jGR and Brilliant Non-Communicators

If we have a child who is brilliant in writing, but is not communicative in class, then how do we assess him? Do we keep him from the high grade simply because he doesn’t communicate well in class? Chris Stoltz posed that question to the group here about a week ago:

…what happens if a kid manages good output in writing etc., but doesn’t want to “tune in” in class? Does that even happen?  My second-best intro student last year, Hamid, HATED talking, answering questions etc., and it was impossible to get him not to sketch during class.  He blew the finals away.  jGR would’ve assigned him a C at best– he didn’t talk, never asked for clarification, etc. – yet he stomped the final….

Jeffery Brickler responded this way:

You know him best. He is most likely a unique individual in this process. I bet that the number of students who are not “tuning in” and doing well is very very few, perhaps none. What Hamid did demonstrate was that he in fact did some of the skills very well. He didn’t engage very well in terms of speaking or letting you know that he understood, but he did pay attention, otherwise, he could not have made gains.

Another thing to ask yourself. Hamid did very well in the content. He killed the final. Yes. Great. However, life and communication is more than simply knowing the material. You have to engage. We are dispelling the thought that one who is gifted intellectually can simply do whatever he wants. You wouldn’t say he was a good at language/communicator if he never opened his mouth or communicated to you. Therefore, he is not doing everything perfect. He is doing many things very well.

Therefore, you, as he teacher, can determine what you value the most: That he CAN communicate well and chooses not to or that he DOES communicate well.

I support Jeffery’s comment. This is a valuable insight to those of us who use jGR and find ourselves in this kind of situation. In Jeffery’s response can be found the essence of how to deal with the insanity of grading in this comment:

…we are dispelling the thought that one who is gifted intellectually can simply do whatever he wants. …..

That is a valiant defense of jGR and, indeed, it defends the future of the work we are doing here together, as we try to make it clear that in the future language acquisition assessment schools is not going to be characterized by intellectual competition but heartfelt cooperation. That is what jGR is about, and why it is necessary.

And then Jeffery wrote this:

…therefore you, as he teacher, can determine what you value the most: That he CAN communicate well and chooses not to or that he DOES communicate well….

This makes me realize that we indeed are the teachers of our students, as you say above, and that we do what we must to reflect what we see in our students in as honest a way as possible, and that we must assess what is important to us, and we are all different. Hamid succeeds at what he does, Jeffery points out, but:

..he is not doing everything perfect. He is doing many things very well….

This particular comment is at the heart, it describes, the coming changes in language assessment. We still assess in terms of academic gains, yes, but now we are adding into our assessment other things, because it is a language. We are starting to see that assessing kids purely in intellectual terms is not something we can continue to do.

I would add simply to what Jeffery said above that we are not crazy in taking assessment into the realm of observable non-verbal behaviors and tying kids’ grades to that. Learning a language is NOT an intellectual process, but a human one.




8 thoughts on “jGR and Brilliant Non-Communicators”

  1. This conversation makes me think about a book I read over the summer, “How Children Succeed” by Paul Tough. Tough highlights how character traits like grit and conscientiousness are better markers of success (success being determined by having graduated from college in 4-6 years) than high school grades or anything else. Tough also explores how schools have recently experimented with giving “character” grades to students (i.e., KIPP schools). These “character” grades proved difficult to implement, but nevertheless, educators nationally are recognizing more and more the importance of character development. jGR does this, no? I think so. jGR helps us help our kids develop the character traits we value for ourselves, for our neighbors, for our colleagues, for our families, for our leaders.

  2. Nice point about jGR Sean. I don’t see how we can separate out the social from the intellectual and still call ourselves educators. Esp. in what we do as language teachers. It’s so Vygotsky. No language can be learned early on with that Zone of Proximal Development with mom and so are we to teach in a purely intellectual way, measuring only academic gains? Really? There will be no gains if we don’t include the social piece.

  3. While I agree that in written assessment it’s great that a student can communicate and does so well is really awesome, are we not teaching our students to speak the language as well? Each time I have taken students to France, it has been an absolute necessity that the student speaks. Letting a kid mentally check out of class and not speak because he or she doesn’t feel like playing the game isn’t an option for me – sure we all have the days when a kid will mentally check out, but to choose to do so daily because for whatever reason that kid doesn’t feel like speaking isn’t fair to the kids who do bust their asses and speak every chance they get.

    Will every kid I ever teach go to a French speaking country? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want them to be able to talk to people if they get the chance – even if it’s on a gaming platform as many of my students game online and use French there. Unless someone is going to be a recluse, they’re going to have to communicate on a personal level and jGR helps assess that. I’m not grading someone on what they would do if given the chance. In playing the assessment game, I have to grade them on what they do.

    1. Are you talking here about forced speech output, Suzanne? If so, I would disagree. Kids don’t speak because they don’t want to play the game, but because they are not ready. The neurological distance between the mind and the mouth is thousands and thousands of hours long, and we have mere babies in our care with a few hundred hours, a mere fraction of what is required for speech. It is more likely that a child would become a great painter before the age of ten than that a child could naturally and therefore authentically output speech in a language they’ve only heard for a few hundred hours. Forcing speech in such a kid will bring an unnatural gait, a limp (at best) to the kid’s speech. Watch their eyes when they are forced to speak. They go up to the left, searching into the left (conscious/monitored/rational/analytical) hemisphere when all speech, if it is to be authentic, doesn’t emerge from the conscious mind at all but from the unconscious mind. All speech output in CI classrooms or anywhere else must not be forced, is my view. A teacher can’t teach a person to speak a language. They can only provide enough comprehensible input so that the deeper mind, having heard those thousands (10,000 hours or more) of input and when it is ready, having adjusted its petals one by one, will put out speech in the full beams of its beauty, just like the flower in the Petit Prince.

      1. Ben, I’m not speaking about forcing output, but at least playing along with choral response. I know kids speak when they’re ready to, and some will even come practice one on one with me because they want to talk with people in French. I’m talking about kids who make the concious choice to not speak because they’re being defiant or difficult, or because they think participating in class isn’t “cool” and it’s nerdy to play along.

  4. Hey ppl thanks for the comments.

    Hamid would speak to the ladies in Mexico for sure 😉

    My thing here is, since the kid is shy, and since he is not disrupting the class, I am gonna leave him be. I checked in with him during the year, I knew he was in fact learning, etc, so in his case not a problem. HOWEVER as somebody pointed out most kids aren’t like Hamid: I have a few this year and you can tell, no lookie at Mr Stolzie, no learnie, so I have to be all over those kids.

    Hamid’s gonna ROCK this year in gr 11: he is quite the artist and he will be my educreations illustrator.

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