Teach, don’t grade

After teaching the basic public speaking course at colleges for over 30 years, and being frustrated with the level of speeches, level of writing, no-shows and drops, I realized I had to radically change the way I was teaching.  Because, you know, if they aren’t learning, I’m not teaching. So this blog will explain how I changed the course to make everyone (including yours truly) happier and more successful.

My old way of teaching was standard:  3 main speeches, each with a detailed evaluation sheet that had points assigned for every element I could think of.  Fifty points for 10 different delivery aspects, 50 for the outline and so on.  I also had mini-speeches, mini-assignments, all intended to keep the students moving toward completing the semester by accumulating points every week, each assignment building on the previous ones.

But here was one of the main problems.  If a student stumbled on an assignment early on, or missed mini-assignments, it was very difficult for them to get their footing again, and the failures accumulated (instead of the points).  So I often had a fairly bifurcated class–those who kept up and moved smoothly toward a B or an A, and those who couldn’t make up for early problems and dropped or earned a D or worse.

Plus I was getting incredibly frustrated.  It didn’t matter how much I emphasized to them that they had to just plug along every day, every week and they’d do fine.  Many didn’t or couldn’t and I ended up feeling like I was punishing instead of teaching.  I also came to see my detailed point system as arbitrary and tyrannical.  One student gets three points for eye contact and another gets four. Really?  The activity of circling those numbers was becoming more ludicrous every year.

Our basic public speaking course has a very high DFW rate (Ds, Fs and Withdrawals) and I was sick of it.  The spring of 2018 saw new levels of W (some of which I attribute to the stress of the Trump era but that’s another blog).  I spent the summer ruminating then figuring out how to actually TEACH public speaking so the students would stay and learn.

I’m about to start the third week of the fall semester of 2018 and the first few months of this blog will explain what my classes are doing with the new system.  As the blog sub-title states, the intention is to teach more and grade less.

52 thoughts on “Teach, don’t grade

  1. Ive never had much of an understanding to how grading for teachers must work and now that i have read this i really dont envy any of you. I dont doubt that you had but the best intentions initially but the old system you graded by definitely comes off as tedious for you and the students…but mostly you. In the end given that stats on the grades for the past few years it seems you made the best choice in deciding to mix things up. Personally speaking i havent felt the same crunch your past students must have been feeling so i think you’ve done great so far.

    1. I honestly never realized how frustrating and difficult grading each student would be. Everyone has different personalities and writing skills. This opened my eyes and made me realized that finding a unique way to grade everyone without causing them to not want to give up is hard. Most students focus on the grade rather than the feedback or comments they may receive from the Professor. Your old way of grading would’ve honestly made me freak out. This was how grading was done for me before and it honestly wasn’t a lot of help. Found myself stressing and overthinking more than anything.

  2. I totally agree with everything you said. From my experience, I have considered dropping a class due to grades that I was getting. Most professors will return papers back to students with both a grade and a comment but I found myself paying more attention to the grade than the comment. Example giving a C or D grade to a student can leave them feeling very complex about themselves. Leaving a good feedback would make it clear to them where their performance does or does not measure up to your expectation. Also taking a bit of time to conversate with a student to check for understanding I think is very helpful too due to that we all learn differently.

    1. I agree, everything you have said is true. The traditional way of grading has a way of making one feel like they are just a letter, instead of like an actual student. It’s much easier to learn material and fix your mistakes when you are getting constant feedback from your professor that specifically pertains to you and your progress. I think more professors should adapt this way of teaching and I guarantee they will see an increase in student participation, attendance, and class completion. As a student who has attempted to take SPE 100 twice before, this is my first time getting this far within the course, feeling confident and feeling like I will make it to the end, all because of your method for TEACH MORE, GRADE LESS. The class and the material is way more interesting than my previous SPE 100 courses. Thank you so much!

