If You Give Every Student 100%

Dr. Tamara Fudge, School of Business and IT Faculty, Kaplan University

Of course I want to encourage my students, but simply slapping a perfect 100% on all assignments each week is not really encouragement; it can be the death of student curiosity, critical thinking, and true education.

Recently I asked my students via course announcements if they have done even just one of these, ever:

  • Accidentally locked themselves out of their car, house, or office
  • Gotten a traffic or parking ticket
  • Forgotten to call someone when they said they would
  • Tripped walking up the stairs, or worse, in front of someone
  • Burned something on the stove or fried it in the microwave

We could add more to the list, but the point is that we are human. We make mistakes. These don’t have to be humongous mistakes, but we make little errors all the time, because life is not a 100% game.

When grading, I weigh infractions with consequences. Some mistakes, like a forgotten phone call, might simply be mentioned in the grading comments but won’t cost points. Others, like a traffic ticket, will have to cost some points.  Yes, I tell them some things they did that were good, but they need to know what to fix for future work, too. It is important to point out even the little things, because the next time they run up the stairs, they might be more careful. I want to see them stop tripping.

To the student who tells me she wants 100% and gets upset if it’s 99.99%, I say this: Once you feel you have reached perfection, you’re done. You have no more learn, no more ideas to seek, no more growing to enrich your life. Take every point deduction as a challenge to be better, to learn how not to trip again.

Having been a recent student myself, I found that getting 100% for all my assignments in a few courses felt like I wasn’t learning. What is it I don’t know? How can I improve?  Did you actually read my paper? Do you care about me?

Probably everyone knows Laura Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. It’s a children’s book based on a cyclical set of red herring fallacies – statements that draw you away from the main ideas. With an apology to Ms. Numeroff’s brilliance:

If you give every student 100%,

You have taught them that they are perfect.


If you teach them that they are perfect,

They will refuse to learn.


If they refuse to learn,

They will forget how to learn.


If they forget how to learn,

Their bosses will notice.


If their bosses notice,

They will fire said students.


If said students get fired,

Their options include going back to school.


If their options include going back to school,

They will have to accept the fact that they are human, and they are not perfect.

And as I wrote in that aforementioned classroom announcement, “Remember that you are human. 100% means superhero strength, which is not expected of humans, but is attainable sometimes.” I think I will ask someone to cross stitch that on a pillow for me.

You can probably tell I’m writing this at the end of a 12-hour grueling Saturday grading-and-outreach session. It takes me a long time to grade assignments because I care about my students and their learning.  Although I do give full points to those who deserve them, I will not just give away a perfect score.  School is for stretching to reach that rainbow, and sometimes a point away from perfect is the ladder they need to get there.




You may also like...

7 Responses

  1. Kimmi says:

    If you give 100 % to every student and guide them with better ways to motivate and encourage students that still maintain high standards, rigor, and fairness. Providing praise, positive feedback, and opportunities for growth and accomplishment are more constructive approaches.

  2. William says:

    Here, here! Good show!

  3. Tamara Fudge says:

    Exactly! The perks of going to college in the first place is to learn to be a critical thinker. Thanks for your comments!

  4. Dr. Jan Roy says:

    Dr. Fudge,

    I love and agree with your theory . . . My goal is to teach them to stretch their imagination and critical thinking skills.

    Dr. Jan Roy

  5. Teresa Kelly says:

    Tamara – I love this. I actually have a version that I send around at the start of Unit 2. It reads
    We all make mistakes – and it is important!
    Have you ever made a mistake? Of course, you have!
    My doozies include losing my car keys and my wallet, running myself over with a stalled car I tried to move – ALONE – one Mother’s Day, and renaming an entire class Josie.
    No, I don’t get 100% for life; none of us do.
    You are going to be getting Unit 1 Grades shortly. In some cases such as my seminar absence, you will earn 100%.
    For many other grades, you will earn 99%, 98%, and downward.
    Don’t look at a mistake or missing point as a bad thing. Look at it as an opportunity to learn.
    If you have children in your life, Numeroff’s If You Give a Mouse a Cookie is probably as familiar to you as Goodnight, Moon. To paraphrase Numeroff:
    If everyone earns 100%, it means they are perfect.
    If they think they are perfect, they believe they have nothing to learn.
    If they believe they have nothing to learn, they refuse to learn,
    If they refuse to learn, they will forget how to learn.
    If they forget how to learn, other people – peers, teachers, and bosses – will notice.
    If other people notice, opportunities to improve and advance decrease.
    If opportunities to improve and advance decrease, opportunities must be created.
    If opportunities must be created, options include going back to school.
    If options include going back to school, people have to accept the fact that they have things to learn.
    If people have to accept the fact that they have things to learn, it means that they are human, and they are not perfect.
    Wouldn’t it have been easier to embrace that to begin with and harness the chance to grow, and grow, and grow?
    Don’t fear imperfection. Embrace it, learn from it, and use it to be the best person and learner that you can be!

    • Tamara Fudge says:

      Wonderful! (I especially love the comment about renaming an entire class Josie). My son is starting college this fall, and one of the main takeaways from orientation was that challenge promotes growth. College isn’t about proving how smart you are; it’s about finding ways to grow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: