Considerations on grading

Since last month, I’ve been teaching in Social Anthropology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. There’s a lot to say about this new and very intriguing teaching context — the first thing being that university politics are a very live issue, and so there’s a lot for me to learn, given my work.

Since I’ve been teaching large lectures for the first time, I’ve had to think about grading in a new and larger-scale way. It’s different to teach 150 students than to teach 24 students. And in particular, I’ve been especially frustrated this week by how some of the traditional grading criteria — stylistic and textual evaluations of students’ writing — map too neatly onto sociological divides (race, class, native language, cultural capital). Different grading criteria are in order, ones that aren’t proxies for social origins.

But for now, I just wanted to post — at least for my own future reference — these little considerations from Postman and Weingartner’s 1969 classic Teaching as a Subversive Activity:

Each time you give a grade to a student, grade your own perception of that student.
The following questions might be useful:
1. To what extent does my own background block me from understanding the behavior of this student?
2. Are my own values greatly different from those of the student?
3. To what extent have I made an effort to understand how things look from this student’s point of view?
4. To what extent am I rewarding or penalizing the student for his acceptance or rejection of my interests?
5. To what extent am I rewarding a student for merely saying what I want to hear, whether or not he believes or understands what he is saying?