Assessment & Grading: Game Changers

When teachers complain about their certain practices that create more work for themselves and take time away from students acquiring the target language, my response is usually “well then, don’t use them.” Follow the logic below to arrive at why you need to wrap your head around changing Assessment & Grading practices so that you can use your prep/planning time, and personal life,  for more useful and enjoyable endeavors…

Continue reading

Drum Circle Brain Break

After listening to Annabelle Allen on episode 4 of Teachers That Teach, I’m interested in using more Brain Breaks that are shorter.

Despite how awesome some Brain Breaks can be, like Evolution (i.e. the rock/paper/scissor variation of egg–>fledgling–>dragon etc., most of my high school students are “too cool for school” to do a lot of them. Annabelle’s advice of “just do it anyway because he brain of those who don’t participate is still getting a break” only works if there are few who don’t. Even though I warned my students that they’d wear out their favorite ball-tossing Brain Break, “Mumball,” they didn’t listen and now we’ve killed it. At this point, nearly half the class chooses to just sit instead of participating. So, instead of coming back from the Brain Break re-energized for more Latin, energy has dropped to an unacceptable level, at least for the rigor needed to sustain focus in a second language. It’s time for novel, shorter Brain Breaks.

Drum Circle
Stand in a circle, and in place begin stepping side to side at a comfy 70 to 80 bpm (beats per minute) to establish a group tempo. This should feel more like a dance and less like a march. Begin a pattern together, call and response, this side/that side, and/or individuals add on to the pattern—the sky’s the limit!

This shouldn’t get old as fast as other Brain Breaks because of so much variation. Remember, you can tap, clap, snap, rub hands together, and use your thighs, arms, etc. to make sounds. You could also count in the target language (e.g. “ūnus” <step, step, step> “ūnus” <step, step, step> etc.).

Grading vs. Reporting Scores: Clarification

In the recent sliding scale scheme, Proficiency is given 0% weight at the start of the year. This doesn’t mean that students see “0” in the gradebook. What this means is that their 95, for example (which they see in the gradebook), holds 0% weight because in the sliding scale scheme we’ve placed all 100% weight on DEA for first quarter in order to set expectations and establish routines. By the fourth quarter, 100% of the weight is on Proficiency, and whenever possible, we manually change the entire course grade to that final Proficiency number/letter so nothing else averages throughout the year.

NTPRS 2016: More Changes, More Thoughts

After attending iFLT, I spent another week in Reno at NTPRS. While iFLT offered more opportunities to observe teachers teaching students, NTPRS offered more opportunities to actually BE a student for those of us in the Experienced track. I appreciated the short demos that most presenters gave, even when the workshops were not titled “___ language demo.” There are some game changes here that warrant their own posts  (e.g. embedded readings straight from the source, Michele, Whaley), but I have much  else to report on. Like last week’s iFLT post, this one includes more of what I intend to think about and/or change for 2016-17. They’re organized by presenter:

Alina Filipescu
  • Talk & Move. Teacher says statement (e.g. “I have lived in Europe”), if the statement applies, the student moves (e.g. sits or stands, whichever isn’t happening) & talks (e.g. “it’s me”).
  • Student Jobs – Posters. In addition to posting questions and rejoinders on the wall, also give them to students as jobs. I’ve done The Who (e.g. “quis,” “whoooo”)  as a single student job, but now will make copies of question posters and have students hold up their card when I say the word while pointing. Engagement.
  • Guess/Suggest Signal. Alina’s kids know when she wants a detail vs. discussing.
  • Class Password. When kids don’t know the password, they just get back in line (vs.waiting in the hall or something).
  • Seat Assignments. Tape one set of playing cards to backs of chairs, then hand duplicates out at door while doing Class Password. Could be repeated daily.
  • No Desk Name Tags. No desks? Wear name tags/Circling With Balls paper around neck with some string.

