It’s mid-term. The flurry of mark calculations and report card commenting is thankfully past. As I was determining marks this year I started thinking about WHO the report cards are for. Intended audience drives the voice of most writing. Who was my intended audience? Are report cards primarily a teacher-parent communication tool? Are they the concrete and a definitive word on the student’s progress so far? Are report cards meant for comparison: between classes, between students, between friends? Are they predominately official and historical documents?
I suppose they are pieces of all of those things. Some of which I agree with, and some, not so much. I find it so disheartening however that students will gauge their entire success, in fact often their whole view of self, on this one little number. I despise when student start comparing marks– it negates their personal journeys.
One student, for whom writing is difficult, received his essay back, glanced at the mark in the 50s and muttered dejectedly “I suck at English”. This student had been contributing orally, making connections between ideas, assisting classmates and was generally engaged in course material. He was reading regularly, without the threat of bamboo under the fingernails. He hardly “sucks at English”, but that essay mark reversed all the confidence he had gained, and the effects broke my heart more than a little. He had been aware, and proud, of all those other ways he was active in class, yet this one mark– because it was so concrete and definitive, seemed to carry so much more weight. I tried to mitigate it as much as I could, but emotions are hard to heal, and teens are prone to sweeping generalizations. Sure, the writing in the essay was poor, but the ideas were starting to coalesce, he actually had read the work in question, and handed in the essay on time. All victories.
Those are the things I tried hard to express in the report card comments this year. I wanted to pull back the curtain, wide, to show all the success that is going on in my classroom. I wanted my comments to hold more weight than the number they were next to, particularly since this is mid-term. I hope that whoever reads these comments can see a person behind the mark, because that is what my classroom is filled with: people, not marks. My comments were not generic and I hope that the students see themselves clearly reflected in the comments, and recognize that they are not a generic learner. I hope that for a moment, the mark won’t matter all that much.