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Educators from Carolina Friends School in Durham explore the relationship between health and education.

is an independent Quaker school serving students 3-18. Contact the school at:

4809 Friends School Road
Durham, NC 27705
Telephone: ( 919) 383-6602

Kristina Krzywonos has taught middle school and high school science at Carolina Friends School since 2018. Prior to that, she gained eight years of teaching experience at an independent school in High Point, North Carolina. During that time, she was an adviser in both the middle and upper school, facilitated service learning opportunities, coached several Odyssey of the Mind teams, and served as a member of the faculty leadership team. Her degree in chemistry is from High Point University, where her research ranged from instrumental analysis to designing an experiential science outreach program for local elementary schools. Kristina will begin a new position as Head of the Upper School at San Francisco Day School beginning in August

If U Liked It Then
U Shoulda Put a Grade On It

What I Learned From Communicating
My Values Through Assessment

By Kristina Krzywonos

Kristina Krzywonos

A beloved activity in my 7th grade science class was the mitosis dance assignment. The kids worked collaboratively to choreograph a complex performance set to music and complete with a human cell membrane 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. And I realized it was time for some reflection on my approach.

On reflection, 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. In fact, many of my written exams and lab practicums at the time favored students who excelled at written expression.

Second, I also realized that my gradebook communicated that the dance was unimportant. As an independent school teacher, I had control over how I distributed points in my course. This quite literally assigned value to every task. By not assigning points to the dance, I unintentionally communicated that this assignment was unworthy of value.
Finally, and hardest of all to absorb, I realized I had communicated to my students that kinesthetic learning is invalid.

It took several months to completely process this instance. No teacher wants to be told that their methods of assessment invalidate their students’ way of communicating or personhood. It was important to take the time to intentionally reflect upon my practice in order to honor the students before me in the years ahead. 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. I wondered if I asked my students to complete the sentence, “Wow, my teacher really valued __________,” what would they say? That reflection led me to the hard work of aligning my values and my 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. One simple example is having 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 I thought about what messages my gradebook was already sending and reflected on what I value, I was able to align the two so that my students are able to be seen and to see each other and themselves.