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Evidence of Learning

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Soka University Japan - Transcend Art and Peace
Created: August 16, 2000
Latest Update: August 17, 2002

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Site Teaching Modules Grading Without Structural Violence

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, August 2002.
"Fair use" encouraged.

Grades can be important feedback when they are collaborative and used as feedback to guide further learning. They are harmful when they become a reified end in their own right, when they become commodified. Because we are required by the institution to give grades, there must be a means of your letting us know what you have learned. Because we specialize in the teaching of peace and justice, we are distressed at the structural violence inherent in most testing. Here we offer some alternative means of providing evidence of learning.


Competence, Communication, Consistency, Cooperation, and Creativity

The five Cs continue to represent our standards for evaluation. We expect your work to be competent, meaning that it should reflect a minimum acquaintance with the preparations materials. No off the wall definitions of "forgiveness" will satisfy us. Your work must reflect an understanding of your readings and class discussions.

We expect each of you to communicate with us, so that we come to know you and your learning. Anyone can follow a reading list. Meaningful learnings come when we stretch the corners of each others' minds by looking at these concepts from the multiple perspectives that come from our myriad unique experiences.

We expect your work to show consistency. It is not acceptable to send six writings in at once and then not communicate for weeks at a time, for that does not give us a narrative we can follow of your learning growth. It is through dialog that we learn, and a dialog does not work well when no one speaks for weeks.

Our emphasis on cooperation reflects our philosophical commitment to mutuality and peacemaking as reflecting a potentially realizable reversal of the adversarialism with which humans once faced survival in the natural world. We respect and value the generosity of spirit in seeking ways to serve the whole community, not just its elite or advantaged members.

Creativity is dealt with in great detail below.

  1. Checking In Measures

    • We expect you to speak to us.

      • Before class or
      • Participate during class or
      • After class or
      • In our offices.

      We are trying to give you many different leaarning style opportunities. Sometimes you can express things better orally than you can in writing. If so, you need to make the effort to let us hear you, either in a quiet moment, or by participating in the class discussion.

    • Journal: Strongly suggested because you will forget.

      We encourage you to keep notes in which you record the following kinds of activities that you sometimes forget we don't know you've engaged in.

      1. Files you have read on the site.
      2. Text pages or chapters you have read.
      3. Measures you have chosen to demonstrate your learning. There are some plausible suggestions made in the Weel;y Readings and Activities Schedule to which you will find links on the Class Page.
      4. Notes of things we've ssaid to each other or written in e-mail to each ofther.
      5. Comments (or questions) during lectures and discussions.
        Whether you made them or just thought about them.

        Jot down what you're thinking or what you'd like to ask or say. Having a small journal handy helps when the conversation veers away from what you wanted to say or ask? This makes it easier for you to e-mail us afterwards and get your comment into the discussion thread.

      These are things you often forget you've done. When we ask you for evidence of what you've learned, we often get answers like "Oh, I learned a lot." If you keep some notes, you'll be able to give us specific evidence of your learning.

    • Dictionary

      We strongly suggest that you carry a pocket dictionary. It helps give evidence of a part of your learning you rarely record. Every time you look up a word, in class, with Web materials, in a text, put a tiny check mark by the word. The dictionary becomes your record of diligence in this effort. Much of what we are reading this semester will require extensive vocabulary.

      I have discovered that I can measure my latent learning by the number of check marks in front of a word. By the seventeenth time I look up a word, it's mine! That's a very long latent learning curve. That helps me know that some forms of learning take a lot of repetition for me, that I am making progress as the check marks increase, and it helps me forgive myself for taking so long. Instead of being frustrated and angry that this is the fifth time I've looked up the same word, I know that the word is 5/17ths mine.

      You can buy a reasonable pocket dictionary for about $4. For this record keeping to work, you need the dictionary with you most of the time. I used this technique in law school, and it really helped. Learning to watch yourself learn is worth the $4 and the trouble of carrying it about.

  2. Creative Measures
    • Think I've Got It!
    • Our site has a concept index, where we are trying to provide definitions in brief and understandable format, so that you'll have that database available whenever you need a reminder. When a concept or a piece of a concept becomes clear to you, e-mail what you've understood. Be succinct. And be sure to use words of your own. Remember the importance of creative drama in understanding words. Act the concept out. Then share your experience. We'll put it in the concept index, and it could help others understand the concept, too. Don't forget that many children use our site. Sometimes you could try explaining the concept in words that 3rd and 4th graders might understand. Jerome Bruner would say that the ability to explain it to young people shows the depth of understanding. Of course, Bruner acted out some of the concepts in concrete form.

