Should students be graded?

Responses to the acting-instruction page.
Reeze
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Should students be graded?

Postby Reeze » Sat Jul 30, 2005 4:25 pm

I was thinking about your comments on the counterproductive quality of giving grades.

In a subject such as acting it makes absolutely no sense to me to give grades. While the qualities of good and bad acting can be judged, the difference between A and B standard is surely completely subjective.

My friend has been doing a degree in photography, and his grades range from a 1st (the best grade) to a mere pass. Is this an inconsistently in the quality of his work? No! In fact he received different grades for the same piece of work, but marked by different teachers (an average is taken). In the art based subjects grades are surely a complete fallacy.

But even if they were consistent and accurate, what use are they?

In acting how many directors are going to look at your grade and say: ‘well you’ve got an A for acting, so you’ve obviously good. We’ll just skip the audition, shall we’?

For more academic subjects like history, English and maths, I suppose it has more credence. For an employer it would whittle out those who really were no good. But doesn’t this come through in the application anyway? And it certainly comes through at the stage of the interview.

Do grades help the student in anyway? From my experience it means you focus more on learning enough to get the grade, and less on actually learning the subject. One of the best ways I found for getting grade points was to listen to what the lecturer said and then say it back to them. So in a lecture I took particular interest about what excited the tutor. Then in the seminar I would say it back to them in a slightly different context. ‘Good point, Alan,’ would be the reply.

Fun, but hardly productive.

I managed to pass my French oral exam by memorising, by rote, a page of text and repeating it back. I didn’t understand a word I was saying, but I passed. I couldn’t speak French for toffee; and constant tests throughout the five years I studied it, proved that to me again and again. Every F I got, confirmed to me that I wasn’t any good at the subject. So what was the point in trying?

What if I learnt French without the grades? What if the focus was on what I had learnt? What if it was the challenge to try and understand something interesting?

I’m learning German now, but off my own back. The first thing I did was to get on the Internet and make a few email pen friends with native Germans. I’ve given myself one rule, which is that I’m only allowed to write in German. My motivation is strong: if I want to keep them as friends, I’ve got to learn to express myself in German.

And it’s working. I’ve been learning just over a week and I know loads more German than I ever learnt in 5 years of French classes. And I don’t feel any need for a grade to prove it to me.

The importance of the grade over the learning became very apparent when my tutors told me that the last work we handed in for our degree would not come back with comments from the tutors, but just notes for the examiners. It seems that now my degree is over, feedback isn’t important. Who cares about progressing if you’ve already got your grade? Sadly, practically no one does.

Do your essay, take an exam, get the grade, forget about it. That’s the grading system in my experience.

I had an excellent tutor in college who didn't mark my work - my work was simply assessed externally at the end of the year. I think we had 2 essays the whole year. But what we did do was returned again and again with tons of feedback. I would go off, improve my essay, and she would check it again. I've never learnt so much about good writing.

At university, I handed in assignment after assignment. I received a grade for each one with a few comments. But there was little I could do with the comments because that piece was already marked; so there was little point in going back and improving it.

So why have grades? The only reason I can think is because they’re handy for government statistics. Oh, and parents seem to understand grades.

Benchmarking is completely different however – acting as a reference for the student that gives them motivation. Grades don’t do that.

I wonder: have you tried benchmarking with your students? In the few acting classes I’ve taken I have had the experience of being filmed. Once I learnt to ignore the camera, I gained two benefits from this. Firstly, it allowed me to see my acting progress over time. Secondly, I got great feedback about what I looked like performing. I found things annoyed me (I fidgeted, for example) and so I improved quickly, even on things that were never commented on.

I commend you for having a focus on making good, confident actors, and not on getting students over a hurdle.

Incidentally, Chris, I’m giving you a B for your work on absolute pitch. You show excellent degrees of original thought, and you’ve obviously put a lot of work into the research. However, while you’re obviously capable of writing well, you fail to write in a structured and concise manner. Try to keep your work within the word limit next time. :wink:

petew83
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Postby petew83 » Sat Jul 30, 2005 5:05 pm

I'd rather have a lot of rambling entries than a few condensed/edited ones. Chris is doing better work than anyone else on AP.

