Re: grading ourselves to death

Nick Carbone (nickc@MARLBORO.EDU)
Fri, 6 Sep 1996 12:57:35 -0400

On Fri, 6 Sep 1996, Greg Sturgeon wrote:

> What about institutional constraints? I hate to sound like a wuss here,
> but what kind of service are we doing to our students if we let them drink
> what and when they like, and neglect the fact that they drink the wrong
> stuff, or not enough of the right stuff?

This is the issue I try to address, and referred obliquely to in
one of those too long posts I'm wont to write. In short, when my
students write an argument for the grade, though I may be the only
representative of the institution to read the argument, others--teachers,
administrators, deans--do read the grade. They will often assume that a
different argument than the one my student wrote informs what that grade
means. My student may earn an A, but not because they write error free
prose; they may have learned some good habits and have accomplished some
goals they set for themselves. But readers of the grade are likely to
think, 'hmmm, got an A in writing, must be a good writer,' and chances
are they define good writer as a writer who writes the way they expect
writing to be.

So while I give my students the responsibility of writing an
argument for a grade, that argument must include a consideration of these
other readers, readers who will see only the recorded grade and not the
argument, readers who will make certain assumptions about the student as
a writer based on the grade that may or may not be true about the
student. By requiring this consideration as part of the argument's
pervue, it forces students to consider the course and their learning in
it in a larger institutional context.

> Also, one problem that I've run
> into many times is the students' confusing what they WANT to drink with
> what we (as "more experienced") know (or think we know) would be better
> for them to drink to get through college. When I let my students have
> more choice as to what and when to write, I got several who took it as
> license to sit around and do nothing. They didn't drink because drinking
> would have been too much effort, or would have meant that they couldn't
> study for that chemistry exam, or whatever.

I'm moving away from having them 'drink' the water--i.e. telling
them what to write, to showing them ways to keep their heads above water
and to swim. If they choose to swim against the tide, god love 'em, then
they need to know the tides. So part of what I see in the role
self-evaluation and peer evaluation has to play at all levels is in this--
learning ways to read the tides, be they rhetorial, cultural,
institutional, pedagogical, or personal. One of the reasons I like using
the communication triangle so much is that what it suggests about writing
can be adapted to many other situations where there is a person who needs
to speak or act, a topic they are speaking or acting upon, and a
person/group/authority they are addressing. If students understand that
this is a liquod and not a fixed dynamic, as Jeffrey suggests in his
critique of power, then it seems to me they have the beginnings of some
useful resources, both mental, linguistic, oratorical, rhetorical, and

Nick Carbone, Writing Instructor
Marlboro College
Marlboro, VT 05344