My Rage Against Grading (How Can We Rate What’s Beautiful)

Needing a respite from the relentless grading that occurs at this time of year, I thought I would share something I read this morning with you. After I have finished grading state standardized exams and local benchmark exams I finally get the chance to look at the projects my own students have submitted at the end of the year. My seventh graders have been experimenting with poetry. Many of them loath it, especially at first, but slowly and eventually many of them create something beautiful. Here is one of the poems that I read this morning.

I gave you everything I had.
I loved you, I held you when you were sad.
Like sisters, you and me.
I was the beach and you were the sea.
And after all these years
You left me in tears.
I thought you were my best friend.
That you would be there ’til the end.
I believed and trusted you
And all that you said.
You were everything to me.
But then you tossed me out.
Like a teenager getting rid of you favorite childhood toy.
I need you, I need you, I need you.
And I need you now more than ever.
I need you to tell me to do my homework and to watch my language.
I need you to talk to me and love me like we used to.
I have everything you gave me.
All the birthday cards, the postcard from greece, the shirt.
I hold them on my pillow at night and talk to them.
Like I used to talk to you.
Waiting for an answer, waiting for you to hug me,
To tell me everything’s okay.
That you’ll take me back forever and always.
My angel, I need you to tell me those things.
But you never will.
I gave you all I had . . . And I always will.

I honestly got a little misty when I read that. I thought it was too good to be original so I googled it to check and it seems to be an original. My existential question is how do I now assign a number to this work of art that means anything? While her classmates are writing about Xbox cheat codes, she has gotten it. She has created something truly beautiful and assigning it a grade, even a 100 diminishes it somehow. I want to meet with her and nurture this talent, tell her that I appreciate the way she has put words together and suggest other poets she might like. But I am certain she will want to know what she got on it. What have we done?

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8 thoughts on “My Rage Against Grading (How Can We Rate What’s Beautiful)

  1. Chris says:

    And were you able to meet with her? Thank you for sharing this beautiful piece. I can imagine how refreshing it was to read after grading state exams.

    • Chris says:

      I never got the chance to talk to her about it. It was turned in as part of a culminating activity right at the end of the marking period. I will seek her out next year though and talk to her about it for sure.

  2. Melissa Tran says:

    Chris, I loved this. Thoughtful, sensitive, mercurial creatures, those seventh grade girls!

    She must have trusted you a lot to share this. I love that you’ve provided an opportunity for your students to express who they are, how they feel, how they see themselves and the world and I agree, that grading isn’t the best for assignments like this.

    When something you have done helps a kid share something like this, you know you’ve done something great. You’ve clearly given this girl a way to share something very painful that she otherwise may never have let anyone see.

    You’ve created a chance to do more than help your students love learning – when kids show us their cards like this we are in a much better position to help them navigate the rough spots and learn to love themselves!

    I went to a great school from 6th-12th grade, especially for a kid who loved to read and write. We “had to” journal every year but we only were evaluated in terms of minus/check/plus – Minus if you didn’t do the assignment. Check if you wrote as assigned. Plus if you clearly invested.

    Sometimes teachers wrote comments about what we wrote but they were communicative and conversational – not critical. They never touched spelling or grammar for journaling or most forms of creative writing.

    Formal assignments like term-papers, essays etc were another matter altogether. On those, they were ruthless.

    I think that was a brilliant approach and it made me love writing. So I wrote poems (loads of them). In the 7th grade, my English teacher gave me a “Poetry Award”. It was a small paper back book of Sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Loved it – still have it and know several verses by heart… but I have no memory of any of the “grades” I got that year.

    Thanks again for sharing this.

    • Chris says:

      Hey Melissa. Thanks for this comment. You begin to think you are blogging on an island. This was my first year teaching seventh grade and it quickly became my favorite. These kids really impressed me with this project and this girl was exceptional. I wish kids were given more opportunities to express themselves these days.

  3. Melissa Tran says:

    Oops – sorry. Also- I want to tweet the blogs of all of the #rscon3 organizers who blog for the rest of the month and also those of participants who tweet. But I can’t find your RSS feed url. Help? Thanks.

  4. Alex says:

    Thanks for sharing. That must be hard to grade indeed … but I think students understand that part of grading is always a little subjective, especially for this kind of project. I understand that from your perspective giving the maximum grade can feel diminishing, but from the perspective of the student, I would say it’s quite the opposite actually. Don’t you think ?

    • Chris says:

      You’re probably right but only because we have trained students to value themselves and their work on extrinsic rewards like grades. But this writing has value in and of itself and it is important for her to realize that. Simply writing the poem has value beyond the number attached to it.

  5. Alex says:

    Sure, I think your totally right.

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