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Grading, Good Faith, and Legitimacy

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: June 8, 1999
E-mail Faculty on the Site.

Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy (First Draft, Spring 1998)
Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy (Second Draft, Spring 1999)
Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy: Data (Third Segment of Draft, May 1999)
Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy: Stories (Fourth Segment of Draft, June 5, 1999)
Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy: Constructs (Fifth Segment of Draft, June 6, 1999)

Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy:
Flexibility and Structure (Sixth Segment of Draft, June 6, 1999)

Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy:
Standards in a World of Legitimacy and Discourse (Seventh Segment of Draft, June 8, 1999)

Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy: Data Analysis
Third Segment of Draft

By Jeanne Curran, Susan R. Takata

Copyright June 1999. Permission for "fair use," not for any for-profit use.
Spring 1999

A week's stop along the way to analyze what's happening with Dear Habermas:

Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy: Stories
Fourth Segment of Draft

By Jeanne Curran, Susan R. Takata

Copyright June 1999. Permission for "fair use," not for any for-profit use.
Spring 1999

This segment comes from my notes of January 4. I had just spent another day long session recording the e-mails from several classes over the Spring semester. Other simpler and quicker methods would have verified the grades most students already knew they had earned, since the terms had been fairly specific. (Elsewhere in the paper the norms which have evolved for the "grading" will be discussed in specific detail.) But patterns were emerging, and it became important to record enough of those patterns in some way that we could begin to use the data collectively.

The following are some of the patterns that drew my attention and a summary of the stories they invoked:

More notes - June 5, 1999

This seems so ridiculous to plod through these thousands of e-mails, when I fully recognize that we could never ask this of a normal course load. So why have I steadfastly persisted in it? There is something here that I am convinced I have to see. The recording is a mechanical process, not yet perfected, but mechanical.

But beyond the recording there is the importance that I, not an assistant with less training in patterns of critical thought as applied to the specific instances of the exercise concepts, read the messages. When the students actually attempt to put the concepts in their own words, the results are informative. They tell me where their thinking went astray, and what I need to inject into the dialog to get them back on track. That takes the very essence of the best teaching. I could allow another skilled and well trained teacher to read and analyze the messages, but not a newly starting out research assistant or teaching assistant. This was one of the mistakes we made repeatedly in asking for help from teaching assistants within our classes.

I don't think a teaching assistant should engage in activities that do not enhance his/her learning. I don't think recording information about the counting data related to class submissions teaches our students enough to take that activity beyond the charge that we are treating them as "free labor." When we are charged to share the challenge of teaching such large classes, it is incumbent upon us to find meaningful ways to share that do not just duplicate the labor of paid assistants.

My present sense is that the Dear Habermas site has provided us with a means to do this. Once I understand clearly what I need to record, and another thousand or so e-mails will permit me to understand that, then the recording task can be nearly automated, since I have refused to interfere with the electronic process. We may well need to add another software program, or program the necessary pieces ourselves.

Then the task becomes focused on the teacher, well trained in learning theory and critical thinking. The teacher must read and respond succinctly to a class of say 60 students. And that class of students must write, for writing practice they need. How do we focus the activity to manageable proportions?

  1. Use of exercises and lecture notes.

    The exercises need to be on the basic concepts we feel every student should be able to take from the course. We're already there in curriculum development.

    The lecture notes need to provide answers to the exercises, with sufficient additional lecture material interspersed that the students need to read them, and that they cannot be summarized into our standard 25 words or less without some understanding.

    This combination covers the student who is functionally illiterate, terrified before trying to think his/her way through the material. If they have trouble formulating the answers, the lecture notes guide them. All they need to do is figure out how to say it in acceptably few words. If they are really damaged from previous experiences or from a total lack thereof, then they can copy out the answers, identifying the source they are quoting.

    For most students it will be possible to rephrase the answer in 25 words or less (emphasis on short and directly to the point - not on word count). That is the kind of writing practice they need. Saying what they have learned, clearly and concisely. Our students adhered to this standard without complaint by semester's end. They did break with the standard when they wanted to tell us a story. But they flagged the story (David Ausubel's theory), acknowledged the standard, and then went on to tell the story. Right in the middle of the exercise, on which they adhered to the short answer standard on other questions.

    I have found that over a seven-day intensive insane attempt to pull this whole project together at this, the appointed end of semester, I can answer their misconceptions at lightning speed, transfer their stories to a file designated for site placement, and record their exercises.

