Inquire

05 June 2013

De-grading my classroom at the end of the year.

The results are in! As I've previously written, I offered my students a the opportunity to reflect on their work this term through a comprehensive survey. Included in this review, students had the opportunity to identify the letter grade they wished to receive for the course, along with a narrative justification for why I should enter this grade for into the grade book. Over a number of conversations, I made it clear that I am primarily concerned with their learning; what they are good at, where they need to improve, and the like. I also spoke with some parents about this assessment piece as well. All in all, we had some very thoughtful discussions ranging from gender bias in grades and testing to the consequences for students who choose grades that did not accurately reflect their learning this year. Here are some of my initial take away points from the survey:

  • Not every student chose to give themselves an A+.
    • 10 A+s (62.5%)
    • 5 As (31.25%)
    • 1 B+ (6.25%)
  • Students chose grades based on a variety of factors, including: 
    • intelectual development throughout the year
    • merit of work during the term
    • the need to maintain a high GPA
    • the grade's impact on university admissions next year.
  • Students offered differing perspectives on the role and utility of games and simulations in the learning process
  • To a large extent, students accurately marked their IB Internal Assessment
    • Most students did not give themselves the highest marks.
Many people shudder at the idea that students would have the exclusive agency to determine what grade would be entered into the grade book. These fears run the gambit, ranging from a fear of lost control in the classroom to a fear of students taking advantage of the situation and inflating their grades. In contrast, Mark Barnes contends that giving students sole control of what goes into the grade book can be a powerful teaching and learning tool. Students are given the opportunity to thoroughly reflect on their education over a term. Students have to engage in ethical decision-making exercises about the ways in which they will justify their grades. From a social science standpoint; giving students complete freedom to determine their grade is an excellent chance to see how social constraints, individual preferences, and strategic choices can effect outcomes in single-iteration games. 

It was very interesting to see that students did not always give themselves an A+. Even amongst those students who did, some (as outlined below) offered that they did so for reasons other than the fact that they deserved it. Some saw the need to stay competitive with respect to university admissions; the A+ would boost their GPA in this regard. Others felt that it would be unwise to take anything less than an A+ since others were choosing A+s for themselves; a problem of collective action. Regardless of their motives, each student provided thoughtful, honest commentary about the letter grade they desired for the term. Many students took the opportunity to talk about the ways in which their writing, research, or other skills have developed over the year. These comments, along with a plethora of other data that I will post here in the next few days, speaks volumes about how students see and articulate their role in the learning process. I plan to use the full results of this survey as a launching point for their work starting again in August. After a few months off, I suspect each student will critically appraise their survey responses, identify (along with myself) areas where they are in need of improvement, and continue their intellectual development as we encounter the complex study of Human Rights and Development in the fall. 

I have absolutely no qualms about entering each student's chosen grade into the grade book. As an instructor, this term has been incredibly valuable as I have focused more and more on feedback and individualized instruction and learning. I have transitioned from arbitrarily assigning grades to the students in the class to allowing the learners themselves to determine the grades for their grade books. As a result, we all have been able to focus more of our attention on extrapolating understanding form complex texts; developing research skills through the analysis and synthesis of primary and secondary source data; participating in meaningful experiential learning exercises through simulations and games; and to take the time to review on our learning as a whole through regular and meaningful reflection. 


