Communication with Parents – Standards Based

A repost from a year ago:
In this communication Robert and a parent, we almost have a template from Robert that we could modify to use to answer inquiries like the one he recently received below:
Hi Ben, I’m sending you an e-mail exchange that I just had with a parent. I’ve edited it to make it anonymous; if you think it useful, feel free to post in the PLC.
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 awhile now not just the last few days, but over the last few days lets 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 I 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 everyday.  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]  
Good afternoon,
[concerned father]
Robert’s reply:
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, signalling 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.
Robert Harrell



101 thoughts on “Communication with Parents – Standards Based”

  1. I don’t know the dad, but he sounds off base. This helicopter stuff helps no one, most esp. not the kid. And it’s an affront, even a veiled attack, on Robert’s (non-robotic) assessment approach. I even sense an attempt at intimidation, which Robert swats away.

    1. it sounded quite passive-aggressive to me! It was CLEARLY aimed at Robert, but ‘veiled’ as a control of the son!!
      I had a mother email me the other day saying that she “tried to see her son’s grades the other day but couldn’t ‘access’ them on the portal. He is very concerned about how he is doing in your class.” Yeah, RIGHT! a FRESHMAN boy, a 3-sport athlete, REALLY? concerned about his grade only THREE weeks in to the course? I politely told Mom that it was only 3-weeks into the course, and she’s right – she didn’t see any grades because there aren’t any yet – I want to establish norms in the class, and have the kids feel comfortable through a sense of community before I start “putting numbers into a grade book” (sic) . BUT…..she will start to see grades soon. Never heard back from her. Truth is, I *HATE* grades – if the kids are doing lousy, I don’t want to put that into the grade program! it kills their self-esteem! – well, I’m preaching to the choir NOW! ’nuff said!

    1. I’ve been developing a system of standards-based grading for the past year. I’ve tinkered a lot with a SBG system that will work within TCI. I’m planning detailed posts on the matter which will probably come by way of reflection this summer. Assessment is huge for me. Basically I think that if cutting-edge assessment (i.e., SBG) is in place alongside TCI, nobody can ever complain about anything I do, not admins nor parents nor students nor other teachers. Very very powerful stuff which makes me feel like I teach from a fortress.

  2. Robert,
    What an eloquent answer. You used diplomacy all the while deflecting all negative insinuations on the part of the dad. That is so powerful IMHO. I’m a believer in solving problems with diplomacy b/c we can’t catch flies with vinegar but with honey.
    You also explained so well the standard grading in your state and district and how language acquisition works. You have become irreproachable.
    Finally you gave them excellent tools for things the kid can do at home to enhance acquisition.
    Another great idea I always tell parents when they ask me for things to do outside of school that would help their kids is to tell them to switch their GPS to French , which is a great way to teach directions.
    My GPS is in French in my own car and my own kids know how to navigate in French b/c of that !

  3. Excellent.
    Our school has been all over “assessment for learning.” Much of this does not apply to languages, but one part does: a grade should reflect what a student knows by the END of the course. Instead of adding up Johnny’s ten tests, Johnny writes (or “speaks” if in a language class) one test at the end of the course and that is his grade.
    If Johnny is not a four-percenter, and he’s getting loads of CI, he should– if Krashen is right– just get steadily better as the year goes on. Since TPRS recycles vocab constantly, Johnny’s performance on the earlier stuff should also improve over time.
    I track marks and work habits, and I tell the kids this [and put it into the course outline]:
    “Your mark will be 80% based on one written exam (involving reading and writing) and one oral exam (simple practical exchange of meaningful real-world info) at the end of the course. What will PROBABLY happen is, if you are focused in class [Ben’s class rules are on wall and in c.o.] your final mark will be something like your during-the-year test marks. You MAY choose to be unfocused all year and then try to “turn it on” for the final exam. This will probably not work. The other 20% of your mark will be based on showing me what you have learned about Latino culture and countries.”

  4. Currently at my school we are in the process of switching to standard based grading, and our grade books must reflect this in a format that includes standards–long term and short term targets (learning objectives) –formative and summative assessments. So, I’m ripping my hair out trying to figure out how to do this with my colleagues who do not use TCI. We’ve decided that out standards will be based around the 3 modes, yet I barely have anything under performance mode since I work with 6-8 graders. And I try to explain to my colleagues why most of what I do falls under interpersonal and interpretive. Still debating on whether I can count free writes under presentational mode as a summative assessment. Additionally, for every summative assessment we’re supposed to have a rubric describing of this assessment which connects to the original standard/target. Doesn’t anyone get this stuff? This standard–target–assessment connection and how to connect it to TCI? I am beside myself because no one is helping is and they are not giving the world language staff any professional days to help us do this.

    1. Annemarie,
      You are not alone. My school is (slowly) moving in this direction as well. I already use the 3 modes to divide up my grades – interpretive (class quizzes), interpersonal (jgr) and presentational (dictations, and rare written stories). In my mind, the weekly or bi-weekly free-writes are very much formative rather than summative because they show you what the students know or don’t know.
      Next year I have to put together backwards planned units for ACTFL/Linguafolio style performance standards which include formative and summative assessments of each mode of communication. What in the hell would a summative interpersonal assessment look like? For most teachers that means pairing students up and having them spit out a canned dialogue. What that looks like in a CI environment I am still trying to wrap my head around.
      My problem is that while these types of assessments and standards are much better because they are based on communication and not on grammar, they still compartmentalize the language. This week we are going to do a unit on ordering food in a restaurant, and next it will be giving someone directions to the restaurant. It feels artificial and forced, and never gives the kids the repetition that they need.
      In any case, I don’t have any solutions, but I feel your pain as well.

      1. Annemarie and David,
        Under Ben’s new Rubrics hardlink are two rubrics I’m using for interpersonal and presentational communication.
        There’s NOTHING that says a summative assessment needs to be a test or anything special or out of the ordinary. In fact, kids should be summatively assessed in accordance with how they’re taught.
        What I’m saying is, I’m assigning a grade for interpersonal based on their trajectory during the grading period. If I use the same rubric for formative and they get 2, 3, 3, 2, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4, 4, then I’ll assign them a 4 as a summative grade on the same rubric.

        1. Grant,
          I try to assign a grade for the interpersonal rubric nearly every day. I don’t think that it is fair for one good or bad day at the end to summarize how they are doing in the class – that’s why I average the daily grades every 2-3 weeks. I find that that gives me a more representative view of how they are doing.
          I have told students that if I see sustained achievement of the standard (4 out of 5) I can replace earlier grades. Sustained for me would be over a 2-3 week period.
          However, what I was talking about is an interpersonal grade related specifically to one theme (i.e. how well can Suzy interact with others in Spanish when talking about her daily habits). That is the level of specificity that is being expected of me, and I think of other teachers.

      2. “What in the hell would a summative interpersonal assessment look like?”
        A good summative interpersonal assessment might be to drop a Spanish student in southern Mexico with the sole directive “to survive and get to Texas.” One could then give a grade based on how long it took the students to travel and on how many different forms of transportation were used.

    2. Annemarie – we need to talk – coffee? I’ll share with you what I’ve gotten so far and what I got at FLAME today – and the upcoming workshop at my school on the 15th!
      SKIP – maybe we can organize a Maine TCI get-together on a Saturday and share this stuff?????

        1. I say go with those 8 and send an email to others once you set the date. they had their opportunity for two weeks now. sometimes too, people wait till something is concrete then they say yes or no – because they can’t make decisions. (I know – that’s usually ME!) Can you please check your email – I sent you something!

  5. I’m finding that the interpersonal mode corresponds more to the assessments I give for HOWLS-habits of work, which is not included in the academic content grade. I wonder if there’s a way to make a summative assessment more content based, which then connects to the interpersonal mode. Kind of going loca with trying to figure this out. The jGR is great but whenever I ask anyone about something like this, it falls into a HOWL grade and not content.
    Our staff had to read a book last year-15 Grading Fixes-and one of them was to not include participation into the content grade. But I struggle with this because participation is what I expect most from my students, esp the 6th graders.

    1. I agree that grading “participation” is bad, but I don’t think jGR is about grading “participation.” jGR is about assessing interpersonal communication. Interpersonal communication is really the back and forth between speakers of the language; it is the dynamic of oral/aural communication, the transmitting and negotiating of meaning. During this back-and-forth, which is really the most common form of activity/assessment in a TCI classroom, the students send a ton of messages to the teacher which display how well they are engaging in interpersonal communication. These signals are what jGR observes and grades, things like eye contact, making the “I don’t get this” sign, giving one word answers, giving cute answers in stories, etc. If you look on the rubric for jGR, you’ll notice the criteria aren’t about BEHAVIOR; instead, all the criteria get at PERFORMANCE in interpersonal communication.

      1. I agree with James on this. jGR is not about “behavior”, as in comportment; it is about behaviors, as in observable acts within the “domain” of interpersonal communication. There are students in my class with abominable “habits of work” – they don’t do homework, they don’t do anything outside of class remotely related to the subject, they don’t bring materials, they have to be told specifically (with me standing over them) to take out paper and pencil, they have to be given multiple copies of any handout because they can’t be bothered to keep track of them, and on and on – but they have a 4 in Interpersonal Communication based on jGR because they exhibit the actions described.
        Remind your admins that language is a performance class just like band, choir, drama, sports and PE. Not singing in choir sounds a lot like having poor habits of work, just as non-participation in Interpersonal Communication does to the untrained, unthinking casual observer. But both are failures to perform the required activity for a grade. What about a drama student who fails to memorize lines and blocking for a play? The poor “habits of work” play a role, but the teacher ultimately bases the grade on the quality of performance. That’s what you are doing.
        BTW and OT: most people misunderstand the nature of performance in language acquisition. They believe it means output, but Interpretive and Interpersonal Communication are also performance. So, you have to help people realize what “performance” looks like at the lower levels (and upper ones, too). That’s why something like a Checklist for Comprehension-Based Classes is important. Yesterday my school was visited by a committee from the Orange County Department of Education to evaluate us for possible designation as a California Distinguished School. After school was over we had a meeting in the cafeteria during which the committee expressed their very positive impressions. Following that I had the opportunity to talk privately with three of the committee members. They had not visited my classroom, but another member had. When I introduced myself as the German teacher, all of them said, “Oh, you’re the one with the checklist. I wish all teachers would do that; it’s such a helpful and positive thing to have when you visit.” (We won’t know for a little bit, but the committee’s recommendation is to award us the designation of California Distinguished School.)

        1. Robert,
          That would be amazing ! I don’t know about the other departments in your school but any department with Robert Harrell in it deserves that designation , IMHO!
          I am curious though, what s on that checklist?

          1. Sabrina, I’ve been using Bryce’s checklist.
            It’s a very powerful statement to anyone who walks in when they are handed a checklist and are asked by the teacher herself to evaluate her based on best practices.
            I think the more of us that are comfortable with this and have a clipboard by the door at the ready the better.

          2. Thank you Grant,
            I’ll email Bryce and ask him for that checklist.
            You are so right, it is very powerful . My door is always open and that is my implicit statement but I love the idea of a checklist to be handed out to visitors…

          3. There is also another one that I’ve seen created by anotehr group whose name I can’t remember off the top of my head.
            It’s based off the 90% position statemetn and I like it alot. I’ll link it here tomorrow.

          4. Ooops, should have read all the comments first – just realized that Grant already mentioned Susan in his post.

          5. I can see why you DON’T (I will restrain myself from opining fully).
            What in the world is #8 anyway?
            Yes. I like Susie’s/Bryce’s checklist much better. Less jargon, made for real teachers in real classrooms with real students–a true paradigm shift.

  6. OK. I have some figuring out to do here…Robert said:
    “They believe it means output, but Interpretive and Interpersonal Communication are also performance. So, you have to help people realize what “performance” looks like at the lower levels”
    I think this is the key here-taking the interpersonal mode via the jGR and creating a summative assessment that fits into the 1 to 4 scale and aligning it in the S-T-A (standards-targets-assessment) template we need to use. SO, I’m thinking aloud here-help me out please-the standard would be “interpersonal mode-I can negotiate meaning with peers and teachers.” For the targets I would pick three criteria to focus on-perhaps letting teaching know when I don’t understand, mirror teachers words with correct gestures and third, not blurting in English. Then assessment for learning would be/could be the quizzes? Or would this fall under the interpretive mode? The assessments of learning (summative) would be the jGR? I was thinking of just of focusing on a few students at a a time per story so that I could pay closer attention and give more specific feedback.
    It irritates me so much that we have to have a summative assessment at all, in order to provide evidence that students have met the target, but I guess it’s important provide this for parents and also as a way to measure student progress.

    1. Annemarie pls. click on the rubrics hard link at the top of this page and look at Grant’s Feedback Rubric. Could that be used anywhere in the work you are doing?
      It’s not participation. It’s what Robert and James said.
      Let’s not let this fade discussion away. I want to know exactly what you end up doing. This could take awhile, but when it filters clearly, let us know.
      It’s a big deal. I wrestled with it for years before finally GETTING what Robert and James say above. It’s an academic grade, and certainly. We just have to begin to define the word “academic” properly.
      For a century and more, we have defined that word in terms of what the mind can achieve. But language is so much more than mental grasping of ideas. It is so human. It is a thing representing a blend of mind and heart in the pursuit of that which lifts us up as human beings. It’s not participation when how you interact with the speaker determines what knowledge you achieve. The two cannot be separated. The Three Modes and in particular the Interpersonal Skill are academic pursuits.

    2. Annemarie, I don’t see why the formative nor the summative couldn’t be based on teacher observation of the student when engaged in communication. I know that goes against the concrete must-be-a-big-ass-test mentality, but it’s fairly clear who’s performing and who isn’t.
      I’ve taken to using the phrase, “contains the urge to speak English” vs. “doesn’t blurt”. It was harder for me to defend “doesn’t blurt” b/c I sounded like other whiney teachers who don’t engage their kids. It’s not about that, it’s about developing a skill.
      Interpersonal communication is a set of skills necessary for communicating in any language and is, IMO, independent of content.

      1. Ooh Grant, Thank you for this one: “contains the urge to speak English.” I have struggled so much with “doesn’t blurt” for the same reason as you describe. I want to frame everything in the context of developing and refining a skill. Plus the whole energetic thing with the word “not,” but that is a whole other can of cosmic whoop ass.

        1. I’ll tell you what is a whole nuther can of Cosmic Whoop Ass – the Clapper Kid. If I could just find the time to write it up. You are going to love this one. The kids won’t have to contain any urges to blurt. They will not blurt. It will be one of the Ten Commandments of the Clapper Kid. Thou Shalt Not Blurt.