  2. I still can't manage to record everything I need.

    • I need to know the exact composition of their group each time they send a message. They give me that data. I just can't figure out how to record it. That's because the membership in their groups changes, as it should.

    • I need to record repeat references to the same exercise. That's our dialogue. A few students tried to do that, but the result was hopelessly confusing. I think a simple numbering system will work, but we didn't have that this semester because we used six new books in three new courses. If the student identified in the subject heading: juv just ex 4, resp to resp1 I could probably record it. That's the advance organizer (Ausubel) the reader needs.

    • I need to stick to a single concept per message. Having more than one concept covered per message got me in trouble with recording and perusal of the records.

    • I need to place their messages in a file they can access as they review the records. I need links to their and my responses.

    • I need to have canned examples of applications of each basic example on file, that they can link to, in response to my message. This is how we automate the correction of concepts. Lots of detail provided in statistics records on this.

    • So I need a recording system that let's me branch off to look at second and third level responses when I am perusing a record sheet.

  3. The lecture notes, focused on basic concepts, and a parallel set of applied examples with which to re-explain those concepts when misunderstood provide the means of creating focussed dialog.

    • The student who needs strong support and practice can obtain a C by completing the exercises. Tutorial help is available because of the focus on basic concepts and the automated examples available. The student should not need to "tested." The mere completion of the exercises will have walked the student through the learning process. (congitive dissonance theory - and removing the terror). The student who needs practice at this level, should not be asked to prepare a project, since the focus should be on completing more work that will cement the basic concepts and expression thereof.

    • The B can be earned as the student actively becomes able to explain the basic concept in his/her own words. At this level our courses add the requirement of a piece produced to share with other learners, through site access. This piece includes a concept for departure, and links to either hardcopy references or Internet references.

    • The A can be earned by competent completion of the basic concepts exercises, and by a project that displays creative or effortful participation in teaching the concept to peers who need help, leadership of a group of students, significant contribution to class discussion, and other variations that students defined as this semester progressed.

      The A grade and the C grade represent the two ends of a continuum. The B falls somewhere in the spectrum between them.

    All of these activities are open to group participation. They are also all open to individual effort, separately from a group. A few of our students worked individually. I was amazed to realize how few. Most worked in groups ranging from 2 to seven members, and the membership shifted. Individuals sometimes took on dialog alone, and at other times, moved back into group participation. Through all these unending e-mails, it feels as though the students found on their own the right mix for group and individual work. I think it helped that I placed no restraints on that dimension.

    All of these activities are also open to group and teacher prodding. Some students who would have gratefully settled for a C are prodded, pulled, and pushed until they earn a higher grade. The teacher sometimes pulls, and is sometimes pulled by the group. These are all responses I saw, and will illustrate in narrative, this semester. They are responses of a classroom system where all are recognizing their roles, and learning to make themselves heard.

  4. Cheating. Any system is vulnerable to those who would defraud it. But students are not here to defraud us. They are here to learn. If we give them a system in which they can learn, at their own speed, within their own parameters, where they have some control and some decision-making power, then they become citizens of our system, and they accept responsibility for their learning.

    Of course, there will be some who defraud. But they are the concern of the "police" of the setting, not of the teachers. If a student is given permission to copy, when that is the stage of learning at which he/she finds himself, and if he is given an honest C for honestly doing that copy, both we and cognitive dissonance theory say that student IS learning. Perhaps not making up in one semester for twelve years of poor schooling, but the institutions of higher education can't do that anyway.

    As the student experiences success, chances are he/she will want to take on more challenge. The solution to the dishonest student is for us not to be dishonest in our teaching. There are very few "real criminal" students in my forty years experience of teaching college. There are many, many very frightened and frustrated students who cannot figure out how to cope with the system. Anthony Giddens says sociologists should teach people to cope with the system. This dear habermas project is trying to do just that.

    One example in the present data set of the students' coping with changing circumstances is the fluidity in the groups. One very articulate and highly motivated student discovered several weeks into the course that he did not need the course as a requirement. He switched to another course with the same instructor, and so ceased coming to the class. Although there was no mention ever made of the change, the group, with which he had been active in the early weeks, simply began to appear without his name. Students, given the trust and the opportunity, manage the complex situatedness of today's campus. Follow up interviews to confirm whether the group ever had knowledge of the student's change in plans is planned.

    Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy: Constructs
    (Fifth Segment of Draft)

    June 6 notes. I called this Characters earlier, but I think I like constructs better, for that is what I had in mind. As I continue the data recording process, I see examples of forgiveness, trust, helping others to state validity claims, the frustration of wanting to help restate a claim - not knowing how to - so bullying the teacher in favor of the other's claim - cute sequence.

    I have also been impressed at the extent to which good manners has prevailed. There has been minimal arrogance, self-righteous indignation. (Only a few "you haven't answered my e-mail. Did you get it?" "this is the third time I've sent this.") Much more often: "just checking" "please confirm if you can". I think this goes to prove that students are citizens in the academy. Time we honored that.

    Grades, Good Faith, and Legitimacy: Flexibility and Structure
    (Sixth Segment of Draft, June 6, 1999)

    Balancing Group/Individual Work and Balancing "Right Answer"/"Creative Answer"/Different Question - Need to go back to convergent and divergent production to explain the two track process in which we're always engaged. This combines with issues of difference, including the issue of assimilation as it applies to whether or not the general public and its children wish to assimilate to the academy, or merely prefer its credentialing for the attainment of highly divergent goals, of which the academy is often not even aware. Do we climb only upon the shoulders of giants we accept as our heroes, or do we use what is out there to attain our goals? (Chavetz, feminism and formal theory) Much of this theoretical literature will have to be summarized for an understanding of how we went about developing and marketing flexibility in the midst of a rather adamantly inflexible world. Barney Glaser also reflects having seen some of this same pattern.

    Brief leap now back to the practice framwork.

    • How to provide for group work without stifling those for whom it does not work

      • let them move freely. less pressure then from a student who can't make a meeting time to say that she'll cover the work anyway. she can't make that time, she'll pick up the work with another group, or with an indiviudal from the group who brings her uptodate and gets recognition for tutoring for that - though tutoring has negative connotations I'd like to get rid of - this is the system they devised this semester

      • couple the group activity with a requirement that they meet with tchr or assigned designate (though I like the teacher connection, personally) to do a couple of quick sample run throughs of the type of work they're doing on the computer. Accessing exercises, accessing sources, comparing their answers to lecture notes by having lecture notes up on one screen, their exercise on the other, and using the task bar to move between them. Doing at least two searches, one yahoo, one another search engine. Most of my kids could do this in five minutes by the end of the course. It's an individual accomplishment, but I don't care if the group is with them, and even shouts instructions in a moment of confusion.

      • teach group work as learning style. encourage them all to try both kinds because each kind offers advantages. individual is control oriented. group brings in communication skills and keeps them up with anything they miss. but for it to work they have to have already established communication. how to prevent people who work in groups from denigrating those who don't and vice versa,

      • letting them change groups provides an opportunity to deal with control stylel needs and changling real world conditions. need to supply them with a list of constraints that make one not function well in a group

        • there's someone else who always jumps in first and seems to think they know more

        • there's someone who moves faster and is impatient with those who want to move more slowly

        • the group doesn't have a good organizer - they keep meaning to do stuff, but can never get together

        • some people learn most by reading, some by listening to lectures - group often values one style over the other

    • etc. etc. Let's work with them to set up a whole list of things they should look for in the beginning as they get to know other class mates. we know that "knowing each other" is hard, but we've never done anything about teaching them better ways to know.

    • then teach them that life's situations change - validity claims that offer alternatives could help. someone whose time is suddenly shortened for what prove to seem good and valid reasons may need to find a group that is less control-oriented

    • ONE MISCONSPETION: one kid thought that because he was working with his group he didn't need to go to lectures. eek!

    • How to provide structure and not structure

      • The web site. If we require maybe 15 exercises, with recording not based on grading, but on actual attempt to talk to them to see that they understand those 15 basic concepts, then that is structured.

      • For each of the 15, lecture notes, and text references.

        Then very specific project - where they have to provide something short, substantive, with links and/or references that is for sharing on the site.

      • Then class is for discussion of concepts and readings.

      That's as far as I can get just now. I know that we live in an academic world that is very demanding of their time and energy , and that any attempt to be reasonable about that leads to some students just doing nothing because they can, or at least doing as little as they can. But that didn't happen so much this semester. I think the schools could recreate enthusiasm for learning.