Mike Coxon
  • 3 Ring Circus. I’ve never been interested in doing this until I got to feel what it was like as a participant. Conceptually, it helped me think of 3 Ring Circus as a “TPR loop.” Set up a few kids with a their own sequence of at least two actions (I saw it done with 4). Be sure to include at least one action as a sound, (e.g. whisper like a Parseltongue, the Harry Potter snake language), and vary speed of actions.
  • Selfie HWFor reading homework accountability, students take and email selfie with adult at home holding the reading.

Mira Canion
  • PQA 4 All. Full class thinks about their own Answer to a Personalized Question. From time to time, actually ask class to think of their own answer. This could help re-engage students, and also remind them the point of PQA comparisons.
  • Actor as Professeur. For variety, student actor chooses detail instead of the teacher (e.g. “it’s MY story”) or Le Professeur, a student job.
  • Students Limit Vocab. Get detail from students in order to limit vocab (if they offer, it’s already comprehensible!).
Blaine & Von Ray
  • Teacher as Character. Include self as another character for sake of comparison and exposure to verb forms. In TPRS MovieTalk, the character might not even be in the video clip. This is totally fine.
  • Actor Speech. Actor speech other than the initial one-word response is NOT forced output. Why? We guide actors by whispering what to say, or pointing to the board. They are not expressing their own ideas. They are our prop so the rest of the class hears input from their peer(s) instead of from us all the time. Just remember that they NEED support, and won’t be able to respond in complete sentences without guidance. THAT would be considered forced output.
  • Comp & Con. Check BOTH comprehension AND confidence. Comprehension is about understanding what’s going on. Confidence is more about processing speed and amount of hesitation. Not the same thing, but important for us to know.

Bryce Hedstrom
  • Reading Time. During Silent Sustained Reading (SSR), or Free Voluntary Reading (FVR), Bryce makes a circle and reads to kids who don’t want to read on their own.
  • La Persona Especial (Discipulus Illustris, in Latin). For the first few easy Qs at the start of the year (e.g. name, nickname, age, grade), he asks several students within a single class period. They all just sit in their chairs. In fact, none of the students need to come to the front of the room if they don’t want to throughout the year.
Betsy Paskvan
  • Vary Speed! When students know the first part of your question really well, say it faster, but then slow down for the new stuff. It’s actually insulting to go TOOO slow if everyone gets it. Check on that barometer student for this one.
Michele Whaley
  • Bill VanPatten Dictogloss. Listen to an audio clip (length varies according to level), then retell/recreate as best they can in groups. Repeat. Groups get competitive with this one.
  • Quizlet Live.  This knocks Kahoot out of the water. It automatically groups students who join and there is a series of questions. Each group member has their own (different) response options so the group must work together to find who has the answer, and select it on that device. Groups work at their own pace but race against each other to finish first. You can also import from vocabulary lists.
  • Embedded readings. This requires its own blog post later, but key points are to ALWAYS use a parallel reading (e.g. not just the class story you co-created, or an adapted textbook narrative, but a new one the kids don’t know that includes the phrases/structures from class), the name “embedded reading” is derived from the fact that the lowest version is embedded within the next higher version, and the versions should include new INFORMATION, not just details to make sentences longer/more complex.
Justin Slocum Bailey
  • Yes/No Variation. Instead of asking “does he have X?” which requires “yes/no,” Justin often asks  “he has, or he doesn’t have?” which works really well for Latin, a language that often repeats the verb to affirm or negate without adverbs (i.e. “habet, an nōn habet?”).
  • Non-Targeted Input. This is NOT about “winging it,” or not having a plan. It’s more about context. Talking about Harry Potter because you know kids like it is non-targeted, but choosing that hat-sorting scene from Harry Potter because it has particular verb forms that you want to expose students to is targeted.
  • Spiced-Up TPR. Set up a Harry Potter wand “duel,” or create an obstacle course.
  • Embedded Reading Twists.
Susie Gross
  • Sub Plan Output. Susan Gross knew that her kids wouldn’t get quality input from their sub, and that her kids woudn’t be able to negotiate meaning when reading on their own (even if it’s a “known” story). As such, she planned for output activities during sub days.
  • Trust Actors. USE actors and wait for THEM to do something funny…it’s doesn’t have to always be up to us.
  • Reading is KEY. Reading is one way, or perhaps THE WAY to bring together colleagues who disagree about teaching methods.
  • Delay Gesture. Wait a second after saying something before using that favorite gesture of yours. Give the kids time to process the word, and then use the gesture to confirm in their minds, or jog the memory of those who are slower.
Amy Wopat
  • Picture Predictions. Obscure part of a picture (e.g. edit in MS paint, or place half of it off-screen) for predictions.
Michelle Kindt
  • Tourists. Some students might be in your language class because they intend to travel as a tourist and not pursue it academically. This is totally valid. Others might even be interested in just being a tourist…in your class! There’s nothing wrong with taking a language because it’s fun, even if students have no intention of ever continuing it beyond high school. They should be allowed to take the class just as much as the more academically-focused students.


