Tip 32: 5 Ways to Change Grade Entitlement Expectations

The NYTimes article covers the study that shows that students think they are entitled to grades for effort. According to it, perceived effort should be rewarded with a B.

First, what the student perceives as effort and what actually is effort are not necessarily the same thing. We might could discuss that in the definition section of writing.

But, having said that, how can we enlighten students that their grades mean that they have accomplished the required work well?

Make sure our syllabus says that an A is for exceptional work.

We need to state up front that A’s are not the standard grade in the class and that our students need to do above the minimum and more for an A.

Samples of A work would also be good. The library on campus will often hold a notebook in the reserve section into which you can place samples for your students to look at.

An advantage to that is that the students who want an A enough to work for it will probably aim higher than they would have otherwise.

Tell them that C is average.

We should probably make sure that they know that C is average. They’ve never heard that in their life. If we are grading their work on C as average, then they need to know.

It should be in our syllabus. It should be on our grading rubric.

Shoot, make a poster and hang it in the room.

Give them sufficient feedback.

One problem in some of the courses I have seen is that students don’t know how they are doing. Yes, they should know how they are doing. We give them papers with grades back on a regular basis.

(If you don’t, then you need to. Papers should be returned at a minimum within two weeks from their reception.)

Despite the fact that students could see their running scores, they often do not add these up and keep track. I have had abysmal students who have never made above a D on a paper demand to know why they were making an F when I passed out interim grades and I have had a student who was making a B+ try to drop the class because she made a 50 on a single homework assignment. They don’t know how to view their grades. Even when we tell them the system, they don’t know.

So we need to give them grade averages throughout the semester. I try to give these out three times. Five weeks, ten weeks, and fifteen weeks.

An advantage of giving the averages out three times is that students know what they are making as they work on the course. At five weeks if they have a 44 and they actually want to make a B, they know they need to get in gear. At ten weeks if they have a 44, they need to either miraculously ramp it up (I’ve had students do it) or give over their hope for a B and aim for a C. At fifteen weeks, they know going into the final what they are making.

I also let anyone who is making a 95 or above out of the final. It lets the other students know that people did make that high a grade. (The down side to it is that all the interesting finals don’t get written. But I am willing to grade fewer papers for this.)

Let them know that effort doesn’t count.

I have personal stories of effort that I made and still I failed. I tell them those stories and relate them to the class. I tell them I went for tutoring, that I worked hard, that I tried my best, and that I still made a D.

If you don’t have a personal story, give them a hypothetical example.

If someone were working on your house and they didn’t know how to put up drywall, but they made an effort– and it was all crooked, with the insulation showing and holes in the wall, would you be happy? Would you pay them for their work? No. But they worked. They tried.

Then relate it to the class.

Explain that a C, while not a great grade, can be a shining mark of distinction.

I know you are shaking your head on this one. But here’s how I do it.

I tell my students that they need to do the best they can. I tell them that their work is what matters. If they are doing the best they can and they get a C, then they should be proud of that C.

I also remind them that if they aren’t doing the best they can and they get a C, they will be right to be ashamed of that grade. The problem isn’t a C. The problem is that they didn’t do their best.

Then I tell them of the C I am most proud of in my life. I took a class without the two years of prerequisites required. I took the class without the math background necessary. I took the class in the summer. (Yes, I was a fool.) Seventy people started in that class. Nine people passed. I made a C. I am very proud of that C.

One thought on “Tip 32: 5 Ways to Change Grade Entitlement Expectations”

  1. I’ve taught college writing in Korea and this repeated, explicit feedback wasn’t necessary. I am very careful and clear about all grades and comments.

    Students there are so used to mysterious grades, i.e. one final grade based on a midterm they got back but couldn’t keep and a final that they never see graded.

    I like your system.

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