  3. I completely agree with this blog entirely. This blog is well written and I have to say that your old way of teaching is why I personally failed Speech 100 last semester. My teacher was too worried on points too much and there were way too many guidelines to follow. Mini assignments, requirements, points for standing up straight and speaking extemporaneously etc. She would take points off if we did not do these things and many of us were extremely frustrated and found it difficult to regain balance and a good grade. We also had to balance many other classes on top of that stressful point frenzy class that if you missed one assignment you are totally screwed. I am very pleased with the way you decided to grade the class this semester while keeping it fun and easy yet making us determined and professional at the same time. 🙂

  4. I agree very much to this blog, it’s so important for us students to get a really good idea in what our grade is and why we got that grade. To really try and fix what ever it maybe we have to fix in time. Am very glad you changed the way you teach and grade your students, this really makes a big difference. Am glad I took this class, as well learned a lot from it. Really happy with the experienced I took out of this class.

  5. Your emphasis on teaching seems to have made a profound impact. One of the things I was most terrified about when it came to taking a public speaking course was just what you talked about. How could one student earn four points for eye contact and another earn one or two. I know firsthand how discouraging it can be to out forth your best effort in something that causes an extreme amount of anxiety already and still receive a low mark because the professor expects a higher level of performance. I think this removes all desire to even continue in the course and learn.

  6. I COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY WISH MY OTHER TEACHERS WOULD THINK LIKE YOU!!! You ideology about this topic really should be look at more world wide. I especially love how you don’t believe that grades don’t define a person’s intellect but their actions and initiatives do. I’ve been in classes where I pass but never really understood or learned anything and because of that I struggled with certain things later on life in school. The fact that you acknowledge the feelings of your students really shows that you’re very wise and able to change for the better.

  7. I am glad you are changing your ways of teaching it seems that people will like you or the subject if they just put their soul into it rather than just paper. When teachers go by the books for example reading it straight from the slide or on the book, to me they are like robots. But you, you took a stand and made the class more alive, that it made it more fun and enjoyable.

  8. Your probably going to see me say this a lot on my entries, so brace yourself, THIS IS AN AWESOME READ!!!!, wow i didn’t honestly think at this point in the game with a professor that has over 30 years in would care, i normally hear newly licensed teachers say things along these lines. This is so refreshing, and the way you still found space that held students accountable without being judgmental and leaving wiggle room for personal and or political events is gold!

  9. I can’t believe professor you have been thought 30 years and changed the way of teaching. I would say you are the best and you doing great to put up student effort and i am sure everyones like the way you teach. And how you make the class conformable zone.

  10. This reminds me so much of the alternative high school model in NYC. I think it’s crucial to tailor the guidelines to success in your course and others, directly to the realities and needs of BMCC students. Many of us have full time jobs and live on our own— not to mention barriers like sky high rent and health access. School should be a place that meets us where we’re at and is patient.

  11. I never been so touched until I read this passage. I applaud you for wanting to better understand us students and our struggles with being hit with grades. Since ofcourse, you were too once a student. Due to grades I have wanted to drop classes due to me being in fear of not being able to come up with the grade certain professors ask for. I am grateful I’ve came along a professor like you whom rather us learn and leave your class with a well lesson taught.

  12. I think that for a lot of students, having assignments be rigorously determined based on points for specific things rather than the overall content makes them less interested in the assignment for its own sake and more worried/afraid about their potential grade because they know the “points” matter more than what they say/do. I think it’s great that you were willing to self reflect and change what you were doing when you felt that students weren’t really participating the way you wanted them to.

  13. Innovation is rarely seen in a teacher with such extensive teaching history, and it is both refreshing and liberating. Your justifications seem to come from a place of concern and and understanding, and I look forward to your future research initiatives.

  14. I never gave a second thought to how teachers graded until now. I can imagine how frustrating it is to outline a plan for your students to follow and most of them fail to live up to it. The current form of grading works because it allows students to receive feedback and improve where they messed up.

