Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Bitchy Bear Asks: Can I Just Give Them All A's?

My dean is well over six feet in height. My pile of grading? Taller than him. That's some bullshit.  If I refuse to look at it, will it go away?

If give them all A's, they would be perfectly happy.

The problem with the A for effort...oh my.  Simply because you work hard on something does not give it value.  This problem is extremely difficult for students who have been raised to think that their time is valuable and everything they do is worthwhile simply because they, special flowers they are,  have done it. Sisyphus does not get an A.

It's a teaching moment for me in my world of studios and theory classes.  When I am grading your work, I am not just grading your work ethic: I am grading your choices and judgment.

One of the most obvious flaws in any type of creative work, whether it's an essay or a business proposal or a piece of art: when the creator hasn't made careful choices.  Making choices is hard work, and it sometimes takes a lot of time.  But your choices reflect who you are, and nowhere is this more true than when you are producing work for others to evaluate.

Project Runway has done wonders for me in explaining these concepts to students. Every season, there is somebody who crashes and burns because he gets overly attached  to an idea and then  works and works and works on it.  "I have to paste a million Cheerios on here in an hour!"--when from one look at what he has done so far, it is clear that pasting more Cheerios is not a good use of time.

It takes judgment and discipline to stop yourself when you have run into a rabbit hole, just like it takes judgment and discipline to see an idea through even when you are in the middle of it, it's messy, you're doubting yourself, and all you want to do is quit. (That's why getting constructive feedback is so useful. Though tv and celebrityhood reduce Tim Gunn to a set of sayings, I suspect when he was at Parsons he was marvelous with students because he's very good and helping them see the consequences of different choices on the work. That's the best a mentor can do.)

I am not teaching any studios this semester; all I am doing is jurying one of the competitions for students and grading a pile of theory papers taller than my lanky Dean.  But the "A for effort thing" had me thinking, and I thought I'd share.


  1. (whiny voice): But my "choices" and "judgment" are my OPINION!! And my OPINION is sacrosanct!!! You can't grade it!

    (wah wah)

  2. I seriously debated looking up the GPA of each of my students in the Class I Officially Loathe and simply giving them a grade 1/3 higher than their GPA. Your GPA puts you at a B? Congratulations, you have a B+ in my class.

    They seem to think that their grades in other classes (even ones completely unrelated to my discipline) have something to do with the grade that they will receive in my class, and even worse, they seem to think that my discipline is supposed to be "easy."

    Oops. I must have missed that memo.

  3. I am thankful that arts faculty regularly post here. I feel so alone in my little liberal arts college.

  4. I am going all-out this semester and giving every last one of them the grades they deserve. I have tenure, and I am going to use it! It's the least I can do, as a warning to prospective employers.

  5. Once they finish their course evals, I give them the grades they deserve, not the ones that would make them happy. That means a lot more D's and C's. (Yeah, I'm not tenured.)

  6. Bitchy Bear, you're in an art department? HUG! SOLIDARITY! (although I'm one of those tedious humanities people in a studio dept, boring the shit out of the dear BFA students. "Ogival arches? What bullshit!?") Kat, a sympathetic hug to you, too.

  7. I am actually jointly appointed...I'm the sort of design person who does work in applied settings (vague enough for you?) but I have a PhD in a social science (unusual in design program faculty). I'd out myself pretty bad if I said more.


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