Why “do you understand?” is pointless to ask.

Language teachers usually ask this when something indicates that a student didn’t understand (e.g. verbal response “huh?” or non-verbal response deer-in-headlights expression on face, etc.). If this event has already happened, asking the question serves no purpose. In fact, it might even make the matter worse by putting the student on the spot. The student will likely answer “yes, I understand” just to get their teacher to move on to someone else. Here are some comprehension check alternatives:

1) Did I just say/ask X?
2) Did I just say/ask X or Y?
3) I just said/asked ____.
4) What did I just say/ask? -or- Who can tell me what I just said/asked?

The alternatives above are arranged by questioning level from low to high (i.e. yes/no, either/or, fill-in-blank, open-ended). The questions could certainly be asked in the target language, but one popular strategy is to ask, in English/native, “what did I just say/ask?” to a so-called barometer student, who would be one with the slowest processing speed. This popular strategy is interesting because that kind of question is technically harder to answer than “did I just say/ask X?” It’s probably a non-issue because we’re dealing with the native language, but for the sake of variety, or if you find that your barometer students are struggling, you could start asking those lower level comprehension checks in English/native as well the classic “what did I just say/ask?”

Grading Scheme: DEA & Proficiency

**See this post for all other grading schemes*

Here’s a new idea inspired by advice I was giving on various DEA and Proficiency grading weights. In other posts, I’ve written how my DEA weight has been anywhere from 0% to 50% of the grade. You could also try this sliding scale throughout the year…

Quarter 1
DEA = 100%
Proficiency = 0%

Quarter 2
DEA = 50%
Proficiency = 50%

Quarter 3
DEA = 10%
Proficiency = 90%

Quarter 4
DEA = 0%
Proficiency = 100%

A grading scheme like this would establish very clear expectations of how important it is to exhibit behaviors and routines that lead to language acquisition in class (e.g. Look, Listen, Ask). This would work best if you have the admin support to manually override the final grade with just one Proficiency grade from Quarter 4, as suggested in other iterations of my grading systems. Why? We don’t reaaaaally want the 4 quarters to be averaged, but if they are it’s not the end of the world. This kind of grade is far more forgiving so the focus can be on input and not assessments.
N.B. Proficiency is given 0% weight at the start of the year. This doesn’t mean that students see “0” in the gradebook. What this means is that their 95, which they see in the gradebook, holds 0% weight because in the sliding scale scheme we’ve placed all 100% weight on DEA for first quarter in order to set expectations and establish routines.

5.12.16 Tea with BVP Takeaways

It’s good that my goal wasn’t to summarize and respond to every point made on each Tea with BVP show. Why? Of all the shows, the recent Season 1 Finale had treasure troves of gold to respond to. Several of those nuggets stand out for me…

Authentic Texts
I agree completely that too much emphasis is being placed on authentic texts.  The readers for whom those texts were written possess far great proficiency than your average student who won’t make it out of Novice High by the end of high school. This issue is near and dear to my heart given the Classical canon I was expected to study. For me, this case is closed, but I am more than eager to talk about highly-adapted authentic texts for the Novice through the creation of tiered embedded readings. I utterly reject the mantra of “edit the task not the text,” which I first was introduced to in grad school via Shrum & Glisan’s Teacher’s Handbook: Contextualized Language Instruction.

