Why I Don’t Give Grades
My 4th grade math group is a bunch of geeky math kids. They love puzzles, trying to figure out problems by themselves, and they do math just for the fun of it. It’s really an amazing hour three times a week.
Our fourth grade is where kids in our county encounter report card grades for the first time. Up to this point, they’ve gotten behavioral and work habit scoring and a satisfactory (or not) ranking on subject areas–but no A, B, C, D, F to this point. Here, though, they begin to encounter that grading system we all know and love.
I have nothing to do with their grade–the classroom teachers do that. I also don’t have the same kids all the time. Our 4th grade teachers pre-assess at the beginning of a unit and I work with the kids who need extension. Kids stay in their math class Monday and Fridays so the teachers can make sure they get exposed to and work on all pieces of the curriculum. I work with them the other three days of the week.
My current 4th grade math group is working on analogies and patterns in math right now as an extension to their place value work. For the past week, they’ve been working independently on a series of worksheets and problems that stretch them in all kinds of ways, and they’ve been loving it.
They love feedback, so when they finish a page, they find a buddy who has finished the same page and compare answers–when answers are different, they work the problem together to find the correct one. As they discuss and solve problems and question each other, I glance over their work, but I don’t ever sit down and go through their papers problem by problem, to score it in any way. Our work is collaborative enough and we talk enough about the work that I know who’s still a little iffy on certain things, who has it solid and who needs lots of support. We end class lots of times by going over the problems someone found hard that day.
Today was hilarious–I was teasing some kid–I honestly don’t even remember about what, but I said something stupid like “if you do so and so, it’ll be an “F”.” The kid I was talking to looked at me and her eyes starting widening, getting round as saucers. I looked at her and was thinking–but not saying– “Really? You really think I’ll give you an F?” She hesitated, and then she said,
“Do you actually grade our papers?”
It was such a foreign notion to her–she had no clue what that might look like. Me judging her? Me putting red marks on her paper? Me crossing out ones she missed and counting them up? (This is the same kid who earlier today had looked at me and said, “I don’t see how you do it–so many kids are asking for help and you help all of us. Any other teacher would be yelling at us, telling us not to call her name anymore!” )
(I have to say I don’t think that’s really true in my school, but I know we’ve probably all had days we wished we could change our names–even if just for a little while!)
So, why don’t I grade their papers?
Because I think kids learn more from reflective feedback and deep questions and studying and finding and talking through their own mistakes.
Because what we learn from grades is to compare ourselves to others around us–and I’d rather set them up to look for their own growth in relation to themselves, instead of their performance in relation to someone else.
Because I know them–from our class discussions and our quiet one-on-one talks and the questions they ask, and the comments they make and the strategies they share– I feel no need to give them a letter grade to tell them what I think.
Because I get to know their thinking every day as I challenge their sharing, ask them hard questions and honor their responses as a learner–right or wrong.
Because we share strategies and thoughts every day–and they trust themselves to ask questions about stuff they don’t understand–and their questions help me know what to teach and help them learn.
Because I expect them to be learners–and people who care about their own learning don’t much care about outside evaluations of their learning–they know when they know it and when they don’t. They don’t need a grade to tell them that.
So, yeah, when I was asked if I actually grade papers, I laughed…and we do that a lot in my class.
So, Reagan, this blog’s for you–keep asking those hard questions, thinking, looking to make meaning and sense of your world and most of all, keep laughing with those sparkly blue eyes!