What are we grading?

I visited with a frustrated teacher today.  Unfortunately for both us, I became frustrated with her rather than the student who frustrated her.  Her story was this:  She assigned a novel to read.  Same novel for all of the students.  One student started to read it, decided he didn’t like it, and informed the teacher he wasn’t going to finish it.  She was understandably upset.  She has all sorts of lessons and quizzes and essays that are all related to the assigned novel.  This student won’t be able to complete any of them and will be failing.

My reply was that reading the novel is not a state benchmark nor is it a requirement of our school.  Is it right to fail a student with an assignment that is not required?  What can the student learn from reading the novel that can’t be learned from reading a short story?  The student demonstrated that he could read, because he read the first two chapters of the assigned novel before giving up on it.

Is it worth failing a student because of an attitude problem?



  1. G. Scott said,

    September 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    I’ve mixed feelings on this. Part of me feels that the kid just needs to grow up and accept the fact that throughout life, we have to do things we don’t like. Reading a book one doesn’t care for is hardly a Herculean task. On the other hand, you’re right to ask the question, “What are we grading?” This teacher will obviously not get an accurate assessment of how well the student understands the basic principles and skills the teacher is using the novel to model and teach. Yet I also wonder what we’re teaching someone by saying with actions, “Oh, I’m so sorry you don’t like that. You showed some attitude and now we’re going to back down…” If I were to say to my principal, “I don’t like staff meetings. They’re boring. I refuse to go,” I obviously wouldn’t be teaching at that particular school any more. Students need to learn that, while they have freedom of choice, there are also consequences to those choices.

  2. September 23, 2010 at 11:21 pm

    I used to be all about “students need to learn consequences.” Unfortunately, they don’t. If the option is “change your attitude or fail” many students choose the fail option. Again, the belief was that they would learn from failing and turn things around, but that never really works, either.

    In the end, I’ve really come to believe that it is NOT my job to teach responsibility over English. It is my job to make the students learn certain skills. Proper attitude & responsibility are things I can model, but I just don’t think I can fail a student for these things.

    It comes down to this, if you want to have a real world situation. If a boss gives you something to read that is necessary to do your job better and you figure it out without really reading it, what will your boss think? Will he be upset that you didn’t do the assigned reading, or will he only care that you can do your job with the proper amount of skill?

  3. Scott Erb said,

    September 27, 2010 at 8:14 am

    Again, in higher education it’s different: they are here because they pay to be here, and if a student doesn’t want to do what I assign, then that’s their choice and I have no responsibility to adjust my assignments and expectations to their whims. I understand what you’re saying and sympathize, but I would rather not have students coming to college having learned in high school that it’s OK to say “I don’t like this assignment, give me something else” and expect the instructor to comply.

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