Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mark to reward, not punish

I'm not sure if non-GP tutors can understand this, but I'm irritated that some of my colleagues are requesting sample essay outlines as aids to grading the kids' essays for this week's common test. For the info of non-GP tutors, such outlines contain a list of possible points that a student might raise in response to his or her chosen question. 12 questions on the test paper means 12 separate lists of open possibilities.

I hesitate to provide such a dubious thing because knowing us, we will use it to hunt down points that do not appear in the students' essays and penalize them for their omissions. The more missing points, the more their grade slides until we hit the basement. Another failure. Then we wonder why we have so many casualties and are aghast as we count up the number of kids we need to remedy.

Cambridge tells us that our grading philosophy should be to reward students for what they do offer, and not punish them for what they miss. That means every essay needs to be taken on its own merit without a comparison to an ideal. While we are grading, we are looking out for logical structures, supporting reasons, consistency of argument and, broadly, relevance to the question. When we do see evidence of such argumentative skill, we add to the score until we can add no more

This does not mean that the essay will automatically pass, but it does mean that we are prepared to listen to each student, inasmuch as we want them to listen to us. 'Marking schemes' prejudice us in that students who don't say what we want to hear must be wrong and therefore failed.

I think that on the whole, we really have a misconception of what failure is. We think of the essay as a soccer game. Scoring points is like scoring goals while losing the game means not scoring (assuming that the non-existent opponent has scored more goals and has therefore beaten the essay writer). To us, that translates as win = pass, lose = fail. But in truth, winning and losing are part of the same game. We win some, we lose some, but the important thing is that we continue to play because we can.

Failing a GP essay is possible, but not for the reason of 'losing' the game. Failure is equivalent to being disqualified in a match for infringing the rules. Why kids fail is because they don't know how to play the game. They don't know where the goalposts are. They don't know where the out-of-bounds lines are. They don't know what's a fair play and what isn't. So failure isn't a failure to raise the right points, it means the rules and objectives of the game are not clear to them.

Content may mean the difference between a kick-about between friends and an EPL match. Regardless, the scoreline doesn't really matter as long as everyone plays to the same rules, aims at the right goals, and stays within the agreed-to boundaries. If our kids can do that, they don't deserve to fail. So let's not prejudice ourselves by watching the scoreboard when we should be enjoying the game instead.


wxin said...

fully agree. even if a kid hits the 'right' points, he might not have given a good argument. and what if a kid gives great outlier ideas?

#-kailing-# said...

Wow i haven't been visiting in a LONG time!

MARKING SCHEME FOR GP??!! NOOOOOOOOO WAY!!! >:( It's going to turn out like some technical, memorised report or something, which defeats the whole purpose of GP! whoever suggested that! If we'd a sample essay for grading gp, I'd have felt so RESTRICTED and have hated GP(which I don't haha) With a scheme like that it'll become more of a focus on regurgitating points (which would be MEMORISED like our science subjects) and not even trying to argue our points well. NO NO NO!! The horror. I can't imagine if one day English becomes something like that.

Take care! :)

Xmac said...

NBS: when are you coming back??? I miss my like-minded friends.

kailing: love your spirited response, candid and very refreshing. So glad you don't hate GP, guess I didn't screw y'all up too badly after all! :D