Clarification Request on Grading

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



12 thoughts on “Clarification Request on Grading”

  1. Yeah, I am also dreadfully confused. After printing off a letter to parents with my syllabus and rigor poster and rubric attached, I realized I have no idea what I am talking about when I invoke the ACTFL name. I admit I put this on my syllabus kind of in a “name-dropping” way so that I look like I’m a professional and not some nut job. Ha. I know everyone will see through that, but whatever.

    I am totally confusing the proficiency guidelines (which to me is simply a spectrum that shows where a person is in terms of what they can understand and/or express, not a way to assign a grade) with the National Standards. BIG OOPS! I just yesterday looked at the National Standards and swallowed hard as I read, because honestly I am pretty much focused on the communication piece. I began to spin, but caught myself and said “oh well.”

    Grading honestly does not seem to apply to what we do, which is why the rubric we have all worked on seems like the only way to shift the control to the kid in terms of truly developing the skills that will serve them way beyond our classrooms. Bottom line is that I want to save my energy for the work of being present with kids. I know I still have to play the “education” game, so I try to create very simple systems so I don’t have to waste unnecessary life energy on something so inconsequential.

  2. We could use the proficiency guidelines if we didn’t have to take account of what parents and admin look at – the “levels” which usually equate to how long a kid has been in our room. Exactly that problem of how fast does language develop – differently in every person. Speech didn’t emerge in my youngest child till he was four and in UK kindergarten (yikes!) but there was nothing “wrong” with him. He understood everything.
    I just want to motivate my students. That is really a big thing for us to keep in mind.

  3. Last year we had a two-day intensive workshop on ACTFL standards with a gentleman named Paul Sandrock. It was quite informative and really brought us up to speed on the ACTFL standards and the different modes of communication. The vision that Mr. Sandrock shared with us is in some important ways compatible with TPRS and CI, but also very different and almost incompatible.

    First and foremost in terms of aspects that are compatible, the ACTFL standards have no focus on explicit grammar instruction. This was very hard for a number of the grammarian teachers at my school to digest. The focus is on communication, and all grammar should be taught only in the context of communication. This is a major move away from the grammar paradigms that most of us were raised on. Personally I saw it as a step in the right direction.

    The other major point of alignment is in the use of 90% target language in the classroom. This, by itself, would seemingly cut down on the amount of explicit grammar explanation in class. However, in my school a number of teachers were talking about teaching the kids to say “conjugar” and the names of all the tenses in Spanish.

    In terms of the modes of communication and the performance standards there is less which is compatible. The “interpretive communication” mode works great in a TPRS classroom because the students are constantly practicing the skills of interpreting written and spoken texts (the stories, PQA, and questions). All the standards related to that mode of communication should be easily reached (and normally surpassed, I would think) by most students in a CI class.

    The “interpersonal communication” mode is dicier. That is where students are asked to interact and negotiate meaning in the target language. The way that I am using it, thanks to all of you, is to ask my students to interact with me every day in class by answering all questions or giving me a signal that they don’t understand. That is not the way that it was explained to us by Sandrock. In those meetings it was “the active negotiation of meaning among individuals… participants need to initiate, maintain, and at some levels sustain the conversation.” So, at the most basic level – this is viewed as a productive skill (mainly spoken, not written). Sample activities for this standard at a Novice High level include “identify what you and your partner have in common on the given topic” and “talk to a friend about a prepared illustration.” At the intermediate-low level samples include “Meet your friend at a cafe and talk about what you did today”. Once again, this is all production. Interestingly, I do not have any samples for levels lower than Novice-High. Other activities I see at the Int-Low level include: information gap activities, keeping a conversation with a partner for 2 minutes, find someone who… and ask follow up questions.

    Finally, the third mode of communication”Presentational” is obviously pure production. In the ACTFL proficiency guidelines for 2012, there is a list of “I can” statements for students at the novice-mid level, fully half of which are related to either written or spoken production of the language. The types of activities that are used for this mode are longer-term projects, memorized dialogues, or any written work that they have the opportunity to edit or correct. This entire mode of communication, which seems to be focus of much of the standards is not very compatible with a pure CI classroom.

