Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Standards Based Grading and My Classroom Practice


Grades. Assessment.  The pile of papers staring at me, just waiting for me to put little marks on them, then enter some more marks in the computer, so that kids and parents can ignore, celebrate, or argue  about (with each other or with me, depending on family culture).


Doesn't it just feel overwhelming sometimes?  And I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it!!! (Click here for information about what goes in my gradebook, here for how I grade reading and listening quizzes, and here for how I grade writing.)

I recently attended a 2 day seminar on Standards Based Grading with Rick Wormeli. (It was awesome.)  I am not at all new to his work and ideas, and I have spent time with proficiency based grading (a la Marzano- two full seminars).  I am also enrolled in an edX course (offered by the MIT teaching and learning lab) about Competency Based Grading.  Since the term ends in a few weeks, I am looking at end of term grades, my grading practice, my assessments, and trying to make sense of my new learning.   So, this is more of a personal blog post, with less practicality and more reflection.

 In no particular order, here is my attempt to process what I came away with:

Schools conspire against learning. Yes, well, this is so patently obvious it almost doesn't need commentary.  If I could just teach, and be free of the arbitrary nature of so much of my job, I would be a better teacher and I think the kids would acquire more.


Never sacrifice sound pedagogy because someone above you isn't there yet.
Yes.  Yes. A MILLION TIMES yes.


Sorting or cultivating? Is one better than the other?
Isn't that language super judgmental?
Are we here to sort or cultivate students?  I think I am here to cultivate students. So what am I doing that is sorting? Is sorting a negative word? Thanks to my colleague today who pointed out that it doesn't have to be negative.  When I differentiate, isn't it sorting?

Is it sorting to put a judgement on a product (an assessment, a project)?  Wormeli argues yes.  He argues that judgement does not promote learning.  But that assumes that students have control over their own learning, which is true for learning that involves the explicit system (math, science, other subjects) but not true for the implicit system of language acquisition.

I believe that giving feedback isn't going to affect their acquisition, especially not at the levels I teach (mostly 1 and 2).  Giving feedback on what they can control- that is, behavior that supports language acquisition...well, now we are getting into compliance.  And that is messy.

On another note: if I am teaching to cultivate, what about tracking students?  (My school has two tracks of math and Spanish.)  This brings up a lot of personal stuff for me because my experience with school was terrible and consisted of virtually no differentiation until there were honors classes that I could go into.  (I dropped out of public school and went to college at age 16.)  Now that I teach honors classes, I strongly believe that I am serving the kids better by splitting them up by proficiency, and meeting them where they are at.  But this is a very unpopular view, and I can see why.  I am going to have to put that one aside for now.

Compliance or competency?  MESSY!  
Compliance vs. Competency: It is MESSY.
Some of my peers and trainers argue that we should never grade for compliance (engagement), because that has nothing to do with their competency. And what about neuro-diverse students?   Others say that we should not grade their competency because they have no control over it, but we should grade what they can control (behaviors that support language learning), which is basically compliance.





Assessment is where we live our values. This resource, from the indominable Tina Hargaden, comes at just the right time.  But it brings up some difficult questions for me.  Am I grading too hard? Am I accurately assessing their proficiency levels?  Am I falsely inflating or deflating grades?  How do I know what proficiency levels look like?

Because if I am being honest, according to Tina's rubrics, I grade WAAAY low.  But I am consistent within my department, and within myself.  This is important to acknowledge, and a thought that I come back to again and again.  Scott Benedict's trainings on assessing freewrites helped me solidify this.  For more information, check out his work at Teachforjune.com.


I am already using standards based grades, and I think that my grades finally (mostly) represent what students can do and understand.  Whew. What a relief.  I have worked SO hard on this. And this is the best year so far, in that my students' reported grades really do seem to reflect their proficiency, not their organization or compliance. Sure, I can improve, but I feel like I am on the right track.  Even if I am trying to squeeze into my school's 100 point averaging system.

