"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Friday, May 26, 2017

My Students Demand Partial Credit

Two months ago, I posted on this blog an article entitled "What do my grades really mean?" Recently, I just received evaluations from my students. I guess these evaluations were my grades for my teaching. Since the evaluation was online, less than half of my class participated. Less than a quarter of the class bothered to write comments and going through what they wrote, it seemed like there was only one complaint: I did not give partial credit. Although these gripes are coming from a few, their remarks appeared loud and clear. Apparently, these students not only did not know what their grades really meant. They also did not know what "partial credit" meant. To me, these students seemed to be expressing that receiving partial credit was their right. Such disconcerting attitude reminded me of an essay a Physics professor once wrote in Newsweek:

Wiesenfeld lamented about the students' "indifference toward grades as an indication of personal effort and performance" and attributed this indifference to "having been raised on gold stars for effort and smiley faces for self-esteem, they've learned that they can get by without hard work and real talent".

Reading Wiesenfeld's essay makes me think how we are raising our children. Their attitude towards grades is very likely shaped by their past experiences. Their view of being entitled to partial credit is possibly shaped by what they have experienced during their basic education years.

As a college instructor, the final grades I give to students are determined solely by their scores in the exams. Yes, there is ten percent assigned to online homework, but there is no partial credit for effort, extra projects, or attendance. The final grade is not a judgment I make, but a product that the students have made themselves. It is not a measure of how good they are as chemists. It is simply a measure of whether they are able to answer the questions in my exam.

We really need to help our children develop a healthier attitude towards grades if we are giving them grades early in their education. I am reposting the first paragraph of the previous post in this blog because it brings out what may go wrong when a child does not know what grades really mean:
Going through school, we really have learned the ABC's. And I am not talking about the alphabet. I am talking about the letters commonly used for reporting our grades. Based on these grades, we are able to compare ourselves against each other. With grades, we leap into labeling each other as either "good" or "bad" student. We even go further by comparing grades we obtain in one subject against another subject. I got an 'A' in math but only a 'D' in reading so I must be 'smart' in mathematics. We have even gone to the far end of equating grades as requirements to either enter an exclusive school or getting a job. In reality, the letter grades do not really mean that much. An 'A' in math does not really tell us what a student has learned. Math is too broad of a category and unless we have access to the quizzes, exams, homework, and other tools that are incorporated in this final grade, we really cannot tell how much a student has learned. It is perplexing that we have basically equated grades to our identity, allowing these letters to shape who we think we are.
In that same post, I shared what my son's instructor in karate does with regard to grades. Yesterday, my son on his own shared his report card with his karate master. The master acknowledges first of all my son's initiative to show his grades. Then, the master went through each improvement shown in my son's report. To my son's karate master, what is more important is that my son always gives his best, and that he always strives to be better.


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