Monday, January 20, 2014

Why Are You Crying? Your Grades?

Report cards were sent out recently and their issuance always serve as a reminder of the following situation from a couple of years ago and how destructive grades can be to a kid's motivation.

Despite her efforts to conceal them, the tears in my student's eyes were undeniable. The "can I talk to you" moment began just  a brief moment earlier, with the pretense of a visit to the restroom. Our side talk was clearly more than that. Her tears were because she realized that with the without a report card full of the first two letters of the alphabet and that her phone, gaming system, favorite sport, etc,  were all going to go away for a few months until the next marking period was concluded.

To my dismay, at the end of almost every grading period, several of my students lob inquiries in my direction as to what are their grades will be when report cards are issued. No one ever asks, "how much did I learn this marking period?" or "how much content did I not master?" Grades. Always the grade. Sigh.

Most students don't remember the great progress they have made in their writing and how much smoother their sentences are to the reader. They don't recognize the difference in their science journals and how they're asking better questions and how more completely they're answering end of investigation questions. Lost in a symbolic letter, is how much growth they've shown in their comprehension of a literary text or how much better they are in analyzing information in reference texts.

Remember that terrific project that you chose and the imaginative way you demonstrated your understanding? Yes, and I'm sorry, but you have a C+ on this quarter's report card.

When I taught 1st Grade, my school didn't assign grades until the 3rd grade. We reported on individual skills and broader concepts. That method, though very labor intensive, made much more sense to me. The conversations with home partners were usually very productive. The format allowed the students and parents what we still needed to work on.

Since I started teaching 6th Grade, things have changed.

Almost without fail, home partners ask the wrong questions. Grades. Always the grade. They praise the letters, but don't ask about the learning.  It seems they only see the letter. Privileges get taken away. Sports get taken away. Groundings occur. The pressure to get a letter that starts earlier in the alphabet increases. At some point, though I don't know when that is, the student stops trying to learn and focuses on grades.

I have conversations at open house and conferences that my focus is on improving their kid's critical thinking, analysis and conclusion making skills. I let them know their kids will have choices on how to demonstrate what they've mastered. I want them to be creative and not just have them give me what they think I want.

I try to use assessment tools that allow for that. I'm not always successful. Sometimes what I've taught doesn't match the assessment. Sometimes what they've learned isn't accurately assessed. I'm trying to get better, just like their student.

Maybe that C+ is my fault. Maybe I should have all of the things that I enjoy doing taken away from me. Maybe I should turn in my bikes and guitars. Maybe I should be grounded.

Or maybe I could do a better job helping parents and students understand that learning is a process and not characterized solely by a letter.

Thanks for reading.

Follow me on Twitter @YourKidsTeacher