If I believe that students have no control over the rate at which they acquire language, I should not be grading them. Period. Full stop.  
Ouch.  And yes.  But reporting what they can do is valuable, both for them and for me, and required in the school system.  And I do like to see what they can do, and so do they.

Corollary: If students can't control what they acquire, why am I spending so much time and effort on this assessment stuff?  I mean, weighing the pig more often does not make it fatter.  
Oh wait. Because this is actually part of my job. Hmm.  Refer to my first point.  However, it does give me some peace thinking that my goal to load up the input, create a community where students feel valued, recognized, and successful, and where I love to go every day (because I have the time for self-care and self-reflection), is actually where my time should be spent.  And the majority of my assessments *should* be input-focused.  (Thanks to Lance Piantaginni for helping me see the value in input-based assessments.  After all: more input is always a good thing.)

I am so grateful to not be tied to a fixed schedule of summative assessments that are worth a certain percent and are unrecoverable.  However, I *am* still tied to getting enough grades in the grade book.  And "citizenship" as a grading category. (Can you hear the scorn dripping from my voice? This is one school requirement that really chafes at me.)




The assumption that students can control their language acquisition is incorrect, and the assumption that giving them descriptive feedback will help is just plain wrong.  Sorry, Rick.  
It might not be wrong for subjects like math etc. that rely on explicit learning, but the nature of second language acquisition is different.  Thanks, Bill VanPatten, for helping me get real clear about this.  So I am not going to spend a ton of time giving them feedback.  The payoff isn't that great for the time spent, especially when I could spend my time taking care of myself so I can better connect with kids, or finding interesting, compelling things to talk about with them, or trying to build my skills to speak so that they understand me.  Because those actions actually will help them acquire more.

Which leads me to some classroom practices that I am re-examining: 




Student Learning Objectives: 

Oh man, we love our objectives, don't we?  Many teachers have to have different ones daily, and track each student through each one and blah blah blah.  I am (once again) very grateful to work at a school where they are not required.  I developed them anyway, and every time I go back to teach a unit again, I look at them to decide if they still have meaning.  I think it is important that the kids know what the end goal is, even if it is very broad.  In fact, I hand them out to the kids to glue in their interactive-ish notebooks, and even post them as part of our starters.


In the first few weeks of the year, I ask students to self-reflect on their learning daily, usually based on the starter we did, and discuss what objective it was checking and what they can do to acquire.


But I stopped doing this around around October. I stopped because I would rather speak Spanish and ask how they are doing and just converse, not meta-process something over which they have no control.  Plus, twice a week, my starter is FVR/SSR, with no paperwork for the kids.




Another reason I stopped going over objectives was because the answer to "how will you move up the proficiency ladder" is ALWAYS more input.  I can remind kids of where to find that input (in class, on my class web page, during office hours, etc.) and that they can access it without anyone else, but the answer never changes.  And I felt like a broken record.  (There might be value in that though.)  It can be useful to have the discussion about the value of "practice", quizlet, and "write sentences". (That is, if it is input, it's great.  "Practicing sentences" or flashcards on quizlet , probably not.)


What I changed: After returning from the Wormeli workshop, I intentionally decided to refer to the objectives again in each class, and give the opportunity for self-reflection of progress.  My high-anxiety, high achievers really liked it.  Most of the others seemed to be confused and/or tuned out. And it took SO MUCH TIME!!

My verdict?  I think that I will continue creating and sharing objectives, and when the mood strikes, ask the kids to look at their progress and the objectives (through the starter), but it is not going to be a daily thing.  Maybe weekly?

Target structures, rubrics, and feedback:
I often ask students to write quick freewrites (10 minutes) at the end of the unit and incorporate the target structures from that unit. For first year students in 7th grade and Spanish 1B (8th grade) I decided that students being able to use the structures as practiced (3rd person) was proficient, as that was mostly what they were reading in the units, and seemed reasonable.  The application of using different endings to the words to talk about self and others seemed like an advanced goal, for writing. So that was my rubric.  I also graded more holistically on a modified ACTFL rubric (basically this from Martina.)   

