Each semester for the past 5 or so years, I have asked my students to write a one page self evaluation at the end of the semester, in which I ask them to evaluate their work in the class, to talk about what they have learned, what goals they reached or approximated and to grade themselves on the work they have done. This is sometimes different from the grade they want or would like to see on their transcript, and we talk about that.
Sure, you’d like to see an “A” as your final grade…but do you believe that you did “A” quality work?
Given the variety of the projects they choose to undertake, it is hard to define what an “A” or a “B” or a “C” looks like for the the entire class, so I ask my students to define that for themselves as they go along. I ask them to informally evaluate their work at different points in the term and I give them my feedback as well. Over time, the stigma of grading lessens, the mystery evaporates, and slowly the conversation turns to back to the much more important questions: what did you learn and how do you know you learned it?
At the end of each semester, before I look at my students’ self-evaluations and their self-grades, I review their work on my own. I make notes and then write down the grade I think their work has earned. And then I read their evaluations.
Above is a chart I drew up last semester. The scores on the left reflect the grades I thought the students had earned. The scores on the right are the grades they though the had earned.
Each semester, there is always -one- student for whom this exercise is a challenge and with whom I need to have a further conversation…not because I want to impose my grade upon that person, but because it is clear we have a disconnect and we need to talk about it. To be fair, that is also the same student with whom I have been conversing all semester because there was a disconnect brewing for a while. The same student who, for whatever reason, is either afraid or unwilling to look honestly at their learning. For that student (and others) my job is to keep holding up the mirror, but I can’t make them see their reflexion.
But look at the others: there is maybe the difference of a + or a – but totally within the ballpark. When in doubt, I re-read their evaluations. If there is a compelling example of their learning that I missed in my review of their work, I give them the benefit of the doubt and round up.
More often that not I am amazed at how self-critical my students are. One semester I had a second semester senior who gave himself a C- because he was angry at himself for not overcoming his shyness in class. So angry in fact that he overlooked the brief but important presentation he did in class, and the evaluations from his peers that he was a helpful and reliable speaker in small group activities. Needless to say the C- did not stand.
By letting our students self-grade are we giving up our authority, our control, our roles as teachers? No. In my opinion, teaching isn’t about authority and control…but it is about guidance and encouragement and keeping students (and yourself!) aware of what is needed to accomplish personal goals, all the while being attentive to the deadlines the semester imposes upon us.
By allowing students to self-grade, I believe, we are giving them a brief glimpse of the world outside of college where self evaluation is a common part of the workplace. Being self-aware and able to talk about what you have done and whether you met expectations or not is an important skill to develop well before your first annual report or performance review at work.
As I have said many times before, teaching in college is about preparing them for what awaits them outside of our classroom. Self grading is one small way to do just that.