Monday, August 06, 2007

I Judge You

The summer school we taught at was a little odd in its structure. There wasn't so much a grading situation, but basically you passed if you showed up often enough. There were no letter grades, but the students rated themselves on five "work habits": listening, attitude, completion of work, quality of work, and participation. These ratings, which the students completed three times over the five weeks, were supplemented with overall ratings and comments from the teachers and then constituted their "report cards."

Somehow I was deemed to be responsible enough to fill out the teacher ratings and comments for 1/3 of our class. Now I understand why some teachers base grades strictly on objective numerical criteria like tests and attendance. The thought of having to summarize each student in a 2"x4" space and five scores between 1-4, all in a productive way that will convey their strengths and issues to the students and the parents... it made me nauseous. But I did my best to let each student know that I think s/he can be a successful math learner. There were lots of "I really enjoyed having ___ in class because..." and "I would encourage ___ to..."

The worst part was actually seeing the report cards handed back to the students. Did Michelle (student names changed) really wonder why both her teachers mentioned that she has trouble working with other students? Did Rianna realize that those 3's we gave her are so much higher than I would've predicted at the beginning of the summer? Was Jose actually surprised about his 2 in "Attitude" after I wrote in his journal pretty much every day that he needed to check his massive ego (not in so many words, of course)?

Suddenly I wanted to apologize to all my teachers (as I have wanted to do so frequently since starting this program). My students were doing exactly what I used to do: ignore the report card when I got the highest score and complain when I didn't, even if I completely deserved it. Had my teachers put as much time into writing constructive comments as I had? I'm guessing no for the high school teachers who selected comments from a drop-down menu on the computer, but who knows? Maybe there was something they were trying to tell me by choosing "Is a pleasure to have in class" over "Completes all work accurately and on time."

I want the kids to see the grades they receive from me the way I see their grades: as an overall message from me that shows their strengths and where I think they can improve. Funny how that can't all be summed up in a single number or letter. Now I understand why my friend who switched from teaching third to fifth grade cried the first time she had to give letter grades.

1 comment:

Jen said...

You can always supplement those too inadequate spaces by talking to the students, too. Let them know your thoughts. JMHO