Assessment

We had a minor argument a few months ago about assessment – whether it should evaluate participation or not. I would like to say that I am moving more and more in the direction of doing that, of holding my kids more socially responsible, and tying their grade more to what I see in their eyes, and less what I see coming out of their pencils.
I know many teachers don’t feel that way, but I do. Language is an intensely social thing, and, with the machines now taking over for real, maybe we who espouse the idea of CI can work against the dehumanization of our society by holding the kids responsible for how they sit and and interact with us in our classes.
For me now, it is about 70% participation rubric (not the self evaluation which I use less now) and 30% how they do on the quick quizzes. No long term testing at all. Long term testing sucks. It destroys their good will. And I’ve dropped the Thematic Units except for AP track kids and others who want to do it as extra credit.
[OT note: the blog entries I am receiving as emails are stacking up and jamming things up. So they are in queue, but I can’t just blog ten a day or we wouldn’t have time to read all of them. Just FYI].

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6 thoughts on “Assessment”

  1. I like the idea of a free CI class structure and I dislike grading, but there are some things i don’t get about what It seems like you are saying here. I could use some discussion and ideas to clarify these questions/ideas:
    –How does the 70% participation part of the grade work? How is something as nebulous as participation measurable? I have used a 15% participation grade to nudge them into good behavior and encourage excellence, but having it as the biggest part of the grade makes me uneasy–I may not sure I could always justify it.
    –How do you grade the kids that are frequently absent? I realize that the simple answer is the natural consequence–that those that are not in class do not learn. Maybe it is just my school, but we have kids gone ALL the time for school sports, clubs, field trips, club sports, family trips, etc. How do you handle that?
    –Are you saying you are going with no units or guidelines? I love the free-flowing things as much as anybody and my classes are often nothing but rabbit tracks, but i have to admit that I like the idea of structure in the background as a base to come back to.
    –How do you keep on track without units to guide the vocabulary and grammar? I know that students do not learn in the order we prescribe, but they don’t learn if we don’t expose them to enough either. I feel like I need the structure.
    Bryce

  2. Jody your ideas will always find their way to the front of the queue so don’t hold back on us.
    Bryce I am just stating my truth. I don’t feel the need to justify my (formative) assessment style to people who don’t know what I am doing. I know what I’m doing, and that is enough for me and my kids. In my view, participation is not nebulous at all. It’s highly measurable. Have you ever looked someone in the eyes and known immediately if they understand you? That is what I do, and I believe it to be more accurate than any test. Kids who have been mistreated, of course, are hard to read, but I read them anyway, and spend lots of time grabbing their elbows as they come into class, telling them that I appreciate them and keep trying and I’m not comparing them to others and I want them to succeed and don’t worry about tests so much because it’s a language and stuff like that. People still tied to numbers won’t get that, and I respect that. But when are we ever going to let go of the idea that kids can learn better when we do summative assessment? Like Krashen said, “You can’t make a pig grow any faster by weighing it more often.” Kids who are graded primarily via participation also show up more often. If sports is more important than the curriculum at your school, then that is a problem. But I won’t let absences mess me up. I have the same disdain for an excused absence as an unexcused absence – I am talking about the repeat excused offenders – you know what I mean. Whoever does the excusing is basically sending us the message that what we are doing is expendible in the education of the child, that our classroom are a good place for the child unless something more important comes up. So I try to get participation heavily into the kid’s grade. What is going to happen here? Are we soon going to have to tell the coaches that we are taking they kids into our classrooms to learn, and can our students be excused from their sports activity? And then the kids would have to ask their coach how they can make up missed sports activities because they were in our classrooms, missing an important practice. We could send out emails to the coaches saying that we are going to be having some of their athletes in our classes that day and is that o.k.? And what’s a unit? Is that one of those old teaching models that never worked? I think I remember them. They didn’t work. I just talk to my students in French, and they learn all sorts of words, and they really seem to enjoy knowing that they don’t HAVE to remember the word. It makes them so comfortable that they actually learn because they want to, because it is interesting, not because they are going to be tested on it. I’m going to say that agains because it is pretty much the backbone of my argument:

    … they really seem to enjoy knowing that they don’t HAVE to remember the word. It makes them so comfortable that they actually learn because they want to, because it is interesting, not because they are going to be tested on it ….