    1. I always knew the traditional grading system had its fair share of flaws but I also never gave it a second thought because that’s just the way it has always been. Not only does this method of teaching give you a little bit less to worry about, it gives you the chance to fully learn what is being taught to you. It also allows for a better relationship between student and teacher because student isn’t holding anything against the teacher because of a bad grade and the teacher can focus more on giving extensive feedback to student so they can focus on what they can do better without the pressure of having to receive an a.

  15. Reading this I realized that you professor really love your job and try to help students in their success it can be easy for many professors to give an assignment and if they did well they pass those who didn’t do so well give them. a bad grade like an F but it seems that you’re that professor who cares about students and really want to help their students .

  16. I think it is great that you made the switch to a more conducive learning environment. I think implementing this approach into your style of teaching. Allows you to teach a more diverse student body. Because we all learn differently and at different paces. Giving us (the students) more control over how we are taught and what we are being taught. Motivates us to come to class and engage more vs the rubric that teachers just check off, that limits the way in which we learn in an already limited system.

  17. I think its cool to see a professor who already has 30 years teaching realize how they can evolve in their line of work. I think speech is a class that some might have anxiety taking so an intense grading system can add to that anxiety. I was a bit nervous about taking Speech 100 but the new approach of getting credit instead of grades has lessened my anxiety and i feel more relaxed and open to learning.

  18. I agree with this blog 100%. As college students we all tend to miss assignments once in a while due to what ever reasoning but i dont think having one missing assignment should make one fail. When i first started taking speech 100 i was worried i wouldn’t pass since it says my grades are determined off of 5 speeches and mini assignment. What if i miss one of those mini assignments does it mean i failed already? I feel like the grading system shouldn’t only reflect on the assignments but also participation, attending class, interacting with others. Those are way we learn as well.

  19. Great read! I was really fond about how you transformed the assignments to make things easier for students and on yourself as well. I believe the way that you grade more and teach less will help students understand the grading policy better as I personally did.

  20. Great read! Based off this blog i believe that it way a good idea of yours to teach more than to grade because it helps the students understand what is needed in the class and can guide them to progress without stumbling often on such a course. I personally think your new way of teaching makes students feel more confident with the course as well.

  21. I think this was a good choice, to change your teaching style. You give your students a chance to earn their own grade. At the same time you are actually teaching material students intake and learn.unfortunately not all students take advantage of professors who give oppurtunities like this one.

  22. The changes you made I agree with 100% with. This way you make the student pick the grade they want is really the best. This gives the student flexibility. This also makes the students more comfortable to do their speeches. This did help me become less nervous while doing my speeches.

  23. Im happy that as a teacher you were able to be unbiased and view grading and requirements from a students perspective. College is not easy and with the constant stress of maintaining your life and school is even harder. You realizing how pressured your students felt and understanding the lack of work was due to this is shocking. Not often, do you meet a teacher who makes this obviously known from the beginning of the semester. Most teacher continue to put pressure and expect you to ask for help. You on the other hand asserted that we are here to learn not feel pressured by this class. The concept of teaching more and grading less is great, Ive had classes like this and have seen exceptional grades between my classmates. I think this is something that should continue, not only for your class but also others. This idea should be shared and recommended to all teachers.

  24. Love the changes you made and I fully 100% agree with everything, mostly love knowing how you want to teach the class the way you want to and not following how the rest of the faculty is teaching. It’s also great that your allowing different creative assignments to get the students ready for main speeches less stressed than they would’ve been without the mini assignments.

  25. As the type of person who has always felt some sort of self-gratification with seeing a number I’ve never took much of an issue with grading as an overall concept. Though it can be frustrating as a student when you’re being docked points for the most minute details. I noticed this in a class that I took last semester (wasn’t Speech), but I found myself increasingly frustrated with a class I could’ve landed an A on and ending up with a B+ and no real feedback to improve. This is probably one of the first times I’ve encountered this type of teaching. I believe I’m still on the fence about it, but it has its merits.

