Evaluation Experience: Is it all about the grade?

Upon review I have discovered that my most positive evaluative memories are NOT tests. I am an excellent test taker. And yet my positive memories are not of tests.

I wonder if this is because test-taking is so easy for me or I am so good at it that I don’t even “notice” tests? I will have to think about this.

My strongest positive memories of grades in college were in conjunction with research papers. I loved the diving into a subject, studying it, and immersing myself in it. Sometimes it would take me a while to get started, but I really did well once I chose a topic. I took a Latin American history course and wrote my paper on “The Course and Effect of Smallpox on the Conquest of the Spanish New World.” It was an incredibly interesting paper, combining all my loves (history, English, and biology). And the teacher liked it too. I had some technical difficulties with it but still got an A on the paper. I don’t remember the course (though I could show you the classroom), but that paper has melded into my mind and heart.

I have used the information I learned in that paper several times over the course of my life and still remember quite a bit about it though I wrote the paper 29 years ago.

Another paper I wrote and remember and felt was a positive evaluation experience was a paper I started at the last minute because I did not have a clue what I wanted to write on. I stayed awake for 72 hours researching, watching movies (war propaganda films from WWII), taking notes, reading, and writing. I use the paper as an example of “I’ve been there and put it off” and sometimes it works when I am talking to my students about not putting off papers. I don’t remember a lot about that course, though I do recall the professor and still own one of his books, but I remember a lot about that paper. And I have several books on allied propaganda from WWII because the paper created an interest that continued for years.

My final positive evaluation experience is one I refer to in all my classes. I tell my students that I am not terribly attached to the idea that they have to get As. I tell them, instead, that I want them to do their best. If their best is a C, then they should be proud of that C. And I tell them of the C I earned in college that I am very proud of.

A genetics course required a year of college biology, a year of college chemistry, and the consent of the instructor to take. I hadn’t had any college science at this point (though I concurrently took Medical Microbiology) and my math skills were at Algebra I level. However, I was always brave and bold scholastically and I approached the professor and he agreed to allow me in the class.

This was a summer course, seven weeks, and seventy people started in the course. I worked a lot, went for math tutoring both from the lab and from the teacher- trying to make sure I got the concepts. He talked about Walker Percy (whose works I read because of this class) and the genetic illness that people who became known as werewolves have (a discussion I have used in my high school biology teaching and my freshman comp classes). I worked hard in that course, probably as hard as I have ever worked in a class. Of the seventy people who took the course, nine passed. And I got a C.

I am very proud of that C. (I have one or two others I am not so proud of, but that one, that one I worked for.)

Maybe I am not as big on tests as other people because those aren’t strong positive factors in my memory. But I do know that positive evaluation experiences don’t require that I received an A in the course. Both the college history courses have final grades of B. (I was indulging in a social life back then.) So for me, it isn’t all about the grade.

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