Don’t Just Accept Answers From A Few

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41 thoughts on “Don’t Just Accept Answers From A Few”

  1. I’ll add one more mistake we make with comprehension checks: we fail to analyze why there is no response. Last week we were looking at the Bundesliga (German Soccer League) and doing okay, then suddenly the responses tapered off to just a couple of people. I asked if I was going to fast; I was. So, I slowed down, repeated the question about three times while laser pointing to the question word, the structure and then the answer on the Bundeliga graphic, and did a visual 5-4-3-2-1 countdown with my fingers. Only at the end of the countdown was anyone allowed to answer – and everyone was expected to answer. Guess what? The choral response picked right back up.

    Another thing to remember is that the purpose of continuing to ask the question until you get a full choral response is no longer a comprehension check. It is re-training in procedure. Once students know that the correct answer for that question is “Ja”, they will confidently reply without understanding. The next question and the next then become crucial in the check for understanding; the repetition was simply to get them back on track and aligned with the interpersonal communication rubric.

    One other “comprehension check” that I do occasionally, especially at the beginning of level 1, is throw out a phrase that I know no one in the class knows, just to see if they will signal lack of understanding. So far my German 1 students have been excellent about this. (Naturally I commend them for it.) Far better than my level 2 (last year’s infamous 5th period), and even better than my upper levels. (Juniors and seniors have a greater “coolness factor” to maintain than freshmen and sophomores.)

    BTW, it really has helped for me to require surrounding students to signal lack of comprehension when one person does it. It means no one is singled out, but it also means that I pick up immediately on the lack of comprehension; when the entire class starts signaling, it’s awfully hard to miss.

  2. Hello Robert,

    I’m new here and I just wanted to say thank you for your response. I also sometimes just ask what is going wrong. Sometimes they say I’m going too fast or they need a brain break or it has just accidentally become very boring. Of course, sometimes they don’t say anything and then I have to become strict with them.
    Also I was happy to hear you watch Bundesliga, as I’m from Germany 🙂
    By the way, is there a place where noobies like me can say hi? I’d love to know how many of us are actually here. And from which countries?
    Kind regards to everyone,


    1. Hello Charlotte,

      I’m Martin from Germany. I live near Hamburg. So far I’ve been the only one from here. Do you live in Germany or in the States? Which language do you teach? I teach French at a Waldorf school. (Have a look at the Group members category to the right.) You may contact me via my website or this mail address:

  3. Hello all,

    My big problem is being able to spot the kids that are hiding in the sea of kids who truly ARE responding. I’ve already told kids I’m plugging in a grade from jGR each class period and I prefer not to go back on it. I want to see if I can make it work because I’ve been doing decently well with remembering to do it before the next class comes in…BUT my biggest issue is being able to honestly mark a kid low on the jGR since I don’t remember having noticed him/her. I think that must be why Ben has suggested giving less jGR grades so we can see the behaviors over time but it is what it is and I’d like to know if anyone has suggestions for doing it daily. Please? …and thank you…

    1. I am trying to do every day as well – my thought process is that by doing it every day it more accurately reflects the ebb and flow that a lot of kids have. I have some kids that are bright as all get out but on certain days they can’t control themselves and are talking too much. That’s a 0 or 1 for the day. But it doesn’t kill them because they can earn it right back the next day.

      My system is pretty basic – if it is a really good class with participation, I simply plug in a 4 as my default grade and then go back and look at which kids weren’t participating as much. If it is a mediocre day – I put in 3 as my default grade, and the kids who did participate all the time – they are pretty easy to remember and I bump them up to a 4. It’s not perfect, and it is not 100 percent objective. But I have numbers that I can back up my grades with each day, and that is what really counts if I need to battle with a kid or parent. Really, I know which kids are my general 3 kids (they don’t respond all the time, and get distracted) versus my 4 kids (are on top of everything in class). Anything off the charts good (5) or bad (0,1,2) really stands out in my mind and is easy to note. I also have taken to putting some notes if needed below my chart. For example “talking incessantly” or “head down” or simply “dead class”. Just to help remind me in the future. Again, this is not 100 percent scientific. However, as a teacher I feel that I have a good sense of where my kids are and am confident in the overall grade (if not each daily one).