Now, I have been using this target structures rubric for four years, and never loved it.  What if they use two correctly and forget the third?  Wormeli would perhaps say that I should disaggregate the grade for each in the gradebook to give a better reflection of their learning.  Well, that is great if you are working on different skills in a different subject,  but since I know that language is acquired in messy chunks, and the stages of development are fixed and also messy, and that kind of feedback won't help with acquisition, disaggregating seems like a poor use of (my) limited time.

 Wormeli says that descriptive feedback is helpful. I am doubtful about this assertion regarding language acquisition, but I do see the value in showing students where they did or didn't meet the expectation.

What I changed: I decided to ask the kids.  I took 10 minutes of class and just told them what I was thinking, and asked if the target structures rubric was helpful for them.  They said that they wanted to know which words they were using at what level.  I suggested that I just give them feedback- a checklist and grade them holistically on the ACTFL rubric.
This is the new rubric- this DOES NOT go in the grade book!


It was so smooth for me to grade in this last round of writing, and they commented how useful it was to see what they were doing right.  So that's a keeper!!!

Proficiency levels
Posters on my classroom wall
The last thing that I decided to change up this week was to spend a little bit more time in L1 talking about proficiency levels.

I spend almost a whole day at the beginning of the year having students work on an activity that introduces them to proficiency levels. (See examples below.)  I will write about what I do more specifically- I even have a video- but for now, suffice it to say that I explicitly teach about the ACTFL levels at the beginning of the year, and discuss with kids and families what their goals are (for June).

I also use rubrics with proficiency levels on them already, and I do talk to the students about what they mean.  But am I doing it enough?  This is what I wanted to find out.


Proficiency Project in the hall
I do this at the beginning of the year
(Novice High)
Novice Low
Intermediate  Mid



I decided that after giving a writing quiz, I would take the kids out to the hallway where I have their proficiency level projects hanging.  I asked them to re-read their quizzes and mark on the rubric where they thought they were, proficiency-wise, based on the rubric and the examples we did at the beginning of the year.


Like this adorable cat that doesn't quite fit into his box, kids taught in comprehension based communicative
classrooms don't fit nicely into ACTFL levels.

Now, there is a MAJOR problem with this.  If you have been focused on providing compelling, comprehended input in your classes, you can probably guess what it is.  ACTFL proficiency levels, originally developed for a non-educational context, don't play nicely with kids who get tons of input and start writing paragraphs almost immediately.  They tend to skip novice low completely and speed through novice mid, at least in my experience and understanding.   Depending on the teacher, they might start writing paragraphs in a variety of time frames.
Yes, it is usually messy, but as Tina Hargaden reminds us, novice and intermediate writers need a sympathetic reader.  (And remember, there is no such thing as an error, only an indicator of the developmental stage the learner is in. Again, thanks to BVP for reminding me of this.) So is their writing indicative of micro-fluency, and thus they are really not intermediate low or mid?  Tina has a strong case for the opposite- that teachers constantly rate their students too low.  I am still really struggling with this, and have been for years.

That being said, is this a worthy struggle for me as a teacher?  Does it *really* matter if my kids are novice high or intermediate mid? It is probably not going to change what I do.  I am still going to give them a huge diet of comprehensible, comprehended input, including fiction, non-fiction, academic language, adapted authentic resources, music, etc.

I mean, common language is great but totally meaningless if other teachers have different interpretations of these same words.


Friday, January 25, 2019

More secret input! (post-story or reading activity)

Here is a secret input activity that I decided to do when I was exhausted and trying to teach on crutches.  Note to self: stop getting injured!!!  This, plus FVR and a post-reading review activity, took up a full hour and they didn't finish.  Hooray, Monday plan!  This secret input activity, with storyasking, was 2+ days.   It qualifies as Some Prep, in that you do have to take pictures, print them, and make a response sheet.

