Monday, May 30, 2005
Marlene Zuk: Grade 'em high in self-esteem, low in realism
In the face of all evidence to the contrary, my students exhibit an unswerving confidence in their own abilities. They earnestly assure me that despite test scores in the single digits and an inability to answer questions posed by their teaching assistant, they really know the material: "It just doesn't show in my grades." The implied fault, no doubt, is mine, for giving such unfair and inappropriate exams, but it is never clear just why they do think they understand the material.
They readily confess to me that they have not consulted the text and do not remember my lecture. They have nothing to say about the concepts we've covered. Yet somehow, a kernel of faith stays resolutely sheltered in each undergraduate bosom -- they believe honestly and with conviction that they get it, and therefore deserve a high grade..........
"Once again, I explained how to answer the question, and once again the student was pleased. The error was just a trivial difference of opinion. 'Yeah, I get it,' she said. 'I was just thinking of it differently.' You say tomayto, I say tomahto.
No, I wanted to say, you weren't thinking of it differently, you had it completely wrong; you didn't understand it at all. But like her many compatriots, she was unlikely to acknowledge that, or admit to a mistake even when she created a version of reality never seen on a map, or in the actions of a blackbird.
Students have always deluded themselves, of course, and hope has always sprung eternal, or at least until final grades appear. And at least some in my classes really do eventually master the material. But confident placidity in the face of error seems to be on the rise."
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