      One thing, I have found is that by making a 5 – 100% and a 4 – 93% it has really cut down on the high A’s that I am giving in my classes. Right now all of my classes have about a 90% average, which is high for my school. But the average would be significantly higher if not for the interpersonal grade. The interpersonal grades so far have almost all been between 3.0 (86) and 4.1 (94). So for the kids who are used to having 97% averages in all of their classes, it might be a bit of a shock to the system.

    2. I can’t possibly see how daily assessments can work. And I am very suspicious of the mindset that makes some of us want to do it that way. Why would we need a daily assessment? Do we want to send the message to our kids that each day is a test? Do we want to raise their affective filters in that way, every day? This is all so new to them too! Give them time to get where we want them to be. The overall sense that a teacher has, in my opinion, is much more accurate when measured over time, anyway. Why this idea of daily assessments? Don’t we trust ourselves? Do we like the extra work and the confusion?

  4. Also, if i miss a day with a certain class, who cares? I draw a line through that day’s boxes, and just divide by one less day when I put together a 2 week average. No big deal.

  5. David,

    I’m doing what you’ve suggested so I guess I’m just giving myself an unnecessarily hard time (classic Jen style). I have the jGR at 10 pts so all kids receive an automatic 8/10. Then I tweak it. Ok. This is good to know I’m not alone. Thnx.

  6. OK now I’m freaking a bit. A core thought that has gone into jGR is the need to use it to its full potential as a hammer. That means, Jen, on the 10 scale that when you give a grade of 8 of 10, you are telling those kids this:

    4 (A/B) RESPONDS AUTOMATICALLY, IN TL, TO ALL INPUT, INCLUDING USING “STOP” FOR CLARIFICATION – this is the kid who is really involved but not spontaneously outputting speech yet. They are fun, always visually locked on, always there with cute answers, and just a blessing to each class and I tell them so. These are strong co-creators of stories.

    I don’t see that as possible, at least in my classroom where most kids are getting the 2s (4s) and are happy to get a 3 (6). I have given a 4 (8) about three times, with no 5s and a ton of mainly 2s and a few 3s so far this past week since we started doing this.

    Do you see the problem? The purpose I see for jGR is to get comatose kids into the mix by making them fear for their grades bc that’s all most of them respond to in schools.

    1. No. Actually I’m giving them an 8 which corresponds with the C/D grade on jen’s jGR. In my school, the grading scale is waaay different:
      93-100 = A 86-92 = B 78-85 = C 70-77 = D Below 70 = F

      So, most kids have around an 83 which falls into the C range here. I hope that explains things and if the math is still confusing, and you think there is something wrong about it, let me know because my intention most definitely is to lay down a Wammy on the slackers. I consulted with a math teacher… ::gulp::

  7. I want to repeat what I see as the core revolutionary function of jGR – it is there to make the kids grow spines and follow the classroom rules and the rubric that we so painstakingly got up and running in the last month after a year and a half of work. Its value lies in making kids freak out over their grades when they realize that sitting and staring is only going to get them a 2, which in my system is a failing grade. Again: you sit and stare and you fail. You don’t pass. That is fully in line with the Interpersonal Rubric of the Three Modes of Communication of the national standard of communication. The rubric is unique in that it forces changes in cardboard cutouts of human beings. No other assessment tool that I have ever seen does that. But we cannot inflate it. As soon as we do that, we will have to throw it out of our assessment system. Then it’s just another meaningless grade. Without that strong message that the students must act in a brand new, human, back and forth, reciprocal, interpersonal way FOR REAL, jGR loses its fangs. Why use it if it doesn’t accomplish that goal? I’m really concerned here. This is not just another rubric, y’all. And while I’m ranting, I’m just gonna say that the daily assessment thing is very questionable as well and totally unnecessary in my opinion. I actually never speak this pointedly, but whether I’m right or whether I’m wrong, whether I find a place in this world or never belong, I gotta be me, I gotta be me, as per:

    I want to foster a very direct level of honest communication here. Otherwise we won’t learn a thing. Ah, the jGR warts! But giving out 4/5 (8/10) is not what I thought we were doing here – it is, in fact, lying to the kids about their performance. Those 4s are very rare grades indeed.

