The Grace We Should Extend to Our Students
Imagine you are a student in a class and you have a string of zeros in the grade book.
What would you do? Would you:
a) Do your best to complete all of your missing assignments, despite all of the new tasks that are coming due
b) Do a couple of the big assignments but leave the rest
c) Decide to let the old ones go and do your best on the new tasks in hopes that your grade will eventually go up
d) Give up on the class and either disengage, stop showing up, or drop it
We all know that for most students, the answer is D.
It’s nearly impossible for a student to recover a grade once zeros are plugged into a gradebook. And it’s easy for them to lose hope. Why should they try if there’s no hope of catching up or redeeming the grade?
You might say: if the student did nothing, that’s what they earned — a zero. You might think: if a student isn’t attending my class, they don’t deserve any credit.
And up until three weeks ago, I would have agreed with you.
Let me tell you a little story: this summer, I read a book called Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman. As I read it, my skepticism flared: What nerve did the author have when he said we should adopt a minimum grade policy? How could I possibly ever give a student a 50% when they a) didn’t do the assignment or b) hadn’t attended the class? It sounded ridiculous, and a little bit like new-age coddling.
And then: I found myself in a situation.
I had signed up to take an online class. At the time when I signed up, it was still summer and I thought, No problem — it will be a piece of cake to work this into my schedule when it starts in mid-August.
And then August came. The school year was in full swing and I was busy. The first week of the class came and went — and I forgot all about it. By the time I remembered, it was too late to drop it for a refund. I looked at the requirements of the class more closely, and my heart sank: two chapters of reading per week, plus two sets of study guide questions…