“What Are You Proud Of?” – Using Letter Grades For Good

I was exhausted to say the least.  Voice raw, thoughts muddled, and a lead brain.  I felt like I had worked days without sleep as I dragged myself home.  All day Thursday, I conferred with almost all of my students.  100+ kids and I sat down, one on one, and spoke about scores, grades,  goals, growth and most importantly what they are proud of.  And I was exhausted.

I hadn’t intended to have a day of conferring.  I had thought we would have a read-in party, I would hand them back their grade slips with my grades for them, the ones they had first decided and I then had added my input to.  After all, most of us agreed on the letter grade that somehow would define their progress in English.  Yet, as I looked at the slips of paper in my hand, I realized that this was not a paper conversation.  That every child deserved to have a moment, even if only for a few minutes, to discuss why that grade somehow represented them and more importantly a moment to carve their own path forward.

So one by one I called them up, showed them their slip of paper and then we talked.  What did I notice, what did they know?  How had they been doing?  How had they felt about being in English?  What could change?  What were my hopes as we moved forward?  What did they hope for?  What did they need?  The conversations changed depending on the student, yet every single one ended with; what are you proud of?

What came from them were almost never their scores.  Nor the grade they were getting.  Instead, child upon child told me how they were actually reading now.  How they had become better readers.  How some didn’t hate writing as much.  How English was getting easier for them.  How they felt they had something to say.  They spoke of insecurities.  They spoke of being unsure.  They spoke of trying.  Of growing.  Of wanting to become better people.  Every child opened up and spke of their journey and together we spoke of the future.

One child summed up the day perfectly for me when he said; “I am not sure what I am most proud of.  I have grown, I don’t know how, but I am now better.”  And I thought, so am I.  I am better teacher because I know my students better.  I am a better teacher because I cannot wait to see what they do next.  I am a better teacher because the students are starting to really trust me.  I am a better teacher because my students push me forward every day, and I let them.

I did not intend to spend a day speaking to my students and doing nothing else, but now I know; it was the best way I could have spent a day.  It was the best way to help my students know that they are more than a grade. More than a score.  More than a letter.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

4 thoughts on ““What Are You Proud Of?” – Using Letter Grades For Good

  1. This post resonates with me after we had an Inservice with a reading specialist yesterday. Once again brought to the forefront of my mind: The child is not the Level (reading), the student reads at Level ? And now your reflection brings to mind: the student is more than a number, a grade. Your interactions with them must have been so powerful in their learning process and in building their self confidence .

  2. it is such a gift, when we sit down with our students one on one, and say “your time matters to me, and you matter to me”. What are you proud of – such a terrific, important question. Together, we are better.

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