Re: Quality/Quantity

Jeffrey R Galin (galin+@PITT.EDU)
Mon, 2 Sep 1996 11:44:03 -0400

Context is good. The fact is, from what you have described you do
not in fact grade only on quantity. That is why I asked my question in
the first place, what did you mean? You are also right that I am highly
skeptical of an exclusively quantitative assessment of performance.
Perhaps it comes from the age old joke about grading papers by throwing
them up in the air and seeing which ones landed on which stairs. I
produce tons of crap in writing, more than a lot of folks. That does not
make me smarter or a better writer. It means for me that I am willing to
take chances, willing to say what I think, and stupid enough to do it on a
public forum. I would not give myself an A for effort or volume. But
that is me.

What strikes me as most interesting about your claims are that I
know you are a good teacher. I've seen what you have had to say over the
past few years. I saw your energy and investment when I first met you at
Penn State five years ago. Your claim that you grade only on quantity,
however, is some what of a false claim. You have inner criteria on which
you apportion grades. You reveal yourself when you talk about the
difficulty of the assignments and the forms of peer assessment you
encourage in your students. Both of these forms of criteria are
comparative measurments, evaluations that assume the concept of grade
beneath them.

When I said there was almost no evaluation without grades I meant
that we may not use the word grade and we may subvert the usual processes
that look like grades, but students still think grades. They figure out
why you have them look at each others' writing to determine which writing
is best and they try to emulate it because they know, no matter how much
you deny it, they are writing for a system what works on grades and they
just have to figure out what constitutes gradees for you.

We can take the grade out of the class but we cant take the grade
out of the student.

Thanks for sharing your teaching contexts.


On Mon, 2 Sep 1996, Marcy Bauman wrote:

> 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
> =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
> Marcy Bauman
> Writing Program
> University of Michigan-Dearborn
> 4901 Evergreen Rd.
> Dearborn, MI 48128
> Web page:
> email:
> =-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

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