    I want somebody who does TPRS French using units to compare their kids to mine after, say, four straight years. Our kids will probably have equivalent vocabulary gains. But, I will have done hundreds less hours of planning, leaving me fresher to hit the CI at the beginning of each class period. The biggest advantage to getting rid of the mere trappings of education and really teaching kids, however, is how much more the kids like not being measured, branded, marked, and labeled. It brings out their best. Again, that is my main point, restated. Here it is again, because I feel so strongly about it:
    … the biggest advantage to getting rid of the mere trappings of education and really teaching kids, however, is how much more the kids like not being measured, branded, marked, and labeled. It brings out their best ….
    It took me all these years to be able to see how truly beautiful these kids are when they don’t feel that they are going to be looked at under a microscope and rather can just enjoy hanging out hearing French each day. Wouldn’t you prefer that if you were going to take a language class? Or would you rather be graded and feel that horrible feeling of maybe not measuring up? ALL MY KIDS MEASURE UP. Why do so many teachers accept the status quo that only privileged kids can reach fluency when the fact is so blatantly false, that all kids can learn a language? They believe that not all kids can learn a language, and they teach that way. Also, while we’re tussling, Bryce, why target frequency lists? If words are really high frequency, esp. those first 100 or so, aren’t they just going to naturally occur in CI, coming up hundreds of times? When we speak to our little four year old darlings in English, do we plan out the words we use so that they can learn faster, avoiding, for example, the conditional tense around them for fear that it would confuse them, waiting for the right time to present it in, maybe, the five year old English vocabulary unit for American children?
    [ed.note – we are excited that tomorrow Jennie is coming from the Alaska TPRS team to spend a week with us in Denver Public Schools. I will get her at the airport and schlep her up to Longmont/Loveland to observe Bryce on Monday and maybe Tuesday and then come to us in DPS for the rest of the week. I say this because if I am not heard from again, it will be because Bryce beat the snot out of me for my snotty answer up above. Oh well, I’d rather be arguing with Bryce than faking like I am interested in what my non-CI colleagues think about all of this. Maybe I can get Jennie to blog some of her thoughts this week. I will say this about her visit: we are not out to impress her with wonderful CI. This business of reclaiming our classrooms for actual, measurable, and real acquisition, for real results, is not about presenting wonderfully to people. It is exactly about what Jennie is doing. She has the best right there in Michele to observe, but she is widening her horizons to come into about seven Colorado classrooms. That is how this change will occur. Intelligent administrators who refuse to be left in the dark on what is happening in our classrooms are signing on the dotted line for professional development like Jennie’s this week. In Denver Jennie will stay with Diana Noonan, and she will learn a ton of stuff. It is by this dialogue, this getting together in small groups, this forcing of the light on this topic, that will bring the sighs of relief to the kids who have suffered so much at being beat over the head by us with textbooks, and suffocated with worksheets. My personal goal is that children learn to laugh unselfconsciously at the humorous events that arise in our stories at the expense of no one, and who learn that we in fact are not trying to find ways to give them low grades and feel badly about their ability to learn what we teach them, so that they can be let out of the SICK CAN – an old blog – of teaching that we did before people started to figure this stuff out. What we are doing is not about a job that makes us money. If we wanted money we would never have become teachers. Instead, we want kids to suffer less. We must help each other. Susan Gross is the one who models this sense of service to humanity like no one else. Money is not on her agenda. And isn’t it interesting that when money is not the driving force in the body politic of putting Krashen’s work out there more and more every day, the changes occur a lot faster? This is just the beginning. Get out of our way or get run over. No apologies for that rant either]

  3. Ben,
    I love threads like this. So much to talk about, but i will handle a couple of things right here. I like to compare what I am teaching with frequency lists to check myself and to help convince others that my teaching is on track.
    The Spanish that is used in my classroom may not correspond to the Spanish that my students will need outside of the classroom. This is a possibility because the classroom is an artificial environment and because I am not a native speaker of Spanish. Words that are common and useful in our class stories may not be as common and useful elsewhere. As a non-native I am also aware that my word usage may not always equally to native speech. I tend not tend to use some listed high frequency words enough, so much so that sometimes I find that there are kids in my level 2, 3 or 4 classes that do not know extremely common words, and that is because I have simply neglected to use them often enough. Word frequency lists can help me to compare the vocabulary that I tend to use against a standard. I use them to help shore up my vocabulary deficiencies for my students.
    On my second point, I use frequency lists to prove to skeptics that we are concentrating on the basics–that most of what we focus on falls in the top 100 to 500 words in Spanish. I am always having to defend my position with administrators, parents and fellow teachers, and I feel like I need to be able to show them that students can say a lot with the basic words; that we shelter the vocabulary, but not the grammar.
    I am looking forward to seeing Jennie and you later today!

  4. I got to put Jennie on the plane last night. I wanted to join her. I bet every other TPRS teacher in the nation does too…what lucky teachers you all are in Denver.
    Just a couple of things to clear up though…while Jennie is a valuable member of our Alaska TPRS group, she’s almost always with us electronically, not physically. She is flying south as The Valdez Foreign Language Department, the only language teacher in her district. I hope Jennie will share a little bit with you there about her home in Valdez (pronounced Val-DEEZ), where average annual snowfall is 30 feet. Jennie lives with her family off the grid in a cabin on the side of a fjord, and from her kitchen window, she can watch whales, dolphins, sea otters, and other creatures. Ask her how she gets to her house…it involves using ropes and a 15-minute hike.
    Wishing you all a wonderful time to learn and grow together!

  5. Yeah Bryce and I got the entire picture via her laptop. I never figured out the ropes thing, but her place is on Prince William Sound and a winter paradise. She brought salmon. I am going up to join her for some classes with Bryce tomorrow, one of them an AP class. Maybe Bryce can blog how he handles those classes all in Spanish, because I know most of us need some instruction in TPRS at the upper levels. Brian B. your question is almost in the queue about upper levels. What does Joe say, by the way? Anyway, we can hopefully look forward to some discussion about that topic soon here. And Bryce didn’t hurt me too bad for my hippie assessment ideas. We’re still jabbing at each other, but are much closer in overall position on assessment than it sounds like here. Can’t wait to watch Bryce tomorrow. Talking to Jennie made me realize how truly alike we all are in this, reflecting what you said Michele about how maybe what we do in the classroom is more alike than different, which just supports the need for this kind of collegial visiting and collaboration to work on the little details.

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