    1. 4 (A/B) RESPONDS AUTOMATICALLY, IN TL, TO ALL INPUT, INCLUDING USING “STOP” FOR CLARIFICATION – this is the kid who is really involved but not spontaneously outputting speech yet. They are fun, always visually locked on, always there with cute answers, and just a blessing to each class and I tell them so. These are strong co-creators of stories.

      I tend to be a softy with the grades, so perhaps my grades here are too high. However, I have been amazingly pleased in general with the level of participation of my classes (which tend to be small 15-18 kids).

      That said, the key word for me in the descriptor is “All”. These kids respond to every single thing we ask them to in class. Or they signal. That, for me, is the key to maintaining higher standards. I can honestly say that 90% of my kids are responding to most questions, but not all. I think the trick and rigor will be in maintaining these standards as the october-to-february lull approaches.

      1. Well said. And we have to remember how different our student clientele can be. I no longer (by choice) cater to smart white kids from well-off families. My kids are rough. They have NEVER been asked to do anything like this in a classroom. It sounds as if you are happy with what you see. That’s all that counts.

  8. Here is the 2 of 5 (4 of 10) on jGR:

    2 (C/D) ATTENTIVE BUT DOESN’T RESPOND; DOESN’T USE “STOP” SIGNAL – this is the kid who may get a good grade on a quiz but makes me work way too hard. They just aren’t involved. They don’t get how to play the game yet. They stare at me in spite of my being practically on my knees begging them for a more creative and energetic response to all the hard work I am doing. These are not co-creators of stories.

    1. I mean to say, I’ve been giving the B/C which is: responds regularly or visually in TL, inconsistent use of stop signal.

      Then, I tweak it for those kids that are not making it happen. Honestly, most of my classes really are into this and are speaking up for the most part…

        1. So I’m thinking the default grade according to how I should set it in grade book is a 7, please review my link above. Then tweak for individuals. My friggin’ heart has jumped into my mouth upon reading how upset I’ve made you when, in fact, I really am in it to win it. I’ll be refreshing this page like a maniac until I see your new feedback, haha.

  9. Well I’m tired and very much into protecting and defending jGR. I think it will go unnoticed in the general TPRS/CI community as a true needle in the assessment haystack, a beautiful needle made of gold to allow us finally after all these decades of shitty assessment instruments to prick the kids inattention and rudeness and get them to behave in a civil way towards us and their classmates so I apologize for freaking out. Just don’t want it to become inflated, and I knew in fact that it WAS the math. I really did.

    You know how it is with really worthy new ideas – they are soon misunderstood, and I just didn’t want that to happen with this golden needle. Just to summarize again my real point – we use jGR as a hammer to demand, upon threat of failing, that the kid SHOW UP, and yet we don’t fail most of them, and there is a fine line there. And that DOES depend on the math.

    But since we all have different systems of grade distribution, we can’t and probably should not try to standardize this. OK – I’m good. Sorry about the rant. But can I say that I have never seen a better assessment tool – nowhere close – than jGR in my entire 36 year career? That’s what that reaction was about….

    1. Ben:
      I totally understand and agree. I am not afraid to slam the hammer otherwise I’d not be doing this in my department alone. I’m sorry for the confusion because I should have realized how my 8/10 would be translated to you all that do not teach where that is a C. That being said you have now made me want to ask these 2 questions:
      1. Should I set the default grade at MY 7 rather than MY 8 for more impact?
      2. Does everything else about my rubric adjustments seem to pan out now that you know wtf I’m talking about?

      1. Yes to both. Impact is good. It’s early in the year. Inflating now is a bad, very bad move. The bite of the fangs should release a very little bit over each month as the year progresses. If the kids ever get back to what they were doing before jGR, back in go the fangs.