    In my classroom I have glommed on to a few basic production skills that I think my students will (mostly) be able to do at the end of the year – from the Novice-Mid standard: they can use “isolated words and memorized phrases” – like yes/no responses and a few basic exclamations “Que pena!”, they may say “only two or three words at a time”. I am also quite honestly faking it. I am counting “presentational communication” as only 10 percent of the grade, and that grade thus far is made up of dictations.

    One thing that I thought was very good about the workshop is that it was stressed that our student at the AP level are only asked to reach the Intermediate Mid or Int. High level, and that many of our students after 3 years are still at a Novice High level. Sandrock seemed to be saying that there should be a lowering of expectation in terms of what kinds of production our students should be able to produce at levels 1-3.

    Ultimately, my understanding is that ACTFL standards are simply at odds with CI instruction because they are focused on output rather than input. We can try and sneak around that fact as much as we like, or as much as we need to in order to preserve our jobs, but it doesn´t change the facts.

    1. “…it was stressed that our student at the AP level are only asked to reach the Intermediate Mid or Int. High level, and that many of our students after 3 years are still at a Novice High level.”

      I must say, this is good to hear. Of course we’re shooting for higher, and some kids will, because of their motivation mainly, but the majority will still be at about Novice-High.

      Thanks for this fantastic analysis of that workshop David!! (Ben, maybe this should be a post of its own… very helpful for folks like me trying to grasp the 3 modes and ACTFL standards.)

  4. To respond to Ben. I hear you. But as Jen says, I think it best not to stress ourselves out too much (not that you do) with the grading aspect of what we do. I try to keep a balance of rewarding (I hate that damn word, but it’s exactly what we are asked to do) the kids who show the positive observable behaviors, while also requiring a level of comprehension. But you are talking about output right? No output required, that’ll solve that dilemma, if you have the luxury to make that declaration to students.

    1. …[I reward] the kids who show the positive observable behaviors, while also requiring a level of comprehension….

      Yes, and the 50% of the grade based on jGR and the other 50% based on the Quick Quizzes do exactly that. And that is not talking about output, just the interpersonal piece and the comprehension piece. We do about the same thing. I’m happy with it.

      When in the next few days in the gradebook I reward a kid who has stared at me for two weeks with a 1 or 2 on the jGR and they complain, it is a teaching moment – the message is “Either show up in the way I ask you to (the “on the outside you will….” piece on the rigor poster) or get this grade. My rules up there on the wall state that you have to provide half of the creation of the class. But you are doing very little. This class is not like your other classes. Change. Or be happy with that grade. Hey, you can make it up by nailing the quizzes! Sorry dude, the standards are forcing me to grade you this way.

      The nightmare thought is that they stare at us for two weeks, and we give the kid who amounts to not much more than a cardboard cutout of a human being, a grade of 3 or 4 on the jGR. That would screw us for the year. If we send the message that they can do the cardboard cutout thing and get a C or B, then we are cowards. That is the only way to say it. We then let ourselves be intimidated by teenagers. So my first set of grades at the end of this week (two quizzes and one jGR grade) will be very low across the board. Or I could give all B’s and A’s now and watch my class go to hell in a handbasket, bc the kids will not believe my little speeches over the last two weeks about the jGR. That would be a disaster and it is one many of us are going to do in spite of th intense discussion here over the past three to four weeks about the importance of raising the bar NOW in our classrooms. How to raise the bar? There is only one way – give the grades on the jGR, or whatever version of it that you are using, that they DESERVE.

      1. BAM! This is important Ben, and something I need to work on. I tend to be easy on participation. I think I will take your advice and make it a bit tougher to get an 8 or 9 on the participation part, for all the reasons you just stated. It’s the second week, and I’m starting to see some “checking out” of a few students.

