In this communication between Robert Harrell and a parent, we almost have a template from Robert that we could modify to use to answer parent inquiries like the one he recently received below:
Good afternoon Mr. Harrell,
My wife and I have been after our son for the last few days and his grades and participation at school. Do not get me wrong we have been on him for a while now not just the last few days, but over the last few days let’s just say the hammer has been dropped on our son. One of the biggest items that I have noticed is that our son has not been correctly informing his mother or me on his assignments for German. Nor has he been using his daily schedule planner to write down what his assignments are or when a test is coming up. We have both informed our son that this is to change, we want to see what is assignments are, when there is something due and when test/quizzes are going to be for German written down in his planner. I was going to ask you to also send my wife and I an email with what is assignments are, when they are do and when test/quizzes are but to save you time with that, my wife and I would like for you to initial our son’s planner before he leaves class every day. This way we can see that he is communicating with you and that he has it written in correctly in his book.
If there is anything else that we should know about, please email us with that information. Both my wife and I know that our son can complete his work and there is no doubt in my mind that he should be getting an A in this class.
Again if there is anything else that you can give us to help in this matter it would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you very much for your time and cooperation!! [concerned father]
Thank you for your e-mail. I appreciate having parents who are concerned about how their children are doing in school. However, I believe I need to clarify some matters for you, your wife and your son.
Perhaps the first thing to clarify is what grades look like in German. I use what is known as Standards-Based Grading in my class. This is very different from traditional grading in that students do not collect “points” toward a grade. Instead, I assess them against the World Language Standards as outlined in the California State Standards for World Languages and the ACTFL Performance Guidelines. (ACTFL is the American Council on Teaching Foreign Language and the parent organization for teaching world languages in the United States.) Instead of a traditional scale from 0 to 100, I use a five-point scale for assessment. It is very similar to what you see with the California Standards Tests administered each spring:
- 5 = Advanced; the student goes beyond the standard
- 4 = Proficient; the student meets the standard
- 3 = Basic; the student approaches the standard
- 2 = Below Basic; the student fails to meet the standard
- 1 = Far Below Basic; the student significantly fails to meet the standard
The problem lies in converting this to our current gradebook program, which is based on traditional scoring. As a result, I have to adapt the percentages. The A range is from 81-100%; Your son has an A for first semester in German. One of the other high schools in the district has been piloting Standards-Based Grading for a couple of years, and my percentages reflect their findings as well as my own. Using the “normal” percentages would not reflect students’ actual ability and knowledge.
As far as homework is concerned, if your son has been telling you that he doesn’t have homework assignments in German, he is correct. The California State Standards, ACTFL and the College Board (Advanced Placement) all emphasize the Three Modes of Communication in foreign language instruction. These three modes are Interpersonal, Interpretive and Presentational, and they are what the grades in German class reflect: ability in communication. At the beginning level of language acquisition, the most important modes are interpersonal and interpretive; presentational communication will come later. Furthermore, all of the Second Language Acquisition research shows us that the single most important element in acquiring a language (whether first, second, third, or later) is what is known as Comprehensible Input. That means that students need to hear and read German that they understand, not do endless worksheets of discrete-item grammar. The primary source for that language is the classroom. If students actively participate in constructing meaning, signaling their understanding or lack thereof, and comprehending the content of the German they encounter, then they will acquire the language. Consequently, I do not assign specific homework very often. There are, however, ways to assist the process of acquisition at home, and I give these as optional activities. If you would like to help your in his acquisition of German, here are some things that you could do:
- have him switch the controls and interface on all of his electronic devices to German have him switch all of his video games to German
- get him some children’s books in German to read
- have him watch in German a movie that he knows extremely well in English; if he can rattle off the dialogue of a movie in English, then hearing it in German will be understandable and aid his acquisition
- have him watch a movie in German with English subtitles (Note: repetition is a key factor in acquisition, so it would be good for him to watch repeatedly)
- have him watch a TV program or sports event in German (similar to the movie but without the same opportunity for repetition)
- have him go on YouTube and look for music and other videos in German; this will be especially helpful for anything that he already knows. For example, the Beatles recorded some of their early music in German; he can easily find both “She Loves You” and “Love, love me do” in German; many students listen to German bands like Rammstein. There are also excellent German instructional videos on YouTube. Better than a grammar explanation would be a video that teaches him to do something like dance. If you look for “Schuhplattler”, for example, there are German-language videos that teach how to do this Austrian/Southern German dance. (But pick something that your finds interesting.)
if he has the opportunity, he could try to have a simple conversation with a German native speaker; do you have friends or relatives that speak German, does your son participate in any kind of international forum or chat online, does he have contact with Americans who are traveling or living overseas?
Also, with Standards-Based Grading, especially in foreign language, we are testing what students have acquired, not what they can cram into their brains for short-term memorization. So, I do not generally announce tests and quizzes in advance. Today’s quiz was on higher numbers in a random setting (cumulative scores for the German Soccer League), and your son was obviously able to deal easily with them, scoring 5 or Advanced on the quiz.
Thank you again for your e-mail. If anything remains unclear or I have raised further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me again.