31 March 2009


I seem to recall that in the early days of my career, there was some level of government regulation that prohibited classroom teachers from teaching about contraceptives. If a student asked for specific information, we were allowed to provide it---but we couldn't initiate any conversations. Mind you, I was never designated to teach sex ed; but being a teacher in the life science content area meant that certain topics are inevitable and it was always good to be aware of where the lines were.

I was thinking about this last week after a conversation I had with an instructional coach. He had invited me to spend a day with his teachers (and others around the district) to talk about student feedback, data collection/use, grading practices, and interventions. We'd sorta plotted things out. It was shaping up to be a really great day of professional learning.

And then, word came from above him to say that there could be no conversation involving the g-word: Grading. He'd been slapped with the contraceptive rule.

I have mentioned before that one of my favourite quotes in the research literature about grading is that "Teachers guard their grading practices 'with the same passion with which one might guard an unedited diary or sacred ground'" (Kain, 1996). I can tell you that after getting out and about this year with various presentations, grading is still very much a taboo subject among teachers. Even knowing this, I am still a bit surprised at the hammer that came down. The coach was given no reason for the district's change of heart (although, based on other things I'm seeing/hearing in other schools, my hunch is that a nervous teacher complained to The Union).

So, we will put Grading in the back of our minds for a day and work on the other items with teachers. If they have questions about grading, we'll answer them. For the most part, however, we just have to assume that if we don't talk about things, teachers will stay professionally safe and sound.


Unknown said...

I think it is sacred ground. Grading is a deeply personal part of teaching. It's a one-on-one dialogue between the teacher and the student. Although there is a science to it and it is a topic we should discuss professionally, there is a deeply personal side that many researchers miss in their focus on data. When I assess a child's project, I am getting to know the person, learning the story and providing qualitative feedback that can lead to mastery. When we make it too theoretical we miss the human side of it.

Lightly Seasoned said...

I don't regard grading as a deep dark secret. I try to be very transparent, actually -- maybe because essay grading is so subjective.