Inequitable Grading Practices: Averaging

For my third poll in a large Facebook group of 12,600 language teachers in this mini-series on inequity and grading, I asked about averaging. A FRACTION of teachers responded this time, with a total of just 80. Compared to the previous poll participants of 585 for late work penalties, and then 625 for homework, I wonder if this is because averaging is something teachers let the gradebook handle without giving it much thought. Most teachers don’t question homework, but they still play a more active role in creating and assigning it, right? Even setting late policies is something teachers…do. Averaging, though? Looks like we might be in a “set it and forget it” situation. The thing is, the gradebook only does what we tell it to (or its default setting), so if we’re not thinking about that, well…

Poll results had the majority (60) doing some kind of averaging. Let’s unpack all that.

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Inequitable Grading Practices: Homework & Zeros

Like grades, homework in school is just as expected as yellow buses, questionable cafeteria lunch, rank & file desks, band, and of course, football. Homework is such a part of school culture that it’s hardly given a second thought by the teachers who assign it. I’m sure there’s the following definition somewhere, too:

teacher (n.) = Overqualified and underpaid professional who assigns homework over vacation

Unlike using the lens of standards-based grading (SBG) to illustrate the inequity of late work, the inequity of homework should be self-evident: we cannot monitor student learning, and the home environment—if there is a home—differs from student to student. Some of those environments are conducive to learning, and others not so much. When teachers grade homework, they contribute to keeping those with privilege soaring high while those without get hit with more obstacles. Most teachers not giving homework much thought at least understood how to play the school game (whether or not they did it as students, themselves). Therefore, I’m guessing that the thought of not having a quiet space to do homework, the freedom of not needing to take care of family members, or responsibility of working at the family’s restaurant is questioned by probably just 1% of teachers assigning it. And it’s quite possible that in some communities these situations are completely unheard of. Or, they’re just lurking in the shadows, still there.

For the second week, I polled a Facebook group of 12,600 language teachers, this time on their homework grading policies. After about a week, 625 responded. A little under a quarter (139) grade homework one way or another (e.g., completion, rubric, etc.), with the majority of them (109) dropping a zero in the gradebook if not done.

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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

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Things I Don’t Do (That Many Teachers Do)

I haven’t asked students to take out a phone, computer, or interact with tech in over 6 years. Quite frankly, there are too many constant problems and disruptions right down to not having any battery life, and students are getting smacked in the face with tech the rest of the school day. I’m over wasting all that time. I, personally, use free web-based tools daily, like Google Docs, but there aren’t any laptop days, computer lab time, Kahoot, etc. Less is more!

Grade (especially at home)
I don’t really do this at all. Anything with a score is done as a whole-class, anything collected is marked as completed, and any rubric resulting in the course grade is self-assessed by students (I just check those afterwards).

Quiz/Test Prep
I don’t create any quizzes or tests. Any quick quiz in class is determined on the spot, is input-based, and is scored together, making it part of class. These are also collected and reported as evidence, but don’t impact a student’s grade. Instead, they’re used to show trends of understanding (e.g. a lot of 3s out of possible 4 means “most.” This could fulfill evidence for a rubric showing a course grade of an A that expects a student to understand “most” Latin).

Lesson Planning
Talk & Read covers everything students need. The rest is just rotating out weekly routines, and giving a new activity a try every now and then. The more variety a teacher has actually means the less experience they have with those activities! There’s a healthy limit to novelty. Don’t underestimate the power of simple practices.

Different Learning Targets/Objectives
I don’t create new ones specific to each day. Mine never change. The point/reason for/target/goal/objective/etc. of each class is that at least one of three communicative purposes (entertainment, learning, creating) is being met. So, I make sure there’s a reason for all that input & interaction during class, and keep things comprehensible. There’s actually no evidence that different objectives make any difference in student learning, let alone acquiring a language! In fact, if any measurement shows that learning has taken place after just one class/lesson based on an objective, don’t trust it! Delay testing, and give no advance warning. That will tell you what’s been learned and acquired, and what hasn’t.

