It’s important to me that I help kids understand where their grades come from. I have access to the teachers’ grade book for each of my students, so I can review every assignment and grade with them. Many students at 6th grade still think that a teacher gives a letter grade based on how much they like the student. I’ve always thought showing them the points and percentages is a valuable lesson that can help them begin to understand how much power they actually have in determining their grades. I think Naomi still thinks grades randomly fall out of the sky into a teacher’s grade book.
Before mid-9 week progress reports came out I had each student stand by me at my computer and go over all their grades. Naomi loved this time. I think she felt very powerful getting to look at the teacher’s computer. When she came to class the day before progress reports came out, I announced we would be looking over everyone’s grades that day. I gave the kids a math puzzle to be working on as I called each student up individually. When Naomi’s turn came, she announced that she had been really busy after school and didn’t have a lot of time to do homework. I knew her family was trying to prepare for a Bat Mizvah for Naomi, so I said, “I know you’re busy. You go to Hebrew school don’t you?”
Her eyes widened. “How did you know that?”
“Well, your dad told me you were going to Hebrew school,” I told her.
“I can write my name in Hebrew,” she said. I thought of all the things she was having trouble completing at school. I remembered my husband agonizing through two years of Hebrew in seminary and marveled that Naomi was learning Hebrew.
“OK, Naomi,” I said, “Show me your name in Hebrew.”
By this time everyone had stopped working and was watching Naomi. She had a huge grin on her face as she walked up to the whiteboard, chose a royal blue marker, and wrote her name in Hebrew, right to left. I had forgotten that Hebrew is written right to left. Sometimes Naomi takes my breath away. She began giggling as she turned and proudly pointed to her name. “That says Naomi,” she announced.
“That’s really cool,” I said. “Now come on over here so we can go over your grades.” I knew some really low grades would come up on the screen, but I was in a knot about what to do about them. Naomi very ceremoniously picked up a chair, set it down next to mine in front of the computer, and sat down. This was serious business for her.
Before we started, she turned to me, smiled, and said “Shalom.”
Shalom. That’s a pretty good way to start any hard discussion.