Secret input + being out of their chairs!
Day 1: First, I asked a story.  This story was one I created to teach some structures  for  Brandon Brown Quiere un Perro, and if you have the teacher's guide, it will soon be (or already is!) part of the online supplement.

It was one of those days where I finished the story mid-class, and had to come up with something to do for the rest of the hour.  You may be familiar with this!  Luckily, Martina Bex has lots of great suggestions for what to do in this post:  The story is done but class isn't over.

This is a mural.  
I had the kids grab mini white boards and markers, and introduced a mural to them.  (This step, for me, is really important because they tend to draw comics or more linear drawings, and I wanted something different for this activity.  We draw comics all the time.)  Murals are: non linear, with events happening in different places, all different sizes.


I retold the story from memory (which helps me remember for later when I type it up) while they drew.  I quickly took pictures of each mural.


SOME PREP:  The next day, I typed the story up and made copies for each kid.  Then I quickly imported the murals into google drive* and made a slideshow that could be printed.** I printed it in black and white.Finally, I created this response sheet: 

Click for a downloadable version!  


In class, after some FVR and reviewing the story as a class (this day, I did a volleyball translation, but  you could do any kind of oral reading activity with them or skip it and go straight to the secret input), I posted the murals around the room and gave kids a copy of the story.  They walked around the room, quickly sketching, and started finding the sentences and translating.

Some thoughts about this:  
It took a while for kids to do- longer than I was expecting.
Students were 100% engaged.
They can self differentiate- choosing the sentences that they feel like they can translate.
Some of them went around the room and did all the illustrations first (and then moved on to the next sections),  some did illustration-sentence, and some did illustration-sentence-translation, in that order.

Truthfully, I am playing around with using it as a reading assessment and assessing their translations, but I haven't decided.

STEPS for Murals/Read the Room
1) Find or create a text.
2) Explain what a mural is.
3) Read it out loud and have students draw the action as you read (or retell).
4) Photograph the murals.
5) Create a quick slideshow (or otherwise find a way to print them) and print the murals. (see below for Tech tips)
6) Give each student a copy of the text and the response sheet.
7) Hang the murals around the room.
8) Students look at the murals, quickly sketch one element, then find the sentence in the text. They transcribe the sentence, then translate it.


Technology Tips:  
*How to quickly import photos into GoogleDrive:  install the app on your phone or tablet.  Open the app and tap the + button.  Choose Use Camera, OR, if you have already taken the photos, choose upload.  They will go directly to your drive and are super easy to import into GoogleSlides.

**Change the page size in GoogleSlides.  Open a new Slides document.  Go to File>page set up> Custom.  Type 11 by 8.5.  Now your slides will print nicely.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Comprehensible Online

I'm presenting!  You can use the discount code elicia19 to get $25.00 off of your registration.  Plus, you can see all the presenters that I continue to learn from.

Register here! 


Presentation #1: Interactive-ish notebooks for the CI classroom
This presentation is a detailed look at how to adapt and implement interactive notebooks in our CI classrooms.  I will discuss logistics, implementation, quick and painless assessment, and share lots of examples and forms.  This is my 5th year using them successfully and several folks have reported being confident in implementing them after attending my session last summer at NTPRS18.

Presentation #2:  Start the Year 
Have you ever wondered "How on earth does that teacher get their kids to do that?"?   This  presentation will (hopefully) provide some answers.  For me, the key to a good year starts with the first day.  In this 30 minute session, I will focus on establishing community, establishing expectations, and establishing routines so that we can start a story on day 1.  It will include lots of simple routines that I use to start my year successfully plus a simple script you can start with on the very first day. The demo will be in Spanish, but will be comprehensible to everyone.






What Tina Hargarten over at CI Liftoff has to say about me- Thanks, Tina!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Video Yourself Challege

The awesome Sarah Breckley challenged teachers to make videos.  Sarah unashamedly shares her videos, so why not do it myself?


So, here's my response to the Video Yourself Challenge!  

