Criteria for Grades

This course will revolve around exploring a question which is very current and for which there is no settled answer yet.  Therefore, we can’t determine grades based on obtaining “the right answer” or even learning “the content.”  There will be content to be learned, but learning content is not the point of the class, just a means to the end.

In this kind of a course, grades will be based on two things:  engagement and insights.

Engagement is like, but not the same as, effort. (Effort can mean merely going thru the motions. This is the opposite of engagement.)  Engagement means taking the course seriously.

Engagement can be demonstrated in a number of ways:

  • Doing a serious job on the tasks, especially the ‘effort’ based ones.
  • Speaking up in class.
  • Asking questions about things you don’t understand in class discussion.
  • Scoring well on Gardner’s APGAR:

1.      Did you read the material for today’s class meeting carefully?

No=0, Yes, once=1, Yes, more than once=2

2.   Did you come to class today with questions or with items you’re eager to discuss?

No=0, Yes, one=1, Yes, more than one=2

3.   Since we last met, did you talk at length to a classmate or classmates about either the last class meeting or today’s meeting?

No=0, Yes, one person=1, Yes, more than one person=2

4.   Since our last meeting, did you read any unassigned material related to this course of study?

No=0, Yes, one item=1, Yes, more than one item=2

5.   Since our last class meeting, how much time have you spent reflecting on this course of study and recent class meetings?

None to 29 minutes=0, 30    minutes to an hour=1, over an hour=2

Insight is something the group didn’t know.  Insight, in the context of our class, is coming up with something, an answer to a question, a direction for us to go, anything which leads us to an answer to the research question.

Insight can be demonstrated in the following ways:

  • Identifying the author’s argument in the books you read.
  • Pointing out some global implications of the author’s argument.
  • Answering questions, either online or in-class, that no one else has answered.
  • Drawing conclusions about the sustainability of the Euro, based on the economic, finance and/or political aspects of the issue.

If you make a conscious effort to be engaged with the topics in this course, but produce no insights, you will earn a B for the course.

If you demonstrate insights on the topics in this course but are not engaged, you will earn a B for the course.

To get an A, you need to demonstrate both engagement and insights on the course topics.

If you show neither engagement nor insights, you’ll earn a C or less.

If at any time during the semester, you want to know where you stand, that is, what your tentative grade is, email me and I will respond within 24 hours.

At the end of the semester, I will ask you to write a commentary on your engagement and insights in our class.  Your final grade will be determined based on my observations and the persuasiveness of the argument you make in your commentary.

6 Responses to “Criteria for Grades”

  1. Gardner says:

    OK, this is pretty much amazing. I love this framework. Love. It. Lately I’ve been experimenting with using the word “commitment” instead of “engagement,” for reasons you can probably infer (and I should probably blog about), but really, in this framework engagement works perfectly well. And what a framework!

    I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the idea of insight. I love the word. I love Hopkins’ riffs on it: “inscape” and “instress,” word for internal expansiveness and intensiveness respectively. But I digress.

    I just returned from AAC&U and found a book that’s interesting in this regard. I heard the author present, and found him deeply compelling. He talked a lot about uniting gut analysis with head analysis … basically, getting a set of strategies for acquiring a reliable “feel” for complex questions, a “feel” that would in turn be the engine and fuel for more linear types of reasoning. The book is a free download here:

    I told the presenter about Bruner’s essay “Toward A Disciplined Intuition,” and he wrote down the reference. Hadn’t read it. I think it’ll be right up his alley. It’s always so much fun to find people of like mind who are coming at things in similar conceptual frameworks but from different places or with different vectors. Just the best!

  2. Enoch Hale says:

    This is elegant: simple but powerful. It is simpler than what I had students do with constructing grade profiles (what is an ‘A’ thinker, ‘B’ thinker, etc.) and write arguments based on those profiles:

    I love how you put the thinking first, where the artifacts are mere examples of the thinking. I think portfolios and eportfolios should follow the same direction.


  3. Maha Bali says:

    Love this! It resonates with how i grade holistically but never had the courage to actually write out explicitly to students! Thinking of doing so now! Poor things 🙂 hehe

  4. peter taylor says:

    The goals of engagement and insight are well worth students keeping in mind. Linking them to grades, however, sends the very traditional message of the educational system, which works against students developing the kind of self-directed, avid learning that the instructor wants. My advice is to de-emphasize grades even if they have to be given at the end of the course. (My approach for almost 20 years is described here.)

  5. […] am trying to figure out what this word means in the classroom.  With the aid of two blog posts, one by Steve Greenlaw which led me to another  by  Gardner Campell nearly ten years ago, I have begun to  sample what […]

  6. […] P.s. A helpful resource for preparing to “flip the syllabus”: Fieldnotes to 21st Century Learning.  Some resources that helped me rethink the terms of evaluation (grading): Miriam Posner’s lucid outline of her “contract grading”; Gardner Campbell’s APGAR system for learning self evaluation and Steve Greenlaw’s resulting criterium for grades. […]

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