Teaching Philosophy


published on December 8, 2020

Sarah E. Vitale, David W. Concepción

Improving Student Learning with Aspects of Specifications Grading

In her book Specifications Grading, Linda B. Nilson advocates for a grading regimen she claims will save faculty time, increase student motivation, and improve the quality and rigor of student work. If she is right, there is a strong case for many faculty to adopt some version of the system she recommends. In this paper, we argue that she is mostly right and recommend that faculty move away from traditional grading. We begin by rehearsing the central features of specifications grading and providing two examples of how to implement it in philosophy classes. In light of the examples, we argue that specifications grading fulfills two of Nilson’s central desiderata (increasing rigor and motivating students) but not the third (saving faculty time). Since specifications grading generates two benefits that when combined increase student learning, without adding or increasing burdens, we conclude that student learning increases when courses are revised to include aspects of specifications grading.