Averaging scores benefits only two kinds of students: those who show understanding consistently, and those who come into the classroom already understanding the content. If by chance the inequity of that is unclear, let me explain…
Let’s start with every other kind of student, like the one who comes into class with less understanding—for any reason outside of the teacher’s control—broadly described as being less-privileged. A less-privileged student with lower understanding will have lower scores than a more-privileged student who already has more understanding. This is a fact. As the year goes on, the student with lower understanding certainly has the potential to learn content and get higher scores. However, when all the scores are averaged, the less-privileged student will have a lower grade even if making large gains over time.
Now, consider the kind of student that averaging benefits: one who comes into the classroom already understanding content and who starts off with high scores, not low ones. As the year goes on, this already-successful student will have their high scores averaged, and end up with a higher grade than a less-privileged student even if making zero gains over time. This last point is a research interest of mine, and one that isn’t given enough attention when we talk about grading for equity. Whereas the common thinking with a standards-based approach is that it doesn’t matter how a student learns the content and meets the standard, only that a student learns the content and meets the standard, such thinking doesn’t account for any massive gains that still fall short despite conditions outside of school. Nor does such thinking address the already-successful student who can meet the standard with no effort at all. Granted, grading effort/participation is generally a no-no, but what message is being sent if a student can meet standards without learning anything? If they’re privileged enough to have knowledge and understanding, where does individual growth come in when you think of the lifelong learner that so many schools claim to produce?
For a few years now, I’ve been starting class with a calm, focused, 5 minute task for students to do while I take attendance and recover from our not-much-transition-time between classes. This is crucial. I greet students at the door—itself a high leverage practice that tells us so much about how a student might be doing that day and what their needs are—then, when official class time begins, I walk in, and project the task. I say nothing to begin. There’s no corralling, no raising my voice, no vying for attention. Students know that once the greeting is projected, it’s time for Latin. If anyone’s still in that “class transition” mindset instead of a Latin class one, I casually walk around, perhaps supplying them a pencil, pointing to our scrap paper area, or motioning towards the task, and we’re off and running with the start of class. This is part organization, part content, and part classroom management. N.B. this opening all takes place on my projected ONE doc. See this video from 2020 for more details. It’s basically stayed the same, even with in-person teaching.
What’s the task?
Nine out of ten times it’s to copy the date, weather, and a short greeting into notebooks added to throughout class, which serves as some optional portfolio learning evidence. This is the start of the weekly sheet/packet routine. While I no longer use weekly sheets, many things that used to be on them still end up in a student’s notebook, just with less structure and repetition. I like the flexibility now to include all of the weekly sheet content during a given class, or none of it besides the date. Last year, I added a note or two below the date, or some commentary about the school week’s or day’s agenda. This whole idea is really an indispensable way to firmly anchor the start of class, especially when there’s some kind of short task to get things going. Recently, though, I was thinking how to use this class opener for a more robust text. Nothing fancy, but there’s opportunity there. Here are my ideas for this year:
- Magister P [discipulīs/classī Venetae/omnibus, etc.] salūtem dīcit
Yeah, why not? If students have been copying “salvēte omnēs” all these years, might as well infuse some conventional Roman stuff each class. We rarely have characters writing letters to each other in class stories, but maybe we could start!
- More weather descriptions & Q/A adverbs
Instead of “pluit” or whatever, some commentary/question about rain would be a nice springboard for a quick discussion. In terms of adverbs, I’m thinking of drawing more attention to the Q/A posters by using phrases such as “mihi haud placet.”
- Center piece: “describe the object, in Latin”
Several years ago, I started Friday classes with a “guess what it is” or “what’s in the box?” kind of prompt. Drawing from that idea, I’ll either place an object on display, or put an image of something below the day’s greeting, having students describe what they see. This is a different kind of writing we don’t do much of, and I’m hoping that doing more of it will produce rich descriptions of items and characters in our stories.
Set up a portfolio in the gradebook to collect evidence that has no direct impact on a student’s grade. I should sound like a broken record for those who have known me for the past decade or so, but it’s an iron-clad solution. Here it is in just four steps:
Just like Slide Talk—one of the updates that will forever replace the physical version in my teaching—this self-assessment guide is a big upgrade when it comes to grading time…
Recently, I was reminded of a particular conversation I observed many different teachers having last spring. It went something like this:
“How fair is it to the students who did the work if everyone gets an A?”
There’s a lot to unpack there. First of all, it assumes “the work” was reasonable for all students to complete, at home. Let us not forget that any graded remote work was essentially a 100% Homework grading category—something no K-12 teacher in their right mind would ever consider. So, fairness…
Today, I greeted students at the door as usual, waiting for their class password and making a personal connection before class. When the bell rang, I went to my desk, a bit like Vanna White drawing attention to the projected “Do Now!” with the instructions to read a new text I had placed on each seat. After a minute or so, I began walking around with a clipboard marking a) who was reading, b) who wasn’t/who was talking, c) who was coming in late, and d) who was absent.
This went into the gradebook.
Here’s a variation on the 4 statement T/F Quick Quizzes that have freed me from unnecessary quizzes and tests; I’m able to focus on providing input, and making that input comprehensible.
Instead of T/F statements, this is a contextualized vocab quiz. Project a text, ask students to read it, and then underline, circle, or just tell them which words/phrases to write an L1 equivalent for. Upgrade? If you have time, write a parallel story based on whatever text students have already read. As always, these should be self-scored by students using some colored pens along with a discussion in the target language, which you then collect and put into the gradebook with 0% weight (e.g. a “Portfolio” grading category set to 0%).
Use these input-based quizzes along with the original T/F Quick Quizzes and the K-F-D Quizzes, and you’ve now varied your assessments a tad more without any sacrifice to best practices in providing input. They also might make for a quick follow up to a Discipulus Illustris Truths & Lies!
Use these quizzes to satisfy those school requirements that have nothing to do with acquisition, yet everything to do with teaching expectations. K-F-D Quizzes allow you to put a number in the gradebook that builds confidence instead of shattering it, while also providing input. Alternate with something like Quick Quizzes to vary your quiz-types a little bit without any prep.