What Even Are Our Goals?

In a comment here last night Alisa said that traditional teachers believe that teaching a language means that kids can:

…[demonstrate] temporary mastery of [ certain vocanulary] terms on interval tests….

She goes on:

…[traditional teachers typically] don’t look for or grade for demonstration of contextual comprehension – certainly not of extended chunks of texts … so that [when a CI teacher like Nancy comes in] with the heavy artillery of demonstrating understanding of extended passages, [her] principal will stand up and take note and wonder what the heck the rest of the WL dept has been doing all these years…aside from handing over lists of words….

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5 thoughts on “What Even Are Our Goals?”

  1. I have been struggling with giving grades since I started teaching 7 years ago. What is it I am measuring? How possible is it to measure what I really care about? My grades feel fairly arbitrary and sometimes unfair. When I assign number or percentage grades I usually feel I am causing more harm than good to a students psyche and to my relationship with that student.

    I have been really thinking about rubrics that grade student behavior instead of “knowledge” or output. I know student behavior shows their attention to the input and their attention to the input will result in their acquisition. We don’t really have to grade their acquisition, right? Language acquisition will happen if they are paying attention, right? So why bother measuring it in a way that makes students feel bad? What if instead I grade their behavior, and then I get better classroom management as a bonus. Or not really as a bonus but as the main thing that allows me to deliver input. This makes sense to me but is a tough sell to admins. What to do?

    I have a version of the jGR/Interpersonal Communications Skills Rubric for class discussions, the Habits of Strong Readers for SSR, Habits of Strong Writers for timed writing. With these rubrics I can reward students for doing the right thing during class time. I just made up point values for the different categories on the rubric and mentally or on paper do a little checklist. It comes out to something I can turn into a number for the grade book.

    I always feel better about those grades based on the rubrics. The rest of my grade book feels random and fake. I can say that here because my admin isn’t reading it, but I also feel bad saying it.

    1. Carly I think our grading schemes are almost identical 🙂 I assign numbers “equivalent” to the rubric assessments so that our system can churn them correctly but the bottom line is that at the end of the course I go back in and change all the grades anyway, because numbers should NOT be averaged in an acquisition class. And I also refuse to assign a rubric number to a proficiency level, like 3 is novice high and if you are not there yet you get a 2. NOPE. The research is clear on individual variation, so why must we penalize students for their individual variation?

      I got talked to last year about my system of having only 3 numbers at any point in the course: interpersonal (which they have the most control over) interpretive listening (assessed on a super simplistic 4 3 2 1 rubric, but NO GRADE ATTACHED…so you get a 100 for doing whatever the task is); then interpretive reading (assessed just like interpretive listening). We also occasionally look at ACTFL guidelines and guesstimate. Kids self-guess-assess and I do too and we have a conversation about what it means and such. Which always leads back to “get more input!”

      I loved this system because I could just update the numbers as we went along. Which basically meant minimal tinkering in the grading system! BUt nooooo….we have to have “several assessments” I think we are required to have at least one per week. Which…DUH…in SLA class assessment happens every second. So I thought it was great to just have the categories.

      I am trying to spend the least amount of time possible thinking about, entering and scheming the grades. It is such an energy suck. But inevitably I get sidetracked by CI teachers who have these elaborate systems and who address every point in ACTFL 5 Cs and the various breakdowns of that. Good lord, I do not want to spend my time cross referencing. Ugh! Then I feel inept and lazy because I just want to have Interpretive reading, listening and interpersonal in the grading system and call it good.

      I am aware of the universally accepted law that “we do not grade behavior.” And I agree with this. But in our classes we are not “grading” we are “assessing” and we are assessing specific observable skills that help individual student attend to the input, in addition to helping the group to maintain an input-conducive atmosphere. I know this is outside the scope of “the research” but “the research” attempts to describe and quantify the mechanisms and causes of acquisition. It does not deal with individual student’s coping and management of externals (all the distractions that prevent them from physically hearing the input and those that prevent them from processing it). Aren’t these issues the biggest elephant in the whole school system?

  2. In the USA most people have taken 2-4 years of a language in their lifetime, yet they show little proficiency and interest in other languages.

    Unfortunately, with the exception of teachers on this blog and those that actively go to conferences like Edcamp, IFLT, NTPRS, I just encounter a lot of teachers who don’t really care. The admin at schools usually doesn’t know SLA, so teachers just keep with the textbook, the kids who “can’t hack it” drop out, the rich kids make it to AP level, those same AP kids are never fluent in the language and life goes on.

    Some teachers try to change the system from within others speak out against the system. What we all agree on is something is very wrong. The challenge is staying positive when you realize that it’s the system that’s messed up.

    Our own classrooms are the only thing we can really change. That’s where the change happens.

    1. AMEN to this Greg!

      “Some teachers try to change the system from within others speak out against the system. What we all agree on is something is very wrong. The challenge is staying positive when you realize that it’s the system that’s messed up.”

      Such a great reminder that each of us is doing what we can in our own spaces! We need to remember to acknowledge this to ourselves rather than fall into the comparison trap! Ha! Saying this mostly to myself 🙂

      Thank you for your wisdom!

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