Kristin Lundstrum

Stuck in a 4.0-Scale World - Part 3

Blog Post created by Kristin Lundstrum Champion on Aug 18, 2017

After a bit of a hiatus from this series, I feel that there is more to write about. I know that’s generally the case, but as the 2017-2018 school year begins, there seems to be even more reasons to explore grading and my classroom policies.


In Part 1, I looked at grading in general. In Part 2, I looked at late work. Now, I’m going to take a little bit of time to explore the term “failure” and why the term bothers me so much.


To start, I’d like to make the assumption that nobody *wants* to FAIL. I don’t think many people truly start out a task saying “I want to fail. I don’t want to or have any attention to increasing my ability/outlook/knowledge/understanding/performance on this challenge.” And then I consider my career choice. As a teacher, it is my role to coach, encourage, and to empower students to take ownership in the learning process and to become engaged learners, not to let them down! ...but I don’t think the current K-12 education system makes it easy for students to get to that point.


Side note: Our current system is OLD. Is it completely broken? No. However, it’s an outdated system that places students of the same age in the same grade working on the same material at the same time. (Sir Ken Robinson has a great narration of this. If you have time to watch the YouTube video, do!) While I want to include this in my thought process, I know that the idea of the K12 education system and my dreams for what it could become could be a blog series on its own.


As teachers seek to teach/coach/collaborate-with students, their goal is to help each student find success. But what is success? Is it a grade? A percentage? Or is it progress and growth? I think it’s safe to assume that the teachers all want/hope that all of their students learn and come out of their class with positive experience and great outcomes. I also think this is an easier debate and follow-up discussion than...the flip-side.


Academically speaking, what is “failing”,  and, numerically speaking, why does an F traditionally start at 60%?, what exactly is failure? More importantly, what does failure mean to students? In my experience, failure often times is the “end of the road” for students. They are discouraged, and they don’t always recognize the learning opportunity presented with a failed attempt at a learning objective. There is this negative connotation connected to FAILURE. It’s tough.


I wish I could remember the author of this positive spin on the definition of fail, but, I love this just the same:

F. A. I. L. = First Attempt In Learning


If we, instructors, continue to use Fs or assign a failing letter to a student’s attempts (or lack there of), what could it mean? Why are Fs generally the end of the road? If we’re going to allow students to fail, what are we (teachers, administrators, institutions) going to do for them?

I have found it interesting that schools, particularly K-12 institutions, assign Fs and then either allow students to continue to the next level or to attend a summer course to make up the credit. Those summer crash-courses cannot have the same rigor as those semester-long experiences! ...yet they “count” towards credits, and students learn to give up.


I think, ideally, more incompletes should be awarded. These incompletes would hold students accountable for assigned coursework, even if it takes them longer to complete it. These moments when students don’t *quite* reach a learning objective or standard are incredibly powerful opportunities to encourage reflection and growth. Just because the goal wasn’t met doesn’t mean it’s abandoned. Failure should be seen as an excellent time to find ways to coach students through challenges to get them to learn and to try again...not to penalize.


Yes, I understand personal investment is required on the part of the student in order for this concept to work. I think teachers have an incredible task to engage learners in content so the intrinsic motivation is created. (Staying true to my Minnesotan roots, the only word I feel appropriate here is “uffda”.)


Apparently, I have lots of questions, most of them without answers...but I’m feeling confident in my teaching practices that I will be able to coach students through moments of “not yets” and “under performance” so that I can build appropriate and individualized scaffold instruction. Every student has the potential to succeed, but shy of doing nothing in a course, didn’t some learning take place? Maybe the next step is to adjust my grading scheme and scales. What truly is an A? What truly is an F?