Speaking The Target Language
If a student responds in English, that’s evidence they’ve comprehended. Case closed, folks! I don’t need to play mind games. There’s actually no legit reason for speaking the target language in class when everyone shares another language that’s easier to communicate in…unless one wants to. Some students want to. Others don’t. To recognize the classroom as any other context would be role-play (i.e. pretending you don’t speak another language). I don’t pretend. I do have systems in place to encourage target language use, as well as curb chatter and lengthy story-like responses in English, as well as stay focused on input, but naw, I don’t need to hear Latin to know students know Latin.

Corrective Feedback
C’mon, self-explanatory. The evidence is really piling up by now!

I don’t expect students to develop any grammar knowledge. I certainly don’t test it. This is a liberating expectation! Grammar knowledge is unnecessary—in any language—and there’s enough to deal as it is with what’s actually necessary.

When working at a job, I don’t mess with anything that isn’t in my control. What goes on at home is completely out of my control as a teacher—no judgement—and I don’t need to punish and chase down students for not doing something that probably lacks a communicative purpose anyway. My only assignments involve reading, and no products are attached to that reading. **Just read.**

I don’t schedule any class time for projects. My experience is that most of the research and work is done in English, which is zero input, and most students get bored after a few of those summative presentations anyway. There needs to be input in the first place in order to make it more comprehensible, right?

From the looks of it, I bet it seems like I don’t do a friggin’ thing. But that’s not true. I spend most of the time creating personalized texts, adapting other texts, and seeking out constant PD—mostly grassroots, from teachers still teaching in the classroom, and who share the same *current* second language acquisition principles that I have. It’s a lot of work, actually, but focused, efficient, and enjoyable. Guess what? My students can read Latin. They even speak it. If that seems impossible—because teachers who do all those things above can have students who understand Latin, yet I do none and get the same results—there’s a magic ingredient. It’s actually the oldest source of success the spoken word has ever known:


We just have to tap into what all humans are hardwired for and prioritize CI, then the magic happens. Now, you might be a teacher who does, in fact, do all those things above, and likes doing them. Carry on. You might also be a teacher who likes some and not others. Unless you’re required—which might be in your control to change—know that you can drop the things you don’t like without any negative impact whatsoever. Try it.

I expect there might be questions. Let loose.

Failing Students (i.e. Denying Experience), “Struggling Students,” and Who’s Doing The Work?

This post seems to address quite a bit, but stay with me. As experts, teachers can design a quiz or test that every student would fail, instantly. Aside from designing those individual assessments, teachers can also design and implement grading systems prone to student failures.

That’s a lot of power.

When teachers fail students, especially when they haven’t been careful with their grading system, they deny students experience. Not only are these students unable to continue with their peers—a major aspect of adolescent development—but they’ll miss out on any electives having to retake the failed course for credit.

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2017-18 Classroom Setup: Syllabus, Rules, & Grading

I’ve been writing about Assessment & Grading for a while. That writing has earned me slots presenting at the local, regional, and national level, which means this is a hot topic not to be overlooked. I’m not surprised. Grading systems influence assessment, which drive content, and even the slightest adjustments can have profound effects on one’s teaching. For example, the simple decision to grade homework comes with considerable baggage…

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NTPRS 2017 Resources

Here are links to my Thursday and Friday NTPRS presentations, and related posts for a) those who attended and are interested in reading more, b) those who slept in past 8am (I am slightly envious of that), but wanted to attend, or c) those who weren’t at the conference at all, but find the topics interesting just the same.

NTPRS 2017 – No Prep Grading & Assessment (PPT)
NTPRS 2017 – Same Skills Different Game (PPT)

Related Blog Posts:
No Prep Grading & Assessment

Same Skills Different Game

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.

Reporting Scores vs. Grading

**Update 4.11.16** See this post for some Grading & Reporting Schemes

If you’re one of the “lucky” teachers who has those classically typical, or absurdly unexpected grading restrictions, I don’t envy you! Nonetheless, the key is to find the wiggle room within these restrictions, and focus on delivering understandable messages in the target language (= Comprehensible Input, CI).

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