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Grades Do NOT Define Me

November 06, 2017
By Jennifer Baham

When you think back to the last time you received a “grade” for something, can you also remember how you felt inside? Do the words “report card” send a jolt of fear into your body?

Teachers use assessments to find out what a student understands, and to determine how well we as teachers might (or might not have) communicated concepts. Unfortunately, many times “getting a grade” turns into false determination of one’s talent or worth. Instead of seeing the grade as a measure of what I learned and what I have yet to learn, the grade sends a message of “You are acceptable” or “You are not good enough.”

Mrs. Nibbelink and Ms. Webb led the fifth graders through a novel unit on There’s a Boy In The Girls’ Bathroom by Louis Sachar. As the story of a fifth grade bully unfolds, readers come to see the importance of looking “underneath” another’s exterior to find the true person inside. Through the guidance of a counselor, a “bully” transforms his belief that he is a worthless monster to the belief that he is a kind boy with a good heart. Ms. Webb explains, “This story provides an inside look at the thought life of a struggling student and guides our fifth graders toward empathy for others and healthy self-talk.”

After reading the book, the 5th grade teachers led their students through three key activities. First, the 5th graders wrote reflections about their experience and perspective on grades. Next they created drawings of monsters with kind hearts. And finally, the teachers brought their students to the playground to drive home the themes in the book. Outside, each student was given a physical challenge. Some were asked to hang on the bar for 3 seconds, or do 5 jumping jacks. Others were asked to fly to the top of the flagpole or hop from one tree to another. Some challenges were clearly impossible. Afterward, students were assigned a letter grade. Students who accomplished the challenge were marked with an “A”, and students who did not complete the impossible challenges were marked with an “F”. Confusion and antagonism erupted. Students declared, "This isn't fair!”

Mrs. Nibbelink and Ms. Webb followed the physical challenge activity with an in-class discussion about grades and their purpose in school. They drove home the point that a grade is not meant to define us (just as not being able to fly to the top of flagpole could not make you a failure). They shared that a grade measures how much you have learned or haven't learned...yet. And they pointed out that our families, teachers, and even Kindergarten buddies love us as much as ever no matter what “grade” is assigned in school. “At the end of the day, we want our fifth graders to know we love them exactly the same no matter what grades are at the top of their papers. We don’t view students as ‘A, C, or F students,’ we see them as dearly loved children of God.” Ms. Webb said.

SJCS Throughlines include the standard of raising up “growing believers who live secure in their identity in Christ.” We continue to work as a school to teach our children that we are God’s Beloved sons and daughters.

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