Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I Don't Want to Grade Anymore: An Open Letter to my Students

Before we get started, READ THIS*(It's short, I promise.)


Good. Now let's talk.

Ya know how I'm always saying that you are more than a number? That article up there is what I mean, only Paul Cancellieri said it better than I ever have. I'll tell you what; every student I teach from now on will be reading his article in the first week of school! They need to hear it.

I hope this helps you understand why I get so visibly tense when people ask things like, "is this gonna be on the final?" or "is this graded?" and other such questions. It's not that the questions annoy me, and it's nothing personal. I totally understand why you ask them, you have every right to do so. It's just that we're speaking two different languages. 

You see, for you (and I know this does not apply to ALL of you), it's difficult to see the value of an assignment beyond a grade. It's not your fault; it's the way you're built. I'm sure there's some brain research to support my argument, but all science aside, let's just take a look at the way things work around here. 

Like Cancellieri says, you have been incentivized for basically your whole lives (you're thinking about Dan Pink now, aren't you?), so of course that's what you value. But what you need to understand is that a grade can only do so much. Like swear words, grades only have any sort of meaning because we say they do. 

I didn't get a grade for doing this, but you'd
better believe I worked hard to be able to do it!
Now I'm not saying that you shouldn't receive some sort of communication to let you know how you're doing. I'm not even saying that there shouldn't be grades. We live in a society of competition, and I can see the value in that. I'm not all that competitive in general, but I totally get how it motivates people, and I'm not judging.

All I'm saying is that there are is (is? are? someone help; I'm having a sub-verb agreement dilemma!) more than one way to communicate to you how you are doing. A comment on your blog that tells you what you did well and sometimes gives you a friendly suggestion is still a form of assessment. A rubric with descriptions instead of numbers is another one. Even a quick conversation in the hallway can give us both important information about where you are and where you need to be. And I have news for you: you aren't perfect. And you're not expected to be.

If teachers were asking you to do something you already know how to do, it would a waste of everyone's time. What would you learn from that? Our real successes come through our failures, and we need to learn to be ok with that. So you didn't do as well as you wanted to on a test or quiz. So what? All that means is that you have more to learn. 

The fact of the matter is that you need practice at things before you're good at them. How odd would it be if I decided I wanted to play football, so I went right to the NFL and asked to try out? Don't you think I would need a little work before I'd make it to the big leagues? (Did I just mix my metaphors??) It's the same thing with school; you need time to process, develop skills, and reflect upon what you've learned. If you do just magically understand every concept presented to you right away, that's great, but the odds of that are slim to none. Don't be so hard on yourself because of some number that society deems to be meaningful. Your sleep, health, happiness, and twinkle in your step are not worth it. I know I say it too much already, but seriously, you are so much more than a number. 

Like Mr. Cancellieri says, a grade is a measurement, not an achievement. Of course you should be proud of yourself for your grades, but not because you GOT them...because you EARNED them. Reward yourself when you've done your best and worked hard. Give yourself a pat on the back when you have mastered a concept or skill, regardless if there's a number attached. Because guess what? If you just get out of your own way, the grades will follow anyway. 

*Shout-out to Em Kumo for being the one whose blog gave me the idea for starting off with making my readers do some work right away.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this Ms. Lamp! I completely and totally agree. I hate how everyone gets so crazy about SAT scores and grades and thinks they have to get 97s or above on every test or assignment... it's unhealthy and definitely not a good judgement of how much you know. I liked what Cancellierii said about how earning an "A" to most means that the person worked hard and was successful. I mean just because you get an A on something doesn't really mean you learned anything or worked hard. And the same goes for the opposite. I've gotten A's on assignments I haven't put any effort into and I've gotten C's on things I've worked my butt off on. So I'd definitely agree that you are more than a number and you can't base how "smart" a person is off a silly grade. People bad days and get low grades, or they cram right before and get good grades and then forget everything so grades are kind of bad judge of how much they know.
    While I do think that for some things grades are necessary (ex. to get people to actually try on something they wouldn't try on if they knew they weren't being graded), and I'm guilty of judging myself based on my SAT scores and having specific number goals, I still think for the most part grades just add stress and really aren't a fair representation of how smart we are.