Year In Review: Updated Grading w/ Standards

My one-standard-self-assessed grading system of receiving input (re: Input Expectations rubric) has been working out just fine for several years now. “Fine” is…well…fine…but we as educators should be open to refining practices whenever we get new data, especially whenever “fine” has the opportunity to become something awesome. This year I was able to do something better, getting ever so close to that awesome. If what I’ve been doing could be considered 85% of the way towards equitable, time-saving grading that shifts focus to learning, I’m now at probably 90%.

These updates are the result of some research I’ve been doing using primary sources from Grading For Equity (Feldman, 2018), Fair Isn’t Always Equal (Wormeli, 2018), Assessment 3.0 (Barnes, 2015), Hacking Assessment (Sackstein, 2015), and Ungrading (Blum & Kohn, 2020), along with 20 or so additional research reports on related topics. Updates included introducing new standards one-by-one, and their values changed throughout the year. The system also moved from 100% self-graded to 100% teacher-graded. I’m keeping some of these updates for next year, but more on that later on. Let’s take a look at those standards, first…

Process
Process refers to the things students *must* do to acquire language. It’s basically what the Input Expectations rubric was all along years before. Rather than a set of bias-ridden controlling rules that have circulated the language teaching profession for some time, though (e.g., “eyes up front, nothing in laps/on desk, intent to understand,” etc.), there is no dispute that students need input, and there are only three modes of doing so: reading, viewing, and listening. That’s it, and there’s no way to distill it further. Since a focus on providing input requires plenty of time and energy, there’s not much convincing reason to do or grade much else. Therefore, my grading system aligns with the instructional design 1:1.

The processes found in the older Input Expectations rubric have been 100% of my students’ grade for years. Students self-assess how well they’ve been receiving input about four times per year, and that’s it. How do they receive input? Well, I’ve been working under the Look, Listen, Ask framework, but have now separated out the latter into a workflow of Respond/Show/Ask. If students Respond (target language takes priority, but English is fine), we’re good to go. If they can’t, students Show their understanding (e.g., gestures, expressions, etc.). If students can’t do either, though, then it’s time to Ask. This update has the benefit of getting more engagement from students without requiring some kind of “choral response” rule. Also, the students who can respond—but choose not to—start to realize it’s easier to do so rather than having me check their comprehension (because I didn’t get any data and no data is bad).

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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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One Doc, One Form, One Assignment, One Rubric, One Grade

**Any mention of Google Docs means them being used as screen share during Zoom—what was projected in class—NOT for any student editing.**

This year, I’m pushing the boundaries of streamlining teaching. For years, my students have used one rubric to self-assess one grade at the end of a term. Google Docs have always been my in-class-go-to for organization and providing input, but a few updates have resulted in magic…

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Basics: Current Ideas & Summary of Recurring Blog Posts

All Of My Daily Activities, etc.
– input-based strategies & activities

If this stuff interests you, consider putting a few things in place to support the move towards a more comprehension-based and communicative approach. Here are the practices fundamental to my teaching, making the daily stuff possible:

Core Practices
CI
Grammar
Textbooks
Curriculum
Grading
Look, Listen, Ask
Course Grade
Assessments
Speaking & Writing

Continue reading for explanations of each…

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