Grading is grading. Teaching is helping the students improve their performance or increase their knowledge or change their thinking.
Grading doesn’t do any of that. Students learn by doing (writing, creating, speaking), reflecting and getting feedback. The doing part is the required assignments and the optional ones and the more they do, the higher the grade because I’m assuming the activity holds its own value. Also, I spend a lot of time on my lesson plans and so the more they come to class, the better their grade because I make them do things in class.
I’ve already written about how I require reflection on their optional assignments. That could be expanded to all of their assignments.
Regarding feedback: they get a lot of that from their peers and me. Let me count the ways. First, immediately after they have presented, we tell them what we liked about the presentation. “Me: What did you like about this speech, content and delivery?” The students are pretty good about jumping in on this and they’ll often agree with one another. Not so much on what they can improve. They really hate being critical of their classmates so I will take that, just focusing on two or three things. This is all said out loud after all, and one of the goals of the class is to avoid awkward social moments.
Second, they get written feedback from their peer group in the form of a sheet with ten items rated as Unsatisfactory, Satisfactory, Excellent. I assign these groups randomly making sure all groups have at least one member presenting every day and I change the groups for each required speech, about 5-7 members to each group. The students get into these groups at the end of each presentation day. Before giving the sheets to the speaker, the group asks the speaker what they think they did well and need to improve (another reflection point). Then they verbally respond and give the speaker their sheets.
Third, they get my feedback immediately in their e-mail through Blackboard. This requires me to shlep my laptop with me on those days, which makes the commute that much harder even though this laptop is supposedly light weight. However, they get this right away (which helps learning), some of them even checking their e-mail in their seats while another student is speaking, which I try to discourage but I get it. This is opposed to my traditional way of giving them feedback with the elaborate evaluation sheet, which they get the next class period and which I hate filling out. This e-mail note has the kind of feedback I give professionals on the occasions that I do professional coaching. “Good eye contact, try not to touch your hair, could speak a little louder” and so forth. There are no points attached to this feedback. That means they are focusing on the content not the grade.
Giving a grade also stresses the teacher-student relationship. We can be having a great time in class, laughing, having lively conversations, encouraging one another, giving everyone a chance to shine. If the class is really going well, I have a couple of students who make fun of me. And then I hand back the speeches. Eyes lower, energy falls. It is a big old energy suck. And there is absolutely no good reason for that to happen. The grade itself (A, B, C) gives minimal information, minimal feedback to the student. What they get this semester is credit or no credit on their outline, and instructions on how to get credit (cite sources in body, use full sentences, whatever).
HUGE BONUS: No discussions about extra credit. Well, there are a couple and they go like this.
Student: Is there any extra credit I can do?
Me: No. Because there are no points. You just get your grade by doing the assignments and coming to class.
Listen, I’ve been done with the extra credit discussion for years now. Typically, I have something figured out at the beginning of the semester that gives them a few extra points, posted in the syllabus (like an extra text response paper or writing about a live talk they attended) and it makes them feel better. It might even make a small difference in their grade. But their focus on extra credit assignments is on points not on learning.
I am emphasizing as much as I can in every class, doing, feedback and reflection.