If U Liked It Then U Shoulda Put a Grade On It: Communicating Values Through Assessment

Put a Grade on It

A beloved activity in my 7th grade science class was the mitosis dance activity. The kids worked collaboratively to choreograph a complex performance set to music and complete with a human cell wall and spindle fibers pulling apart the sister chromatids (aka their fellow classmates). I was pleasantly surprised to see that the activity engaged one of my less participatory students in a way I hadn’t seen before in class. The student jumped into the role of sister chromatid when a classmate was absent on the day of the dance. Most importantly, she demonstrated a clear understanding of cell division.

I didn’t assign any grades or points to the activity, but instead saw it as a fun way to review the material we’d covered. I counted it as a huge win and deemed all of my students well prepared to complete the end of unit lab practicum and exam I had prepared.

But there was a problem. That student I was so proud to see come out of her shell and display her knowledge so effectively failed the exam. Like failed, failed. I was shocked. I realized it was time for some reflection on my approach. I came away with three major lessons learned:

  • First, I realized that it was the test that was ineffective. It didn’t allow every learner in my class to communicate what they knew and understood.
  • Second, I also realized that my gradebook communicated that the dance was unimportant.
  • Finally, and hardest of all to absorb, I realized I had communicated to my students that kinesthetic learning is invalid.

I realized the importance of asking what my gradebook is saying to my class and to each individual student. Gradebooks are a window into the values of a teacher. If you asked your students to complete the sentence, “Wow, my teacher really valued __________,” what would they say? This reflection leads to the hard work of aligning your values and your gradebook. It requires taking a close look at what type of activities comprises your classwork, homework, and assessments and trying to strike a balance so it’s integrated and not something “extra.”

Since this realization, I have more purposefully assessed my students with movement-based activities. As one example, while playing music, students model water in its solid, liquid, and gaseous states using only their hands. Next, I start playing music and ask them to model how to transition water from solid, to liquid, to gaseous, back to liquid, then to solid. They can’t help but start to dance as they demonstrate their understanding of the states of matter.

Once you think about what message your gradebook is already sending and what you value, you can align the two so that your students are able to be seen and to see each other and themselves.


Kristina Krzywonos is a science teacher at Carolina Friends Middle School.