Too Much, Too Little, and Too Late

One of my favorite topics in teaching is grading and the ridiculous amount of time teachers spend doing it.

Not only does the topic address issues with providing corrective feedback and scoring itself (re: grading during planning time, or setting aside a grading day during one’s free time), but the topic also addresses issues with designing a quiz or test, as well as establishing its criteria. Given those factors alone, it’s amazing teachers can do anything other than creating quizzes, administering them during quiz day class time, and then grading them in planning time or at home. It’s too much. So, all this is being done while language teachers *could* otherwise be focused on what students actually need their teachers to do…creating or adapting more input!

Enough is enough. That is, evidence that students have met expectations is literally enough. Anything beyond it is extra. N.B. teachers could instantly halve all quizzes and tests, then go over them in class, reducing all that extra, and still having sufficient evidence. Yet if language teachers are spending their time creating quizzes and tests, administering them, and scoring them, it’s because they like doing it, because if they didn’t like it, they wouldn’t be doing it as much, or at all. Perhaps they think all that testing is required. However, the profession should know—by now—that testing doesn’t cause learning and acquisition. N.B. testing can certainly make kids cram, then produce something that looks like what’s expected. This *might* reflect actual learning and acquisition, but it also might not. Testing doesn’t cause learning and acquisition on its own. Input does, and no one would give a test without first establishing meaning and providing exposure to the language, would they? Hmm.

The profession should also know that corrective feedback doesn’t work. N.B. if there’s contradicting research out there, know that not all research is of equal quality. The evidence from quality research is overwhelming at this point. Any study finding benefits of corrective feedback likely isn’t testing anything long term. Of course, language teachers *should* have the time to get caught up with the research, in theory, but for various reasons—perhaps the time spent quizzing and testing itself—there’s not enough time given to how science can inform best practices. It’s too little.

But testing is now less of a reality for teachers this school year. The COVID-19 school closure craze has changed the game. It has also exposed a lot of issues in education, with equity right at the top. Aside from that, anyone with a pulse on the nation’s teachers right now can see that most are scrambling. They’re scrambling to meet unrealistic school/district demands, and/or scrambling to invent a new way of teaching without any training. It’s too late.

I’ve also observed an almost complete reverting to the pedagogy of yore in that effort to assign online work, fast. What has been a focus on input now seems to be a focus on producing answers, then emailing/submitting them online. What used to be genuine accountability from observing students now seems to be forced and fabricated with sub-par digital substitutes. What has been a supportive and interactive experience now seems to be independent while expectations remain the same. What has been negotiation of meaning and the teacher helping students process input now seems like sink or swim. What has been personalizing/adapting texts to the level of one’s own students now seems to be the sharing and assigning of worksheets and texts meant for someone else’s!

So, what do you plan to do to keep unnecessary testing in check, as well as to keep input and comprehension high?

2 thoughts on “Too Much, Too Little, and Too Late

  1. You raise a lot of excellent observations here. Your last paragraph especially articulates all my worst fears as we brace for the impact of virtual teaching. So how do we keep our zero percent portfolios/input expectations rubric relevant, authentic, and measuring and encouraging proficiency? What (if any) are translatable skills? What skills produce successful online acquisition? Thanks for your time and all you have laid out.

    • I wouldn’t measure proficiency. Instead, stick with expectations, especially whatever the updated ones are. We aren’t grading in my state (MA), and all work is optional. Honestly, though, we should all take a cue from Smith College (at least), that went to Pass/Fail, and nothing from Spring 2020 will factor into GPA. This is unprecedented, and “learning as usual” isn’t realistic.

      Skills? I’m hearing reports of teachers who have maaaaybe 2/3’s of their students completing work online. I don’t think there’s going to be much genuine learning happening.

      The only thing we can bet on is input, and the best we can do is encourage reading. I’m not sure what else we really have control over. What *used to be* homework—that many teachers now avoid for a host of reasons—is now all of the course content.

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