No More Reading At Home! & Look, Listen, Ask: What’s Your Focus?

On my path towards simplifying everything I possibly can about teaching, this next grading idea is quite promising. Don’t get me wrong, my expectations-based grading rubric has worked wonders in terms of flexibility, equity, and efficiency. This new idea just complements the rubric by aligning more of what is expected during class with arriving at the course grade. It also adds more varied gradebook evidence.

In this most-unusual of teaching years, one problem we ran into was how to get evidence of learning, especially when students weren’t in class. The best solution I used was called My Time, the form students filled out to get equal credit by reading on their own and showing their understanding. Otherwise, the typical evidence I collected was fairly simple: upload/share a picture of the day’s “work” done in the notebook. At some point, though, I noticed that students weren’t reading daily from the digital class library—a major course expectation—so I replaced that weekly notebook pic with checking the digital library (Google Doc) and reporting how many days students accessed it. To my disappointment, though not to my surprise, very few students were spending any time at all in the Google Doc. Admittedly, there’s no way to know if the students who did WERE reading, and we gotta take that on faith, but the majority weren’t even accessing the document! So, effective immediately, I’m removing all expectations of students reading at home. This is BIG! However, I’m still maintaining the expectation of reading something old and something new, every day which means the adjustment is to build this into class time for about 5-10 minutes. This is different from FVR (Free Voluntary Reading), which lasts 15-20 on one to two days a week. I like “Free Reading Fridays” and then “Read Whatever Wednesdays” when it really gets rolling. Also, it doesn’t matter if a kid goes home to a peaceful room and naps, then spends hours reading for school, if they go directly to a part-time job, or if they take care of family members. This update is more equitable, and maintains a focus on reading. A simple Google Form follow-up (“What Did You Read?”) is evidence for the gradebook.

But the brain craves novelty

Seriously, anything done every single week is sure to get old and lose meaning, so I need something else to toss into the gradebook. For this, I turn to what’s worked well: self-assessment. Now, I absolutely hate metacognicide—the overloading of asking kids to regurgitate learning objectives, targets, set goals, etc. every single day for every single class—so this needs to be unobtrusive. It turns out that I already have three processes called “class rules” that I find essential for building confidence in a new language, and enjoying the class experience—my only true realistic goals for every student. The processes/rules aren’t graded, although they used to be in my first years teaching. Back then, they were part of a larger system I ended up finding too difficult to manage, and involved too much policing of student behavior. However, I’m coming around full circle to the idea of grading the three processes/rules once again, though from a completely different perspective: the student’s own.

What’s your focus?
Undoubtedly, each student will find one of the three processes/rules will be more difficult to follow. Although I’ve mentioned this to students merely in passing at the start of the year, I’m now making that their sole focus of self-assessment the entire first quarter. Even though all three of these are an expectation of every class, I’m asking students to choose just one at first to focus and grade themselves on, alternating weekly with that “What Did You Read?” Google Form. Students will focus on a different process/rule each of the first three quarters, leaving all three for the fourth quarter, like more of a summative self-assessment.

BuT wHaT aBoUt StUdeNt PeRfOrMaNcE?!?!

These processes/rules have been in place because they lead to learning and acquisition, period. I agree that forcing a student to make eye-contact is neither necessary nor culturally responsive. However, there’s not one example of someone learning a second language who either hasn’t received input, or is confused about the input they do receive. Even if not explicitly stated as “rules,” these processes are at play during language learning, and they’re certainly not too much to ask. Since they’re part of daily class expectations, the practice is more aligned with the course grade at a 1-1 level, with more student ownership (e.g. “You chose to focus on listening. What have you been doing that helps you?”). So again, I’ll ask students to start with the one process/rule that seems most challenging. For example, really outgoing students tend to talk to their classmates, not listen, and then feel like they get behind (because they do, not receiving as much input as their classmates). They should focus on “Listen.” Then, they self-assess every other week.

What’s this look like?
I love Google Forms, so it’s gonna be another one of those. Nothing big, just a check-in asking them to select their focus, and report how well they did, with options to give specific examples, as well as request ideas for how to improve their focus area. It’s possible students really don’t have any useful strategies to improve listening. I can help. On the form, I’ll be using this basic scale:

For those who don’t know, these scores go into a 0% grading category used as a container to hold evidence of learning like portfolio. Scores of 1 & 2 indicate the student needs support. Scores of 3 & 4 mean they know what they’re fine. I’m not even gonna add anything more detailed to that rubric. In fact, I think it’s more than adequate to ask a student to think how well they were listening for a week or so, and for them to come up with a number out of 4. That’s good enough. Besides, grades aren’t the point. The point is having fun, learning, or creating together in class (i.e. the three communicative purposes of language in a classroom). We want to remove grades as much as possible from the equation, albeit they’re necessary, so this system accomplishes that. So, students will end up with about five of these scores and five reading scores each grading term. Then, they’ll use the same input expectations rubric I’ve been using this whole time to self-assess the quarter grade. This rubric includes all processes/rules—still a daily expectation. After all, we can’t have students talking over each other, or off in their own world watching Netflix saying “well my focus is asking, so…” Therefore, even if a student chooses to focus on asking when Latin is unclear for their bi-weekly self-assessment, they’re still expected to look, and listen during class.

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