Grading & Assessment
Two points were made; 1) whole language assessing, and 2) not grading engagement. Bill doesn’t isolate language (e.g.pronunciation, grammar,  etc.), and instead just assesses communication holistically given a goal. This is great example of what I’ve recently heard as “authentic assessment,” and eliminates the need for too many limited assessments with multiple rubrics, etc.

In terms of grading, there are many teachers using participation rubrics to assign a grade. Bill talked about why we should avoid that. See what Terry Waltz has written about on Nuerodiversity. You might be familiar with my DEA system variation, which has accounted for anywhere from 0% to 50% of a student’s grade in different teaching environments in the past couple years. Previous versions of DEA focused on specific routines and behaviors students had to do or else they would lose points. I’ve now moved to only focusing on poor routines and behaviors that inhibit acquisition, or make it harder for other students to acquire. Shy kids do just fine in my classes, but wouldn’t do so according to certain participation rubrics out there. If you use those kinds of rubrics, try to find other evidence that proves the shy kid knows your target language, and grade accord to that.

Bill’s preferred phrase is frequency of input instead of repetition of input. There’s not much difference between the two terms…or is there? The former could discourage certain practices that don’t lead to acquisition, for example, repeating a phrase to ensure that it’s acquired. As Bill noted, certain learners will acquire a word after only a few utterances, while others need thousands of repetitions. Thus, frequently using phrases for the sake of frequently using phrases might be overkill for one kid, and nowhere near what another needs. Since there’s no way to know for sure, the logical solution is to not worry about that, and instead focus on meaning.

The TPRS community advocates for what I’ve seen mentioned as “dense CI via repetition.” I agree with this. What I don’t agree with is stressing over those repetitions, or forgoing genuine communication in pursuit of “getting reps.” There are tactful ways to expose students to phrases without overdoing it, or to avoid repeating phrases so artificially that it becomes transparent to the students what you’re doing (re: consciously learning, and getting bored quickly). Some would argue that our limited classroom time calls for a hyper awareness of massive numbers of reps, or “optimization,” as I’ve seen it put. It might, but it also might not. Eric Herman gets amazing results from teaching with “less massed repetitions in favor of more spaced repetitions.”

Non-targeted Input (“just talk a lot and have fun”)
A classic TPRS practice is to choose 3 target structures (phrases) to use in storyasking. A different perspective on choosing 3 target phrases would be taking Bill’s advice of “just talk a lot and have fun,” yet limiting the number of new phrases. For example, let’s say I have a few phrases in mind on Thursday, so I begin class discussing a topic naturally. Within a few minutes I look at the board and noticed I’ve used 3 new phrases. At this point, I’m done. It doesn’t matter what phrases I had planned…students cannot retain too much new input, and we’ve already used them up. Since I limit to 3 phrases (Terry Waltz has even recommended just 1 new one and working from there!), this non-targeted input also aligns with the concept of “shelter vocabulary (unshelter grammar).” I think that both those who target a few phrases and those who don’t (yet limit the number of new ones) are actually successful because of this same concept.

Because I allowed students to drive the discussion, not only was that an example of student-centered teaching, but it’s also what I call “compelling diversions.” Compelling eclipses Curriculum in return of investment, every time (just ask any teacher who planned something that flopped). Since Bill’s advice of “just talking” inevitably includes the most frequent language, there is no damage done. Eric Herman also states that he teaches using “unplanned, non-targeted, sheltered vocabulary.” Check out these speaking results he shared recently.

There are many reasons to target, and many reasons to repeat phrases so students receive understandable messages. Given these last two points from the show, however, the biggest takeaway for me is that it doesn’t matter TOO MUCH 1) how many reps of 2) particular phrases I’m using…the Net will take care of it if I “just talk a lot and have fun.” Maybe this is providing CI smarter, not harder.