A Math Conversation About Grades

Walking slowly through the upper hall – light pouring in through the generous glass – dust dancing with invisible currents, a truly bright and serene moment interrupted by a group of thirty or so smiles and stories walking towards me. I’m thinking it’s a class on their way to the library. No problem – I nod and say hello many as I pass through their ranks on my way to a classroom for a visit.

I enter the classroom, a math class taught by a passionate and experienced educator. She greets me warmly and invites me to observe and participate in a lesson she has just initiated. She goes on to tell me that the classroom is empty of students because they’re all on a walk through the upper campus thinking and discussing a question she seeded in their minds. That’s the group I passed. Mystery solved, I suppose.

A few minutes pass and her class is now buzzing with energy as her students return – ready to share their thinking.

The teacher welcomes them back:

“Okay, let’s hear it, tell us all your best and worst stories regarding grades and grading.”

I think to myself, this is going to be great. She wants to hear from them – she wants to hear their stories and their thinking about what it’s like to receive grades and how grades have impacted their lives and (maybe) their learning.

Pairs of students take turns standing and relaying each other’s stories. Some are nervous, but they contribute regardless. No doubt buoyed by those around them and those who have already shared.

“Not fair!”

“I was given a zero.”

“I was able to retake the test.”

“He understood that my uncle died and I was not thinking clearly…”

“She never graded my paper because I turned it in a day late.”

“I’ve always earned A’s and don’t know what I’d do if I get a lower grade.”

“He said I cheated on a group homework assignment.”

“I was happy with the D.”

“My mom took my phone away because of that test – because of the B.”

“She let me send a video of my answer instead of taking the test.”

“I forgot to write my name on the test and got an F.”

“I’ve never had a bad grade.”

This carried on for about twenty minutes as students actively listened to each other’s stories.

The teacher, in an inviting and encouraging manner, guided the conversation and contributed the occasional “Thank you” along the way.

When each student had finished sharing, the teacher asked the whole group to think about this question:

“What are grades for and how can we use them fairly and consistently in this class?

I wonder what they’ll say and look forward to their responses. To be continued?

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