You may have read that my new “one grading system to rule them all” essentially has a single standard, Proficiency. This is because I am no longer convinced that students need to practice anything in order to acquire a language. If you believe students need to practice, SBG will work for you, but I don’t buy it, and neither does VanPatten. This concept is so utterly counterintuitive to traditional language teachers, you probably need to spend some time thinking things over before developing your teaching philosophy.
Krashen’s work also distinguishes between unconscious acquisition and conscious learning. Latin teaching typically has focused on the latter. This is why most of us can conjugate verbs or identify noun-adjective agreement, yet require commentary (and sometimes a grammar, AND dictionary) just to read most Latin. The focus on conscious learning also the reason you hear people lament about taking Spanish in high school, but forget most of it by now. They probably never knew it…they just learned about how the language worked, participated in paired speaking activities or dialogue performances, studied some discrete cultural facts about various countries in South America, and memorized items for an announced test. This does not result in acquisition. Consciously learning how a language works really only applies to Linguists analyzing language, or the few weirdos (= most language teachers) who get giddy over knowing about grammar. Language rules are unnecessary for most when it comes to true proficiency and communicative ability (interpretive reading is a form of communication, too).
Standards Based Grading is largely a system of conscious learning with a huge emphasis on metacognitive skills. Students clearly see their performance visualized, identify areas of improvement, make goals, and do something to improve their mastery of a standard. This is great for the development of the adolescent mind, and encouraged by school administration, but does little, if anything, when it comes to picking up languages. There is no opportunity here to “become lost in the flow of language” like getting lost in a good book. In other content areas (perhaps all of them) SBG is the best grading system out there, but when it comes to languages, there are drawbacks. Here are a few observations of using a full SBG system in a language class:
- SBG presupposes that students are as excited as you are to be using the grading system (conf. how language teachers typically feel about grammar…we don’t represent most people).
- SBG encourages the isolation of language skills that aren’t really separate processes, even if we divide them into different rubrics.
- It’s really easy to fall into the trap of choosing grammatical objectives as your standards.
- More standards means more assessing, and more assessing typically means less acquiring.
- Students are encouraged to “practice” skills, which research shows is largely unnecessary.
- In a CI classroom, students naturally gain proficiency regardless of the grading system.
The final point is perhaps the most compelling. There is a quote floating around educational circles about “weighing a pig more often doesn’t make it fatter…you need to feed it.” This is what I see in language classrooms. The CI is our food, and students will grow plump full of it. The best grading system, then, is the least restrictive/obtrusive, not the most complex/comprehensive.
I caution that using a nicely packaged grading system, such as SBG, might be confused with producing results, when it really was the CI that did the job. In some cases, SBG encourages old ideas about practicing language, and if CI isn’t rich enough, the system will actually impede student progress. Why put all that effort into developing an SBG grading system if it doesn’t improve acquisition?