Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Just a t-shirt/ just a grade.

I was browsing this week's Carnival of Education (of which I'm an exhibitor) and came across this great article by Chanman, about a student wearing a hammer and sickle into class. It got me to think about something I do in my class.

Chanman, this one's for you.

(Note: All the responses by students are composite responses; I've been doing this for a while.)

In the past, when my students question the difference between capitalism and communism, I do the following activity-- but I don’t tell them it’s an activity. I’m deadpan the whole time; to them this is their new reality.

“Well, I’m sorry to tell you class, but I am not happy with your grades. There are too many of you that are close to failing this class, and I can’t let this happen. Do you want to fail my class?”

Emphatic “No’s!” abound.

“Good, because I don’t want you to fail this class either. I think it’s important that you as a class help the people in this class who need help. Do you agree?”

Nods and “Yeahs” permeate the room.

“From this point on, I will use a system in this class that will allow everyone in this class to pass. It’s important that you pass this class.”

At this point, I usually get some happy noises from the class and the kids that generally pay a marginal amount of attention to me (due to their marginal grades) are now fully engaged.

The inevitable question that comes out is “So you’re just going to pass everyone in the class?”

I answer no, and give the following explanation.

“What I’m going to do is eliminate individual grades in this class so that everyone can pass.”

Puzzled stares.

“You will still do homework, tests, quizzes, projects and papers that you would normally do, and I will still total and average your grade at the end of the quarter.”

More puzzled stares. Teenagers are mouthing the words “But those are individual grades…”

I continue.

“What will happen at the end of the quarter is that I will take everyone’s individual grade, add all the percentages of the individual grades in the class together and divide by the number of students in the class. What I come up with then will be the class average, and it is the grade that everyone will receive for this class.”

Confused silence. Looks are exchanged; kids are really trying to figure out if this is a good thing. A hand goes up—it’s always an A student.

“So what happens if I earn an A, but you average the class grade and it comes out lower than an A?”

“Good question. You would receive the lower class grade on your report card and that would be computed into your GPA.”

Stunned silence.

“But I would have worked hard for that grade,” says the student. “It would be unfair for me to get a lower grade.”

“You did work hard,” I counter. “But it would be unfair for you to sit there with an A and not do anything to help other students who aren’t passing this class, right?”


My hard workers begin to show looks of concern on their faces. The not-so-hard workers are generally in a reclined position, smiles beaming from their faces—they think they’ve been given a free pass in my class.

Concern turns to panic; students begin to turn on each other.

“What about the kid who never comes to class?” asks one hard worker.

“Well, they deserve to pass to, don’t you think? They’re in this class after all.” I say.

“What about Student Who Never Does Anything?” asks another hard worker, turning to look at the aforementioned student. “They never even bring their book to class or participate like we do!”

Student Who Never Does Anything shoots an evil look at hard worker student. There will be a serious discussion at lunch over this.

“They’re in this class too, that means they deserve to pass.” I say.

Student Who Never Does Anything smiles in response.

“This is unfair.” counters another hard working student.

“Why is that?” I ask.

“Well, no matter how hard I work, I get the same as everyone else.”

“But you’d be equal to everyone in this class; no one would be better than anyone else. Isn’t that what you want?”

“Screw that, I want the grade I worked for.”

At this point I usually ask ‘em if they’ve seen the TV show Punk’d. They say yes, and then I say:

“You’ve been Punk’d!”

The hard workers look relieved. The not so hard workers look like deer in the headlights. We usually have a lively discussion.

Unfortunately, it gets harder to put things over on the kids after that. :)


Anonymous said...

I routinely include a "participation" portion in my grading, which is not really traditional participation. Kids are required to interact with their neighbors. (Could be helping, checking answers, discussing...)

They get used to helping one another. Just not for a common grade.

Anonymous said...

I am stealing that like CRAZY next year. I hope you don't mind.

IMC Guy said...

I bet this little lesson really got the kids thinking. Good job!

Dr. Homeslice said...

Rachel-- go for it.

W.R. Chandler said...

Hi! Just a little tardy commenting on this one, but I just discovered the wonders of Technorati today, and I was checking who has trackbacked to my blog, which brought me to this post. Glad you liked the hammer and sickle article, and that was indeed a great example you gave. Just the other day, I had a student ask me what communism was, and I wish I had read your story first.

Thanks again!


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