Do you guys remember Kiki? She’s not in my classes any more (much to my disappointment), but we sit together a lot at lunchtime. I adore this kid, and I’m really sad that she’s a senior. More on that in a minute.
Anyway, the seniors are putting together their final portfolios – and by “final,” I mean final; these are the representations of the entire span of their development at CHS and is intended to demonstrate their growth not only as students, but as citizens and people, as well.
Kiki came to me and said, “Mrs. Chili, I’m a little bit mad at you.”
“Really? Why, Honey; what did I do?”
“It’s not what you did,” she said, “it’s what you didn’t do. I had to take three years’ worth of English before you got here. THREE. YEARS.”
“Yeah, so… what’s your point?”
“My POINT is… well, come and see for yourself!”
I followed her into the classroom where she proceeded to flip through her portfolio. “All of the work I did for you is in the front. See all your notes and suggestions and, you know, grades?”
She flipped further. “I’d like for you to note the proliferation of smiley faces and the noticeable lack of grades. No notes, no corrections, no workshop suggestions – I get smiley faces. OH!” she said, “just LOOK what we have here! One, two, three.. THREE smiley faces on ONE paper…. and no grade. What the HELL?!”
Kiki is clearly frustrated because she feels that, until she had me as a teacher, she didn’t get the kind of critical feedback that she now understands makes her a better writer and thinker. She’s right – her portfolio is full of not-so-helpful smiley faces, and I wasn’t sure quite what to tell her; none of that is her fault, but she does have to reconcile what she feels were wasted years.
I value the work my students do, to the extent that I take the time to offer them helpful, careful, considered feedback on that work. Do I sometimes throw a smiley face on a paper? Sure – particularly when a kid writes something that makes me giggle – but I always balance that with a question or a suggestion or a “tell me what you mean by this” in an effort to get the kids to push just a little bit further than they went on their own. I love making the kids feel good, but I also want them to DO good, too (and yes, I know that’s not grammatical… shut it). Throwing a check mark or a smiley face on a paper doesn’t tell the student anything useful (and is, I think, a way for a teacher to avoid doing any real work). Kiki is recognizing that she was kind of cheated in some of her classes, and she’s rightfully indignant about it.