I’m grading less in two ways: number of assignments and number of evaluative categories. Remember, this is the basic public speaking class. Traditionally we have 3-4 required f2f speeches. I am requiring two. In the last 25 years of my teaching this course, it has always been a panic to get through all of the material along with all of the speeches. So if a student doesn’t show up ready to give their speech on their speech date, I’ve penalized them a full grade with the hope that this will motivate them to get it done on time. Major problems with this. Surprise, threats aren’t real motivating. Also, punishing the students for not being ready creates a downward spiral so that (as I said before) an early stumble often results in a full-out-fall-flat-on-their-face failure by the end of the semester. And don’t get me started on my frustration and exasperation, even knowing how complicated my students’ lives are and how few coping mechanisms some of them have.
However, this semester all is goodness and light (so far). I don’t know why it took me 25 years to figure this out but, miracle of miracles, if I only have two required f2f speeches, we have LOTS of time for them to make up their speeches. I don’t have to play the bad guy cop AND we have MORE time to learn most of what I want to teach outside of the classes spent on speeches. And let me tell you, we have finished the speeches (mostly–only two stragglers in two of my sections) and they’ve been really good and really fun to listen to. Students are showing up more consistently and I’m relaxed and we’re having a good time (so far).
Which brings me to my fewer evaluative categories. Again, for the last 25 years, I have had very detailed and elaborate speech evaluation forms. That’s good, isn’t it? The students know exactly what they have to do to get an A and such? I mean like 15-20 categories–delivery including eye contact, posture, facial expression and on and on; outline with grammar and evidence and sources and on and on. Five points for eye contact. Does this student get 3 or 4 points? Was there any illusion that I was being consistent? No. I thought I was doing them a favor by being so specific, but you know what? All of these categories and points gave them whole lot of ways they could fail.
It’s all completely different this semester. Remember, there is no A, B, C, no grades, just pass-fail for each assignment. I’m giving them 8 categories for this first assignment, all of which they have to do to get credit for their speech. (Again–delivery: speak so we can hear you, give a 3-5 minute speech, speak extemporaneously; Outline: Must be typed, written in full sentences, written in outline format, have three sources cited in body and bibliography, hand in prior to the speech.) And guess what? They’re doing it. They look at those eight requirements and are getting them done. The ones who falter in any of them can do the assignment again or fix the outline and we have TIME for them to do it again. All of which means (I think) that they’re learning. I can tell you I’m way happier. I always received a kazillion “outlines” that didn’t even come close to being proper. And why not? It was only worth 10 points out of 100, so something was going to give. But not anymore. I chose the eight most important things to require and they’re doing them.