Reeze
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Postby Reeze » Sat Jul 30, 2005 5:08 pm

Exactly!

aruffo
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Postby aruffo » Sat Jul 30, 2005 5:19 pm

The funny thing is that even though what you're saying is known to be true, the people who know it persist in shrugging their shoulders and committing to bad education. Because it's easier than change? Because it's tradition? I really don't know. I've talked with parents who appear to understand the soul-draining, intelligence-stifling, socially degrading nature of the public school system, yet they wouldn't dream of withdrawing their children (or not sending them in the first place). I don't take that as a knock against any of the philosophy I support; rather, it truly seems like not having their children in school is simply unimaginable.

I hadn't thought about benchmarking in acting class. I may have to get back to you on that. I'm a bit curious that my first reaction seems to be strongly against videotaping-- curious, because I know that I've been helped by videotaping before. It must have to do with the nature of what I'm teaching right now. I suspect that, at the level I'm currently teaching, I'm most interested in applying basic principles and practices. These are either analytical (so that they would show up on paper and not on video) or instinctive (so they need to feel it as part of themselves before they try to see it on a flat screen).

I'm not so sure that I would want to benchmark, though-- I'm not sure that I want to imply that people will be going from "bad" to "good" (or even "good" to "better"). It's my opinion that everyone already is an excellent actor; I would prefer not to imply that anyone is "getting better"; rather, they're approaching the task in a different way than they would have otherwise, and the new procedures capitalize more effectively on their natural pre-existing abilities. Or (to put it another way) I'd say nobody "improves" as an actor unless they take deliberate training which heightens their ability to express themselves (voice, body, etc)... so I'm not sure I could know what form of benchmark would be most meaningful for each individual student.

Still, I mustn't rule it out. As ETC evidences, I'm into the benchmarking thing. I just have to acknowledge that at this point I don't know what kind of benchmarking could be valuable. I'll keep an eye on what happens.

I appreciate the examples you offer-- especially about learning German. That's the way to do it!

Sorry about the B-writing; I'll have to revise it and turn it in again!

aruffo
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Postby aruffo » Sat Jul 30, 2005 5:34 pm

A couple lilbits, I guess, as afterthoughts...

lilbit 1: There are a handful of phrases that stick in my mind and pop up repeatedly. One is this: "form follows function." It's such a universal truth that I can't help but notice it everywhere, and often. In this case, I actually have thought about going back and re-organizing the writing on the site to make it in some way more accessible to new readers; but time doing that would mean time not moving forward. So it stays as it is because that's the purpose it serves.

lilbit 2: part of my complaint about grading the actor is that, in having the power to assign a grade, an instructor typically thinks that they have the right or the ability (or worse, the responsibility) to tell the student whether their performance is good or bad. And the student, rarely knowing any better, tends to accept that instructor's assessment without question. I never tell a student whether something was "good" or "bad"; instead, I try to show them where and how they were failing to apply necessary technique, so that they can self-assess and self-correct. My opinion doesn't matter in the slightest, except as it guides me to show them what they need to see for themselves.

A couple illustrative results from the standard approach: Last year, after watching a rather tedious and overwrought scene presented here in preparation for a competition, I asked one of the performers why he had thought it was worthy to compete. His answer? "Because the teacher said it was good." Likewise, I was speaking to an undergrad last night who was trying to figure out what monologue to use in the upcoming auditions; she didn't understand why she could do monologues in class, and get such excellent praise, and then do the same monologues in auditions and never get called back.

paul-donnelly
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Postby paul-donnelly » Sun Jul 31, 2005 12:40 am

From my recent experience in high school I have to agree that grading is more harmful than it is helpful. It seems to create two kinds of students. First are the students who have a drive to "make the grade". They work hard and stress over their assignments and get As or Bs in most of their classes. Then there are the students who just aren't motivated by grades. They're the ones who say, "Yeah, I got a D, but that's passing, right?" They (or should I say we), while some of them are very bright, just want to get done with the school year and move on, eventually squeaking by and graduating. Some are hoping to take on more engaging subjects in college, and some just want to get out of high school. Ironically, test scores like the ACT and SAT are many a bright yet unmotivated student's ticket into college.

Unfortunately, the real goal of any school is a difficult one to accomplish. How do you interest each and every person in a diverse group of students in, say, trigonometry, so they can actually learn what you're trying to teach them? I know trigonometry because my interests require it. At best, my education has alerted me to its presence. If I hadn't seen it's value to me I wouldn't know a cosine from a unit circle. A sobering thing is that none of my math classes showed me that I needed trig. I learned it in physics class, where I actually put it to use. Math classes which teach from a theoretical standpoint rather than from a practical one are another rant, though.

