Meeyah Davis, an Adams Center Fellow, and Dr. Diana Flanagan, a Biology Faculty member, addressed faculty about feasible ways to reform the grading system by altering student perspective. They combined their thoughts on grading, examining a professor’s experience cultivating a course and assigning a grading system with a student’s experience taking various courses and perceiving the professor’s course structure. Initially, Meeyah focused on introducing a grading cap proposal, limiting exam percentage to no more than 70% of the cumulative grade. However, through their partnership, the outlook shifted, evolving the session into a new direction prioritizing academic freedom and feasibility, while still aiming to improve student motivation and establish balance in the classroom.

To begin the session, faculty were presented with four introductory discussion questions.

  • Do you recall the first time you had the creative freedom to structure a course? Why did you make those decisions? How has the course evolved?
  • Is the effort and intention you put into that course recognized by students? If yes, how? If no, why not?
  • What do grades signify to you and how is this conveyed to students?
  • Is a professor responsible for teaching or performance? Both? To what extent? Is this indicative of where professors are willing to meet their students?

During the discussion, as faculty reminisced about their earliest memory of structuring a course, it became evident that where they started is not where they are now. Some of the most time-consuming, resource rich, and heavily researched changes in their teaching methods did not yield the expected outcomes, but it was unanimous that students did not recognize the effort put into the course. Regarding grades and their meaning, it became clear that grades did not have a universal significance for everyone.

Suggestion 1: Based on the research and discussion answers, one solution to the issue of student motivation and balance could be incorporating transparency and clarity into the student-faculty dynamic.

Mr. Miyagi Analogy: A familiar story many can relate to is the Original Karate Kid. Daniel, the protagonist, asks Mr. Miyagi to train him in the art of Karate. After some convincing, Mr. Miyagi agrees and begins Daniel’s training immediately, starting with washing and waxing Mr. Miyagi’s car with specific instructions, “wax on, wax off.” With additional tasks like sanding the floor, Daniel becomes frustrated, feeling he is wasting time doing house chores instead of training. While Mr. Miyagi’s training proves useful and the chores teach Daniel the necessary technique, the hidden intention causes frustration. If Mr. Miyagi’s intentions were transparent, it begs the question of how much harder Daniel would have worked.

Impact: Life is not a movie, and the student-teacher dynamic should not be a “do as I say because I say it” situation; instead, students should make the connection. There is a benefit in being clear about the why behind the assigned tasks and grading. Combatting the notion of busywork, is no longer busy because you promote the reason why the task is important to a student’s learning journey.

Solution 1: Incorporating a grading purpose into the classroom.

  • Grades do not inherently signify anything; students and faculty can benefit by utilizing a grading purpose statement in two capacities:
  • Application 1: Frequently communicate to students the link between a task and its impact on learning.
  • Application 2: Add a grading purpose statement to the syllabus.

A grading purpose statement answers five questions for students to understand the professor’s thought process and intention behind the grades in the class and explains why these grades are the best assessment of a student’s learning.

The questions are as follows:

  • What is the purpose of my grades?
  • What is the best tool I have to assess this?
  • Is the overall course grade exclusively determined by assessments?
  • Do students have different types/multiple opportunities to show their evidence of achievement throughout each semester?
  • Who is the primary audience for my grade?

To conclude, the collaborative efforts of Meeyah Davis and Dr. Diana Flanagan shed light on the multifaceted nature of the grading system and the intricacies of the student-faculty dynamic. Through engaging discussions and insightful reflections, they’ve emphasized the importance of transparency, clarity, and purposefulness in teaching practices and grading methodologies. By encouraging faculty to reflect on their teaching approaches and students’ perceptions, they’ve paved the way for fostering a more meaningful learning environment where students recognize the value of their education and faculty feel appreciated for their dedication. Incorporating a grading purpose statement into the classroom stands as a tangible step towards enhancing communication and understanding between professors and students, ultimately leading to improved motivation, balanced assessment, and enriched educational experiences for all involved parties.