Grading in Accordance with the Three Modes of Communication

This is a repost of a recent comment here:

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




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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



14 thoughts on “Grading in Accordance with the Three Modes of Communication”

  1. The French level ones have started coming to my desk: “I’ve looked at my grade on Aeries and it’s C. How do I improve it?” So I reminded them as a class that this is just (just!) 40% of their grade but that at the quarter, if they’ve been working on this then their comprehension test grade, will be awesome. I flatly stated that most of them are used to being A students but the way to be an A student in language class is different, and they almost all have C right now but that will improve as I observe the behaviors I described to them last week. Then we quit talking about it and started practicing it with the Afraid of the parcel story and straight away – there were some stop signs.

  2. Yeah I had a kid who wants to go to the Air Force Academy, a true straight A machine, who today finally got that I meant it. He had been very haughty about being so smart that he didn’t need to really get involved – we all have such kids – and it was almost painful to see him try to respond instead of being merely attentive (crucial terms in this discussion and in the way jen set this up and go read how they are placed in the rubric – the easiest way to find it is to click on the category). He tried a few times like he had a lump in his throat while most of the class behaved at a much higher level than they did last year as level 1 kids. He saw and felt the shift. It was pathetic. But slowly he will show up or his GPA will suffer. That’s what jGR does – it forces kids to show up for real. A higher sense of play enters the classrom. The jobs and the extra credit they bring are perceived by the kids as now super important because of how this rubric levels their grades down, like you said Corinne in that one kids’ case from an A to a C. We are on the same page in our classrooms with assessment and we deserve the cleaner burning and more fuel efficient car that has resulted, in our cases kind of overnight in the past week or so. It’s a dream come true for me, or could you tell?

    1. Yep! I have a formerly A+, very self-satisfied, sassy 7th grade boy now getting a C. We talked about the Interpersonal Communication grade and why it’s fair to grade that way. He’s improved – not there yet, but probably not going to fail his Interpersonal Comm. grade next time. But it doesn’t yet look likely for him to have a A+ again. And it’s broken his attempt at a power hold, dominating the class and destroying what I aim to accomplish.

  3. I wish I could make the daily participation grade as per jGR worth as much as you do. Even if I make it 50% of their participation, it won’t count for much since our department policy is 15% HW, 15% Participation and 70% for quizzes and tests. So, if a kid aces all those quizzes and tests, then even an F in the participation category won’t have the necessary impact to show their true ability in regard to the three modes. How do you solve that?

  4. Could you do something like this: broaden the definition of “quiz” and “test” by determining on certain days that your PQA session is worth a quiz grade? Or that a 1o min. chunk of it is an “oral and listening quiz” ??? Something like that, where you take what you are already doing but you define it as a quiz / test. Then you can add “weight” to these skills in your administration-approved percentages. I think you can come up with official sounding names like “oral and listening quiz” or “interactive vocabulary assessment” or ???

    Just an idea. You have 85% of the grade to work with, so that should help. Obviously the home 15% component can’t “count” but it seems like this might be a way to work the system.

    1. Then do you just get “buy-in” on the days that PQA is announced as a quiz? I tried postits last year – giving one to everyone who answered. It was great as long as I was giving out the postits, but when the incentive was removed, the “buy-in” disappeared too. I am really going to hit the Interpersonal skill hard. Jason Fritze says he gives a postit to kids as a validation . Here’s an example: I told my new 9th graders in French 2 that they may want to watch “Les Choristes” which my French 1 class watched last year. One of my girls from last year blurted out “Oui, le garcon est mignon.” She got a postit – unforced emerging language – a perfect example. Jason says to tell the kids to put the postit with the compliment on the door jam on their way out and he sends them off with a quick note to parents. Good PR and easy to manage as long as I dispense them a few at a time – has to be legit and heartfelt! I’ll let you know how it works. BTW Thanks to all of you who did the heavy lifting with the grading rubrics, interpersonal mode and the rigor posters. It gave me a lot to think about and really helped me focus on l’essentiel!

  5. Thanks Jen, this is probably the way to go. I guess there is no law how those words “quiz/test” have to be interpreted, so I can get a little creative there.