          1. Ben, I am eagerly awaiting the unveiling of this idea! Two of my classes especially are basically 90 minutes blurt sessions. I’m sure this has everything to do with my poor classroom management as a newbie teacher, which is a whole other issue. But if this thing is as cool as it sounds, I might as well add it to my arsenal.

          1. Yeah well ok I will post that information here in this comment field for now. Understand that it is not meant to replace SLOW, Circling, Teaching to the Eyes, Staying in Bounds, etc. – what I call the basic TPRS skills. It is meant to help enforce them.
            It is not fully edited but the ideas are clear. Be careful with it. You need the right kid. And give me some feedback. For me in my class it is the genie I have been looking for. Here it is:
            The Clapper Kid – This is the most important of 53 possible student jobs in the classroom.
            Here is the article on the Clapper:
            Most of us have simply been incapable of making their CI classes work to full potential because we haven’t had the weapons. We haven’t been able to master slow, we go out of bounds, we allow blurting, we all know the drill.
            But now I have created a tool to make SLOW, in-bounds, staying in the TL, circling, etc. actually work. It’s another job. The job is called the Clapper Kid and for me the idea is a breakthrough, if only in my opinion and in my classroom. The Clapper Kid is a weapon. The Clapper Kid is a bad boy.
            The Clapper Kid is a weapon for classroom management that you pull down off the shelf in the discipline aisle along with various cans of Whoop Ass. The Clapper kid is students policing students. The Clapper Kid has an alias – Shut the Fuck Up in My Classroom.
            The job description of the Clapper Kid falls short of being able to walk around the room and clap the plastic hand into the face of a person with their head down or who is otherwise not listening or showing up fully as a human being in class.
            I’d love to allow the Clapper kids to do this, because some kids are such assholes, but it’s just too rude (I tried it with a class once and it just had too much of a bitchy edge to it).
            Short of that rather extreme move, the Clapper Kid does in fact have the authority to clap loudly whenever there is a fail by the class or any one individual to show up strongly in response to my questions.
            I must learn to absolutely insist on a strong class one word response whenever I ask any question and stop the class if I am not getting the kind of reciprocal and participatory behavior I want. I’ll say that again. If the response is weak, I stop class.
            But since I suck at that and keep on rambling like Old Man River, I have to employ this unique kid who is there to help me. A sidekick sitting off to the side of the class who can then see me and pay attention to the lesson but also see the class and enforce so many things that I forget about because so much is going on.
            (When I say fail I mean in the sense of Blaine always cautioning us to be careful and look out for weak responses.)
            What is a weak response? It’s a shitty response from the class. A non-enthusiastic response. A sucky response. A surly response. A pain in the ass response. A I Hate This Job response. A weak response.
            Because we have all, with very few exceptions if any, allowed to creep into our CI practices an acceptance of kids not responding, dumb asses that we are. We have talked about it here for years. The challenge of getting all the kids in the class to participate fully has been, perhaps, THE one big thread dominating the history of this blog, a thread connected in some way to every discussion we’ve had now for six years.
            Weak responses have spurred us to create jGR. Weak responses are why we have the Classroom Rules. Weak responses are why we go SLOW and try so hard to stay in bounds and get reps through proper Circling.
            But we still get weak responses. So Diane with all respect to Grant, I don’t think that assessing a kid on their ability to “contain the urge to speak English” is going to work. Blurters are just rude and how many of us have stopped our habitual blurters so far this year? I would bet few if any. They aren’t going to contain their urge to speak English if we politely ask them. We need more.
            I can only say that the Clapper Kid has brought me much much better responses, not weak ones. It is amazing. So who is the Clapper Kid and what does she do?
            Job Requirements for the Clapper Kid
            • is our most important hire of the 53 jobs in our jobs category.
            • must be a superstar who can focus on us and our lesson and on the class at the same time.
            • must be able to clap in a lighthearted way, bringing good will, but at the same time bring the authority.
            • reminds teacher about the Jump into the Space option, which should occur a lot in class.
            Here is a template:
            1. Teacher goes to Party City and buys one of those big hand clappers made of plastic that make a loud clapping noise when shaken.
            2. Teacher hires a truly sharp student as per the above required job qualifications.
            3. Clapper sits at the side of the room, looking at both the class and the instructor, fully aware of both.
            4. When the teacher is delivering the CI, the Clapper looks at the kids and claps if even one kid is breaking any of the rules below*. (This clap is not directed at any one person – it is a generic clap.)
            5. The teacher stops teaching, trying to determine who the offender is.
            6. The teacher doesn’t call out the kid in front of the class, but instead just waits for compliance.
            7. If the clapper calls out the teacher, the teacher must comply**.
            *Rules on clapping at the class. The Clapper claps at the class if:
            1. a student is not involved
            2. a student gives a weak response
            3. a student blurts
            4. a student speaks English
            5. a student is looking down at desk of if head is down
            **Rules on clapping at the teacher. The Clapper claps at the teacher if:
            1. the teacher goes into extended English (sometimes you gotta – like in mentioning some outrageously cool historical fact connected to the lesson) without first asking for a time out from the Clapper.
            2. the teacher uses more than the three full time outs allowed per class (as in a basketball game.)
            3. the teacher goes over four seconds on a pop up grammar point. (i.e. the Clapper is not allowed to clap at the teacher for use of English unless four seconds have gone by.)
            So the Clapper, not the teacher, is the one who watches out for weak responses. That is her job. The teacher just can’t remember to do that – there is too much going on.
            So the Clapper is a kind of referee. A really great Clapper would also remind the teacher to use the Jump Into the Space option*** as well.
            When the Clapper is doing their job properly, there is much less confusion and much stronger responses. It truly is a game changer.

  7. Thank you. Super helpful. I looked at your rubric, Grant, and I like what you’ve done. I will have to change it to fit the way we do rubrics here, on a 1-4 scale-beginning, approaching, met, exceeds and write the three criteria you outline (Attentive to Communication, Responsiveness to input from speaker, and active engagement) as targets and put them under the longer term target of “I can negotiate meaning with my peers and teacher” which falls under what we’re calling a “standard” of the interpersonal mode. I think the exceeds category will include the emerging output category. I know that I have to craft this interpersonal rubric in this way so that it’s aligned with the rest of the school’s rubrics, so I don’t know if it will helpful to share. Ben, I will send it to you when I finish it and I will love some feedback. I think know I understand how to explain to others how the interpersonal mode is content. Thank you, Grant, Ben, Robert and James for your input and clarification.

  8. Grant (andnothers)
    AFL — assessment for learning– just means, model expectations clearly (behavioural and academic), provide feedback constantly, and assess (assign #s to) only the final product. IE do NOT mark behaviour, attendance, attitude,practice, yadda yadda.
    Most of TPRS fits right into AFL. I don’t mark them after 1 week in Spanish, I don’t mark their “attitude,” and at the end of the course (or maybe also at the end of 1/3 and 2/3 of course) I will assign a # tonmake parents admins and bean counters happy. I DO care about behaviour etc but I don’t mark it, as behaviour, attitude, etc, are not part of any language learning outcomes in BC.
    I will email Ben a copy of my “10 Commandments of AFL” and he can post it if he feels it relevant to TPRS.
    BTW I have been doing TPRS for 4 weeks now and I have basically zero behaviour issues, other than a couple of excitable kids blurting out English every now and again. Even the kids with learning disabilities are getting it (slowly).