Evidently grading is the best method we've come up with yet. If you can't interest a pupil in the material, instilling a fear of failure to encourage them to force the material into their heads is a reasonable substitute, isn't it? I think the reason for grading's success is that it seems to produce quantified results (they passed their tests, didn't they?), which are great for politicians who want to know, "is our children learning?" Never mind whether those results are accurate or useful.

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Postby aruffo » Sun Jul 31, 2005 3:22 pm

I think you've articulated the problem, Paul-- whether or not students are motivated by grades-- as well as the solution. You said that you learned Trigonometry when you actually put it to use. I don't think that anybody learns anything, really, unless and until they actually put it to use in solving a specific problem; conversely, solving a problem forces us to learn something.

The difficulty as an instructor, then, is just as you said-- how do you interest each and every person in a diverse group? I tried (and failed) to answer that question in my first acting-for-non class by asking people to show me what they wanted to do with acting; the problem with this approach was that, like you not knowing that you needed trig, they don't know enough about the subject to know what they could do with it.

I think the solution is to find something "cool" to do which requires them to learn the material in order to do it. The trick is to make the right choice. Performing a play for an audience is an obvious and desirable application for my class subject-- but if I choose the wrong play for college students (a heavy drama or a whacked-out metaphorical piece, for example) nobody is going to enjoy the experience.

Know your students, know what they want to do, give them the opportunity to do it, and then show them how it's done. Then they'll learn, and willingly. Eagerly, even. (At least, that's the theory I'm going by.)

I think the original concept of testing and grading may have been a valid one-- please demonstrate that you have learned-- but it's far too easy to pervert. Whenever I've taken multiple-choice standardized tests, I get far higher scores than my knowledge deserves because I can second-guess the test writers. When I took the Series 7 NASD test to get my broker's license (which most people fail their first time through) I got about 87% on all the sections which required conceptual knowledge, and about 60% on all the sections which required me to memorize terms and numbers. (Fortunately, the former outweighed the latter, and I passed on my first attempt.) My performance is entirely explained by the fact that in the conceptual sections I found the answer in the way the question was asked, and in the data sections I either knew it or I didn't (and often didn't).

Reeze
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Postby Reeze » Sun Jul 31, 2005 8:09 pm

The grading system is so ingrained in society now, that a sudden loss of it would produce withdrawal symptoms. Can you imagine letting your children (supposing you had any) reach the age of 16, 17, 18 and not having achieved any grades? I think a slow change would be necessary, removing it from art based subjects to begin with.

Apparently the grading began in 1817 (from the top of my head) as a way of checking that doctors had reached the required standard. Now, obviously this is very important, so something would need to replace it.

After that it seems that grading came as a way of filtering larger populations. Namely to help the recruitment of civil servants in Britain in the 1870s. Then, in America at the beginning of the 20th century, a move away from one room schools provided a need for more bureaucracy; and so report cards were born.

These days, the bureaucracy is huge and much more centralised. Or at least this is the case in the UK.

So grading has never been about the student. But, of course, it still affects the student.

I think I had my first realisation as to the ridiculous nature of grades in the run up to my school exams about 7 years ago. It was then that I was informed that my grade was worked out in relation to the performance of a wider demographic. So if, by some miracle, everyone in the country got an A, the requirements for getting an A would be altered so that getting an A was harder. This way everyone could fit on a nice bell-shaped graph.

Basing the grades on a bell-curve seemed reasonably sensible. But what I couldn’t believe was that alterations were made year on year. So an A for the class of ’92 would mean something different to that of ’97. So even from a bureaucratic POV it is heavily flawed.

So to the solution…

Firstly, there needs to be a way of checking the quality of a person’s skills (especially when it comes to serious things like doctoring).

Secondly, the bureaucracy needs to be addressed.

I’m not sure about the first point, but a move away from a large centrally managed system would be required if we were to get rid of grades. If the state has a hand in education, they need a way of giving stats to the voters. The same goes for any large institution. I think the whole system needs to become much more personal. (Maybe teachers and parents could talk more).

Then we could focus on getting real results.

