Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Approaching the dreaded 'I deserve a better grade' conversation

No one looks forward to that conversation with a student seeking a better grade. Maryellen Weimer at Faculty Focus has some good advice. Most centrally, she's emphasizes being open to the student's case for a better grade and figuring out how to make the enterprise a learning experience for both students and instructors. I appreciated these remarks in particular:

The learning potential of these conversations is a function of how forward-looking they are. “So, what have you learned from this experience that will help you with the next assignment?” “What are you going to work on?” Here, depending on the student, it might be wise for the teacher to provide some guidance. “Let me identify three things to work on. All three would significantly improve the quality of your work, and if there is improvement in these areas, that will definitely be reflected in your grade.” 
If the student has conducted himself or herself appropriately in the conversation, that deserves a comment. “I appreciate the maturity you’ve demonstrated in this conversation, and although I’m sure you’re disappointed that I haven’t changed my mind about your grade on this paper, I do think these conversations are very important.” And they are important. Teachers need to know when a student thinks a grade is unfair. They need to review their decisions, and they need to try to help the student understand why the grade stands.
I'd be curious to hear about good approches to these conversations. What works? What doesn't? And what are our goals, as instructors, for these conversations?


  1. We just had a post on the uselessness of outcomes assessment, but having couse outcomes (and criteria for assignments that aligned with the outcomes) could play a valuable role in the "why didn't I get a better grade?" conversation. The criteria and outcomes should provide a description of what a student is expected to demonstrate in the course, and could give the teacher language to discuss where the student's performance has fallen short, and (as Weimer suggests) what she could work on in the future.

  2. As I just submitted grades I'm interpreting this as a better course grade, not just a better grade on any particular assignment.

    I guess it all depends on the specifics of the situation, but in general, assuming it's not something like an error in grading or the gradebook formula is messed up, I try to treat it as a teaching moment...

    ...the first thing I look at is the student's attendance. I don't take formal attendance unless required by the school, but I do keep a record, i.e., attendance is not directly factored into the grade. I'd guesstimate that most of my "I deserve a better grade" conversations end shortly after I find out how many times the student missed class. I try to be nice about it, but the message to the student is that if they don't care about their education enough to attend class, I'm not sure why I should go out on a limb to help them when so many other students who tried hard to get better are not getting a second chance.

    ...if they have good attendance I start looking at their grades. If it looks like they have performed poorly throughout the course I ask them why it took until the end of the course before they were concerned about their grades.

    Sometimes I have to repeat part of the lecture I give where I emphasize to students that they have to take responsibility for their own education. I try to guide them through some time management skills, prioritizing goals, etc., but ultimately they have to chose what is important to them. If my class is not a priority to them, then they have to accept the consequences of not doing well.


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