Gaming Grades and Grading Games

As a teacher, I’ve often been frustrated with the issue of grades and grading. Here are a couple of observations and a couple of ideas for solutions:

1. Gaming Grades
Students often seem far more interested in playing what many teachers call “The Grade Game.” Rather than being interested in learning, students seem only interested in how they can get a better grade. This is most observable in those students deemed “grade grubbers”—e.g., the student who makes a 99 on a quiz and wants to quibble about that 1 point. Here are some questions that are frequently asked by the grade gamers:

  • What do I need to do to raise my grade?
  • Is there any extra credit I can do? (Typically asked at the end of a grading period.)
  • Is this for a grade?
  • How will this affect my grade?

You get the idea…

2. Grading Games
Grading games is sort of the reverse. This is where I, as a teacher, experience the agony of having to put grades on items that I don’t really want to put grades on. When a student turns in an essay or a piece of art or a short story, I might go through various hoops to try and figure out how I assess this thing.

You might be inclined to say that a rubric helps, but in my experience that only multiplies the problem. If the rubric has six categories on it, now I’ve got to find a way to put SIX different grades on this thing and then do some mathematical wizardry to produce a SINGLE grade for the gradebook. (At least Standards-Based Grading solves the second problem by allowing me to dispense with this single grade business.)

With or without a rubric, if you give a dozen teachers the same exact submission to grade, it’s very likely that you’re going to get a dozen different outcomes. Let’s not kid ourselves into believing that grades are standardized and that an A to you is the same as an A to me.

How do we solve these problems?

First, we have to recognize that excellent and inspiring teaching which is student-centered and empowering (e.g., Rhizomatic Learning) tends to help alleviate the Grading Game. Not completely, however. These students have grown up in performance-centered cultures and they are addicted to these grades.

Second, we need to seriously consider getting rid of grades or finding some alternative. Currently, I’m most interested in Mark Barnes’s narrative feedback system (SE2R) and hope to find a way to implement it in my classroom this Fall.


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