The trigonometry example is an interesting one. I learnt trigonometry in maths class, and as I recall could do it quite well. I got a B in maths, so I must have done! But I can’t for the life of me remember what it is now. So the time learning that was essentially wasted; I saw no need for it, so I forgot it.

I’m also relearning history, because I forgot most of that. And I forgot most of geography. And my business studies GCSE is almost a joke to me in hindsight. So, no, pressuring students to learn through grades, does not work in my experience.

My IT GCSE is an interesting example. I got an A* for that class, but I didn’t learn a thing in the lessons. Why? Because I already knew everything that was being taught. I had a computer at home and I wanted to know how to do things on it, so I learnt to fill a need.

As another example, how much do you think you would know about sound and musical theory, if you hadn’t been trying to create a method for teaching absolute pitch?

So yes, I think we are in full agreement about the futility of the grade in acting class; but I wonder how it can be replaced in a wider context.

But perhaps that is taking the discussion too far from the core.

paul-donnelly
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Postby paul-donnelly » Sun Jul 31, 2005 10:24 pm

Apparently the grading began in 1817 (from the top of my head) as a way of checking that doctors had reached the required standard. Now, obviously this is very important, so something would need to replace it.

I would call that a very valid use of testing and grading. In many situations it's very benificial to evaluate a person's knowledge and abilities, like the above. But I don't think grading has a place in general education, and especially not as a prime motivation for the group to be educated.

aruffo
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Postby aruffo » Sun Jul 31, 2005 11:04 pm

Agreed.

I remember that my high school's original plan was not to grade students at all, but the parents rebelled against that (how will our children get into college without a transcript?) so they backpedaled. In hindsight, I wonder what difference it would've made for the instructors.

Reeze
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Postby Reeze » Mon Aug 01, 2005 6:42 am

Okay, so we seem agreed that in most subjects a move away from grades and towards a challenging task is the best way to go. And this is something we can take on independently as well; perhaps choosing to take on tasks or projects instead of graded courses.

I also wanted to get back to you on the benchmarking thing. After reading your comments I think you’re probably right in the context of your class. If your focus is on getting them to feel the right way internally, videoing the experience would likely hinder that – leading them to think about how they look to the audience and not how they feel as the character. Possibly videoing is better in more advanced classes.

I think benchmarking is important when people can easily lose track of the progress they are making. So in ETC it is required because it can be hard to believe that at one time you couldn’t hear certain pitches. The proof provided by benchmarking is very important for motivation in these cases, I believe.

Perhaps, in acting, it isn’t so necessary. Or perhaps it is necessary only later on when you’re working on that ‘deliberate training which heightens their ability to express themselves (voice, body, etc)’.

I guess the best thing to do is look down the line and see if any of your older students would now appreciate having a record of their acting from when they first started. Then only incorporate it if there is evidence that it would be useful.

paul-donnelly
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Postby paul-donnelly » Mon Aug 01, 2005 2:04 pm

Reeze wrote:I think benchmarking is important when people can easily lose track of the progress they are making. So in ETC it is required because it can be hard to believe that at one time you couldn’t hear certain pitches.

I agree. I played the demo for a bit, and while I thought I was doing a little better than when I started, I didn't think there had been any drastic improvement. Then I stopped for a couple days and went back to it. Apparently I had learned more than I thought, since taking a break and forgetting it left me doing very badly for a while. Making a benchmark is a great way to provide an accurate record of where you started, and it's going to be the first thing I do when I order the program.

cjhealey
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Postby cjhealey » Sat Apr 14, 2007 9:26 am

My performance is entirely explained by the fact that in the conceptual sections I found the answer in the way the question was asked,

I always did this same thing on multiple choice examination lol

An interesting story that one of my school teachers once told me is a perfect demonstation of the problem with the education system:

At the teachers' precious school there was a student who was absolutley exceptional at mathematics, the most amazing math student he ever saw.
He got a D+ or C+ (can't remember which) for mathematics despite commonly getting 95-100% correct answers.
He used methods and created formulas that weren't taught in the syllabus so the teachers couldn't give him any marks for the working because his working didn't fit the criteria which they were assesing.

Thankfully, the guy graduated and got into some form of pure mathematics at university with no problems.

Its a good example of how a mark on a piece of paper can be so incorrect/unrealistic. Unfortunately that mark could then effect you for the rest of your life.

