Updated DEA

“But it only counts for 10% of the grade” whispered a student as I pointed to our posted DEA rule agreements. I couldn’t believe it. This student really didn’t think it was important enough to Look, Listen, and Ask about Spanish just because I assigned a low grade weight! Over the course of a few weeks, I overheard the same rationale from different students who consistently messed with the CI flow of class. I had no idea 7th graders would be that snarky about grading!

So, I had to adapt my system. My Proficiency rubrics remain solid, but DEA is now 50% of my 7th graders’ Exploratory Language grade (up from 10%), and reduced to two rules; Pay Attention, and Be Prepared. The latter is only used for homework (rarely assigned) or other obligatory school stuff I don’t want in its own category. Otherwise, Pay Attention is our main focus during class. I’ve posted three suggestions on how to acquire a language on a daily basis:


The suggestions provide students with some wiggle room, especially if they had good intentions (like helping a peer), or when the neurodivergent surprise us. So, I point to big posters in my room when someone talks over me or another student, or when I need to quiet the class down after some victory dance funny moment. The posters include a picture of an Eye, Ear, and Hand. This is simplicity and clarity at its best. There’s almost no explanation needed. I usually give a warning, and then it’s -5 points (which anyone can earn back after getting some more CI time with me). If a kid is staring out the window, I’m not gonna call her out. These rule agreements are for students who mess with the class in a way that doesn’t quite require disciplinary action, but certainly disrupts learning. There are stories from the trenches of a kid with his head down who ended up hearing everything that was ever said and gained complete control over the target language to the amazement of everyone. This doesn’t happen often, and most students need some guidance. DEA provides guidance, and now clearer than ever for my 7th graders.

So, what’s changed? Student-wise, they’re called out for not paying attention when disrupting class. Instead of being prescriptive like in some detailed rubrics (perhaps mislabeled “Interpersonal Rubric,” or “Participation”), the student just needs to recognize that they weren’t paying attention. When I had 6 DEA rule agreements, I observed that most students didn’t have enough metacognitive awareness to reflect on the particular agreement they were violating. In the end I just created more work for myself. Teacher-wise, the DEA process is now “are you paying attention?,” point to the posters, make a note, and move on. The big difference here is the reduction of rules. Now there’s no need to track any rules…a simple tally mark on a roster will do.

A Longer Explanation
When I started getting into grading systems, I was working with numerical equivalents of letter grades which went by tens (i.e. 55, 65, 75, 85, 95, and 100 for exceeding expectations). I found that high school students, or at least just the ones in my school, were furious that they could not earn any of the numerical grades between those cut-off values. They were a very anxious ivy-league-bound group that conveniently only worried about Latin at the end of the quarter when grades closed, but in order to make things work I developed my grading system to have DEA account for 10% (i.e. the “missing” numbers between the cut-off values). In the high schools I’ve taught, the students were mostly attentive, or at least not disruptive, and very few students violated a DEA agreement each day (3-4 max). Fast-forward to present day and I’m now in a school with a very different situation and a very different grading need.

DEA is now 50% of the grade, and Proficiency the other 50%. If it were completely up to me, I might even go as far as to grade 100% on DEA and wait until the end of the year to report a Proficiency level using my rubric. I know I know…it sounds totally Bay Area hippie, right? Truth be told, I trust the results I’ve seen from classes focused on messages in the target language delivered in an optimal environment, and DEA creates that environment. Even taking into consideration individual differences that might lie outside of the DEA rule agreements, I believe more and more every day that the DEA rule agreements are causal. When I first used the DEA system the first rule I tossed out was “No Notes.” That rule was designed to emphasize experiencing language, not scrambling to write everything down in order to cram for a test later. Why did I toss it? It doesn’t matter that research says there’s too much cognitive demand placed on students trying to write and listen in a second language at the same time. My students that year needed emotional safety of writing something down even if my assessments were all unannounced and they never consulted their own notebook after class. Students believed that they needed to write something down, so I let them. I must say that those students were the slowest language processors, second guessing themselves when responding to the simplest of questions. The other students just sat back and enjoyed the class experience (vs. consciously learning).

