She came to session in a huff.
“I am SO bad at history,” she stated bitterly. “I hate history.”
After letting in a bit of sympathy and a bit of gentle urging, she pulled out a stapled test striped broad with red–remarks, circled words and crossed out answers–the teacher’s mutilation. A large C dominated the top of the page. She threw the paper on the table, her face a salad of emotions: regret, embarrassment, disgust, disappointment, sadness, frustration, despair, shame.
“I’m not taking this home,” she said. “Can you keep it in my file here instead?”
“How about we look at the test together,” I offered, skirting the question.
She frowned (kids always pick on adult evasive maneuvers …) but nodded grudgingly. We went over the questions and her answers. She was actually almost correct on most, just not quite as the teacher wanted. The girl misinterpreted directions on a couple but wrote accurate facts; misplaced a number on a date; confused an ambiguous passive tense and so got the answer wrong (trick question, that one was); wrote the wrong sequence of correctly memorized events …
The teacher gave no quarter for mistakes of any kind, no leeway. The red marks slashed through the test in an assured hand of criticism. To add insult to injury, the bottom of the second page read “Try harder next time” … harshly assuming that the effort was what lacked, rather than skill or speed of processing.
In effect, the mistakes were very good proof of trying. They were signposts of the effort put in by a child who finds memorizing difficult and worked hard to understand the unfurling of what happened to whom where and when and why. She knew the material, even if the test plumbed all her weak spots and completely ignored the many things she studied.
Comforted some by the validation of her work, she calmed, vindicated that she wasn’t “bad at history” and bolstered by understanding that while the teacher had the right to take off points for errors, there were many places where knowledge came through, if imperfectly.
For the rest of the session we worked on attending to test questions: identifying exactly what was asked, highlighting important words in questions and directions, re-wording it if necessary, reading all the answers before settling on the best one, writing down key-words. Strategies for testing.
In the end she left with the offending graded test in her backpack, ready to take it home and armed with the understanding of what she did right, not only what came out wrong. Still disappointed, she was at least no longer ashamed.
“I think Ms. J sure does loves red,” she noted, a bit of snark in her voice but humor finally restored. “Maybe someone should get her a green marker …”