The mental stress and fatigue that grade 12 (senior year) can have on a person is amazing. The amount of worry and anxiety that students go through is amazing - and it is neither healthy or fair that so much can be about the result of those 30 weeks. Especially not when they give essays, assignments, work etc during school holidays - it is ridiculous, anyone would think that the education system is pushing to see how much work they can give us before someone loses it and ends up staring at a wall for 6 months.

That said, I'm racking my brain trying to think of an alternative to grading... The best thing i can come up with is that you keep the grading but the student can resit multiple exams on the same topic until they are happy with their own mark.
It leaves everyone the opportunity to get A's, and if they don't, it is by personal choice, not lack of intelligence.
And at the end of the day, wasn't the point of course to teach the students a topic? How is giving a student a D or an E written on their exam paper teaching them the course work? It's not, so shouldn't it then be taught so that they DO know the work properly?

The idea of ONE exam only for each topic is idiotic In my opinion: What happens if a student loses some of their notes and doesn't realise until they are in the exam thinking "I didn't revise this, i don't even remember seeing this work in my book when i was revising?!"
Happened to me. Sucked big time.
But what if a student is just mentally or physically tired on that day??? etc

There needs two be atleast two exams for each unit - one exam for the student to know what they need to practice and what is expected and the other as the offical examination/s.

Anyway, take care!
Chris :-)

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Postby aruffo » Fri May 11, 2007 8:00 am

There's a front-page story in the Indiana Daily Student today about dozens of dental students who were reprimanded or expelled for "cheating".

I've thought about "cheating" before-- the concept of "cheating" is to me as ridiculous as the concept of "testing" is despicable. Tests do not measure knowledge; they measure how well you can take a test. If you achieve that task in a different manner than expected, especially in a way that's substantially easier, then you aren't being "dishonest", you're being smart. Nobody can tell the difference between an A+ that's "cheated" and one that isn't because, fundamentally, there is no difference. Either type of A represents the same thing: a student who successfully completed a test.

I've said it before, and I'm sure I'll say it again... the purported purpose of a test is to demonstrate that a student has learned something of the target material; but to achieve this purpose, the only "test" that makes sense is a task which cannot be accomplished by any means other than applying the target material. The mere fact of its being possible to "cheat" inherently invalidates the value of any test.

Yes, I do have an example of a test that can't be cheated: a final performance in acting class. If students didn't learn the material and/or didn't put in the necessary effort, then their performances would suck. There's no way to fake it because it's self-evident. As I think of final performances I've seen from other acting classes, it occurs to me that another reason the test-taking mentality has been perpetuated is that a student's failure can just as easily reveal the inadequacy of a curriculum. If they learn and apply the target material, and their performance still stinks, then there was something wrong with the material to begin with.

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Postby briangonzalo » Thu Jun 21, 2007 10:10 pm

paul-donnelly wrote:From my recent experience in high school I have to agree that grading is more harmful than it is helpful. It seems to create two kinds of students. First are the students who have a drive to "make the grade". They work hard and stress over their assignments and get As or Bs in most of their classes. Then there are the students who just aren't motivated by grades. They're the ones who say, "Yeah, I got a D, but that's passing, right?" They (or should I say we), while some of them are very bright, just want to get done with the school year and move on, eventually squeaking by and graduating. Some are hoping to take on more engaging subjects in college, and some just want to get out of high school. Ironically, test scores like the ACT and SAT are many a bright yet unmotivated student's ticket into college.

Unfortunately, the real goal of any school is a difficult one to accomplish. How do you interest each and every person in a diverse group of students in, say, trigonometry, so they can actually learn what you're trying to teach them? I know trigonometry because my interests require it. At best, my education has alerted me to its presence. If I hadn't seen it's value to me I wouldn't know a cosine from a unit circle. A sobering thing is that none of my math classes showed me that I needed trig. I learned it in physics class, where I actually put it to use. Math classes which teach from a theoretical standpoint rather than from a practical one are another rant, though.

Evidently grading is the best method we've come up with yet. If you can't interest a pupil in the material, instilling a fear of failure to encourage them to force the material into their heads is a reasonable substitute, isn't it? I think the reason for grading's success is that it seems to produce quantified results (they passed their tests, didn't they?), which are great for politicians who want to know, "is our children learning?" Never mind whether those results are accurate or useful.


i agree with that!


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