"A practice of freedom': self-grading for liberatory learning.

Author:Reitenauer, Vicki L.
Position:Column
 
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From my earliest days as a university instructor, I have been troubled by the grading system and its demands on both students as producers of knowledge and instructors as arbiters of the value of that production. It is a personal, professional, and pedagogical necessity for me as an instructor in gender studies to be preoccupied with issues of power, and a great part of my distress as a person interested in serving as a catalyst for students' breakthroughs in thinking, feeling, and acting in the interest of social justice stemmed from my discomfort wielding the institutional power that has been vested in me through my assigning of grades to their work.

If ever there was a time when we need mechanisms through which students may be activated to "claim an education" (Rich) and to operationalize "education as the practice of freedom" (Freire; hooks), that time is now, given the social, political, and economic injustice and instability that shape our students' lives. I work to catalyze this claiming through a comprehensive self-grading model. With this strategy, I mean to disrupt the ways that students "get" a grade and, instead, to inspire them to claim every aspect of their learning--their thinking, their feeling, their doing, and their reflecting on doing--through grading themselves for their efforts and the results of their efforts within our learning community.

What follows is an articulation of the current form of this self-grading process. I make no claim here as to "best practices" but, rather, offer this snapshot as a jumping-off point for the reader's reflection on their own "best practices" in grading. As to the particular context within which my teaching practice is situated, I serve the students at Portland State University (PSU) through the faculty of both the Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies department (part of a just-formed School of Gender, Race, and Nations) and University Studies, PSU's general education program. PSU is a large urban-serving access institution with many students who are the first in their family to attend college. Students of color, particularly Latino/a/x students, contribute to a continuing diversification of PSU's student body relative to race and ethnicity, and both my departmental and general education courses welcome PSU's many students who are queer- and trans*-identified.

In the earliest days of my courses, we begin with introductory activities highlighting the philosophical, political, and pedagogical foundation for the class: that this is a...

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