the promise of growth

This semester, I have the privilege of being in two courses that are not into grading and are more into growing. The Minor in Writing gateway course is my first game-ified class that seeks to remove the stresses of grades and instead urges students to try a wide range of activities in the pursuit of being a better writer. My English 225 course on the Syntax of Sports also does not grade papers in the traditional sense. Rather we have a certain amount of writing tasks to do in numerous subcategories like “Gratitude” and “Conscientiousness” that will put us at an B, B+ or A- level. The syllabus is titled “Most Likely to Succeed,” off of Malcolm Gladwell’s article of the same name, and proposes a model that if you write every week and have the time to sit down with someone to talk about your writing in that same week, you will become a better writer. While Shelley employs a peer-to-peer interaction with her students, Mr. Barry has us refer to him by this name, and in the classroom and my interactions with him, I am Ms. Ring. I definitely prefer the elevated status received when referring to a teacher a little more formally, but the personable-ness of Shelley is also worth a lot, too. While the teaching styles of Shelley and Mr. Barry differ, their approach to giving their students access to their writing expertise and the high levels of enthusiasm they instill in their students is un-matchable to any of my previous English teachers.

At first, I was really scared of having not one, but two classes that threw away traditional grades in exchange for allowing students to develop as long as they put in the hard work. My Upper Level Writing Requirement to fulfill the Minor grades traditionally, a political science class on Latin American politics. It requires four short papers and one long paper that are weighted into our overall grade. While we are lectured and talk about the effectiveness of arguments and logic for the articles we read and our papers, this is my least favorite class to attend or do work in. It’s no so much that the subject is dull, but the rigid grading structure and general lack of peer editing really plummets my interest on a class and writing level. While political science is more difficult to write about than sports, I think the role of the course structure also solidifies my opinion on this issue.

The greatest strength of Writing 220 and my section of English 225 is that since our grades are dependent on the effort we put in, it allows us to be more proud of what we do with the models given to us. Many times this semester I have wanted to share my Syntax of Sports papers with my parents and friends because of how excited I am by how it turned out. Also, I am able to notice that even though writing came fairly easily to me before when I didn’t have a strong writing toolbox, I still write fluidly while employing the many stylistic writing techniques I have learned and adopted in these classes.

While I am on track for top grades in both classes, that grade will do little to represent how much more confident I feel as a writer after dancing through the hula hoops Shelley and Mr. Barry have put me through throughout the term. While in January I was still feeling out just how useful the game-ified and effort model would work, I can report now that these grading structures fully delivered on their promise of growth.

Gabriella Ring

Gabriella is a junior majoring in International Studies. She has traveled abroad extensively and hopes to work in the cruise industry after graduation.

3 thoughts to “the promise of growth”

  1. This is also my first class that doesn’t employ a traditional grading structure, and I’m still getting used to the system and its culture. It has been very different having the freedom to experiment and time to rewrite. I think because this is such a departure from what I’m used to, it has taken me some time to embrace the freedom. I’ve gotten used having to have an essay be fairly perfect the first time someone reads it. But, I’m starting to enjoy having the option to get both peers and Shelley to read my work at various stages. I too feel this system will give me the opportunity to grow as a writer.

  2. Gabriella,

    I’ve also really enjoyed being in this class this semester! I had the privilege of taking a class–Polsci 101–fall semester last year that also employed the game-ified system. I’ve really come to love these systems.

    Grades are frustrating. Grades are judgmental. When you look at one that you didn’t want, it’s like a judgmental pair of eyes starring back at you, asserting your inferiority. Many times, they don’t reflect the effort you put into the work. I think being at Michigan, we’ve all figured this out. Everyone here is really smart, so there are times where we ourselves don’t feel too smart. But, even though we know that we’re more than our grades, they can still feel really unfair and hurtful. We’ve been trained to use this system, so discarding it is difficult.

    So I’m really glad that you’ve had the opportunity to discard the system this semester. It’s so nice to feel like you’re in total control of what you do, and honestly, although this may cause you not to meet a teacher’s A criteria, it allows you to reach your A criteria. It allows you, like you mentioned to produce better work than you ever have before. These grading scales make you a better student and sharpen your skills.

    It makes me wonder what it would be like if every class was game-ified. Even ones in high school, middle school, and elementary school. What if every child took full control of their education? It may be a little risky, but if we could instill a sense of pride and dedication to work, maybe game-ified systems could work in the entire education system.

  3. Hi Gabriella, thank you for your post. I agree that it’s sometimes a breath of fresh air to take a class that “grades students” in a very unconventional manner. I’m currently in Writing 400 (the Capstone Course) and I have mixed feelings about the grading scheme. Not to worry, you’ll get to Writing 400 soon! On the one hand, Writing 400’s syllabus encourages its students to write frequently outside of class. But, on the other hand, grades are not assigned based on quality but rather quantity. I personally think that the points should get you to the point of a “A” “B” or “C” etc, but the quality should determine whether a student receives a “B+” or a “B-.” Just my thoughts!

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