Marcy Bauman (marcyb@UMD.UMICH.EDU)
Mon, 2 Sep 1996 11:13:40 -0400

On Sun, 1 Sep 1996, Jeffrey R Galin wrote:

> Students in your classes might write volumes of chit chat, but
> when they enter a writing rich work place, where volume is not valued,
> then what?

Hmm. Sounds to me like you've made the assumption that because I
grade strictly on quantity, quantity is all that's valued in my classes.
(Notice that you've assumed that students write "chit chat," for example.)
I couldn't have made the point that grades skew evaluation any more
neatly than you have with that assumption.

As I've been saying all along, I doubt whether meaningful
assessment and evaluation can go on in the shadow of grades. Seems to me
that all of us are forced to choose to highlight one function -- either
credentialing or learning -- at the expense of the other. I don't
believe they can co-exist, at least not with respect to the teaching of
writing. So I try to organize my classes to allow for maximum learning.
Students do a number of evaluative activities in class, including a
self-evaluation involving several short writings (an idea I borrowed from
Peg Syverson), and writing colleague acknowledgements, in which they tell
me whose writing in the class they respect, and why. We talk about their
writing at various points, and about the drafts of their major papers.
But I don't grade _anything_ except how much they've done.

Not grading quality means that I'm freer (we're _all_ freer) to
concentrate on matters of liking, and as Bob noted, changing the metaphor
_really_ changes the discourse that can go on. I think people learn far
more about how to flesh out an argument, say, if I can freely refute what
they say and honestly acknowledge that I disagree with their point of
view, and they _know_, that by the very structure of the class, my
agreement or disagreement has nothing to do with their grade. (I used to
tell students this, but when I still graded on quality, they didn't
believe me. I know this because the kinds of things they'll now feel
free to say is different than before.) I think that people learn far
more about how to write from being in engaged debate with a number of
individual readers than they do from trying to achieve some "standard"
set by somebody else, and which they may not understand or accept.

I don't worry too much about the quality issue for a number of
reasons. First, the amount of writing that people have to do for an A is
sufficiently burdensome enough that usually the people who end up with As
are the folks who would've gotten them in a more traditionally-graded
class. Second, I can see that the amount of learning people do increases
dramatically, and the quality of the discussions I have with people about
their writing is greatly improved. I don't _get_ people asking, "What do
I have to do to make this an A paper?" or saying "OK, so if I change this
sentence around and fix this part, it'll be all right?"

Jeff strongly implied that by not grading on quality, I was
ignoring the credentialing issue, and failing to maintain a community
standard. Fact is, I doubt there _is_ a monolithic community standard; I
think that if anything, standards are local and provisional. An A from
one school is NOT equal to an A from another. People who read essay
portions of standardized tests have to be trained at the beginning of the
reading session so that their grades are synchronized, and re-trained
every so often to make sure they haven't slipped back into their
individual, idiosyncratic practices. I once participated in a WAC
workshop on grading where people allowed that they assumed that the
grades that _other_ people gave were meaningful, but that the ones _they_
gave were provisional and sometimes downright arbitrary. Students know
this; they routinely tell each other that So-and-So is a hard grader, or
such-and-such is a blowoff class. Would this kind of talk be possible if
grades articulated a community standard?

Sorry to go on so long. I was about to drop this thread, but I
got some off-list mail that indicated maybe I should explain further. (I
gotta watch myself, though; I _do_ tend to get a bit passionate about all
of this.)


Marcy Bauman
Writing Program
University of Michigan-Dearborn
4901 Evergreen Rd.
Dearborn, MI 48128

Web page: http://www.umd.umich.edu/~marcyb
email: marcyb@umd.umich.edu