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Assessment of Student Work: It’s Not about You

I spent the weekend and part of last week reviewing and marking first year mid-terms. This post is worth sharing again and again. This morning I read some of this blog aloud to my first years. I even had the blog up on the screen for them to see. I do think it is important to remind students that the mark is not about you, but the work that was reviewed. We (me and the TAs) are not judging you as a person. I know that it might feel like it, but that is not the case.

If I could look into the eye of every student (undergrad and graduate) and say:

Your course grades do not reflect who you are as a person. The grade is only an assessment of your performance in this moment with these assignments–no more. You should not take the grades personally and wonder if this means that the person who assessed your work doesn’t like you. We are assessing so much work and it’s ultimately about the writing, analysis, presentation, ideas, grammar, spelling punctuation, directions, but not about you as a person. The assessment is about the performance of the assignment or the project and it is not personal. And, I also ask that you think about the assignment that you submitted. Was it your best work and did you follow the directions? Are you owning the grade and the comments? It is so to say that the Teaching Assistant or Professor has it in for you or does not understand you, but is there more there? A moment of introspection is needed so that you can think about the assignment and the expectations for your work.

I remember when I started teaching and I was more casual with the students. I would occasionally hear the following, “But I thought you liked me.” I conferred with my mentors and was told–you have to be more formal. Use your title and remind them that you are assessing their work and not them. Who they are has nothing to do with the grade. It’s about the writing and thinking. I re-worked my syllabi and did become more formal the following term and didn’t hear those personal statements again. March Madness on campus is really not just about basketball. It’s also about research, thinking, and writing. Mange your time well so that you do justice to your ideas. My purple pen is here to comment and tease out ideas. I pick up each paper and think~ what is here and how can I help? The assessment is really about the ideas. Please remember this.

12 thoughts on “Assessment of Student Work: It’s Not about You

  1. Pingback: Interesting post on teaching today | Dr Anna Tarrant

    • Thank you for your comment. I’ve been thinking about this post for the last month or so. And, during my 90 minute office hours today it was at the back of my mind. I actually referred repeatedly to the work, the ideas and not always saying you. I think this helps some of them. Now, I need to encourage students to read the concise, honest post. Again, thanks for reading and responding.

  2. Thanks for this. It’s so easy to tie your self worth to the marks you get, so easy to say “well maybe I’m not so smart after all” and get really down about yourself. (This is especially true when I receive an assignment back with no suggestions or markings, just a percentage! What is that?)

    I appreciate your attempt to get students to take a step back and think about what a mark really means, thank you.

  3. “The way you honour a human being is to ask of her an effort. In the hopeless popularization and down-marketing of our crafts we don’t honour the student. We condescend to her and that is a hideous contempt. You honour her by what you ask and demand. If the dear old Lombards had passed eleven kilometres nearer to St. Gal, when they poured down the Alps and set on fire as they did every other monastery, we would not have our Horace, our Virgil, our Catullus, our Ovid. One monastery hung by a thread, the monks copying the text, copying day and night and saving for us what was, until very recently, the literacy, the alphabet of civilization.”
    - George Steiner, ‘Grammars of Creation’

  4. Excellent! I’m so glad I saw your tweet of this today. I could have written this myself–most of the time I’m not even looking at the student’s name on the paper I’m grading, although after a while I recognize their writing style, and of course the clients they are working with (I teach PR). I do find myself allowing a little more informal interaction with my undergraduate students, and should probably ask them to call me “Mrs.” or “Professor” but I still find that a tad pretentious–just me. My students are mostly seniors, graduate students, and the occasional junior or sophomore. I spend a lot of time mentoring them on job searches, resumes and their writing, so I can see where they may feel more of a personal bond or informality. But it’s important for students to reach out to their professors and give them a chance to know them as people, not just assignments on a page. Perhaps then they’ll understand that assessment is about their work, not them as a person. The students who never take the time to visit with a professor are missing out on a wonderful opportunity to learn.

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