B came in a little late today, and his face was all blotchy. I asked him if he was feeling all right, but he, who usually gives me a summary of global current events and their repercussions, was silent, tight-lipped, and evasive.
So class went on, and he acted attentive to his tasks, but his heart was nowhere near them. I didn’t push. Another student commented that it looked like B had been crying. I pointed out that a blotchy face could come from any emotion. Maybe he was happy, or mad, or stressed, or had been laughing, and pointed to my face. “You know how I go red when I mark too much, too fast,” I said.
At the end of class, when the others had left, B brought out a tiny rectangle of paper and unfolded it. It was a writing sample.
“Two”, he said, pointing to the large, scrawled ’2′ at the top of the page. “Out of five.”
I read it over. It was the beginning of a multi-paragraph composition on what he’d learned from a guest speaker. He’d only gotten two paragraphs in. (His paragraph structure was graceful and flowing. Impeccable.) There were subject-verb errors I know he doesn’t make when he has more time. But what he’d written was a detailed summary of what they’d learned. The second paragraph was about how the things he’d learned were important globally and locally. His thought processes reflected a first-year university student, not the Grade Five he is.
It looks like the exercise was some kind of timed writing thing where the kids were told they had a specified length of time to produce a completed composition. This is B’s downfall, because he needs time to think, to analyze, and then time to edit. He has a wildly analytical mind. But the Timed Write is an institution. It measures how well a student can think, and then how well they can articulate their thoughts, within a set time frame.
B would have received a much better mark if he had thought less and concentrated more on grammar. But do we really want to teach kids to think less? That’s my problem with the Timed Write.
I read over what he’d written, on that paper that was not simply crumpled, but deliberately accordioned into ashamed, disappointed rectangles. “This is great thinking,” I said. “I don’t think anyone else in your class analyzed the information this way. You just needed more time for grammar.”
And then I deliberately added a big ’4′ after the ’2′ score. “This is what I think it’s worth. 24 out of 5. So suck it up.”
He gave me something close to his familiar smile, and I was thankful for the 2387th time that I can encourage my students as individuals, instead of measuring them against Governmental expectations.