Monday, May 8, 2017

Beating a dead (grading) horse

Here's another idea collage, cobbled together from recent reading.

About two weeks ago, in the May 2017 Atlantic, I read a review of new-to-me poet, Patricia Lockwood. One line in the piece touted Lockwood's flair for Pun Lightning -- "that jolt of connection when the language turns itself inside out, when two words suddenly profess they're related to each other, or wish to be married, or were in league all along." (28)

Yeah, I needed to spend more time with this writer. So on a foray to the local library last week, I tracked down a poetry collection of hers; therein, I found "The Hatfields and the McCoys" and this bruising bit:

I chuckled and wondered: Are grading exchanges truly feud-worthy? These lines nevertheless packed extra punch since, just the day before, I had received an email from a student. It was a response to my prior alert that the student's grade (for the moment) might look distressingly low due to missing work from absences accrued while on a school-sponsored trip. "I want to avoid any unnecessary panic," I had written and gone on to sketch out the requisite catching-up steps. The message I got back: "Thank you for the email. I am currently panicking as I write this so I will be coming to office hours to solve this." At first, I wondered if there was dry irony to be gleaned from this note. Knowing the student, however, I was skeptical. Turns out a panic attack actually precipitated the student writing to me.

These two messages - Lockwood's and the student's -- juxtaposed in 24 hours strengthened my resolve to keep seeking alternatives to grades's scarring influences in schools; to help learners see grades as fungible, not tattoos.

15 comments:

  1. I love the word fungible, and the idea of changing our whole approach to grading.

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    1. Thanks, Erika. I find myself in baby-and-bathwater mode. Grades aren't going away, in my estimation, so how can I use them as a component of more effective communication? How might I adjust communal expectations of students and their families when it comes to the relationship between grades, success, and learning? While 'fungible' is indeed a great word, it makes a shaky foundation for communication, compromise, and trust :)

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  2. A timely piece for me, as I recently read notices for a parent meeting (instigated by parents) held at our local high school to discuss the weighting system of grades and their impact on class placement. As my last is graduating, I find it a moot point, and one we never dwelled on. As long as ours were working to their potential and learning, that's what mattered. Class placement doesn't necessarily imply future success, in my experience!

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    1. Aye, for me, there's one of the rubs: the influence of grades contributes relatively little to explorations of how learners are or aren't working to their potential. Might class placement have similar oversimplifying and overstated effects?

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  3. That last line!! Love the passage and all the connections you always make!

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  4. Grades as not tattoos, I like that! As I am busily writing reports I hope the students and their parents see how much more they are than numbers!

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    1. I've had some conversations with students and families who don't see that, which troubles me. More accurately, I'm thinking of families this year who saw bigger pictures that students themselves weren't yet accepting or tuning into. There may be developmental components to this disconnect, as well, but that just makes me wonder how to address those appropriately and effectively...

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  5. Love the language play in your post and how the humor and lightness contrast against the more serious aspects of fear and power as represented in the giving and receiving 'grades'. For many these are tattoos simply because they are given, not made. Power does often rest in the hand.

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    1. You may have a finger on one of those developmental pieces, Mary Ann: Where I see student agency in standards-based grades that represent (imperfect) fruits of their learning, students see my hand wielding the stamp that validates or mars their emerging sense of self.

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  6. What a great, thoughtful, and verbally playful post. I am going though a bit of this grading "stuff" right now. Seven weeks of school left and I am trying to make a few kids panic. Why is it that the one's who should panic, don't?

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    1. That would be Murphy's Law, Adrienne, or one of its variants :)

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  7. I love your tracking this down. I want to read more too. Luckily in elementary, the students don't worry about grades, but the teachers do worry about assessments.

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    1. That's another strand in this ball of twine -- what transpires across so many K-12 spans and with the learners crossing them, that raises the impact of grades so high that learning, curiosity, and imagination often get trammeled.

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  8. Hi Brian. The scarring influence is exactly that. By the way, share your love of language and I find your writing a joy to read. Word play, images. Sigh.

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    1. Thanks for the compliment, Gillian. I appreciate the encouragement.

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