        If this is to be any good, it will need our constant re-evaluation and we should never really let this thread drop all year. Way too important. I’d love to know what is going to happen with the math. I guess we won’t know bc at least ten of us are doing this and it would get all confusing.

    1. Hi,Karen!

      jGR stands for “jen’s Great Rubric” (not me Jen, another that’s here…) This rubric is a great way to show that you are aligning your class with the National Standards and the Interpersonal mode of communication. I believe Ben has created a link on the main page that just reads”jGR”. Check it out!

  10. I’m a little confused by the comments about using jGR as a daily assessment or not. If you don’t evaluate each student’s involvement everyday, how often do you do it? Also, how do you let them know when they will be evaluated and when they will not. Please excuse my ignorance. I am a total newb to everything here. I feel like this rubric could be the missing piece to the puzzle that is my Spanish class. Right now I have no leverage and most of them just stare at me for the entire block. I need some fire power!

    1. One of the current “bandwagon” items in my district is the distinction between formative and summative assessment. Formative assessment includes daily, informal observation. That’s a very useful part of jGR. You don’t have to do a “full formal assessment” every day, but you certainly know who is participating and who is not. If you wish or need to make notes, then do so.

      As a formal assessment, you can give your students the rubric and ask them to do some metacognitive reflection about whether or not they are meeting the standard of Interpersonal Communication. Be sure to keep these. If the student’s assessment matches yours, that’s the grade. If the student’s personal assessment is different, have a conversation. There will be a few (very few), who will be harder on themselves than they should; this is a great opportunity to reassure and encourage them. Others will think they are doing fine; this is your opportunity to talk them about the reality of their behavior. For many of them, though, this will not hit home until it appears on a report card. That is the case with my period 5 class. I reminded them today that most of them will have a 2 for Interpersonal Communication on the Progress Report that comes out this week. There was a kind of shrug; I’m sure it will be different when that grade is mailed and e-mailed home.

      Why keep the student reflections? If parents complain, you can pull these out and show them that this is the grade that their students gave themselves – and you happen to concur.

      1. Thank you for the idea about self-evaluation. That will be powerful. Forgive me if I’m not seeing the big picture of your explanation, but, do you give each student a grade everyday, every few days, once a week, based on the rubric? I really want to know what is the best approach from those of you that have experience using the rubric so I don’t make it harder than it needs to be.

        1. I do not write something down every day, but I do make notes when I believe they are necessary. I know some people keep a seating chart or class roster and put something down every day; that is just more paperwork than I currently am willing to do. I do enter an Interpersonal Communication grade at least once every four weeks.

          The “best” approach is the one that works for you, and you will probably have to experiment a bit to find out what that is.

      2. Hi Robert,

        I agree – this is how I’m using jGR. The students self-evaluate and then I read and comment and assign the final grade. Some kids need to be told they’re doing better than they think, others need to be made aware of how disruptive they are being (that’s my classes’ bigger issue). But you’re also, unfortunately, correct about not “getting” it until a grade is in print.

    2. It certainly is the missing piece for me. And Andrew I do apologize – I need to do more basic training here for new people. I will start doing that. I forget that we have new people here. That’s not good. And we all need reminders of the basic stuff.

      1. No worries. I’m in it for the long haul as long as the reality (or absurdity) of standardized summative assessments and textbook-based curriculum don’t suck the life out of me first. If you have time, can you give me your thoughts on my reply to Mr. Harrell’s post. I would really appreciate as many points of view on the topic as possible before I jump in head first. I think I understand what each of the point values look like in terms of what I’ve been observing from my students but what I lack is consistency in terms of my expectations for behavior. I need a tool that will give me a sense of confidence when I explain to a kid that sitting like a lump is no longer acceptable.

        1. …I understand what each of the point values look like in terms of what I’ve been observing from my students but what I lack is consistency in terms of my expectations for behavior….

          So I hear you saying that you are thinking that this is a behavior control rubric. Correct me on this. My own view is that this is a tool that allows me to quantify levels of engagement, levels of human interaction, if you will.