    1. Here it is for those interested:
      The Ten Commandments of Assessment For Learning
      1) Thou shalt not grade non-academic factors (behaviour, attendance, effort, etc).
      2) Thou shalt not penalize students’ multiple attempts at mastery. Indeed thou shalt encourage students to re-do, re-write, re-play!
      3) Thou shalt not grade homework or other forms of practice.
      4) Thou shalt give thy students varied ways and time to demonstrate mastery of their learning, and thou shalt provide them with a variety of ways to learn and organise their learning.
      5) Thou shalt not assess students in ways which do not accurately reflect what they know, or in ways in which they are able to express their ideas.
      6) Thou shalt not allow “extra credit” assignments or “bonus” questions.
      7) Thou shalt avoid group grades.
      8) Thou shalt not—on pain of death—do norm-referenced grading.
      9) Thou shalt not record zeros for work not done (until marks cut-off, at which point INCs irrevocably become zeros).
      10) AFL’s purpose: to provide meaningful and timely feedback which allows students to improve their ability to meet I.R.P. outcomes.
      1. No reference to behaviour, attitude, attendance in IRPs. These may, or may not, correlate with academic achievement. Important, but should be dealt with separately.
      2. Everybody learns different things at different speeds, and not always equally well each time. If your assessment and evaluation are well-designed, they will provide students with enough feedback to show them what needs work. If you think a kid is wasting your time with a re-write, re-do, etc, ask them to write out specific “plans for improvement” that they must adhere to for the re-do.
      3. The Canucks are not graded on practices (maybe they should be). Neither do book reviewers read novels’ first drafts. Assess mastery, not practice.
      4. Would you ask a dancer to write her routine down? Would you evaluate Tom Brady by getting him to explain a pass? Would you ask J.D. Salinger to sing his novel?
      5. Johnny understands deontological, utilitarian and natural law-based ethical reasoning. Johnny’s writing sucks. Perhaps Johnny could discuss ethics with you, rather than hacking his way through an essay that he doesn’t want to write, and you don’t want to (or can’t) read.
      6. What, exactly, does 1%, or one mark, mean? If a book report, bonus question, extra session in the weight room etc equal a bonus mark, how exactly does that one thing “map onto” the IRP? What does it mean when Suminder gets 78% and Preety gets 79%? If the bonus assesses IRP material, why is it not part of the regular curriculum?
      7. Baninder is an idi—err, he has some challenges. Preety is a genius. Michael is totally average. Their group mark is 60%. So…two out of three students have no accurate idea of how well they know their skill/material.
      8. Class sizes are too small for norm referencing, none of us are statisticians, curves make grading competitive (one person’s progress always equals another’s loss), and we have criteria for grading. Wait…what is “norm referencing” anyway?
      9. A zero means “this kid knows nothing about Topic X.” If a kid didn’t hand in the work, how do we know what s/he knows (or doesn’t)? INC until marks cut off, at which point, INCs become zeros, and let the cards fall where they may.
      10. Assessment (how am I doing so far? What needs work?) and evaluation (where did I end up?) should help kids get better at meeting IRP outcomes. It should not be used as a motivator, discipline tool, busywork-maker or anything else.
      — adapted from from Rick Wormeli Fair Isn’t Always Equal

      1. What if I do some of those things?
        For example…. All of the ancillary materials that go with Carol Gaabs novels like Esperanza…. Do you not grade those? Could I have them do them and not grade them? Should I not even do them?
        What types of things do you grade? I grade listening comp quizzes, timed writings, reading comp “quizzes” Does this sound right?
        Whats I.R.P?
        This is so helpful…. I wish we were sitting around a table discussing…
        I do # 1 too but it is for their “habits of work” grade….

          1. Who do I credit (Chris, Ben??)
            Or I could just say “I am part of a PLC and recently one of the members posted the following” Would that be okay?

  9. I’m really looking forward to putting less grades in the grade book next trimester when we switch to standard based grading-they’ll have a grade for interpersonal mode and interpretive mode-I don’t think I can bother much with the presentational mode at level one…Although, I’m wondering whether I should record their free writes?

      1. So when you read a free write, do you use some kind of rubric like Grant has? And then show them where they are on the rubric?
        You just tell the students that I don’t grade these, that that are progress indicators? At any point do you “assess/grade” a free write?

        1. I don’t grade freewrites…sort of. They get a #: 1, 2 or 3.
          I then tell them:
          “I need these because your Parentz, or my Defartment Headz, or my Adminz, get really excited about Numberz. And the Numberz on your Testsz basically reflect about 80% how much you have really been listening, and 20% your inherent Skills. If you think your Numberz are not right, all I can say is, actively listen (and/or read) more, and, should your Markz on the End Of Year Examz be higher, you can have the Higher Numberz.”

          1. Btw in my spelling sytem, things that end in “Z” are irrelevant to real learning (and teaching) and therefore seem faintly ridiculous.

          2. Last year and last semester (pre-CI for me) I was really only giving my kids assignments to keep them busy and not get fired. My philsophy was, I needed the kids to think they were actually in a legit class and their teacher knew what he was doing (i.e. I wanted it to seems like a “real” class with assignments and quizes/tests). Then behind that charade I’d be able to figure out how to teach and learn classroom mangagement (I gather honesty is okay here…).
            So at the end of every grading period I would look at my gradebook and think “According to my gradebook, X student is failing and Y student is passing, but they both pretty much don’t know any French at all.” Since that was my dilemma I just went through my gradebook and changed almost everyone’s final grades -just made them up out of the blue. Kids that had 50’s for final averages I bumped up to 70’s or 80’s, especially if I didn’t have a lot of assignments for a particular class and things were out of balance weight-wise. I figured, I don’t know what I’m doing as a teacher and these numbers are completely arbitrary anyway. They’re not tied to anything the kids can actually do with the language. And why should I should I hurt a kid’s GPA? Would they have done better with a better teacher? This did make a mess for me this year becuase I have kids who don’t know anything taking French II and III, but I’m sorting that out as I figure out how to teach.
            I say all this to ask for feedback. As a beginning teacher, and being in my first semester of CI teaching, how much, if at all, should I tweak my grades to account for my own lack of expertise? Does that make sense? I personally think grades are meaningless. I despised them as a student and I despise them even more as a teacher, but I understand that we’re expected to have grades. So I’m constantly trying to wrap my head around the extremes of a grade that somehow reflect something real about a student’s abilities/progress and a made-up grade. I’d like my grades to reflect at least something accurate.
            From what I’ve read on here it seems that is the goal of jGR, but I’m not entirely sure yet how to use that. What do you all do? Do you assign a jGR grade every day, then average them at some point? Do you grade on jGR once a week? Any input is appreciated!

  10. Hi folks.
    A) I wouldn’t grade practice (eg hwk sheets). If the aim of these is CI then they don’t represent outcomes but rather practice.
    B) I basically don’t give hwk in most classes. There is work to do, and– with the exception of reading a novel, or doing the final draft of an English essay on the computer– it can (by the organised) be done in class. If not, finish it for hwk.
    C) I track what they do and how they behave in class (e.g. via jGR) but realisically you can’t grade them on behaviour– if they screw around, I give DTs, call parents, send them to admin or– at last resort– put them in back with the instructions “since you have chosen to fail, do hwk from another class, or read, but no electronics and no talking.”
    D) If ya wanna quote me, say “adapted by Chris Stolz from Rick Wormeli.”

