Why do we love Wiley Coyote? Is it because he never learns from his mistakes? Doesn’t look ahead to analyze the consequences of his actions? Reminds us of ourselves?
Whenever I speak about standards-based grading, grading linked to standards, grading for learning,or just plain sound grading practices, inevitably a teacher with years of experience in the classroom will confront me with the “responsibility” challenge.
The spirit of Wiley Coyote lives on.
I teach that formative assessment (practice) should not figure into a final grade. I teach that giving zeros for late or missing work is a fruitless effort to stimulate academic achievement, and is also bad statistical math, not to mention confounding the meaning of the final grade. I teach that grades should report only academic achievement or lack thereof, and should not be used to punish or manipulate students (because there is absolutely no research to indicate that such manipulation is effective in raising individual achievement scores).
But regardless of how effectively I make my points — never mind how many studies I cite — a strong voice of experience can often be heard, apparently oblivious to the comedy of the challenge. The voice says, “But I have to teach them ‘responsibility.’ The real world holds them accountable, and I have to teach them responsibility!”
And each of these teachers who think they know better than the researchers and teacher practitioners of “grading for learning” need to confront what I call “The Responsibility Paradox.”
To put this post in perspective, let’s consider the mission of a teacher — the heart of a teacher’s prime function: excellent instruction. I’ve had a long time to think this over, and this is what I would argue is the essence of instruction:
“Facilitate learning as measured by assessments linked to state or provincial, and district standards.”
The Responsibility Paradox states that “Teachers who try to hold students accountable by teaching ‘responsibility’ through punitive grading are themselves irresponsible because they neglect their mission as teachers, which is to facilitate learning; introduce foreign elements into the final grade that distort the picture of achievement; damage student beliefs about self-efficacy; and essentially create an anti-learning experience for the student. “
Let’s be more specific:
Teachers who add zeros and/or dock grades for a variety of behavior-related offenses (like being “late” with “work”)…
…ignore the math of statistics.
…close the door on learning.
…ignore the potential damage to student/teacher classroom relationships.
…disregard the effects on student motivation.
…set poor example to students and peers by ignoring assessment, grading, and reporting research.
… refuse to learn about grading alternatives that may increase student success.
…and completely forget that “responsibility” is not in their state or provincial, and district academic standards.