Choose Wisely: Self-Grading & Batch Assessments

Here are more thoughts on assessment in addition to yesterday’s post. They should be timely seeing as teachers are talking about end of quarter exams, and upcoming mid-terms.

So, individually assessing student speaking one-at-a-time in the hall? This is a big waste of time, and here’s why…

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Averaging & Delayed Assessments

My interest in assessment & grading began shortly after the first few months of teaching right out of grad school. I noticed that some students did well with the content from the first few textbook chapters, but others didn’t do so well at all. Thus, beginning the year with low self-efficacy that was hard to turn around. By November, I realized that students were comfortable with the vocabulary and grammar from the first few chapters of the textbook. Then hit me; if I had just delayed those first assessments by a month or so, ALL STUDENTS would have aced them! What is more, the students who actually improved had that lower 1st quarter grade (e.g. C) averaged with the new, higher grade (e.g. A), producing a skewed reflection of their ability (e.g. B). None of this made sense; I was playing gods & goddesses with my students’ GPA.

I began researching how to arrive at a course grade that actually reflected ability—not just the averaging I was familiar with and somehow never questioned (or was even taught about in grad school). I spent months reading up on grading from experts like Marzano, O’Connor, and even some stuff from Alfie Kohn. I moved towards a system that showed where students were at the very moment of the grading term’s end without penalizing them for understanding the content slowly at first, or even having those bad days that students inevitably have. This was how I came to use Proficiency-Based Grading (PBG), and subsequently the kind of no-prep quizzes that haven’t added anything to my planning time in years.

If you’re ready for that, hooray! If not, at least consider 1) NOT averaging grades, as well as 2) delaying your assessments until students have already shown you that they understand the content!

Sample CI Schedule: The Week & The Day

Shifting one’s practice towards providing more input can feel like it’s a daunting task. All of a sudden, certain routines and practices don’t seem to make much sense, especially after looking at how few messages in the target language there might have been on a daily basis! The big picture of what a CI year looks like should be liberating and alleviate concern. Still, there are questions about what happens daily throughout the week…

The Week
– Telling/Asking stories, then reading them
– Learning details about students
– 1-3 unannounced “open-book” Quick Quizzes

The Day
– Routines
– Reading
– Students
– Stories

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Capitalizing on Schoolwide Policies: Behavior Systems

I’ve used DEA as anywhere from 0% (i.e. just rules) to 100% of a student’s grade, including a sliding scale throughout the year. While a few have referred to DEA as a “behavior system,” I prefer to look at it as habits that promote an ideal environment for input and interaction. Whatever you want to call it, students who do DEA, or DEA-like things acquire language (adjusting for neuro-diversity, of course), and those who don’t, make it harder for themselves and/or others. Some schools forbid grading behavior altogether, others report them as “Life Skills,” etc. Still, others implement elaborate behavior systems more closely tied to discipline, etc.

My school has implemented a streamlined version of their behavior system. If you’re wondering why it exists in the first place, there’s good reason. Some of our students had never done a homework assignment in middle school (eso si que es), yet they are all college-bound, so we need to support them. For me, DEA is just rules this year, but many of the behaviors in the streamlined behavior system address my version of DEA (i.e Look, Listen, Ask). As such I’ve decided to begin class with another Call/Response routine (popular this year). Now, this is the kind of thing I would typically do in English, like giving instructions, but it’s just another opportunity for more input using common words, while at the same time supporting students with a school policy:

Demerit

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Assessments: Invalid Validating

If someone says that a particular teaching practice doesn’t work (sharing observations, or research), and your assessments indicate otherwise, there are 2 possibilities:

  1. The other person didn’t have your data set, making a premature claim.
  2. Your assessments are invalid.

While the former certainly occurs, the latter is more prevalent. For example, teachers typically announce tests on X ahead of time, teach X, then test X. Then, the tendency is to draw the conclusion that students know X, or do X well. This is almost never true. An assessment such as this can only show one thing for certain; who studied X for the test…

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Ideas Without Labels: A Discussion Framework

It was John Bracey who reminded me that if either of us just started discovering CI right now, we’d have NO IDEA what to do or where to begin. It was very clear a few years ago when Story Listening wasn’t as popular, and Ben Slavic had yet to write his Big CI Book, let alone create The Invisibles with Tina Hargaden. TPRS wasn’t even promoting its version of MovieTalk, which is now standard practice in its workshops as the easier gateway to story asking. These all have positively contributed in some way to those teaching in comprehension-based communicative classrooms—don’t get me wrong—but the culmination has also made communicating ideas about CI more complicated. For example, the Teacher’s Discovery magazine has begun selling products branded with “CI,” regardless of actual comprehensibility, let alone amount of input, and some methods mention CI while simultaneously drawing from older methods shown to be ineffective (i.e. Audio-Lingual), and aligning practices with the latest publications from the research-lacking ACTFL. This isn’t a jab at ACTFL, it’s just the reality that most of what they promote is determined by committees, not actual research.

There were fewer teachers interested in CI, too, which meant that there were fewer opinions. In a way, it was almost easier beforehand to be dismissed by most colleagues than it has been lately, falling into debate after debate over what used to be quite simple. Professional groups have also migrated to Facebook, a more active platform. Instead of ignoring messages from a single list-serve daily digest email, folks have been receiving notification after notification on their phones, and responding promptly. There doesn’t seem to be as much time as there used to be to absorb ideas, formulate thoughts, and respond accordingly. For example, while my principles about what language is have been refined since the release of Tea with BVP in October of 2015, many teachers are just now discovering that resource, some of whom have been responding on Facebook with their ideas that haven’t had much influence since the 70’s. It’s becoming difficult to communicate ideas about CI clearly.

So, there are a lot of voices now, which is great, but just not that much support, which is not great, and not as much clarity, which is really not great at all. Many ideas I observe being discussed share no guiding principles, yet teachers go back and forth as if they’re the same thing. Most ideas aren’t, or there’s a crucial difference that one or all parties don’t see. There might be a way to move forward together…

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A- in Conjugating, D in Comprehending

**UPDATE 9.28.17** Episode 65 of Tea with BVP, entitled “Does Instruction Speed Up Acquisition,” confirms much of what’s in this post.

I just looked up the 3rd person plural future active indicative form of habēre—or—expressed in a more comprehensible way, I just looked up how to say “they will have.” Before I looked it up, though, habēbunt didn’t sound right in my head. It didn’t sound right because I haven’t received enough input of that word. I also haven’t received enough input of other words with the same ending in different contexts. If I did, I’d have a better chance of being able to extract the parts during my parsing (i.e. moment-by-moment computation of sentence structure during comprehension), and wouldn’t have had to think about how to express “they will have.”

No one dare say that I didn’t study my endings, because I totally did. I got an A- in paradigms. I knew them forwards and backwards, UK and North American order, too! That was after I got a D in comprehension the first time I took Latin because the pace was too fast, and my memory insufficient to learn Latin. Or so I thought…

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