    1. C) I track what they do and how they behave in class (e.g. via jGR) but realisically you can’t grade them on behaviour– if they screw around, I give DTs, call parents, send them to admin or– at last resort– put them in back with the instructions “since you have chosen to fail, do hwk from another class, or read, but no electronics and no talking.”
      Isn’t the point of jGR that we can grade them on specific behaviors?
      We had Wormeli talk at our school 2 weeks ago, and I wondered what he would respond to that. I would think that the justification for using jGR as a grade is that we are specifically trying to teach them how to communicate interpersonally in the target language. It is one of the primary goals in our classroom, not just a management tool (though it is that as well). We are certainly blurring the lines between what is “academic” and what is “non-academic” but in a 2nd language course I think it is defensible.
      My bigger question is that I feel like the jGR grades that I put in my gradebook nearly every day are formative. They represent the kids practicing the skills (active listening, responding to questions in TL, indicating confusion when they are lost) rather than an outcome. I am willing to drop lower jGR grades if a student consistently achieves a higher level for an extended time (2-3 weeks?) later, because that indicates mastery. However, other than that I have trouble imagining how jGR can be used as a summative assessment. Or is the summative assessment simply me the teacher looking back on their performance over the course of the semester and giving them one “summative” grade?

  11. Hey Chris,
    I NEVER give homework either. But everything that used to be homework is now done in class. What do I do with it if I don’t grade it?
    Another dumb question: How does JGR not factor into their “skills” grade… ?

  12. I think jGR is useful for explaining to parents why Johnny is/is not picking up on the CI-based stuff happening in a TPRS classroom. If Johnny’s Mom shows up and says “why is Johnny getting only 70% when he is a genius and Harvard-bound, I can point to jGR and say, basically, to what extent he is/is not playing “the game.”
    However, ultimately Johnny gets a #, and that # relflects what he can/cannot do with the target language. If you “pay” kids to behave with marks, something is seriously off, and a parent could rightly ask “why do Johnny and Suzy get the same marks when Johnny is a (mouthy inattenive jerk) genius who does amazingly well in Medieval Tibetan, while Suzy is reallyyyyy niiiiiice but, let’s face it, kind of an airhead?”
    I don’t know what you Yankees are supposed to assign marks for, but up here in BC we are supposed to mark kids on how well they do outcomes defined in the IRPSs (the curriculae). Behaviour matters but isn’t marked.
    David Talone is right: jGR grades should TOTALLY be dropped once the kid has done a proper exam. Assign #s to outcomes, not processes.

    1. Hi Chris,
      Could you be a little bit more specific for me?
      1. What do you mean by “a proper exam”?
      2. What does a proper exam for you look like in interpersonal communication?
      3. What outcomes are you assessing in interpersonal communication?

      1. 1) All I mean is, a formal evalutation to see– after lots of CI, PQA, reading etc– to what extent the kids got what they have been learning. For examples, my beginners have had TPRS for one month now. Their exam– on Wed– will have
        a. translate a paragraph
        b. two free-writes, where they get a picture and have to describe the characters and tell a story.
        2) I havn’t done this yet in my newfangled TPRS classroom, but typically it will be pretty routine, practiced day-to-day stuff, like “Imagine that you are meeting [another kid from class] for the first time. In addition to saying hello and goodbye, figure out each others’ names, ages, favorite activities and where you are from.”
        This is where my Spanish class is NOT totally TPRS: I do expect a bit of “fake speech” because
        a. the ten basic questions are ESSENTIAL and can be learned by easy repetitive memorisation (we do question circles where the kids rotate in two big rings and practice the questions) for 5-10 mins/day
        b. I want the kids (and parents and admins) to feel like they can “do” something early on– even if it’s simple– in the TL. Plus, a lot of them end up visiting family in the US, or vacationing in Mexico, and that way they get to see how easy– and useful– some basic Spanish is right away.
        3) The outcomes I am assessing are (and I am not quoting the IRP directly here)
        a. students should be able to say, ask and understand basic info about self and others in TL
        b. students should be able to use gestures, tone and questions to identify, ask for help with, and solve communication problems w/o use of English (I teach them how to ask for help/help each other, etc)
        I am going to do two other “old school” speaking projects with them this year:
        a. restaurant: they have to be clients or waiter and go thru the ordering/eating process.
        b. Directions: we turn the class into a city, and they have to ask and give directions.
        In my view these are both essential basic skills for anybody who wants to travel.

        1. Chris,
          it seems to me that your outcomes are all learning outcomes and do not reflect what comprehension-based classes are all about. You are asking kids to produce language they may not be ready to produce yet.
          You are forcing output and not taking into consideration their silent period, the natural order of acquisition and their readiness to produce spontaneous emergent language.
          OK , you can have them rehearse and memorize language but let s call things by their name. What you are describing is called Learning and NOT acquisition.
          It also reminds me more of Communicative Language Teaching and not Comprehended/Comprehensible Input teaching.
          That is fine but let s call apples apples and oranges oranges.

          1. Yup, this is true. They aren’t properly ready, but they can learn this stuff fast, it’s not hard, and it’s useful right away in the real world. I don’t weight this stuff much– hell, often I just pretend to mark it.
            The eventual outcome of any languag teaching is comprehension and production, unless we are talking medieval Sanskrit. We must distingsh between the method– CI– and the end result– being able to read, listen and speak (and write). CI gets us to the end.

        2. Chris,
          I agree with what Sabrina has said.
          We need to resist the urge to make assessment complicated. For the first year or two of classes using CI (and that can include upper levels who have had no CI before), be content with assessment designed to show you whether students understand. Plain and simple, most all of my assessments answer this question: Can the student comprehend spoken and written L2?
          I mix in some output stuff, like freewrites and essential sentences, but even those are veiled attempts to get more reps of target structures; I don’t envision grading either of those writing activities for grammatical accuracy for classes new to CI.

          1. “…be content with assessment designed to show you whether students understand. Plain and simple, most all of my assessments answer this question: Can the student comprehend spoken and written L2?”
            Thank you James for blowing away the smoke in my brain tonight with this simple recipe! This can also apply to moment by moment assessment, no? Yes to useful assessment! And yes to sneaking in more input right under their noses on “official” assessments!