  26. I agree with your point of view on teaching currently. As a current student, I’ve experienced many different forms of teaching through different professors. I agree with the point that if a student misses one task or gets a low grade on something, it tends to hurt the student or concern them making them want to drop a class. I am currently in a similar situation. I am enrolled in a chemistry class where the work is extremely difficult and the professor can be a harsh grader. I study every day for this class, but no matter how hard I study, I always seem to do badly on tests. There’s been a point where I was contemplating dropping the class but I stayed to see how far I can go. It’s very disappointing when you work hard on something and get graded harshly. It makes students want to drop classes, and if they don’t, students tend to work more on their grades rather than actually obtaining useful knowledge.

  27. I like the fact you as a professor who has been teaching for so many years realized there was a problem with the way you were grading or whatever the case may have been. I just wished other professors saw the wrong in what they do, this goes for their grading system the most. Maybe if you still continued doing it the way you used to in the past years today, I would probably be struggling in class, just maybe. I can imagine how frustrating it may have been for you giving the work and grading it while students would fail the class or withdraw from it.

  28. It is good to see that some professor wants to actually teach and not focus on “if you don’t do your assignments your grades will go down” to be honest all my classes except your class. As you saw I get really nervous when I have to speak front of people I don’t know but you made it easier for me to do so.

  29. As a student I didn’t understand the amount of work that teachers have contributed to our education system. The emotions involved that had been sacrificed for us to get a better education. I couldn’t imagine the tears and the feeling of feeling that we are not helping even though we trying but others can’t see that. I appreciate the fact that you have share this beautiful and pain full facts about your sacrifices to make us become better students. You’re such a great person ms. Hollis thank you for being here.

  30. Professor I respect you for observing. Your class is sooo interesting now and I cannot imagine how it was before. But the changes you made now is totally worth it and probably one of the best decisions made for your class.

  31. I really thought this was interesting to read because I see the point you’re trying to make, get students to actually want to go to class and it shows that you’re passionate about this and want to make a difference not just in your class but with how the grading system works.

  32. I absolutely love your way of teaching. You’re one of very few professors who actually want their students to learn instead of focusing on getting a high grade. There have been times
    I worked really hard but I got a C+ or B. I think you’re doing well grading it this way, I’m able to learn more than just focusing on my grade. Thank you so much for understanding your students and improving your way of teaching.

  33. I do like the concept, but I’m at a toss. I do think grades reflect how we learn and comprehend. I do dig the concept of grading less. It definitely relieves some pressures and stress. I find your class quite interesting and I appreciate your feedback. I’m learning that it’s not the grade that matters (although for certain subjects they do) but understanding and expressing what you have learned has more value. The constructive criticism offers a valid a feedback (well if you’re going to be receptive to both negative and positive) on how or what to improve. I think there should be a way to find a balance for both.

  34. I completely agree, I was a victim of this poor grading policy. Some professors are just REALLY hard graders. My first semester of English class went amazing. I had put so much work into all my assignments and the Professor just had a very strict and bad grading policy, but my work was not good enough to reach an A. THAT’S DEBATABLE… anyways, I am honestly SO glad that you spent part of your summer devoted to finding a way to actually TEACH us! I can not wait to learn more from you!!

  35. I agree 100% with your blog Professor Glaser. Changing the way you graded assignments was an amazing idea. It gives students hope that they’ll actually learn something new and not be defined by one letter grade. It develops a better environment for us the students where we’d want to learn and actually gain something from the class.

  36. When I first entered the classroom and you spoke about your “Teach, Don’t Grade” policy I was a little confused only because I heard every other professor telling us that we would be graded by our assignments and that will give us our final grade by the end of the semester. Throughout this semester I can almost guarantee you I learned more in this class than I have for any other class. Coming to this class feels refreshing and it’s always something new. You can actually see growth in yourself when you’re not worried about being graded because those mistakes are what makes us students and even teachers better. We take those mistakes and turn them into lessons that will help us for our next assignment.

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