I recently heard a snippet of a conversation that I'll never have to have again...and it made me feel good. A student was in a panic over her grade. A low score on a test had decimated her average and the teacher was valiantly trying to reassure her that when there were some more grades in the gradebook, the score wouldn't make such a difference. The student wasn't pacified by this. It was as if she thought by rewording the question or asking something again would yield a different answer---one she wanted to hear.
I have had countless conversations exactly like this during my career. Now I think back and wonder how many kids I crushed with them. Mind you, I was always positive...gave the kids a pep talk...tried to help them understand that there would be other grades. I didn't do such a great job with listening to what kids really wanted: they wanted to make something happen for the grade that day.
I handed back my first summative assessment late last week. Some students didn't perform as well as either they or I hoped; but with my new policy in place, our conversations were very different. My students are no longer powerless to do something about a particular assignment that they struggled on. They can work with me and then do it again. They can ask to show what they know another way. And they realized that by using the median to determine things at the end, an unsatisfactory mark can disappear.
We as teachers like to think that students determine their own destinies in the classroom. And they do---to the extent that they choose whether or not to engage in learning. Until now, however, I don't think my students ever felt that they really were in charge of their destiny when it came to the final grades. I set up the rules, after all. I have this time, too, but believe I have done so in a way that makes things fair for students (and not just "equal"). They have said as much about this and so far, we're all doing just fine. It's a relief not to have those harried conversations about averages anymore.