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Home » From the Field, Teaching and Learning

You are not your mark

Submitted by on November 15, 2011 – 8:45 am 6 Comments | 2,640 views

After a few weeks of flipping, and having time to actually talk to my students and listen to them, I now realize how much I’ve been missing all these years. I used to give tests, mark them, give them back, and that was it. No discussion, no probing to find better strategies for success, no insight gained into the child, only a number recorded. This week I (again) asked for a self-assessment on their last test. I have read some pretty heart-wrenching entries, this one in particular:

photo by Robin Hutton

My results are poor. First, I don’t really understand why i failed. I went to tutoring and really studied hard because of my other test result which wasn’t that good either. I don’t really know what happened. Maybe I need more practice I guess.

Another one that’s hard to read, because he is being a bit hard on himself, but on the other hand, he is doing some self-analysis as a result:

Extremely disapointed in myself…It was leagues below my self standards. That did not go well at all, some of my errors were just lack of paid attention but I’m a bit troubled by others that I was originally quite confident about. I suppose tonight I may need to ask you about them should the oppotunity arrise and you have time. I apologize for that

Then there is the child who feels she must “redeem” herself, as if she has committed a crime:

I was very disappointed with myself in this test because many of the mistakes should have been easily avoided. When I look at the test, I understand all my mistakes. I found it very easy while doing it but I am a very fast paced person so little details always escape me. If there is a way I could redeem my mark I would gladly take home an extra assignment or something.

And I got to have a chuckle at this one:

BOO YAH, little errors but still VERY HAPPY

How many kids have I missed out on during my 20-odd years of teaching?

Today I would like to say to my students, past, present, and future, that in my class:

1. You are not your mark. Just like my salary does not represent me. I know that right now, to the colleges or universities you’re applying to, it seems like you are your mark. But you know better. And I do too.

2. The goal is not perfection, it’s growth. And the growth doesn’t even have to be in math, it can be that you learn something about how you learn best, or a better way to get organized, or you discover that you love factoring! Yes, factoring!

3. When you learn something, and you share it, everyone wins. When you don’t share it, it stops with you. Almost no point to that. What you shared with me in this self-assessment is WAY more important than your mark.

4. When you answer your own questions, you get inspiration. You cannot attach a number to that. When you answer the test questions, all you get is a mark. I’m a math teacher, a number geek, and even I prefer the inspiration over the number.

5. Math and science are not the most important things in the world. The arts are just as important. Just try living without movies, music, photography, books, poetry, dance. Or blogs!

I guess this is what they mean (and I forget who said this) by don’t teach the content, teach the student!



  • Kish Gué says:

    What a beautiful post!

    There are many things that I love about this article but I will just point out two.

    1. I think that to move away from focusing on marks and concentrating on our students and their comprehension of concepts is a major positive leap, both for the teacher and his or her students. Our school system being what it is, marks are very much valued although they are far from being key elements for our student’s growth. Students need to know specifically how to improve their learning and to do so, they need more than marks.

    2. The fact that you allowed your students to self-reflect seems to have been very beneficial. Doing this allows students to realize where to focus. It also helps the teacher reach all aspects of the learner’s development. Although the self-reflections shared on this blog showed how disappointed the students were (except for one!!!), they need to know that “mistakes are beautiful when we chose to look at them”.

    P.S. Please share your article with your fellow teachers!

  • Audrey McGoldrick says:

    Thanks so much, Kish! Hopefully the self-reflection will fuel the shift from focusing on marks too!

  • Michael Canuel says:

    At a recent conference I attended, educators expressed their frustration with the continuing pressure on them to get students to score well on standardized tests. The constant expectation from administration and parents, and the public in general to get students to score well on these tests has left teachers feeling vulnerable and exposed to unwarranted criticism. One need only look at the scandal in Atlanta where teachers felt the need to alter test results in order to relieve themselves of some this pressure. And before teachers in Quebec think things are different here, we only have to stop and see how public pressure brought about a change away from meaningful reporting to report cards that resemble those from the good old days.
    Great blog! Thought-provoking and timely. Keep them coming.

    • Audrey says:

      Thanks, Mike. It’s ironic to me that many of us (myself included) who initially complained loud and long about the “new” report cards are now missing them. It was at least a foot in the door of qualitative, meaningful assessment, by and for the student. Thanks for your support!

  • Jordan Kent says:

    This is a great article, Audrey. Thank you for your openness and you evident care and concern for your students. I think that as teachers we work in schools that are institutions but that doesn’t mean our classes need to be institutionalized. Thanks again and great work.

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