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When Grades Get in the Way of Learning

Picture of Máirín Glenn
Re: When Grades Get in the Way of Learning
by Máirín Glenn - Sunday, 8 October 2017, 7:39 PM

Dear Kelly,

I think you are sharing with us the story of your learning as you have experimented with forms of assessment with your Art students.

As I read through your paper I was left in no doubt as to the passion and excitement you have experienced in undertaking this piece of research. Therefore, I can imagine that your work has had substantial influence on your practice with regard to assessment and your understanding of it. I perceive that your ideas regarding assessment are fairly ground-breaking and so therefore, your work and the theory you are in the process of generating, is potentially quite significant for colleagues and even policy in your place of work. Therefore, we cannot underestimate the significance of your project.

However, I’m not getting as clear a picture as I’d like of your work. I can only get a sense of these achievements. I think you clearly know what you have done, but as your reader, I find the account a little too vague. I think you need to remember that you are telling your story to those of us who want to learn from you but who weren’t with you in your school and are not familiar with your story and, indeed, who are not familiar with your system of education. Don’t forget to tell us readers what exactly happened from the outset: what was wrong in your practice; why was this making you uncomfortable; what did you plan to do; what actually happened; what did you learn and what was the relevance of your project?

 More specifically, I think, in your next draft, you could provide your readers with much more data or evidence to show what you did; to outline what happened and to describe what you learned. This data could also help to support your claims. You appear to have collated large quantities of data but, to date, you have presented very little of it in your text or appendices. I suggest that you should bring your data right into your paper because not only will it strengthen your case, it will all paint a more in-depth picture of your story in a more convincing manner. Your data and the evidence you present will toughen up your story and give it a robust supporting framework.


You need also bring your awareness of the role your values play into the story of your learning, more explicitly. As a reader I can sense them, I think, but for publication they need to be stated more overtly and clearly. I think it might be worthwhile to clarify for yourself and your reader, what exactly your values are, at the outset. Then, you can use them as the foundation upon which you build your research, and tell the unfolding story of your learning. Tell us more about your concerns around the assessment system as it stands and why this system contravenes the values you espouse (as I imagine it does!).

Maybe you could tell us a little more about the literature with which you have engaged in the process of your learning? Do you agree or disagree with it and how has it influenced your thinking?

I think you could use your values to help you draw up the criteria or living standards of judgement by which you evaluate the veracity of your claim, as is often the practice in academic accounts of living educational theory. I think you could state these criteria more overtly in your paper.  Perhaps you could tell us some more about how you have found that you are living more closely in the direction of your values ( or not) as your research progresses? And again, these claims should be substantiated by hard evidence so as to make them stand up to the scrutiny of the most sceptical reader.

I am going to ‘borrow’ Swaroop’s comments and add just a little to one or two of them (Swaroop's words are in italics):

‘·         What is my concern?

·         Why am I concerned? [What are my values and how do I perceive that I am not living as closely to them as I would like, at this time?]

·         What am I going to do about it?’ [What plan will I make? What are the criteria or living standards of judgement that I establish for myself to benchmark that I am working more closely to the values I hold?]

I recommend having a look at this short video clip of Jack Whitehead talking about having difficulties living to his values as a young teacher- it is less than two minutes long- but it captures how he experienced himself as a ‘living contradiction’.


Like Joy, I will send not on my marked-up text, because Swaroop has picked up on a lot of the points I had questioned myself.  

However, I would make the following specific points:

Just checking that you are careful in using the name of your school, if this is not a fictional name. Have you checked ethical expectations and permissions with all relevant bodies.

I would like a clearer explanation of more ‘local’ terms such as ‘First Nations students’, ‘First Nations students’ issues’ as well as ‘collaborative creation of rubrics’. Yes, I know what you are talking about, but I think it would make for easier reading if the terms were explained briefly.

While you are clearly familiar with Dweck’s work, I think a short explanation, for those who have not read it, would be helpful.

You state ‘We as a class decided…’, but it would be very helpful if you tell your readers (especially practising teachers) how this happened. Who suggested what and was the decision made?

I am suggesting that you might consider using more headings on sections of your paper so as to signpost to your readers what they will encounter in that section.

Kelly, I think this is an exciting story and indeed, one that must be told. I think you have done a lot of the hard work already but I also think you need to work some more on your draft because your account needs to be more robust and your ideas need to be formulated more rigorously. Remember that you are aiming to convince the most cynical of readers of the authenticity and importance of your work and you need to use every weapon or artefact that you have at your disposal to do this.


Thank you for sharing your text. Be sure to get back to me if you are unclear about my comments. I am looking forward greatly to your next draft.

With all best wishes,