I truly abide by the philosophy of separating out behavior and academics when it comes to grading in education. That is, of course, for everything except languages. Languages are different…waaaay different than other content areas. Despite criticism from those who take issue with grading whether students Look, Listen, and Ask about the target language, I have not known a student who has followed the rule agreements and NOT acquired something. I have known plenty of students who were frustrated because they continuously talked to their friends and didn’t listen or read the target language during class, making it difficult for others to enjoy the target language and for me to enjoy my job. DEA addresses that, and now it’s even easier to use!


14 thoughts on “Updated DEA

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  4. I work at a small private school where I may be able to go all out and grade the “Hippie” way – use DEA in the grade book on a regular basis, then update the grade throughout the term with exit quizzes, and again at the end of the term with a proficiency assessment. I would love to be able to do this – I want their grades to show their proficiency. I am wondering, though, what those snarky students will say when they realize that the DEA grade will ultimately get updated with the proficiency grade after the first term?

    Thanks for taking the time to keep this blog – it is so helpful!

    • Assuming you report quick quiz scores, etc., and grade DEA & Proficiency, DEA will reset at 100 at the start of each term. Proficiency is carried over each term and will increase a level or two throughout the year. I suppose you could also carry over DEA without resetting, which would have a greater impact on the overall course grade through the the year.

      At the end of the year you manually override the overall course grade to reflect Proficiency only (without having DEA grades averaged into that final overall course grade), but not each term. The manual override is to provide clarity within our cluttered, average-based “term” system, but only at the end of the year.

      Does that address your student snarkiness concerns?

      • Cool. You might also consider reporting DEA instead of grading it (just like quick quizzes). In the past I’ve set the DEA weight between 10% and 50%, so there’s no reason not to try 0% if it will work better in your environment. With Proficiency as 100%, the only difference at the end of the year would be to manually change the overall course grade to match the current Proficiency grade (DEA would still be reported each term, but have no affect on the grade, ever).

      • Right – ideally the grade is only proficiency if possible. What is “reporting” – making it a note on the report card in the comments section? If so, that would provide back up to parents and admin as to why the proficiency level is what it is, right? Though then would it lose the leverage that it had to influence behavior because it was part of the grade?

        Also, I am working my way through your longer post from last June on overall grading where you probably answer this, but I assume I would use a Novice Low rubric first quarter, Novice Mid 2nd, Novice high 3rd, and Intermediate Low 4th (for 8th grade Spanish I)? Or, do I pick a different rubric for each student after they have been in class the first few weeks based on how they are processing/acquiring and tell them their goal is to scoot up from there?

        Assessing and evaluations are the last big piece of the CI puzzle for me (in my third year of CI) that I really need to get a handle on. I know my kids are learning language, but 1. there is usually one per section that for one reason or another really shouldn’t move on, 2. some transfer out and need something accurate to place them where they are going, 3. some transfer in (ugh, this is an issue I struggle with), 4. I need something solid to discuss with parents and admin and students to show them their growth – and I don’t have that in place yet. Luckily everyone is pleased with results, my grading is just based on little comp quizzes and growth in their 5-min writings, and no one has raised concerns yet.

        Back to your june post now…

      • Read the latest Reporting Scores vs. Grading

        Definitely read through the 4 or 5 posts covering this stuff, but there is NO WAY your Spanish 1 students will reach Intermediate Low. That is an expectation after 4 years of language in high school that some students never achieve. Just set a Proficiency Goal for each course year (that’s why I’ve been saying that a student might only increase one or two sub levels in one year). For 8th grade Spanish 1, a goal of Novice Mid isn’t unreasonable.

      • Perfect – yes I just read your point about taking two years to get out of Novice. This is so helpful – about everything I have been reading is about the teaching method but I have been struggling with what my expectations have been – I knew they were acquiring but how to judge progress and give it a grade? This has been IMMENSELY helpful. I may even try to see if I can get with the admin and see if they will let me manually change grades for past terms this year…!

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