Hi Ben –
I am sending you the copy, without names, of an email I wrote for a parent who complained about jGR – to my supervisors, not to me – recently. (My administrators are great! They are supportive of me.) I share it in case others would be helped by it. Feel free to use or not use.
Dear (Parent name),
I understand from (my administrators) that you have some concerns about the Interpersonal Communication Skills grade in Chinese class. They have told me some of your comments and questions, (parent’s name), so I will respond to those below. I would welcome meeting by phone or in person to talk through anything related to Chinese class.
One concern was the idea that this grade is new. Actually, I have been using the Interpersonal Communication mode as 25% of students’ grades all school year. Prior to this school year, I had a “Class Comportment” grade that was somewhat related, but students were uninvolved in determining that grade. Through research in foreign language instruction over the past two years, I have come to believe that all three modes of communication should be assessed in students’ grades in a clear way, with a rubric open to students and parents. The “new” part this semester was a better rubric that clarified what grade range was earned by what kind of observable, communicative behaviors during class. The class has discussed how Interpersonal Communication is the set of skills related to “normal” everyday conversations: listening, answering questions, contributing new ideas, asking for clarification when the message is unclear. To quote from the ACTFL standards document (at the bottom of the third page):
“Knowing how, when, and why to say what to whom”
All the linguistic and social knowledge required for effective human-to-human interaction is encompassed in those ten words. Formerly, most teaching in foreign language classrooms concentrated on the how (grammar) to say what (vocabulary). While these components of language are indeed crucial, the current organizing principle for foreign language study is communication, which also highlights the why, the whom, and the when. So, while grammar and vocabulary are essential tools for communication, it is the acquisition of the ability to communicate in meaningful and appropriate ways with users of other languages that is the ultimate goal of today’s foreign language classroom.
I would like (my school’s) Chinese students to excel in these communication skills. Practicing these skills during class, for a grade, is one way to encourage them to develop.
Another concern seemed to be from a misunderstanding of how often this grade is assessed. Last semester, students evaluated themselves about 8 times. I then gave my evaluation, and could talk through any differences of opinion (whether my assessment was higher or lower than the students’ own). I plan to do the same this semester: self-evaluating a few times early in the term to get a “baseline” for this grade, and then less often after that.
There seemed to be concern that this grade has too big an impact on student letter grades. In the case of students who showed improvement over time, I dropped early, low Interpersonal Skills grade from their record. I will do that for (child’s name), too, based on continuing with the improvement that he showed over the past week. He is regularly involved in class discussion and is especially enthusiastic about role playing. Channeling his energy from distracting comments and behaviors and into the flow of class communication is what made the difference. As I mentioned to him privately after school one day last week, I could see that he was in the “A” range most of the time during class that day, and that I knew he could do it. (Child’s name)’s semester 1 grade was in the same range as his grades last year. He finished semester 1 with a B+.
I believe there was also some concern that this grade is punishing to boys specifically. I aim for this grade to encourage more discussion from more introverted students and encourage extroverted students to direct their energy and attention in productive ways that lead to language acquisition. There are both girls and boys in (child’s name)’s class who fit both profiles.
I hope that these explanations help. I have copied (administrators) since you had contacted them with your concerns. Please let me know if you’d like to talk further. Most days after school would work for me (except Tuesdays and some Mondays). Thanks!