We have reached the arc in the pandemic when we are testing the waters of returning to “normal.” At the same time, we are holding conversations about why “normal” is the wrong destination. This recent article from The Guardian synthesizes perspectives about the crisis as an opportunity to re-envision the world. Similarly, Susan E. Rice argues in her piece for The New York Times that we should not miss this opportunity to ask how we might focus on justice and equity post-pandemic. The problem of final grades during this unprecedented semester may yet be one more crisis that leads to something much better than a return to “normal.”
Certainly, we have seen some hand-wringing about a potential loss of standards as students flee toward Pass/Fail options like Titanic passengers for lifeboats. But I’m heartened by the much louder chorus of instructors who approach final grades with the compassion and empathy that we ourselves would want, I suspect, if we were in our students’ shoes.
In a recent article for Inside Higher Ed, the general spirit among the interviewed instructors is to support students during this extraordinary time and to focus on helping students reach the course learning outcomes. The coronavirus crisis gives us an opportunity to remind ourselves that student learning—not student-evaluation—should be our focus. That insight might be one to take into our post-pandemic teaching lives, too.
In that same article, Jessica Calarco, associate professor of sociology at Indiana University, mentions a new interest in “ungrading,” an approach promoted by linguistic anthropologist Susan D. Bloom, whose provocative student-centered essays are featured in the forthcoming fifth edition of From Inquiry to Academic Writing.
I have written before about including student self-evaluation as a crucial element in our writing classes. Certainly, this semester I am giving students an opportunity to assess their growth as writers over the semester. I have also offered some simple guidance so they could award their own grades for class participation, urging them to credit their ingenuity and persistence as we shifted unexpectedly to online learning. Their reflections—filled with humility, tips about home haircuts and dye jobs, and confessions about stumbling and having a hard time getting back up—have touched me deeply. Those reflections and records of self-knowledge are far more important than a letter grade.
While we may want to forget plenty about our time in quarantine, which pandemic teaching practices do you hope to remember and retain for less traumatic times?