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After a particularly obnoxious argument over a final grade a couple of semesters ago, I decided to dramatically revamp the grading policy that I include in all my syllabi. The dispute made clear to me that certain students (by no means all students, and I’d venture not even the majority of my students, but some students, nonetheless) have a sense that, in classes like the ones I teach, everyone begins the semester with an A, and that, barring any serious gaffes, they can end the semester with that A, easy-peasy.

This has never been how I have approached grading, and I thought I might avoid a number of niggling grade disputes if I communicated my actual practice of grading as straight-forwardly as possible. I’ve only used this policy one semester so far — last fall, before I went on leave — but I had no complaints. I’m testing it out again, and thought I’d post it here for comment. And just generally to share, in the event that you’re looking for this sort of thing.

GRADING AND OTHER POLICIES

My grading policy is pretty straight-forward, and comes in two parts:

The grade of B+ is yours to lose. Here are ways that you can lose it:

  1. Miss more than three days of class. I know you all have a lot going on, but this class is your job this semester, and I want you to take it that seriously. You each have one day of vacation and two days of sick leave — that is, one day that you can miss for whatever reason, and two days that you can miss with an official medical excuse. Use them wisely. Further absences will affect your final grade in unpleasant ways.
  2. Show up late to class more than twice. It drives me absolutely bonkers when people walk into class after it’s already begun (and if I’m talking, even if just to make preliminary announcements, class has begun). It’s both rude and distracting. Get to class on time; every three late arrivals will add up to one unexcused absence.
  3. Turn your assignments in late. You each have three grace days to use as needed. For instance, if the project proposal is due on a Wednesday, but you have a big exam on Wednesday, you can use a grace day and turn that proposal in on Thursday. Please note, however: a “day” is twenty-four hours long, and ends at 5.00 pm. If you don’t turn the proposal in until Friday morning, that’s two grace days. Any lateness beyond these three grace days will count against your grade. Please note that because these grace days are freebies, I will give no extensions. Don’t even ask.
  4. Don’t take the blog or the wiki seriously. The blog and wiki assignments are key elements of the course; aside from the final project, they represent the vast majority of the writing you will do, and they count for half of your final grade. The blog is taking the place of formal, print-on-paper reading responses, and it’s also a space in which you can feel free to explore your ideas about the class material in whatever way most appeals to you. Not posting regularly or ceasing to post halfway through the semester constitutes a failure to take the blog seriously, as do posts that have obviously been slapped together in two minutes or less. Similarly, leaving all of your work on the wiki until the end of the semester is seriously frowned upon.
  5. Fail to do the reading. Much of our in-class work is built around discussion, and you cannot participate fruitfully in a discussion if you aren’t prepared. Read carefully, take notes on the reading, post your responses on your blog, and participate in class discussions. With respect to which:
  6. Fail to participate collegially in class discussions. You don’t need to speak every day. And you absolutely must not monopolize the discussion. But both never speaking and appearing to overly enjoy the sound of your own voice constitute a failure of collegiality. Our discussions are a group endeavor, meant to help each member of the class reach the greatest possible understanding of the material.
  7. Turn in a weak, ill-thought-through, unpolished, dull, pointless, or generally mediocre final project. Need I say more?
  8. Give a scattered, unpolished, unengaged, or OVERLY LONG final presentation. Again, ’nuff said, except about the length question: I’m dead serious about this. I will stop you when time is up, and if I have to stop you, your grade will suffer. Practice your presentation, and time yourself carefully.
  9. Plagiarize. Academic dishonesty in any form will result in automatic failure of this class. Period. If you have any concerns about what constitutes academic dishonesty, refer to your student handbook, or ask me.

The grades of A- and A must be earned. Here are ways to earn them:

  1. Produce an excellent final project. What constitutes excellence? Doing more than simply completing the terms of the assignment. An excellent final project is sophisticated, nuanced, engaging, and insightful. It is technically polished and free of any kind of errors. It shows evidence of a substantive, thoughtful engagement with the course materials. It is, above all, interesting, designed to draw the reader/viewer/user into full engagement with its content and its form.
  2. Maintain an excellent blog. Make me look forward to visiting your blog often, and stimulate thoughtful conversation in your comments.
  3. Contribute to an excellent wiki. Make sure that your own entries are substantive, and keep an eye on the project as a whole, taking the responsibility for making the entire wiki as complete and polished as you can.
  4. Participate excellently in class. Excellence in class participation means not simply speaking frequently, but contributing in an active and generous way to the work of the class as a whole, by asking questions, offering interpretations, politely challenging your colleagues, and graciously accepting challenges in return.
  5. Deliver an excellent presentation. An excellent presentation is one that is focused, organized, engaging, and to the point. It has what my predecessor, Brian Stonehill, used to refer to as “heart, smarts, and sparkle.”

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