          That is not behavior. The classroom discipline and the astounding change in the behavior of my students this year with this tool are the result of their new – again, astounding – levels of engagement.

          So that, as long as the explanations to the kids is made in the sense of “these are the standards and I have to teach to the standards so live with them” then you don’t need any confidence. It is a cut and dried thing. They can have the low grade if they want it, or they can choose to become real.

          I’m not protecting them anymore.

          I think that you will find, as others here have, that this tool is a no compromise item that hits the gradebook and the feel and behavior of the overall class smack like a hammer and that is why it is getting such attention (it is making the rounds of the other departments at my high school right now, being very actively discussed at meetings, etc.)

          So explain it, let the kid react and – this is key – don’t be afraid to nail the kid with a 2 if that is what they earned. My biggest concern for our group is that kids kind of use their wills to bully the teacher and we can’t have that. We can’t have bullies loose in our country anymore.

          If this is not a clear answer, please let me know, Andrew. I know how off the wall it is, but in my opinion it is a major step forward for us.

          1. Your explanation makes perfect sense. Lack of engagement is my biggest problem right now. That has led to kids interrupting me with ridiculous or otherwise unproductive comments, putting their heads down or just giving me a lifeless stare for an hour and a half. There has been no reason to hold themselves accountable because I had nothing that was tied to their grade to give them an incentive to be engaged. I wasn’t thinking jGR would be a means to control behavior. Rather, the undesireable behaviors I listed above will decrease, if I have a way to increase engagement and make them more accountable for their learning. jGR seems like an incredibly effective tool in helping me accomplish this. My concern is that I do right. Especially when it comes to having the spine to give a kid a 2 when they deserve it like you said.

          2. Well you said it all right here:

            …having the spine to give a kid a 2….

            This is by far most effective at the beginning the year, obviously. If we don’t hit them hard at the beginning, they will interpret that as permission to do these really crappy things that you listed:

            …kids interrupting me with ridiculous or otherwise unproductive comments, putting their heads down or just giving me a lifeless stare….

            Now, for those thinking we may have been overly focused on jGR, I would ask if there is anything more important than addressing behaviors. Like Susan Gross says, discipline precedes instruction.

            Well, we never got discipline going in TPRS, did we? And so why did TPRS never take off, despite its potential? I am certain that it was due in large part to discipline. People would go to a workshop, try it, lose control of the room, and return to the book.

            No wonder people think TPRS is about teachers dancing around in front of the class all day – they weren’t dancing to teach, they were dancing to get the kids to shut up. We never had a tool for discipline. But now we do and it is not too late at all, Andrew. You can do this.

            What is a kid going to do when you suddenly slam his grade down to where it belongs at a D or F and is backed up not by a “mean teacher” who seems to not like the kids when they interrupt with ridiculous comments, put their heads down, or just stare lifelessly?

            What is the little rude ass kid going to do when you call mom and say, “I’m sorry ma’am but the new national standards are making me teach this way and I don’t want to get fired by misgrading your child. You see, __% of ________’s grade is based on the Interpersonal Skill of the Three Modes of Communication of the National Standard of Communication of the parent organization of foreign language teachers in the United States, the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. So my hands are tied. Besides, I know that you don’t want your son to be getting a grade when he interrupts my class with ridiculous comments, puts his head down, or just stares lifelessly? Right? I mean, it’s a language class. And, even if your child doesn’t learn much, which will definitely happen at the rate he is going now unless he changes, we can agree that at least he is learning necessary social skills for the workplace. Because if your child acts in a job like he acts in my class, he will definitely be fired.”

            And, I’m getting ahead of you here, Andrew, get ready to pick up the phone and give the above argument in about a week. And get some administrative support now as well. Chris is the master at this. Then, when mom calls principal, principal doesn’t back down, bc principal is not stupid and has gotten the heads up from the teacher, and the kid has to change. The sum of the change I saw in my class today: the kids in my 3/4 class to whom I was a new teacher in August just tested me to the limit for about three weeks. Without jGR, today’s home run day would not have happened. I won. jGR won.

            Keep us informed, Andrew. This mental anguish is part of the deal here. Deep breath. Your option is to reach a small part of the class with stuff that is boring to even that small part of the class, and to do so for the rest of your career.

          3. Ben, thank you so much for the guidance and words of encouragement. That is what I need right now.

          4. Fully embracing the difficulty of this method – skip mentioned it in the past few days – is absolutely necessary. We embrace the change and the next class comes in and we do what we do. As long as we stay in the target language, we are doing the best we can. We are not perfect. We are not trying to tell others what to do. We are, I do believe this, merely trying to align what we think on the inside with what we do on the outside as teachers. That’s all we can do. This is so big. It involves helping potentially millions of kids. We are so few. And some of us will quit under the pressure. So what? We can look back and say we did our best. That’s all we can do. Our best, even stories done poorly, is a lot better than that other shit.

          5. And I might add while I am up on this soapbox that the kids in this society have truly been denied a proper concept of what showing respect to an adult means. This is so missing now. It is a gaping hole in our society. To me, this issue is far more pressing in our work than getting the teaching piece down. When we hear a rude comment, usually done as to be under the radar, and we don’t react, that is the real mistake in our work. We can mess up with stories all day, but when we allow a child to get away with rudeness, then we are making a grave mistake. We must act in every such instance. If not us, then who?

  11. Andrea Westphal

    When you all give your jGR grades, do you just enter it in the grade book and that is that? Or do you have something to hand the kids to tell them where they are lacking and what they need to do to improve? Just wondering. I’m about to enter my first jGR grades and wanted to know what everyone else is doing. I am obviously not entering grades on a daily basis, but I am keeping a log (when I remember) of what I noticed each class period so I can reference it later.

  12. I like the “consistent, over time” part of this. I make notes when I need to: “head down,” “blurting” etc. So I can be specific with a student when I share the grades. I’m sharing on a pretty random basis. So far it has been when they ask me about it, although today, we hit the halfway point in the quarter, so I announced that if anyone wanted to know “what’s my grade, if you had to turn in grades today?”

    To “calculate” this I went through my grade book and jotted down an ISA (interpersonal skills assessment…because it’s only legit if it is an acronym 😉 and a “total grade,” but nobody asked to see it, so I didn’t push it on them. I did take the opportunity today to project the rigor poster and the rubric and have a wee chat, interactive session on this stuff “as a friendly reminder.

    It emerged in the discussion that as a group, we are not respecting the silent pauses between the question and the answer. That is a shared responsibility, like everything else. I go too quickly. So I tried doing the finger countdown after asking. Then I forgot later, and a kid reminded me! Then someone said, can you just d0 3 seconds (I was doing 5). But then someone else piped up, “But I need 5!” That was very cool.

    Sorry to digress. I am in the camp of least paperwork possible, so the once a month (or in my case, random) postings work so far.

    1. I like to do the grade on a daily basis so that what I put in the gradebook at the end of two weeks is an average of what I see over the weeks (that leads to a lot of grades like 3.4 or 2.8 etc…) I think that way is fairer to a lot of my students who are generally good but have blurting problems.

      That is one issue that I am struggling with on the rubric. I have one class in particular with a few fast processors who enjoy nothing more than turning every opportunity for them to be creative into them putting in a pet phrase that has become popular, i.e. “eating fingers” or “all the time” whenever there is a ¨when” question. These 3-4 kids are all spontaneously using target language, but they are also hijacking the class. I suppose that I know the answer to this question (hit them with a 2), but I am having some trouble justifying it. They are doing some aspects of the rubric (using target language organically and automatically) at a 4-5 level, but in blurting out they are at a 1-2 level as well. grr…

      Reading the comment above, do a lot of you do countdowns to respond to questions? I hadn’t thought of that. Is that common?

    2. That “ka-thunk” time after the question is so important and I forget it so often!! This past weekend when Terry was teaching a Hawaiian lesson I was actually counting the pause between the end of her questions and the group’ responses. She did not prompt for the answer…the group answered when it had the unison!!! It was three seconds..and these are language-crazy adults!! Really drove this point home for me!

      with love,

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