Teach the Earth > Affective Domain > Dilemmas about Teaching > Fixation on grades

Fixation on grades

Tom Koballa, Kelly Rocca, and Steve Semken
Each semester our university offers several large-enrollment (n ~ 220) sections of a lecture-based introductory physical geology course. Although the course can be counted toward a geological sciences major, it functions mostly as a service course that provides non-major students science credit necessary for graduation. Rightly or wrongly, it is perceived by many students as easier than the equivalent introductory chemistry or physics course. The students enrolled in the course represent a broad cross-section of majors outside of science or mathematics. Some of these, particularly the business majors, are hard-working and serious students, but they view this course only as a means to an end, and are fixated on the highest possible grade as the only meaningful outcome. The problem was exacerbated two years ago when our university instituted plus-minus grading. Where previously students argued and pleaded to raise their course grades from Bs to As, they now fight fiercely to raise an A- to an A or an A to an A+.

The specific dilemma arises when an obviously good student, who is perhaps managing a high B average, visits or e-mails the professor - not to ask for help learning or understanding physical geology, but for advice on how he or she can bring that grade up. How can the professor encourage this student to keep up the good work AND develop more interest in learning for learning's sake?


Alan Boyle, David Mogk, Karl Wirth, Suki Smaglik, Lisa Gilbert, Kathie Owens, and Lew Brown
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Written at the October 2007 POD workshop

We're answering as the teacher.

This dilemma does not have to be an either/or between grades and learning: we don't have to see student interest in grades as not being interested in learning. Teacher can say, "This is the learning you will have to do to earn the grade you want."

Why do I have to learn this? Do we have a good answer?

Fixation on grades  

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