        3. Chris, thanks you for your further explanation.
          I agree that ultimately we want students to communicate in two directions and not continue indefinitely as passive recipients of language. However, like Sabrina and James, I believe early forced output is detrimental in the final analysis. The question is always, when are students ready for output? On the one hand, we run the risk of forcing students to output too soon. On the other hand, we can inhibit students who are perfectly ready to speak. We have to offer opportunity (and incentive) to speak when ready without forcing output.
          Disclaimer: I have no idea how to achieve this balance other than by trial and error – mostly error.
          In my first year classes, I have some students who are still struggling to keep up with the input; I need to slow down for them. I also have other students who are speaking in complete sentences with a moderate degree of grammatical accuracy. Somehow I have to accommodate the needs of both sets of students, as well as the ones in between. It still remains that the overwhelming majority of my students are not ready to be tested on their output; there is a difference between unforced, relaxed output and forced, stressful situations. (BTW, I did a little bit of research on stuttering, and the same factors that inhibit second-language output also increase stuttering; in both cases the recommendation is to lower the stressful situation.)
          Now, as far as your two projects are concerned, as Sabrina pointed out, these are products. If this is a first-year class, very few of your students will truly be ready to tackle them as presentational communication. Also, since your goal – a truly commendable one – is to prepare them for real-life situations (“basic skills for anybody who wants to travel”), will you accept as interpersonal any means by which they communicate, whether that is verbal or non-verbal? For example, in the restaurant situation, I can communicate my wish to the waiter by pointing to items in the menu or ordering using single-word or few-word utterances. For example:
          – waiter (native speaker): “Have you decided on what you would like?”
          – tourist: Yes
          – waiter: What would you like
          – tourist: Steak (it’s a cognate in German) / points to item in menu
          – waiter: Very good. How would you like that prepared?
          – tourist: medium
          – waiter: Very good. Would you like a salad with that?
          – tourist: yes, please
          – waiter: And to drink?
          – tourist: coffee
          On the one hand, if you ask students to take the part of a waiter, you are asking them to assume a role that they will not play when they travel. On the other hand, if you grade them down for their one word answers, have they not engaged in meaningful interpersonal communication? Have they not effectively expressed what they want? If you carefully pre-select who will play each role, you can have those students who are already outputting take on the role that does the “heavy lifting” in the conversation; but if you do this randomly (as most teachers do), you run the risk of asking students to perform tasks for which they are not ready. If you ask them to memorize dialogue for a test, chances are that this will not remain in long-term memory (unlike lyrics to a song, which have melodic, harmonic and rhythmic support). It was, after all Learning rather than acquisition.
          If you have them do directions, then the question of real-life experience becomes, how often will they as travelers give directions? Usually when they are in a foreign city they will be asking directions. If asked for directions, they will usually either say, “I don’t know” or have a map and be able to engage in meaningful interpersonal communication by showing the directions on a map. They could also accomplish the communicative function by gestures (pointing in the correct direction) or by actually walking the person to the place. I know, I have experienced all of these situations in my travels, both as the asker and the asked. If I am judging interpersonal communication rather than mere output, are these not all effective uses of that mode of communication?
          BTW, I have activities in which I do have my students deal with directions. In level three – a level at which everyone is much more ready for output than level one – students practice giving directions by pairing up and telling each other which way to go. At one point one of the partners is blindfolded; it’s a trust-building activity as well. (Of course, we do this outside.) For my lower levels, we do a rally rather than a city. The level 3 or 4 students work in groups to create a path through the school. Then they write down the directions to follow that path through the school. Next they give their directions to another group in the class, and that group tries to follow the directions. This reveals any gaps or errors in the directions. Finally the class decides on the best route and assigns an ideal time to the route. After making certain that all the grammar is correct, I photocopy the directions of the class directions, contact other teachers, and place a stamp and pad in the rooms of those who are willing to work with me on this. I give the written directions to my lower level students (either 1 or 2), who work in pairs or small groups and leave at different times throughout the class period to follow the instructions. They must stamp their sheet of paper in specific locations. The group that comes closest to the unstated “ideal” time (NOT the fastest time) wins. For the upper levels, this is a presentational project; for the lower levels this is an interpretational project. (So for me, this isn’t an interpersonal project.)
          As I understand assessment, summative assessments do not have to be of a different kind from formative assessments. Besides, in language acquisition is there truly a summative assessment in the classroom? Don’t we really just say, “The school schedule requires me to submit a grade at this time, so I have to call the next assessment ‘summative’ to placate the hierarchy”? In a language we can’t say, “Well, that unit is over, and we’re moving on.” As I point out to my students, even when I was sitting in class getting my Master’s Degree, we still greeted one another, asked how everyone was doing, and did other “level 1” communication. No matter how “advanced” I am, I still need to use Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills.
          Okay, that got a little long and rambled a bit. I hope it didn’t get too confusing or sound too aggressive. One of the good things about the PLC is that we can argue ideas and hone our own thoughts; iron sharpens iron, as it were. There’s a lot of just thinking out loud that goes on her.

  13. Rebekah Gambrell

    Just curious Ben…. You said that you only record Quiz grades and jGR. I have a hard time in my classes because they don’t have motivation to do anything if it isn’t for a grade. I read that someone here can’t remember who but they said that they graded whether or not the student was reading during the reading time. I used this and it has motivated my students. Of course I can just say that I am grading it and just include it in the jGR? My students are so driven by grades. I don’t give homework either but I take a completion grade of work that I require them to do in class. Grading has been the most difficult part of CI this year.

    1. OT: Rebekah, I think you have just described one key aspect of what is wrong with the current system of education. Over the course of years, we have removed children’s intrinsic motivation to find out what makes the world around them tick and replaced it with the extrinsic motivation of grades. These same students may have hobbies that they pursue for the sheer joy of the pursuit, but in the school setting, they have been ruined by “rewards”. First there is the reward of the grade, so if something is not tied to a grade, it isn’t worth doing because there is no reward. For some students the grade isn’t sufficient motivation because it is delayed gratification, so we move on to handing out candy, pencils, buttons, etc. in an attempt to “motivate” our students. But we have disengaged the greatest motivator of all: our inherent curiosity. It obviously has no value in the school setting because it can’t be converted into a grade, so students settle into a miasma of lack of interest.
      And then we wonder why kids don’t get excited about school.

        1. No Robert that was totally my fault. I thought I was responding to Rebekah but I put it under one of your comments. Getting a little whirlygigged out here in March, our favorite Looney Tunes time of year. Mes apologies.

    2. For the reasons Robert states below, about the demise/extinction of inherent curiosity, I think that the “grading” piece needs to be so so simple. Why kill ourselves trying to make what we do (which is actually fostering the very thing that ed. systems kill) fit into the oppressive mold? No thanks.
      I don’t have a magic formula, but I think you are doing the best you can by using the quiz grades (which show how much the kids understand) and the interpersonal grades (which show how much the kids are developing/ using the skills they need to increase their understanding and make themselves understood). You can fit pretty much everything you do under these categories, like you state above “…I can say I’m grading it and just include it in the jGR.”
      For the reading time I had a hard time bc some kids were just sitting spacing out, so I started to use a simple “reading log” which I got from Bryce Hedstrom. It is essentially a 2 column sheet where after they read, the kids write down a very basic summary–really basic, just a couple of sentences (L1) to tell what they read about. Then in the second column they wrote either something that connected what they read to their lives (…reminds me of…) or they asked some sort of interpretive question.
      I was using these logs for “free reading” for a while bc our library had just purchased a bunch of Spanish picture books. It really increased the kids’ investment in choosing and reading a book and I learned a lot about the kids from this process. I would read them and comment, but not “grade” them on the sheet. The process could be graded under either (or both) of the categories (comprehension / interpersonal).
      We are all stumbling our way through this. I say take the pieces that most resonate with you, make them “match up” somehow with whatever your school requires of you and call it done. It’s too easy to spend way too much time trying to figure out the grading mess, and that takes our energy away from the more important stuff like being present and alive with our students and families!