        1. It’s a subtle point. It is hard to look a kid in the eye – especially one who is bright and used to getting A’s – and tell her that her OUTSIDE behavior (reference the rigor poster) is not sufficient to get more than a 2 on the jGR. But if we give her a 3 or 4 now, she has won. She gets to be labeled either:




          when in point of fact she is doing neither, regardless of what she is understanding ON THE INSIDE (again, see the rigor posters – resources page on this site, for clarification).

          So thanks for owning that Jim. Many of us don’t. We see the kid get a 10 on a quiz and we think that they should get an A. That is the old patterning that is keeping our comprehension based instruction from really taking off because of Robert’s original point last May (2011) when he pointed to the Three Modes of Communication and basically asked, “Hey, do these count? Is not the main piece of the national standards the Communication piece?”

          (In my view Communication certainly is the main standard compared to the other ones like the ultra lame “Comparisons” – what the hell does that even mean? And the “Connections” one is even more lame. Give me a frickin’ break.)

          So you take the kid with the 10/10 on the quiz and you give her this:


          and so her grade at this point is made up of three 10’s on PQA/Story quizzes but she REALLY DOES deserve the 2 on the ACTFL Interspersonal Skill piece because she REALLY DOES NOT RESPOND even though she is attentive, and her grade drops from the A to the B or even lower and all hell breaks loose at the family teacher and the parents grab the pitchforks and head for the principal’s office and we have a “situation” and how are going to respond to it? To be clear, when we lie to the kid and the parents by putting the 3 or 4 in the gradebook we are letting this kid GET AWAY WITH not aligning with the Interpersonal Skill of the Three Modes of Communication.

          Therefore this child’s grade is not based on a set of observable criteria (behaviors) that demonstrate communicative competency based on the ACTFL Performance Guidelines for Grades K-12. And she gets away with not negotiating meaning in class, just staring, and the entire argument about assessment in TPRS/CI classrooms that we have been making here for about a year and a half of rather intense discussion is completely dismantled with one click of the mouse in the gradebook bc we don’t have the courage to force the child to compoly with standards.

          And, don’t forget, the first time you give a kid a 3 or 4 when they deserve a 1 – if you are in fact using the jGR to grade your students this year – then you kind of have to do it for the rest of the year. That is not serving the child, who needs to develop eye contact and all the reciprocal and participatory human skills that are so dreadfully lacking in our robotic data driven schools.

          How, if we don’t hold these kids responsible to the national standards, can we say that we are doing our jobs properly? And how can we look parents in the eye and tell them that we are getting their children ready for the workplace, where communication skills far outweigh the need for a strong grade point average?

  5. A funny thing about Grades:
    My students still manage to pass the French AP, and they’ve had nothing but 3 years of my nutty semi TPRS teaching. My grading system is perpetually subjective and goofy and I never assign homework.

    The grading emphasis never made any difference in how much my students learned over my 18-year career!

    It’s all about the affect in the classroom — the willingness of the teacher to experiment for the sake of the student.

    1. Leigh anne,

      Absolutely! I find that everyone around me is more obsessed about creating perfect assessments, rather than the process of getting kids to learn/acquire language. The standards, the tests, ACTFL – that is all stuff forced upon me from above. I will focus on the teaching, the comprensible input, the postive vibe in class, and then cover my ass by faking the standards, the tests and all that.

  6. Which is why I think that the less we worry about how and what we grade the better. There IS NO GOOD WAY TO GRADE. None. There are accepted way and acceptable ways and they are not only the same. And neither of them are good. Grading has three purposes only: 1) Assign a subjective value to something that the “grader” thinks is important. 2) Rank students based on the criteria designated by the “grader”. 3) Use 1 and 2 in order to manipulate the behavior of students.

    Assessment? That is another thing entirely and it has no quantitative value. We can, and should, assess every time that we see/hear a student response. We should grade as little as we can get away with because the more time and energy that we place on those systems and resulting numbers, the more power they will have over our students.

    Providing a safe environment for language acquisition and grading are incompatible. Worry about it as little as you can. Do it as little as you can. The data-driven climate that we are now working in doing more than enough.

    with love,

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

Research Question

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

We Have the Research

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben