produce. In college I had a business which employed many college students. I am
convinced that grades in normal circumstances are more powerful than money in motivating
I believe grades can be given for efforts other than remembering information when being
tested. Should we not count effort in rewarding grades? Should we not count how far the student has come from where he or she started when considering grades? Can not grades reflect a purpose for reward as well as motivation? Should grades reflect how hard a persons tries or how much they care about the subject they are trying to learn? I believe all considerations should be used when reflecting the work of a student.
While writing about my first year of teaching I shared the changed grade when a bright
young lady challenged the ‘B’ she received. The following stores all reflect on grades and
their relationship to student learning.
Lena the Learner
“You taught American Problems in a shocking and challenging way. We were taught new stuff, not the same old stuff we had heard so many times before in our lives. We were required to question what we believed. I was LDS and very conservative in my thoughts. I was also shy and had a nerd complex. I was
capable and you attracted me to ‘get into life.’
“You spent a lot of time on the presidency of the United States and how he can make a significant difference in the country and the world. It made me want to be part of the change. Dan Jones (another Social Studies teacher) used to come into our class and teach. You two were hot numbers, and raised the level of our thought. You were the person who gave me permission to be who I wanted to
be. You were the catalyst that made me what I am today.
“I was a four-point student and never in honor society. However, you still taught me to be the best I can be. You called four of us in after class one day and said, “I am not sure what grade you have earned. Would you visit with me about what you think?”
“We were all the same, and I said, ‘I don’t think I deserve an ‘A’, but if they do, I do.’ You agreed with me.” Neither of us remembered what grade she got. We did know it was a mid-term grade and not a semester grade.
Lena has a deeply spiritual life and thinks that her high school teaching stretched her into finding answers where ever they might be.
Van remembered during the interview my method of ensuring that students did not get credit for books they had not read. I learned early that written book reports were a drag on both the student and the teacher. I changed
the grading and required all book reports be between the student and me, one-on-one. If I had not read the book they were required to hand me the book they were about to report. I would open somewhere in the middle of the book and start reading aloud. As soon as I got to a compelling part I asked the student,
“What happens next?”
If there was some question, two or three more examples would assure me the book had been read.
In Van’s case it was Seven Days in May. The movie was playing and I did not want anyone to get credit for seeing a movie. I had also read the book so he did not have to bring it. I asked him only one question, “Was the road to the airbase graveled or paved?” He got it right. In the movie the road was paved, in
the book it was gravel.
Group Grades and Embarrassing Emile
I found it easy to get kids to study for tests when a lot of information was important to know and they had plenty of time to learn the material and be prepared for the test. I grouped kids together to test them orally. If five kids were in a group then they all got the same grade. It’s wicked pressure not to
know the right answer.
In Emile’s case it was a simple right or wrong answer to a simple question. Did the Puritans get that name because they were considered pure? Her answer was yes, the correct answer was no. They got the name because it was
their intent to purify the Church of England.
Emile told me it was her most embarrassing moment. She may be right, if so, in my judgment, she has lived a very protective and sheltered life.
Lee Ann and Horseshoes
“I liked the desks in a horseshoe where we could all see each other and learn from the responses each had about what you were saying. It was not a class where you came to sit and listen. As a teacher you paced back and forth a lot, but it had a purpose. It kept the class focused on you and the things you were saying.
At anytime unexpected things could happen. Often they did.
“You had lots of books in your room and were always getting more. We were in class one day when a new box arrived and you were excited about the new supply. You were telling us how valuable the books were to us students. You
opened one book named Arnold Nitch.
“You said, ‘What in the hell is Arnold Nitch?’ You read to us a little further and it revealed that the book was about someone building a statue to Benedict Arnold. You took the book over to the waste basket and dropped it in.
“I thought you showed a lot of interest in students. I read an article a while ago about an outrageous teacher, and I wanted to nominate you. “You were very challenging. We all had to write a history paper from original sources. I wrote my paper on the Utah Fish and Game Department.
Most of my information was out of law books. The article was published by the
“The first test you gave in AP History was graded with a lot of ‘C’s’ and a few ‘D’s’. The parents were outraged. Their opinion was that we were the cream of the students and should be getting ‘A’s’. They were sure you were going to ruin our GPA’s. It was effective, because we all got the message that we had to work harder.
“I did hear that you were a Communist. I talked a lot with my parents about your class. Dad and I were always debating unions. We had different opinions, but explored our differences together.
“You took me to Utah State University and introduced me to Judd Harmon. (He was my Political Science professor while I attended college.) It got me a history scholarship to USU.
Had You Twice
Allen was one of the most informed students I ever had in high school.
He was extremely deep from a vast amount of reading he had done during his short life. He was tall and quiet of voice. When he had something to say it was worth listening to for the students and for me the teacher.
“You gave a few lectures, but the class was mostly an exchange between you and the students. It was very lively. You drew us out through the Socratic method. The curriculum was an open environment and we covered the controversial topics of the day. For AP history I read a ton of books, I remember Hofstoder’s, Parnoid Style of American Politics the most.
“I was a budding radical and I enjoyed the lively debates in your class. In American Problems you let each student determine what grade he or she wanted.
As soon as they decided what grade they wanted you outlined for each student what they had to do to earn that grade. It was great, and fair, and well administered. I was aware that there were negative opinions about you from
“You allowed students to leave messages on the blackboard for other students to read. I wrote, ‘Tried drugs, get out of it!’”
Max Made a Difference Max was a bright, athletic, young fellow with blonde hair and an
inquisitive mind. His dad was a hard working owner of his own business and did not believe in federal aid to education. He didn’t think government should have anything to do with social programs.
After the Russians launched Sputnik One, President Eisenhower recommended to Congress that the national government needed to improve
public schools by offering a whopping twenty billion dollar budget. Naturally, I was in favor of the proposed legislation. Max’s father saw it differently. Max took
my arguments back to his home and his father would load him up to bring further arguments back to class.
We had good exchanges in class. Max went home and primed himself to continue the argument. He walked into class the next day and said something outrageous he knew would get my goat. Max said, “You slide all your books off
the desk and put them in the waste basket,” and then said, ‘You’ve had it today!’”
I skipped calling the roll and sat on the desk with my legs crossed, and we got into it in royal fashion. The rest of the class was intrigued and enjoyed a debate between a teacher and one bright star for a full class period. I don’t believe it was a conversation on who won and who lost. The students got a good critique concerning the issue of federal aid to education. I enjoyed just being around Max. He made every class more interesting.
After school we played ping pong on several occasions. I was a very good player,
but he could not hold his own with me. Several students tried my game and I
never lost. Finally one day Max said, “I know someone who can beat you!”
“Oh yeah,” I demanded in short breath, my ego never gave an inch.
Max brought in a neighbor and staged the production in the auditorium. He was good! I had only been beaten in three or four tournaments in my life, but I lost to this capable six foot six killer, two out of three games. Unfortunately, I was so sure of myself that I’d told Max, “If he beats me you get an ‘A’ for the quarter.” Well I wasn’t too happy to hand out an ‘A’ and after the match said in my gruff voice, “We’ll deal with that tomorrow!”
The next day I told Max he would not have to take the final exam, but he would get the same grade a Larry. Unbeknownst to Max I met with Larry and told him to flunk the test and I would give him the same grade that Alice earns.
Alice was always a straight ‘A’ student. All three were straight ‘A’ students. Larry was not a good actor and Max found out about my duplicity. It ended up that each of the three got the ‘A’ they deserved. When I interviewed Max he said, “Your teaching method was extremely effective for me. You did it so effectively that the whole community came to
believe you were the same person as the stuff you taught. By the time I was your student in my senior year I realized that you were just one great big disguise.
“You made me think. For a while I sat and listened. As I got to know you it became more and more fun to engage you. You had a quick wit and were very sarcastic. I enjoyed your humor.”
I recalled teaching a lesson on growing into maturity. I made the following statement, “If an adult is a rational being and able to understand a situation at hand, and a child is emotional and not sure what is happening, what
then is a teenager?”
Immediately came his quick reply, “He’s the person that can use either method to get what he wants.”
Franklin – Intelligence Comes in Different Forms Some theorists believe that in any normal classroom of thirty kids that
all will be at least average in some intellectual ability. I learned this teaching in the classroom before the theory was taught to me during my graduate work. I was only using about one-third of the government textbook in my American Problems class. I inquired of Mr. Wright, the principal, if I could have the money the district spent on text books. I wanted to buy a variety of books, which I thought would improve the quality of information my students had to
read. He agreed and I was excited. I found classical novels, sociological studies,
political viewpoints, historical analyses, sports, etc., and I bought a few of many
different titles. Some of the books were selected to be challenging to the best
students, and some to be easier to read for others. I tried to find as many interests as I could for the students to access.
I found the book-keeping problem a little difficult. I had a couple of hundred books and I was spending too much time checking out books and making sure they were returned. I had a student who many would consider below
average in academic ability. We got along great and he suggested to me that he have that responsibility of caring for the books. I was delighted. He did a better job than I could in accounting for each book and getting them back so other students could read them. The circulation system he devised worked extremely
I believe his grade for the class was a ‘C.’ I don’t remember. It might have been a gift if his grade had been based on how much information he could remember and repeat on typical tests and exams. That was not his ability.
I didn’t see him for several years. I bumped into him while looking for some help for my car which would not start one winter day in a large parking lot. It was a blustery day and I didn’t want to have to mess with my car. He got the problem fixed in very short order.
We visited for awhile, after he solved my car’s problem. Franklin shared a bit of his life with tears in his eyes. He said, “Mr. Briscoe, I took two courses at the University of Utah in accounting and I got ‘B’s’ in both classes!”
I congratulated him and I wondered how I would have done in an accounting class. I know it was not my expertise. He had an educational experience which taught him of his worth. He
had abilities. The experience also taught me we are all different with a variety of talents. Education’s job is to find the strength and abilities of students and help
them expand and enhance them.