      1. Somebody wrote “my students only do things for grades.”
        I have “solved” this problem with
        A) no hwk. All they have to do is focus ( a la Ben’s rules) in class.
        B) if they REALLY don’t want to work, they can sit at my burnout table and vegetate (pre-TPRS this would be 3-4 kids out of 30; now it is zero). It is my job to provide meaningful, fun and do-able activities that teach Spanish. If they don’t want to work, that is their choice.
        C) What we do in class is…kinda cool. If a kid wants to be disruptive, administratorz get paid a LOT of money, plus they have their Master’z Degreez in Managing Teenagerz, and they wre all Teaching Superstarz back when they were in classrooms. So they plus parents can deal with Non-participantz.

      2. Krashen and others BTW report that as soon as you make free voluntary reading “accountable,” kids lose interest. This has been my experience. In my English classes, we read for 10-20 min each day (the kids pick their own books– anything goes except for school-related reading). They LOVE it. They BEG me for FVR if we have to cut it short. I am in a high-ESL school (lots of Punjabi and Hindi speakers) and alot of these kids are not reading/being read to etc at home. Still, they read, especially after we do book talks, bring them to the library, etc.
        I have not done much FVR with my Spanish beginners because frankly I am at a loss where to start. Pobre Ana is a bit above their heads and all I really have is Blaine’s stuff, which is good but it does get a bit repetitive.

        1. I don’t do FVR anymore. Kids don’t take seriously things that aren’t graded. We’ve been talking about that here lately. I also just don’t have the time – I need it for SSR when I am doing novels, and I no longer even do SSR when we are doing other stuff like stories.

  14. I take it your question refers back to my post. (I’m getting a break between your post and the 71 that preceded it.)
    I was describing the educational system in general. The whole thing primes the students who buy into it (and are therefore the honored and feted elite of the system) to care only about grades. Those of us – whether TCI, Communicative, AIM, Pimsleur, “traditional”, or whatever – who ask students to rediscover the joy of exploration and discovery for its own sake are indeed the misfits and weirdos, the gremlins if you will, in the system.
    A discussion on the moretprs listserv included observations that students whose brains are “wired differently” often thrive in TCI classrooms. That’s because our whole method is organic and relational rather than “academic” and categorical.
    BTW, these posts come from a person (me) who works very well in a left-hemisphere environment and who is probably a 1 percenter when it comes to languages. (Did I ever tell you about the time I analyzed the use of the “vav” in certain constructions in the book of Ezekiel, described it and even made up my own name for it; then I looked in the classic grammar [Gesenius- Kautzsch-Cowley] and discovered that my personal analysis – and name – was nearly identical? Or the time during my MA in Spanish studies that we were handed a text in Gallego, and I wound up telling the native Spanish speakers what it said? Not trying to brag here [well, maybe a little], just saying that’s how my brain works. And I still recognize the power of TCI/TPRS for language acquisition.)

  15. Rebekah Gambrell

    Sorry Ben I am guessing that grade grubbers are the giving grades for everything? right? I just started this year so I have been giving grades for anything that I can think of because “I need grades”. Maybe it is my mentality that I need to get over. For example I had the kids do a paper on a cultural piece so to fit in the “Culture” part of the standards. It was in L1 and one page and easy so I made it an easy grade, but interesting enough I had two kids copy and paste from wiki. Not sure if that was a good idea or not? I am trying everything right now just to see what will work. I agree that the kids have been given too much “candy”. Their motivation is in the wrong spot but how do I change that? I like the idea of just telling them that everything is for a grade and just add it to the jGR. This is a huge chunk of their grade in the class anyway. Any comments are greatly welcomed.

    1. I don’t think it was a good idea to give a culture project. See:
      and especially Chris’ point that you don’t put horseshoes on cows.
      You see, in my view and experience, anything that interferes with CI is bad. And excessive grading does that. We have but one Standard, really, and that is the Communication Standard. When we try to show that we are meeting the Culture Standard with projects and such, we effectively rip huge chunks of valuable time away from the Communication Standard. Given that it takes over 10,000 hours to get anywhere with a language, and we have only 500 hours available in a four year high school program, why are we wasting our time? This shows how bad it is to focus on and assess the wrong things. The wrong things are anything that does not bring comprehensible input to the kids in the form of listening and reading in the first two years.

      1. Yes. But if your school demands homework assignments and projects (mine expects the former), then a cultural project could be a nice homework assignment. It is something that they can probably do on their own (because it’s not or not much in the target language) and it might satisfy any students who think that “projects” are learning a language. It’s something I’m thinking of doing for my still-sometimes-recalcitrant 7th grade class. Some of them still mostly think extensive output is “fun” and is learning.
        I make anything they do potentially for a grade, but in fact grade only a few items. Ex: I collect anything they write in class & look it over – maybe to use in a future class, maybe just to see how they’re doing, and maybe mostly to give them a sense of accountability.

  16. Thank you for the support, jen. We change when we do more than we can peacefully handle in teaching and this applies especially to grades. We get nervous. I challenge the group to do less grading and logs and all that stuff and just transfer that energy to teaching during instructional time.
    The kids are faced with such complexity in grading in all their classes! They come to us for a break. We need to fully give them that break. You really can’t make a pit weigh more by weighing it more often anyway! But you can have a nervous breakdown worrying about it.

  17. Rebekah Gambrell

    Robert… my husband is the way you are and I am not. I hate grammar. All I want to do is communicate and understand people. TPRS and CI have been great for me. I wasn’t a 4% in school. I have just been happy to see so many of the 96% students excel in my class who fail so many other classes.

    1. I have heard nothing since I replied to him. Interesting, isn’t it? Especially in view how vehement he was about helping his son “be accountable” in school.

      1. Well written, Robert. If you still have not heard back then he was probably satisfied with your comprehensive response. And who knows what was happening in the Dad’s life that might have impelled him to take drastic measures. I am guessing that your comments reassured him that his son was not lying (about doing HW) and was doing well academically. Perhaps in his mind your interaction was as good as, if not better than, an Open House visit.
        At any rate, Robert, this was well worth reading. Thanks for reposting, Ben.

  18. Robert or anyone else:
    In my mind the standards are the Three Modes. Anyone agree or disagree?
    Also, this is a passage from my rewrite of Stepping Stones that may help some people when they communicate about standards with parents:
    When talking to parents about this form, point out also that the descriptors above and the term Interpersonal Skills Rubric (jGR) in particular are not random terms you made up, but in fact describe a national standard, the second of the ACTFL Three Modes of Communication, along with the Interpretive and Presentational Skills, which you also address in your classes.
    I recommend learning some hand motions when you explain the standards to them so that you can make sure that they and their child know what the three terms mean:
    1. Interpretive – put your hands out in front of you and draw them in to yourself to indicate that the child can understand/comprehend/interpret what they are hearing/reading in your class.
    2. Interpersonal – this is the big one in a comprehension based classroom. Put your hands to your sides near your shoulders and cross them back and forth in front of you. This describes that the standard requires back and forth sharing of ideas, since the language can only be learned if the speaker and the listener are negotiating shared meaning.
    3. Presentational – put your hands close to your chest and move them outward, in the opposite motion of the Interpretive mode. Explain that this describes output in the form of speaking and writing and that it is not assessed in any serious way until doing that is reasonable, in higher levels of language study.
    Explaining these things in this way puts the students’ inability to reciprocate in the classroom process into a kind of focus for the parents that, without the hand motions, might not be clear. Once the parent knows what is expected of the child – the above first two skills in lower level classes – and that they are actual standards, puts the responsibility for classroom performance right where it should be, on the parents and the child.
    Here is a link:

