Even though I wish it were otherwise, middle schoolers are definitely as obsessed with grades as high school students. Progress reports were handed out at the end of last week, and I could see students comparing their green slips, talking to each other about how parents would praise or punish, and moods change before my very eyes. A couple students asked about extra-credit work, and although I’m grateful they are willing to take that initiative, I know that they are less concerned about their own learning or improving their reading and writing than they are about a quick fix and a point boost. And that’s a inner struggle for me. How to get them past that point. Everything in their short school careers has reinforced the fact that grades are important.
The worst part of being a language arts teacher is that so much of what it means to be a life-long reader and writer is destroyed through grades. Any student who focuses on grades as the sole indicator of whether or not they are “good” writers is bound to write the most canned awful writing imaginable, is also bound to never know how to self-evaluate their writing. The same thing goes for reading. If they don’t know what it means to read something for the pure pleasure of it, or to choose what to read based on what they themselves want to know and understand, it is all for nothing in the end. They may comprehend beautifully, they may even make great connections on paper, but they won’t ever pick up a book on their own unless there’s some grade/project/homework assignment attached to the end of it. And those are the ones I’m most concerned about.