burke on grading

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In an entry entitled "Wishing I Was Simon, Knowing That I'm Paula," Timothy Burke does an excellent job of describing the difficulties I'm facing this weekend as I grade student web sites.

RIT doesn't attract writers with the skill of those at Swarthmore, but it does attract talented web developers. So grading midterm web sites brings up for me the same kinds of dilemmas and questions that Burke raises. He compares the blunt, unsparing honesty of Simon Cowell to the gentler, apologetic approach of Paula Abdul, and concludes:

I watch Simon Cowell and I sometimes wonder if maybe that�s a mistake, wonder if it's a bad idea to be a Paula. A very select few of the people that Simon dished up abuse towards didn�t seem unspeakably bad, and even he observed that a few of them might have careers as singers in bars or local theater or Broadway or weddings. Isn�t that another kind of kindness, to tell people that they�re dreaming the wrong dream? Certainly it wouldn�t be kind or right if you knew one of the truly wretched to tell them they�re great singers or marvelous performers no matter how much you loved them or enjoyed their company. Anybody who has to grade the work of students is running errands for meritocracy, in the end, and it ill-serves us to self-delude too much with gentle words about the dignity and self-worth of all people in all things that they set their minds and hearts to accomplish. But maybe Paula's the best of both worlds: the meritocracy guarded, while the pain dulled with soothing words.

The whole thing is worth reading. As is most of what Burke writes. I wish he'd ping weblogs.com or blo.gs or blogrolling.com, or create a hand-rolled RSS feed, or something that will tell me when he updates. As it is, I try to remember to stop by there once a month or so to see what he's got up for me to read.

3 TrackBacks

Thoughts About Orkut from AKMA’s Random Thoughts on January 25, 2004 3:57 PM

Liz pointed out to me that Orkut’s karma metrics should have some more useful designations such as “have/not met in person,” “have/not worked with,” and so on. And according to what messed-up algorithm does it turn out tha... Read More

I finally got out from under the Java grader job I took on at the beginning of the quarter, as it just wasn't feasible with my current course-load: I found myself putting off homework due to deadlines I had with... Read More

I finally got out from under the Java grader job I took on at the beginning of the quarter, as it just wasn't feasible with my current course-load: I found myself putting off homework due to deadlines I had with... Read More


The art of sugar coating the pill of death :)

Just hand it to us straight. They'll bitch, they'll moan - and by they'll I do include me - but they'll try harder next time to do better so they can prove to you that your comment was wrong.

And, in that case, you'll be happy. Right?

I prefer brutal honesty, but also suggestions of what to do better. You always seem to pull this off though, so I wouldn't worry too much. :-)

The truth can and usually does hurt - but it hurts less than anything else and also provides the largest opportunity to improve the present and succeed in the future.

I'm going to try and do the whole MT-RSS thing this summer...I just need the time to learn it and set it up to my liking.

I agree with the being honest thing, but I had a teacher who gave me a low predicted grade which was going to be included in my university application form. After trying to reason with him to give me a higher predicted grade, he refused. I ended up getting a higher grade than he estimated - but all that was my own work, nothing to do with his low grade spurring me on. However, the predicted grades meant I didn't get an offer from the university and course I wanted to attend, even though I evenutally ended up with the grades need for that course and university.

His prediction for me was wrong, but it also gave me the sense that he didn't believe that I could accomplish what I had set out to do - surely the job of a teacher is to encourage not discourage? Despite being a good teacher - that aspect alienated me towards him. Being a student and trying hard is frustrating enough when you feel no one believes you can do it. There's a fine line to tread.

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