Introducing vocabulary with ASL gestures, SOMOS 1, Unit 10
8th grade Spanish 1B



Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What's new in my classroom #3: Unsheltering grammar and rugs

This week, I want to talk about unsheltering grammar and the use of rugs.  Yes. Rugs.

In TCI/TPRS/CI/CCLT,* we often use the phrase "Shelter vocabulary, not grammar." Well, this is a fine saying, but what the heck does it mean? How can I shelter vocabulary when there are different words to use if I want to un-shelter grammar?  How do I not overload them?  If my class seems like they can barely handle the most common, frequently used words in the present tense, but not much more, how can I unshelter grammar?

This is something I personally have been struggling with since I started this journey.  How do I find the balance?  I mean, it seems to me that walk and walked are the same (camina and caminĂ³) but some of those other words are just..well, different.  How do I know what to do?

Last summer, I learned a great definition of "Shelter vocabulary".  This comes from the talented Donna Tatum Johns: to protect my students from words they don't know.

Ok, that sounds great.  I focused on that for a few years.  It is a hard skill to learn: how to stay in-bounds, how to use familiar words and add words as needed that are high frequency, and how not to end up with a board full of new words at the end of a class period.  It's taken me a while to feel like I am confident with this skill.

So what's next?  How do I "unshelter" grammar?  I know that lots of teachers use past tense day one with their kids.  How do they do that?  I know that some teachers use the subjunctive from day one with their kids. Um, how?  But if they can, I can.  (Of course, being sure about how to use the subjunctive in Spanish is its own separate challenge, but thankfully all the reading I do during FVR has solved that one on its own with no concious help from me. Krashen for the win!)

After playing around with some ideas, and attending a fantastic workshop session at IFLT18 with Donna Tatum-Johns, here are some ideas that have stuck.


First and foremost, and the rule that I keep in mind when unsheltering grammar, is to use words that they have already acquired.  They know walk, so walked is not a big reach.  They know the phrases "It is important" and "She is nice."  It is not a huge stretch for me to combine these to say "It is important that she is nice."  Especially if I am doing lots of good comprehension checks.


Talking about the past
I *always* do two of the three following actions when I use past tense.
  • I move to the rug that says "pasado."  Slowly. Sometimes I move back to the middle of the room and slowly move back to the past tense rug, and repeat the sentence again.
  • Past tense rug
  • I gesture one hand over my shoulder to indicate past.  (I do this if the classroom is not set up for me to easily move to the past tense rug.
  • I do a comprehension check: "Did I just say she walked or she walks?"  "Am I talking about now or yesterday?" etc.  
I started doing more weekend talk and, along with the past tense rug, I use these great free resources from TPT (by a colleague).  I stopped being scared.





Using the subjunctive...not that scary
A couple of years ago, I noticed that my students were trying to form sentences that required the subjunctive, but how could they since I almost NEVER used it myself?  Uh oh!

The poster
Chris Stolz to the rescue.  This blog post changed my teaching- I started incorporating a ton more subjunctive casually in conversation, thus making myself more comfortable with it.  Then I realized that I should make it visible, so I made the poster, and every time I used it, I would point to the poster and we would sing the word "subjunctive" with some jazz hands.  (Yes, I know that is the noticing hypothesis and completely unproven.  But it's fun.  And my hope is that it makes them less scared of it when they get to Sra. Grammar Teacher in the future, with the long list of subjunctive clauses and stem changing verbs.)  


Finally, I realized that in moving to point to the poster, I was moving to the same spot on the rug on the other side of the room...thus, subjunctive rug.

I don't know what this will do long term, but it is forcing me to a) unshelter grammar more, and b) slow down and do more comprehension checks.




** TCI- Teaching with Comprehensible Input
TPRS- Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling ©
CI- Comprehensible Input
CCLT- Comprehension-based Communicative Language Teaching








Thursday, December 6, 2018

What's new this year #2: Positive adjectives

If you know me or have been reading this blog for a while, you know that diversity, inclusion, and social justice are as important to me as comprehensible input.