    1. Agreed, Ben. Communication is the standard. The rest of the C’s are by-products, benefits, and desired ends of The Standard.
      Communities. Using the language outside of school (5.1) for the rest of one’s life (5.2) is what most people expect to be the result of learning the language. This is impossible without the language.
      Comparisons. Learning to communicate in the language allows students to “Develop Insight into the Nature of Language (4.1) and Culture (4.2). When comparisons are made apart from the language they are more properly referred to as linguistics and anthropology.
      Connections. Using the language to “reinforce and further one’s knowledge of” an academic discipline “through the foreign language” (3.1) or to acquire information and gain “the distinctive viewpoints that are only available through the foreign language and its cultures” (3.2) are by-products of attaining the communication standard. This might be a purpose one has in learning the language. The qualifying words “through the foreign language” seem to point to either a a prior knowledge of the language, or conversely, to the use of the language learn a discipline, in the course of which both the language and the discipline are learned or increased.
      Cultures. Standard 2 expects students to demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the L2 cultural perspectives and the L2 cultural practices ( 2.1) or cultural products (2.2), in order to “Gain Knowledge and Understanding of Other Cultures.” It does not clearly state that the purpose of a FL course is to use L1 to learn the culture of L2. I believe that it is safe to assume that L2 is intended to be the vehicle for learning the culture of L2. And we would add, when there is sufficient L2 to do so. With sufficient L2, any culture learned by means of L2 is an increase in L2 input and acquisition.
      Well stated. Communication is the standard. I appreciate how we remind ourselves to keep the horse in front of the cart.

  19. lol I just gave almost 1/3 of my level 3/4 a 0 on their first assignment for the semester. Little buggers cheated by copying from the Internet. This is so strange to me now that I almost forgot how to handle it. Today I decided to get away from SBG and move toward points in at least that level 3/4 class. I’ll keep to the tenants of SBG, though, as much as I can, and let them re-assess or exempt them from a particularly bad performance. Anyways, these kids speak points and so in points I shall speak.

  20. When I think about Robert’s response to this parent, who knew no better and cannot be blamed to think otherwise until he received it, it makes me tremendously proud to be associated with a band of teachers like ours. We do not accept mediocrity. We put ourselves in harm’s way in a mental and emotional way each time we explain our truth to those who believe that kids can learn a language in the way other subjects are taught, which is the old way.
    Some of us have quit over this in-building daily stress. Most of us stick to our guns and do what’s right as per our own beliefs based on our own experience in our classrooms about what is best for kids. That is my definition of a hero. Even the ones who quit are heroes, for they tried.
    Think about it. There has been virtually no success over decades in our field. Nobody seems to have noticed that failure. They accept failure and explain away the failure by saying that the only way to learn a language is by going to the country, because it can’t be learned in a classroom. But we take the country’s language (uninterrupted comprehensible input) to our classrooms. We do what couldn’t be done before TPRS. And then we get questions about what we are doing from parents like the one who challenged Robert. Then Robert calmly writes out his truth and what can the now-educated parent respond?
    Would this guy have challenged a medical doctor in this way? No, and so what we have to do together is through our hard work and dedication to what we know is best practice in our field continue to do what we think is right until we pull our profession up by its bootstraps until we have the same respect accorded to us that other professions do. We can do it and we will, because our way of teaching is stunningly effective and we have each other’s backs. That’s all we need. We can and we will do this.

  21. This is such a valuable thread at this particular time. As we begin the second semester, my PLC was working together just yesterday to consider what should be graded and how to tie those grades to our Standards. My PLC and I agree that Communication is the Standard.
    The frustration was that we need more time, as professionals to discuss how to improve our practice to help kids learn. But, time is not our friend. I will share this thread with them. Perhaps, this thread can save us some precious time 🙂 Thanks to everyone.

  22. Many districts, departments, administrators and teachers are at best unclear and at worst confused about their WL purpose and mission. Is our job to expose Ss to the new sounds, some words, some music, art and holidays where the target language is spoken? If so we plan field trips, art projects, concerts, artists in residence, dance moves, food tastings, scripted dialogues with fill in the blanks, information gaps, and memorized chunks ad nauseum.
    It’s not until our colleagues at all levels are willing to challenge the dominant paradigm -and assert that we’re here to facilitate communication skills thru language acquisition-that T/CI will overtake other models.
    If folks don’t prioritize basic proficiency, that skill will be obscured by so many other shiny C’s floating by…
    I bet a great book, TED talk, PBS video, or other PR blitz (all of these!) would help our cause.

  23. I have been teaching in my district for 20 years and have yet to engage any group of Language teachers in a substantive discussion of what it is we are trying to do. I’ve been able to talk to a handful of individuals, but no group has ever addressed the issue.

    1. Robert, after reading your response to that parent, I was wondering if you could tell me what it is that you say in response to the push for “I can” statements from many administrators and school districts.

  24. The “I can” statements were created for language learners as a self assessment (See the Preface to the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements – available online) and are intended to be “used by language learners to asses what they ‘can do’ with language in the Interpersonal, Interpretive, and Presentational modes of communication.” The side bar on page 1 encourages learners to set their own goals and notes that certain specific “can-do” statements may not coincide with the learner’s goals and thus may safely be ignored while still meeting the Global Can-Do statement at the beginning of the proficiency level. There is also a built-in option of creating one’s own goals. In this context, I believe the Can-Do statements can be very helpful and useful. In the school setting, how many times are the learners even asked what their goals for learning are? Instead, in most programs students are presented with a course of study designed by a textbook company according to a grammar syllabus. This removes the can-do statements from their intended context and function.
    In addition, the sidebar on page 2 for Learning Facilitators indicates that the can-do statements should be used to establish learning targets for thematic units and lessons, to model goal setting for students, and to help students become more independent and life-long learners. The Learning Facilitator is encouraged to help students set their own goals as well as provide guidance and class time for self-assessment and reflection. How many school language programs actually do this?
    When we wrench something that has positive benefits in its setting from that setting and context and force it into a context for which it was not designed, we warp it and often turn it into something it was never intended to be. When we take the can-do statements from their context of providing encouragement for learners by showing them what they can do and make them a tool for showing learners what that cannot do by testing them on 1) tasks that are beyond their acquisition level, 2) tasks that do not fit the learners’ goals (remember, they are supposed to be part of the process of deciding what to learn), and 3) specific vocabulary rather than the ability to accomplish the task, for example, we turn them into something they were not intended to be.
    They are heavy on output because they are performance oriented. (Sidebar, p. 2) This can still be useful when we view the can-do statements over time. When they are once again wrenched from this context and turned into benchmarks that are given as a one-shot standardized text, we run into problems – the same problems with all single-session tests: performance on a given day or at a given moment may not reflect competence. For example, we just finished finals at my school. One of my students attended and took the final but was obviously sick. He was constantly getting up to blow his nose, he coughed, his eyes watered, and it was obvious that he felt miserable. In addition, this was the third final of the day for him. Can I expect his performance on that test to reflect his true competence? Because I have had him for the semester and have seen what he “can do” over time, I can make allowances for this performance, but standardized testing does not because the scorers have no idea if the test taker is at his peak or if other concerns interfere with performance.
    My concerns are less about the can-do statements themselves and more about how they are applied. Rather than being a useful tool to help learners self assess and learning facilitators to tailor instruction to the needs of learners, I fear that most schools turn them into instruments of torture by using them inappropriately.

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