      This is a short, useful indication of your learning that permits us to share as a community of learners.

      You might look for definitions that need to go up in our concept index, and that I haven't had time to get up yet. Each definition for the concept index should give a reference to the text that led to its inclusion in the index.

    • Asking Questions
    • Especially when you've been in large classes, and it's sometimes hard to get a word in edgewise, some of us would prefer just not to say anything. That's what your journal is for. If you have jotted down a few of your comments or questions, many of those will provide you with creative contributions to the site.

      Some good questioning techniques:

      • You may understand the Pass? or Prepared? on Basic Critical Theory, but you just can't see how it fits into distributive justice. That's a very good question. As we explore that we delve into the conceptual linkages, the points of similar concern, the points of difference.

        We have an Exam Questions Forum. One of your creative measures of scholarship might be to ask such questions, and to share in their discussion threads on the Exam Questions Forum.

      • Another good technique is to simply ask about a word, a phrase, or an idea that is troubling you. Your question will be a better indicator of your learning, if you have tried to figure out the answer. For example, there isn't much we can do with "I don't understand." That's a conclusion, and doesn't give us a clue as to what you do understand. If, on the other hand you say that you can read the words, and know what they mean, but the concept escapes you, we can now pinpoint that it's the idea that is causing trouble.

        If you can explain that you understand the difficulty of crisis conditions in the case of abortion, but that you can't see how that prevents abortion being "murder," you have now stated your difficulty in terms that we can address. Calling abortion "murder" in one instance, and not in another, confuses many people because it involves relative morality. (Kohlberg is the reference here.) We may never as citizens be able to agree absolutely on moral values, but if we understand the steps in the argument at which we are diverging, then we can understand one another and carry on more effective public discourse on these issues which matter so much. (Reference here is Albert O. Hirschman.)

        So please don't send Dear Habermas just any old question that pops into your head. Remember that when the question gives adequate detail on what is confusing you, you are giving valid creative measures of your learning.

      • Reactions to Reading
      • This is another "evidence of learning" technique that we began to recognize in the Spring semester. Academic Discourse requires some in-depth delving into the reading preparations. Although we expect, nay require, your comments to be brief, no more than a few paragraphs, we realize that considerable effort must go into that comment.

        Students last semester invented a new kind of comment: they found a small section of text, either in one of our texts or on the Web that impressed them in some way. Maybe it made them furious. Maybe it felt like a long lost recognition of what they had always known.

        Book reviews are long and necessitate your finishing the book before you can submit anything. Reactions to reading permit you to comment on precisely the passage that impressed you. They also alert all the rest of us to your reading. You must summarize the reading, and/or quote short sections of it, so that those who have not read that material will be able to understand your comments.

        We encourage you to try this kind of brief essay writing. We think you might like it, and it's a good way to publish some of your thoughts on Dear Habermas. You can find an example on the newly constructed Justice Studies Association Site.

      • Debriefings from Field Trips
      • We began our Field Trip Debriefings in Fall 1999. By Spring 2000, The Western Social Science Meetings provided our first opportunity for students from the separate campuses (UWP and CSUDH) to meet and engage in Academic Discourse publicly. Our debriefing of that trip was hectic, because the participating students gave a Town Forum at CSUDH in the last week of classes. Our Fall 1999 Debriefing Form needs some revision, given our moot court heritage. But that form will give you a good idea of what we expect.

      • Publication in Dear Habermas Academic Discourse forum.
      • After much consideration, and a thorough consideration of the thousands of e-mails in Fall and Spring of 1999-2000, we have decided that the most efficient writing practice, that we can still manage to correct in the detail we would like to, is comments that you send in for the Academic Discourse Forums. We used this technique throughout the Spring of 2000 and at the Habermas.Org, at CSUDH, and at Wisconsin. This means that students are welcome to participate in Academic Discourse Across Schools. See Process Text Publishing on Dear Habermas for details.

      • Exams
      • More on this soon . . . jeanne August 17, 2002.

        Three times during semester we will check that you have provided us with some evidence of your learning. That will establish a continuity in your learning. You are invited to choose the measure of learning that fits your learning style best.