“It is true, we shall be monsters, cut off from all the world; but on that account we shall be more attached to one another.” ~ Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
This book represents over 20 years of my thinking and writing about grades. Most of the text was written between 2017 and 2023, even as the ideas have germinated since 2001. Several of the pieces are brand new, published here for the first time, and others have been previously published in various book collections, academic journals, and on my personal blog. My own context is mostly higher education, but my hope is that this book is useful to teachers, librarians, staff, administrators, and students at all levels of education.
While I’ve edited the chapters to form a cohesive narrative and to reduce repetition, I’ve tried to take a light hand so that contradictions, evolutions, and seeming tangents in my thinking stay intact. A clear strand throughout the book is that teaching is idiosyncratic and happens differently for different teachers with different students at different institutions. Teaching also works differently for me on different days with different people, across years. Pedagogical thinking is necessarily messy, and so I wanted this book to embody that.
The works cited at the end of this book is a celebration of many of the folks who’ve influenced my thinking about grades and assessment. But there are a few people I want to especially acknowledge here.
My dad, my mom, and my brother have encouraged and challenged me from the start, each in their own ways.
Marty Bickman is the first teacher who challenged me to rethink what it meant to be a student, what it meant to be graded, what it meant to take ownership of my own learning.
R L Widmann is my teacher, my friend, and will be forever a part of my family. She taught me how to trust deeply, to front generosity, and to always ask hard questions with playfulness and curiosity.
Martha Burtis has changed my professional life in ways I barely have words for. She has helped me see the why of this work more than anyone else.
Sean Michael Morris has been my collaborator, my colleague, and my friend from the first day I started teaching. His sentences continue to inhabit my own.
I also want to thank my husband, Joshua Lee, and my daughter, Hazel Stommel-Lee for being marvelous. She still kicks my ass daily, and he gives me “I love you” eyes exactly when I need them.
Finally, all of the ideas here have come to life in conversation with the students I’ve worked with over the years. Their voices are the reason, the impetus, for my work.