On the education end of things

This morning is all about the educational theory.  Here’s what it comes down to:

I love teaching.  It is truly one of my great joys in life, I’m told I’m pretty good at it, and the information I share has the potential to be life-transforming.  But I hate grading.

It’s a problem.

The classes and consultation work I do with parents and teenagers I find richly fulfilling and highly useful to my clients.  They enjoy class time, they get to think about interesting things and do fun and thought-provoking activities, and they go away with more information in the realms that are the most interesting and relevant to them at that time. These days there are also Custom College Paper Writing websites that help students with their course.

On the other hand, when I teach in the college setting, I set up a core curriculum that I want to make sure every student learns regardless of interest, relevance, or attention span.  While I still work to my fullest to incorporate interesting and thought-provoking activities, fun examples, and in-depth conversation, there is only so far I can go in this direction if I have to have a test with a grade at the end of the day.  More of my time is spent on having the students do activities that I do not necessarily think are intrinsically useful (like tests) and on me grading those activities.  This bugs me.

Now, I do teach classes that are not sexuality classes, but instead are child development, general psychology, research, or educational theory classes.  I see these as inherently different.  These classes are oriented towards professional development.  Students will often need the information from these classes to advance either academically or professionally, and the content will be relevant to them in those contexts.  While there are some jobs where human sexuality is professionally relevant (like, say, my job), the majority of my college human sexuality students sign up for my classes out of personal interest rather than professional interest or need.

I wish there was a way I could stop the constant assessment of knowledge and skills in this context.  But I haven’t been able to come up with one.  My professional skill and reputation are relevant, as are the skill and reputation of the college.  So I understand the need for this grading process within the context of the current system – I just wish the system were different.  I think we could go deeper, be more honest, and spend more time on the topics the students are more passionately interested in.

And we could, I truly believe, create an educational system where standard grading is not an integral part of the process.  One of the articles I often have my educational theory students read is about how including the 0 in an average assessment of students’ capabilities is statistically and mathematically inappropriate.  But, they always argue, how do we get the students to do the work if that 0 isn’t hanging over their heads?

Ah, how indeed.

That intrinsic/extrinsic motivational dilemma deeply felt and often used by teachers who work in a compulsory-educational system.  And then students get use to it, and by the time they see me in college, there is little I can do to encourage them to throw off their mantle of feigned disinterest in everything school related and steep themselves in the content I bring to them purely out of interest.

But this is exactly how my students come to me outside of educational systems – full of interest, fun, attention, critical thought, and appreciation of the content.  It’s like a whole different world.

So, any suggestions out there on how to solve my grading problem?  Because I’m throwing myself on the mercy of the Internetz to find me one by the end of the day!  (Okay, not really.  But I’m certainly not turning away ideas!)

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.

1 Comment

  1. I don’t know whether we are talking about the same problem or not, but back in the days when I was teaching undergrads I never had much of a problem putting a “grade” on any given assignment . After you’ve seen 30 (or 50 or 200!) attempts to complete the same assignment, it is fairly easy to sit down at the kitchen table and after just a few minutes assign each paper to it’s appropriate pile: A) Truly outstanding work I wish I’d done myself; B) promising and basically competent work perhaps missing just a few important nuances and which, with a little extra study and some solid revision, might easily move into the first category; C) Assignments with one or two (or sometimes more) significant flaws, often accompanied by sloppy organization, poor spelling and grammar, and generally shoddy thinking; D) Assignments which just aren’t up to the standards of college coursework, even when accounting for the fact that not all colleges are created equal….

    But to get back to my point, the students effectively “graded” their papers for me, by showing me on the spot what they were capable of, and how well they had understood both the material and the assignment. The challenge for me was figuring out how to offer written feedback to their work, BEYOND the Grade (as it were) that might actually be pedagogically useful rather than merely a justification of the letter I have inscribed on their paper (and thence their “permanent academic record:). The “B” papers were actually the most challenging to mark, since the temptation was to edit them extensively; the “A” papers were typically works of beauty in their own right, while the “C” and “D” papers were often beyond cheap grace and quick redemption, and merited instead a referral to the undergraduate writers clinic.

    Time was a factor too. I generally didn’t have an hour or two to devote to each paper; even 15 or 20 minutes per paper was kinda pushing it. So triaging the papers into their respective categories BEFORE I actually began to mark them not only allowed me to give the most time to those students I thought would benefit from it most (and who frankly IMHO Deserved it most because of the effort they had put it), but it also made certain that I read each paper at least twice, and thus helped me to avoid missing things in a quick first reading which really justified giving the paper a better grade than at first I had thought.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth Karen I never did work this all out to my satisfaction, which is why I am back doing the honest and God-fearing work of parish ministry again. I’ve enjoyed reading your postings here, and I’m sure we’ll meet up sometime

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