ambiguous numeric or lettering stamp (or gold star).

 The two biggest aspects that I see this leading to is a set of students not driven by the almighty GRADE and that it does create a sense of response to writing that is based less on a unreliable scale system and more on a positive guiding measurement. The only caveat to the first aspect is that having also being a student having gone through a portfolio heavy class that Elbow has set out as one of the ways out of heavy grading, the reduction of grades does not always remove the desire and push of students for a grade. Those conditioned heavily, ie: 3rd-4th year college students, can be beyond the removal of this conditioning. It is very difficult to undo years and years (kindergarten through some college) of Pavlovian reactions. I feel that this would find a more open set of responses in a first year college course (of which we are dealing with primarily).

 I only state this as one of the prime issues: it will be difficult to overcome the mindset of years of ranking. The other problems might stem from, as stated above, the lack of experience. Starting with a hybrid system may be more secure and less prone to issues that we may not be able to foresee. The last issues that may come out of a gradeless model is that, especially in first year college students, there is no 'motivating' factor for work. This is, of course, the cynical side coming out, but having a class set on a foundation of 'you do the work you get the grade' could possibly end in the outcome of quantity not quality. And yes this could be balanced by setting requirement such as 'must have a clear thesis' and yes this could be balanced by x, y or z but the problem I feel still stems from the lack of experience to predict the possible outcome of production of the students without some sort of minimum weight system. After all Elbow does substantiate the need for some ranking system some of the time. Again, a hybrid system (or balanced system) looks to be like the most feasible compared to a rank absent structure.

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