There are so many ways that these two passions meet and I am so grateful for the privilege to think hard and try to eliminate bias and use inclusive pedagogy in my teaching.  I am grateful to my colleagues and friends who want to talk about bias, and to the university (where I am an adjunct teaching a Methods course) for providing training and support in deconstructing bias and being more inclusive.  I just finished reading "Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria" and my mind is racing with ways I can bring some of the things I learned into my classroom.

In the meantime, while I cogitate, I want to share one thing that I changed this year that has had a HUGE impact on classroom culture and teaching.

Years ago, I attended a workshop presented by Elevate Education Consulting (Anna Gilcher and Rachelle Jackson) about how to be more inclusive and reflect positive values through TPRS stories.  It was life-changing, and I have continued to attend workshops and presentations by this amazing duo.  One of their handouts includes a list of diversity-positive attributes.  (This is *not* the link that will take you to the most updated version, but it is all I could find!)

Although I had the list by my side, I never made it visible to the kids.

This year, I decided to buy a $3.00 window shade from a home decor store (bad call, should have paid more as it falls constantly, but it works!) and write out the adjectives with their definitions (in light blue because that was the only blue sharpie I could find).

What I have seen:
The students ask for me to pull the shade down when we do birthday compliments.
They have started using the words even when I don't have it visible.
Our TPRS stories are kinder, more inclusive, and more real.

This was *so* simple.  But I think it makes things nicer!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

What's new this year: #1 Celebrating birthdays

There are a few new things that I am trying this year in my classroom.  Here is a series of short posts about them.

#1: Celebrating birthdays

I am terrible about celebrating birthdays.  This goes for my personal life (sorry, friends) and even more so in my professional life.

Last year, Laurie Clarcq did a presentation in Comprehensible Online about classroom culture and it was so chock full of ideas that I was instantly inspired and overwhelmed.  I decided to pick one thing that I felt that I could manage, and made a plan to do it. That one thing was celebrating birthdays in class.  Laurie modeled how she has kids give each other compliments when it is their birthday.



While idly browsing someone else's blog (and I have no idea to whom it belonged, sorry!)  I found this AMAZING free resource on TeachersPayTeachers, which is basically a starter for birthday compliments. It is SO good that I did not edit it at all.  I just printed it up (half size, to better fit in interactive-ish notebooks) and passed it out to the kids.

That was the easy part.

Write the birthdays down in a book.  
Then came the "remembering the birthdays" part, something that I am terrible at.  I decided to get a school calendar from the dollar store and write each kid's real or half birthday in it.  It took about an hour of precious late summer time, but hey, I got it done.

Dollar store score!  
I also decided to make a kid check the calendar as part of class job.  This turned out to be great if it was the right kid for the job, and not-so-great if it was the wrong kid.  One sweet, sweet girl came up to me in early November to tell me, nearly in tears, that she had forgotten to check the book and that we had missed another student's birthday, and asked me to fire her.  Instead, I allowed her to resign and we found someone else to take that over.  In another class, the student comes in each day and tells me everyone's birthday in each of my classes, for which I am grateful.

When it is a student birthday, I ask the kid whether they would like us to write or speak our compliments.   Either way, the whole class gets out their compliment starters (that are in the back of their notebooks) and a whiteboard. They have a few minutes to think and write.



If we are speaking, I just take my phone and film each kid as they read what they wrote.  If we are writing, the kids line up the whiteboards and I film myself reading them.

Finally, I send the video to the birthday kid, cc'ing the parents so they can see it too.  Sometimes the sound doesn't record, which is a bummer, but it's still better than not doing it.




I wish I could measure the impact this has had on my classroom this year, but it is impossible to separate it from everything else.  Suffice it to say that I feel like this is the best year ever as far as classroom culture and classroom management.  This has got to be a big part of it, and the joy in the room is palpable.

I love my job!