Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Missing the Mark

(Photo shared by Allan MacVicar)

Grading is my least favorite part of teaching. Truthfully, I kind of hate grades altogether. But before I get myself in trouble, let me lay out what is really going on here.

I absolutely love to read my students' work. I get giddy over their projects. I stay up late reading through their blogs and marveling at their individual, unique voices shining through in each post. I find honesty, vulnerability, and truth in what my students produce in my class; I just hate assigning a grade to it.

This got me thinking tonight, as I was grading, what these grades really mean for our students, and the inequalities grades create. It is a intellectual measurement we put on children, based around knowledge and information they should know. Sometimes, it is tied to what they should produce. "By the end of grade 7, students will be able to..." 

What if this was the same for physical development? A certain height, weight, body frame, all predetermined based on one's age. I, for one, would have failed every single grade after elementary school. This is not an exact apples to apples comparisons, but I am hoping you are getting where I am going here.

I have engaged in a number of chats and conversations in the last week with a focus around making learning personal. This hits home for me as I work to nurture my students in their own, self-directed learning. They are all so different, in every single way. How can I possibly expect them to all line up at the end of the year and pan-out the same? This seems fundamentally unfair, dishonest, and just poor practice to try and mold them and stretch them to all be the same. 

As I continually reflect upon what my students learn and produce, I am reminded daily how powerful their own personal learning stories are, how much they can tell us if we just ask them to explain. We learn about their fears, struggles, passions, and strengths. We can see how they learn, not just what they have retained. Our students are fostering these stories through blogs and portfolios, hosted on student-created websites. 

My analogy? Their sites are their learning homes. They take pride in their home, build it up over time, make it their own. Each home tells a special story of the people that live there, their history, their dreams. These homes are a safe place to explore unknown spaces and reflect upon where we have traveled so far. 

So here I am grading papers when there are voices to be heard and shared... 

In this space, I will try to validate the journey of each of my students by knowing and nurturing each one of their learning stories. With each I will listen carefully, care deeply, and share widely. I will acknowledge I but a small part of this story, yet the role I play is hugely important.

If we really value our students and their voices, how are we helping them tell their story? Where are they housing their voices? Are they heard? How do we validate and help grow our kids on their own path and not the predetermined one marked by someone that has never seen their faces or looked into their eyes? 


  1. Measuring growth in meaningful ways to parents and students beyond where their child lies compared to grade-level standard is Important work that helps to mitigate a one size fits all approach to grading. Knowing where my child stands compared to the standard is important but not enough. Thank you for this thoughtful post.

    1. I think you bring up an important point about what this kind of growth measurement shows to parents. Often, parents voice confusion and fear about grades, usually due to the lack of clarity around what these grades represent in their child's growth. Being able to show this through samples and portfolios allows parents to see the growth and progress through their own child's voice. Powerful stuff.

  2. Often wonder what would happen if we obliterated the word "grading" from our vocabulary. I often cringe when I hear it mentioned in the context of English-language arts. The term seems contrary to what we as teachers want to convey about writing--that writing in and of itself is important. In the "real world," do we "grade" what we read? Don't we want to think of our students as authors, people whose work we enjoy reading, as you note?

    1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. How do we allow our students to see themselves as writers? I don't think it happens when they receive an "A" on an essay or research paper. Instead, it is through discovery of their own voice. This is not a process that is developed in one grade level, but takes a lifetime. Why are we rushing it? And, as you state, what damages do we do when we assign a grade to that evolving voice?