Its debatable…Speak Up!

May 19, 2007

It’s not all about the grade…

Filed under: Academics — bk2nocal @ 1:51 pm

According to the book The Millionaire Mind at least. 

I have many students who are completely obsessed with getting an A (or A- as the case may be), as if the difference between getting a B+ and an A- is going to make a difference to someone.  According to The Simple Dollar, the book’s second chapter is summed up with: “It turns out here that great grades aren’t necessarily the key to success, but tenacity and leadership skills are. In other words, if you work hard and are involved in extracurricular activities (particularly in leadership roles) but are a B student, you’re in much better shape to succeed than an A student who coasts and isn’t involved in said activities. In fact, the chapter largely indicates that the B student is preferable here. In other words, don’t be ashamed of your grades – only be ashamed if you’re not willing to work for it.”

I think this is a great message that I wish more students would be willing to embrace.  It seems that often the students aren’t at all concerned whether they are learning the material or able to apply it, but instead are just looking for a way for the end product of their semester to be an A on the report card.  This is seen through constant requests for “extra credit” – usually made because they aren’t grasping or completing the required material in the class.  As if the extra credit will somehow make up for the fact that they have not learned the foundational information.  I have to admit that I have offered extra credit in classes before, but as I read this quotation, it made me realize that revisions or corrections are much more likely to be meaningful than extra credit. 

I have instituted a policy of allowing for exam corrections for 1/2 credit on some exams where many of the students performed poorly.  I make them look up the answers in their notes or book, write the whole question and correct response out, with reference to where they found the answer, for each incorrect answer.  My hope in this is that they learn what they didn’t already know through the process, and those that learned it the first time get more credit and have less work to do in the class.  It seems to work and I wonder if I should do it on ALL exams, no matter what the top or median grade is. 

I read an article the other day about learning theory and it indicated that an experiment with the students in this professor’s class showed that doing the SAME EXACT quiz three times got most of the class to the point where they knew the material.  Now, the question is, for anything other than rote memorization, is this valuable?  Perhaps doing a similar problem/solution activity three times over would mean that they better understood how to solve similar problems?  I’m not sure.  It is an interesting question though.  So often, especially in general education and survey courses, we are speeding through the material and not doing much review or revisiting of material.  I am going to consider ways that I can incorporate more of this into my classes. 

But, getting back to the original point of this entry – I wish students would focus more on asking “what can I do to learn more in this class?” than “what can I do to get an A in this class?”  I always feel like the latter question is an attempt to find the floor instead of the ceiling for what can be learned.  Perhaps I will attempt to spend more time discussing this particular viewpoint, including something about it in my syllabus, etc.  Just to make sure that everyone knows where I’m coming from when I show frustration with the question, “is there any extra credit in this class?”

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