In ninth grade, I did a leaf collection project for my biology class. My grandfather, a science professor, and my dad, a medical doctor, helped me make sure that my specimens were correctly identified, prepared, mounted, and labeled. I remember painstakingly typing out the genus and species' names, capitalizing the genus, and using lowercase for the species' names. I remember thinking the rule quite odd, but followed it nonetheless. I was very proud of that project, and handled it with a sigh of relief, knowing I had done my very best work. A few weeks later, the teacher handed my project back to me with every single name of every single species circled in red, and a giant "-5 points" scrawled across each page. I remember fighting back tears and approaching my teacher. "What did I do wrong?," I asked. "Well, you didn't capitalize the species' names!" she barked back.
But I was right and she was wrong. I failed that project, and I have never forgotten it. My teacher did something that millions of other teachers do every single day – take points off for not following instructions. I didn't follow her instructions because it was bad science, and luckily, I had people in my life to tell me that. But it didn't matter to her. It didn't match her example and was therefore wrong. She couldn't have cared less about whether the trees were identified correctly or whether I had learned anything, and she had very little insight into my actual thinking, but by golly, I didn't capitalize some words, so I failed.
Clearly, this experience still haunts me, and so I sought to prevent it for students in my own teaching. I too asigned a leaf project, and I made sure my students used the correct format for labeling the genus and species' names. I took points off when they capitalized the species' names!
Maybe I missed the point too. Let's look at the following to investigate further.
What are grades?
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