According to the Web site Livestrong.com (yes, my students’ research habits are rubbing off on me), carrots are an excellent source of vitamin B. I think about that sometimes when, as a writing instructor, I hold out the B grade as a kind of carrot before the horse, to use a hoary old metaphor.
Okay, so in this case it’s also a pretty tortured metaphor. But I think you get my drift: I use the B grade, whenever possible, to try and motivate my writing students to learn and achieve more than they might otherwise.
My basic philosophy is that not everybody can get an A–more on that in my next post–but most students are capable of getting B’s if they work hard enough. True, statistically speaking, most of them are C-level writers, but I make it clear from the beginning of the class that I’m going to do everything in my power to make it possible for them to get B’s.
I don’t try to accomplish this by lowering my grading standards on their essays. Instead, I do it by requiring a great deal of writing beyond the graded essays–much of which may contribute to those essays, such as rough drafts–and then giving students points for simply completing the assignments. At the end of the term, I figure those points in with their essay grades, creating the very real possibility that someone with all C’s on his or her papers could earn–and I do mean earn–a B in the course.
My hope and belief is that, as they do all that “extra” writing–all those journal entries and rough drafts and so forth–they’ll actually improve as writers, and that generally seems to be the case. Often a student who starts out making low C’s, but who really reaches for that carrot, ends up making high C’s and sometimes even low B’s by the end of the term. In those cases, even though the student’s final average may still be a C, I’m happy to give him or her a B. That, in my estimation, is a grade well spent.
Of course, the problem with this philosophy is that a lot of students these days aren’t interested in striving for a B. They expect to have A’s handed to them just for showing up. But I’ve found that, at a community college, a good number of my students are nervous about taking “English” and don’t really expect to do well. For them, knowing that a B is a realistic possibility often does serve as an incentive to work a little harder. And even the students who expect an A (but aren’t A writers) feel better about a B than they would about a C–assuming they do the work. If they don’t do the work, it’s easy to show them why they got a C.
In my next post I’ll talk about that most difficult to define of all grades: the mystical, magical, rare-as-a-unicorn A.