Unedited Student Comments

  1. I have worked hard and tried my best this final trimester. Even thought the past 2 trimesters i've gotten B  and B- due to the lack of analyzing properly my ideas. I believe that through the year I have improved my writing and understanding skills concerning politics topics.  
  2. I think I deserve an A+ because first, I read and participated in all of the discussions regarding the readings, participated actively in all the simulations I could attend, and was able to marry both theory and practice in the IA that I turned in. I went above the reading requirement and took on reading other authors to broaden my political knowledge base in preparation for the exam and college where I now want to dual concentrate in human rights studies and thus I have began reading Samantha Power's "A Problem From Hell." I believe I not only met expectations but exceed them for the most part and I believe my IA was well done, thus I am asking for the A+.
  3. I really wanted to do well this trimester, and really tried. I read a lot of the sources, and tried to apply my knowledge accordingly. I know I am not the best at writing an essay in this class, but I understood the concepts. I will revise my IA and work on it more.
  4. Why do I deserve an A+? Quite honestly I don't think that I do. But I want it. Unfortunately due to my trip I missed out on a lot of material including 3 of the 4 simulations this trimester, however; I feel that my trip was a learning experience on its own. Do I want the A+? Of course. Will it do anything to my grade? No not really. I have consistently received A-'s all year and I feel as if my situation this trimester has pit me at a disadvantage to continue my trend. Furthermore I am aiming for an Ivy League education (Go Columbia) and I need as many A's in accelerated classes to obtain a competitive GPA for the college application process. I had a solid understanding of concepts presented up until this trimester and i feel that i have fully understood the limited work I have completed this trimester. The goal of my asking for an A+ is to hopefully increase my overall grade for the year to a flat A.
  5. I read all of the assignments, did all of the work, and participated in every simulation that I was able to go to. Although I don't really speak in front of the whole class, I do a good job of communicating my thoughts to my partners and contribute a lot to group projects, even if I don't do the actual presentation. That's why I didn't think I should get the +, because doing and understanding the work is good and does what is required of me, but I don't really step out and present my ideas as my own, i kind of just let them contribute to the group's work. Upon reflection, I did all of the work that was asked of me and I tried my hardest on all of these assignments. Even though I did not speak a lot about my ideas, this shouldn't really influence my overall grade which was based on only those ideas. However, it can still be something I work on for next year without having an effect on my grade this year.
  6. I have put a lot of effort into this class through the year, and have been appropriately prepared for everything. I do not think i have done anything this year that would merit a bunch of points being taken away. I have had an A+ or almost an A+ the entire year, and would like to continue that trend, so that when I apply to selective colleges my grades are good. This is also a safety net, because if I do badly on the IA I don't want my grade to plummet below A-, as that would kill my GPA (which, unfortunately, is much more important than I wish it was)
  7. I have put forth effort in all aspects of the class this trimester. I played an active role, specifically towards our article presentations and simulation activities. I have tried to demonstrate my knowledge and understanding of the presented material as best I can. I have learned so much, not only about our topics this trimester, but also improving my writing and analytical skills. In addition to all of this, I really need to end with an A in the class to balance out my french grade for the year and save my gpa. I believe that only an A+ will bring my A- from first and second trimester to an A. I do think that I put forth much effort into this class this trimester, and I was able to learn and grasp the course material.
  8. For starters, I hate giving myself a grade. I feel that an A+ should be entered because of my active participation in class discussion and simulations I was able to attend. I also gave a successful presentation on my assigned reading. The last two terms I received an A+ as well and I feel as if this term I have put in an equal amount of work as well as level of participation.
  9. The effort was there and I took away and reflected on the simulations and readings. For example, at LUMUN I was a delegate from Morocco and for the simulation I was Belgium. Both are relatively low key players. Upon reflection of these events, I now realize the unequal distributions of power among parties in resolution talks. This is just one example of how I have learned through experience. Thank you for a great Year 1. Have a good summer.
  10. i did all of the work so far this term and i did the work to the best of my abilities. also there was not that many assignments this trimester in the first place, and so far i think i received an A on all of the assignments except for the IA, which has not been graded yet, so unless my IA is a complete and udder failure i don't see why i should not receive an A for this trimester. If my IA happens to be terrible, just know that i tried my best but I'm not completely confident in my essays because for some reason even though i know what i am talking about in my mind, it does not come out that way on paper because i have trouble expressing my ideas clearly. But an A would Be nice...
  11. I feel that I've excelled in IB GloPol Year 1. My term papers have all been thoroughly researched and applicable to the engagement activities, all of which I have attended. My writing skills have improved considerably and the course has also developed my ability to synthesize complex source material. Before this year, I never could have understood, let alone analyze, the arguments presented by Walter, Sagan, and Brown. I can break down world issues and substantiate my claims with research and theory. I look forward to continuing to improve as a politics student in HL year 2 and I hope to formulate and work on my own original research question in my extended essay.
  12. "Well, I would like an A+ because of the wonders it will do to my GPA but I know that if my dedication to Global Politics equates to a grade mark, I would not deserve an A+. With my busy schedule and lack of time management skills year, I found it hard to truly focus on any one class for long spurts of time. I tried my best to put in as much effort as I could because I want to major in international relations (or political science) in college, and this is one of the few classes I actually learn in, but I found myself trying to balance too much and wasn't able to put in as much of my time as I would of liked. That being said, this will not occur next year because quite frankly I'll die if I put myself through that (this) again and I want to be able to get the most of this course before I go to college. I'd really like the A+ because when I apply to college and I place international relations or political science as an intended major I don't want to have an awful grade representing global politics and be regarded as a joke by admissions. I would be forever grateful if you gave me that A+ and hopefully will help me get into a good college."
  13. I truly believe that i have earned an A in the class. Though I am annoyingly talkative, I think that I do add something to the class and have really enjoyed this year. I have improved from the first trimester, going from the Iran paper (which I did poorly on then corrected), to the malaria paper (which I did well on), to this final DRC IA, which I consider my best one yet. My knowledge in global politics has certainly skyrocketed, and I can now have a much more educated conversation with someone about foreign affairs (I actually had one with my grandpa about Iran the other day!).
  14. I have attended all of the simulations and played a big role in almost all of them. I have done all of the required readings and turned in all of my work on time. I received good grades and feedback on my writing assignments and IAs that were turned in to you. I guess that is why I think I deserve this grade. It has been a good year, and I am looking forward to next year.
  15. It was a hard decision between the A and the A+, but I chose the A for multiple of reasons. I started off the year uneasy. I wasn’t able to express my ideas on paper. This was seen in my Drezner book review. I wasn’t able to grasp the material. However after talking to you and revising work, I started to understand where I was going wrong. This was shown in my well crafted position paper for Cameroon. At this point, the course became one of my favorite. I enjoy understanding the problems and issues that “third- world” countries have to face. Through my experience at LUMUN as a Rwandan delegate, I displayed my superior knowledge of international politics through the voice of small and underprivileged country. The DRC simulation offered a new challenge to me. I had to represent a large organization the UN, something I was not use to. However, I think I was quite successful. I successfully created and presented a well crafted ceasefire agreement which was actually passed. Because of my strong interest for simulations specifically model UN type of simulations, I believe that I have mastered the content for IB Global Politics Year 1. I chose A for my final grade due to the slow start I had at the end. If I was at the level that I am at today, I believe I could have easily argued an A+.
  16. I really need to make up for the fiasco that was TOK this trimester. Besides that, I believe that I was a leader during the simulations which is really what I excel in. I did the readings, I did extra readings on the study of International Relations, and I vastly improved my conduct from the beginning of the year. Please reward me!