“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!