Grading Out Loud

Yesterday I was saddled with 60 pieces of writing- two per student. We just finished a unit of study from Teachers College Writing Project on informational writing. Two on-demands: a before-the-unit piece and an after.

I was sitting quietly, at my dining room table, with a cup of tea to warm my bones on this chilly, windy day. Reading over the pieces, I felt proud of my work. I was color-coding the grades. I would be able to look back and see how things improved. They would, right?

They would right?

If my instruction was effective…if…

Geez, would I see a lower second score on some of these? What would that mean? I do damage? They were tired of writing after that mammoth of a unit? Something in between?

I started on a student’s before-piece. She struggles with spelling, capitalization and sentence structure. It is usually difficult for me to read her writing. I began to score it. Not impressed.

Then my daughter came into the kitchen, asked me what I was working on, and I began to read it aloud to her, in full drama mode from the beginning. We were both completely blown away by the voice of the piece. It was funny, heartfelt, risky and clever. At one point I had to stop- we were laughing so hard at her funny point, I couldn’t keep reading. Snort-laughing, tears, gasping for breath. FUNNY.

And then it hit me. I had completely missed it. Her voice was absent to me in my first reading. The mechanical difficulties of the piece- misspellings and run-ons galore-  made it easy to skim over the finer points she was making and I missed the brilliance that was on the page.

It makes me wonder, how often have I done this? What hidden passions and expertise and witty gems have I missed because I didn’t take the time to read it out loud like a performance?

And, it makes me REALLY wonder- where does the responsibility for clarity lie? Finding it or making it? Must I always fish it out? Or does a nine year old child have the responsibility to apply their knowledge of sentence structure and capitalization to their writing- especially a “show me what you know piece?”

I love teaching grammar. I have a lot of fun ways to make it come alive for my fourth graders, and they see its relevance. We laugh, we act it out, we have sentence smack downs, we imitate great writers, but they don’t always apply what we learn. I know this is normal- most teachers know it and complain about it, live with it, work to improve it. And my AHA moment today could be seen as the PERFECT example of why punctuation-for-effect, a Common Core Standard, is so vital for children to grasp and use. I know my student’s piece would have been clear to me, and anyone out there who was reading her work, no out-loud necessary, with even a minimal application of standard grammar and punctuation.

But she chose not to use it. And I chose to read it out loud, on a lark, and there we met.

What does this teach me? Seems like a lesson for both of us.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Grading Out Loud

  1. Cathy,
    Love this. I love that you found your student’s voice on a lark. I love that you know yourself as a teacher, and still question and reconsider your thinking. The wonderful thing about doing this work is that we are constantly learning.

    Welcome to blogging. So glad you’re here.
    Julieanne

  2. Cathy,
    Thanks for sharing your learning. It’s easy to miss the forest for the trees and your student and you both have the benefit of your learning.

    I’ve been working with “scoring writing” for years and I often tell scorers to choose that element that “is so distracting” and score it just to get it out of the way. Then just like a fine wine, clear your palate (take a deep breath) and read it for what the student “can do.” Even in the pre-unit on-demand writings, we must look for what student CAN DO! Building on strengths and valuing what students CAN DO builds them up. For many students, putting words down on the paper for an on-demand does not allow room for dealing with the conventions that make it easier for students!

    I can’t wait to hear about what this student can do by the end of the year. Now you know that she can provide quality advice to a partner on voice. She may need a partner who values conventions! Writing for a peer (or bigger audience) may be the incentive to polish her work!

    Great post! I also love your voice!

  3. I love that you did this. It really is amazing when we allow ourselves to leave our pre-conceived notions out and just experience what our students have actually done. What a great bit of learning for you. I will definitely be looking at my students’ writing through different eyes next time!

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