To give an A or not to give an A – Ongoing Zander Dialogue

I’m back to teaching my Media Asset Creation class and Ben Zander’s The Art of Possibility is back on the menu. It never ceases to amaze me how his approach sparks debate with classroom teachers, particularly when it comes to “giving an A.” One of my students wrote:

Image courtesy Getty Images
Image courtesy Getty Images

Do I give my students all A’s? …no.

Why? …because I don’t want my best students to feel like all their hard work is for nothing. I feel strongly that some of my students would take advantage of an automatic A and slack off.

But within the rubrics I design for each lesson, it is very easy to get an A if they complete the assignment. I try to make them aware of this, but perhaps I should try harder. Perhaps I should regard them all as my best students.

However, I am often frustrated that many of my students feel like they deserve an A, they tell me so, even when their work is average at best and they copy answers from other people. I worry that their parents and teachers who have caused them to feel like they deserve an A are being set up for massive disappointments once they hit the real world. The real world doesn’t care, does it?


I should give everyone in my life an A. My father, my daughter, my friends, strangers, everyone… see what happens when I make a point of not accidently taking the wind out of their sails…. –

Aneesa A

My response:

So, what does an “A” mean? An indication of the mastery of the material, a reward for doing all of the assignments (regardless of whether one really understood the assignments), a made up system that designates one’s position within the educational/classroom culture… The Zander’s “ploy” is to get buy-in from the students first, the students write down what they’re going to do to deserve the “A,” then the teacher goes from being the judge to being the coach helping the student realize their goal. Also, at some point we all need to recognize that the value of working hard in the classroom isn’t for a grade but for the education/learning that is supposed to be the point of being in the classroom. All those years that I took Spanish and got a grade (mostly C’s) is meaningless given that I still can’t have a reasonable conversation in the language. Focusing on a grade when the intended goal is clearing missed is fatally flawed. And given all of my years as a student (and educator) I’d have to say that that is the rule and not the exception. Those who have the heart of an educator knows that grades are, at the moment, a necessary evil, but the meaning and worth can’t be represented by a grade.

* Week 1 readings: To give an A or not to give an A by Aneesa Adams. retrieved on 1/16/2010
* Image courtesy of Getty Images.