Translating Isn’t The Problem

When the updated Standards for Classical Languages were shared, one key difference was the near-omission of the word “translating” as an active task, mentioned just once under a description of advanced learners at the postsecondary level (i.e, “Learners conduct research in the target language or assist in the translation of resources for the benefit of others.”), and then appeared in one example learning scenario submitted by a university professor. Granted, these standards have been in draft form—somehow—since 2017, but Latin teachers have been lauding that lack of “translation,” preferring nowadays that students focus more on reading Latin than doing translation exercises. However, it turns out that translating, per se, isn’t the problem…

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Quizzing For Learning vs. Quizzing To Get A Grade

I was talking to a colleague about an assessment idea I had. The scenario began “if I were a math teacher…,” but really, this idea applies to anyone who gives quizzes. Many teachers I observe who assess like this usually hang out at their desk while students take the quiz. Sometimes it’s timed. Sometimes there are “after the quiz…” instructions on the board. In the literature, this is called an obtrusive assessment, with class on pause, sometimes the entire time.

So, if I were to ever assess like that, instead of hanging out at my desk, I’d start circulating the room, stopping at each student to point out a quiz item they should review (e.g., “Ja’den, spend more time on #3”). And I’d do this the entire time, just walking around, essentially doing all the correcting I would’ve done during my planning period, and even providing some feedback. It’s kind of like a more involved individualized Monitor Assessment. My colleague was wondering how this “real-time rolling assessment” would really show what students know and can do. We talked a bit. Questions were asked like “with so much scaffolding, how do we know the student can do anything on their own?” The truth is, they might not, but how is that any different? In fact, during that whole discussion I forgot to consider what the “real-time rolling assessment” was being compared to. That is, how is a give quiz/collect/correct/hand back procedure any different, really, for finding out what a student knows or can do?

It comes down to process.

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Punished By Rewards & Advantages To The Single-Point Rubric

As if researching how to eliminate grading and reduce assessment couldn’t get much better, I’ve now got something else. Alfie Kohn’s 1993 masterpiece really ought to be required reading for every educator. Coming up on its 30 year anniversary, the author at the time reviewed studies dating just as far back to the 1960s. This post is gonna focus on self-assessments. When it comes to students self-assessing, evidence suggests that the more students think about HOW WELL they’re doing (vs. WHAT they’re doing), they do it poorly.

That’s crazy-unintuitive, right?!

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Grades: Going, Going, Gone!

Here’s a quick report having gone nearly 100% gradeless. I say nearly because at my school, the halfway point of the quarter (i.e., progress reports) requires a grade. So, as of right now there’s a course grade that shows up. This practice isn’t quite in line with a true ungrading approach that would have a grade only at the very end of the grading period. I’m nearly there, and have a feeling this is as far as I’ll go, too. But that’s not a problem. There’s already been a big difference in the most important areas, and I expect things to get even better.

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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!