Dr. Tamara Fudge, School of Business and IT Faculty, Kaplan University
Of course I want to encourage my students, but simply slapping a perfect 100% on all assignments each week is not really encouragement; it can be the death of student curiosity, critical thinking, and true education.
Recently I asked my students via course announcements if they have done even just one of these, ever:
- Accidentally locked themselves out of their car, house, or office
- Gotten a traffic or parking ticket
- Forgotten to call someone when they said they would
- Tripped walking up the stairs, or worse, in front of someone
- Burned something on the stove or fried it in the microwave
We could add more to the list, but the point is that we are human. We make mistakes. These don’t have to be humongous mistakes, but we make little errors all the time, because life is not a 100% game.
When grading, I weigh infractions with consequences. Some mistakes, like a forgotten phone call, might simply be mentioned in the grading comments but won’t cost points. Others, like a traffic ticket, will have to cost some points. Yes, I tell them some things they did that were good, but they need to know what to fix for future work, too. It is important to point out even the little things, because the next time they run up the stairs, they might be more careful. I want to see them stop tripping.
To the student who tells me she wants 100% and gets upset if it’s 99.99%, I say this: Once you feel you have reached perfection, you’re done. You have no more learn, no more ideas to seek, no more growing to enrich your life. Take every point deduction as a challenge to be better, to learn how not to trip again.
Having been a recent student myself, I found that getting 100% for all my assignments in a few courses felt like I wasn’t learning. What is it I don’t know? How can I improve? Did you actually read my paper? Do you care about me?
Probably everyone knows Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It’s a children’s book based on a cyclical set of red herring fallacies – statements that draw you away from the main ideas. With an apology to Ms. Numeroff’s brilliance:
If you give every student 100%,
You have taught them that they are perfect.
If you teach them that they are perfect,
They will refuse to learn.
If they refuse to learn,
They will forget how to learn.
If they forget how to learn,
Their bosses will notice.
If their bosses notice,
They will fire said students.
If said students get fired,
Their options include going back to school.
If their options include going back to school,
They will have to accept the fact that they are human, and they are not perfect.
And as I wrote in that aforementioned classroom announcement, “Remember that you are human. 100% means superhero strength, which is not expected of humans, but is attainable sometimes.” I think I will ask someone to cross stitch that on a pillow for me.
You can probably tell I’m writing this at the end of a 12-hour grueling Saturday grading-and-outreach session. It takes me a long time to grade assignments because I care about my students and their learning. Although I do give full points to those who deserve them, I will not just give away a perfect score. School is for stretching to reach that rainbow, and sometimes a point away from perfect is the ladder they need to get there.