  6. Brigitte you are the professional but they get to tell you how to grade. Wonderful. I like jen’s suggestion and echo it here to a bit more of an extreme.

    Personally, I would put a number of quiz grades in the book and entitle them “ACTFL Interpersonal Skill Assessment” (ISA – a very official sounding abbreviation) and I would date them so that I had one such assessment per week in the book.

    So, by the end of a six weeks grading period, you might have six quiz grades (one per week is enough hassle for me) and six ACTFL ISA grades for a total of twelve quiz grades. If those quiz grades are 70% of the kids’ grade, your jGR grades would be 50% of the quiz grade anbd 35% of the overall grade. That might get their attention, as there would be teeth in that percentage distribution that bite hard.

    And, as chill pointed out, if they are not being held responsible for the ISA by the jGR, then they almost mock us, knowing exactly what they need to do for the A. I repeat here, the PURPOSE OF THIS ENTIRE THREAD IS TO STOP that rude sense of “I can get an A in this class by barely listening since I am so smart” attitude, to remove that option from them so that they have to SHOW UP for our classe in the way we now know we can demand, and for the first time in my own experience, thanks to jen, I might add.

    What I would make abundently clear to the kids and any parents is that the assessment is not a quiz but an assessment by me that I have to do in order to align my instruction with the national standards, something new in language classes since the 90% Use position statement was added into the standards. Thus I would be doing much like David Talone does right after class, indicating to what degree they are adhering to the jGR and thus the national standards, but I would do it randomly during a planning period toward the end of the week but attaching it to a certain day.

    I wouldn’t even tell them when the assessment is, picking up on chill’s point. I would just tell them that each week in one of the classes on an unannounced day they will be assessed for the jGR skills in that class period. Unexcused absence? Have a nice zero! I repeat, after the first year or two, nobody cares and nobody is looking at you (lone wolves excepted).

    Again, I wouldn’t even tell them what day the assessment was bc it wasn’t on any one day, but all week, really. I lie like that to be able to keep it all simple so that I can just sit down at the gradebook later in the week during a planning period and simply record a grade from 0 to 10 and being done with it. It’s so easy!

    I refuse to get fancy on grading. If all of us just stopped with all that nonsense – and it IS nonsense – and we all took like 90% less of our time in evaluating our students as per what Laurie said grading really is, nobody would even notice. And a good deal of the stress heaped on teachers by the sick system built by those who would impose their will on us (if we let them, as per Robert) would be gone and we could worry about other things or, better yet, worry less!

    Do younger teachers who actually grasp the atom bomb that JGR represents really want to spend the next twenty years spending untold thousands of hours in bogus grading (grading is bogus – a game) for no reason? Don’t. Grade simply so that you can simple teach.

  7. Wow, Ben, as usual you hit the nail on the head! That is exactly what I will do. As a matter of fact, I will print out your post and staple it to my forehead for ready access!!! This is not something I can afford to lose in the abyss of millions of posts here. DANKE!!!

  8. And Brigitte there isn’t a teacher in the world who doesn’t fudge grades up for certain kids. Maybe 50 years ago there were teachers who would grade so that if a kid got a 69.4 average they would fail the kid. But not today.

    Today we truly understand that, given the motivation of the kids – or more accurately the lack of it – both homework and grades are pretty much bogus activities, made to present the image to the public that the school is working.

    But it is not working and never really has. We are in deep crisis. Those people clinging to the old ways – homework and big tests based on memorization (how can they be accurate?) and grading in general – are rapidly looking more and foolish each day, like those who still use books to teach a language.

    So, if grading is pretty much bogus (what I mean by that is that grading is pretty much bogus), then we need to not overwork in that area. Brigitte I REALLY APPRECIATE your reading closely enough above to get what I was saying.

    It’s a fact and nobody knows it – we just don’t have time to work something so sadly arbitrary. No one will notice, and if they do we can dazzle them with more bullshit.

    The grading bullshit that I am advocating has more details than I wrote above. For example, just an hour ago a student who made an A in my class last year, bc of the jGR and some not so stellar quizzes, now has a D. She asked for an explanation.

    I told her, “Wow yes we have to look at this. I’ll tell you what, today is our reading day and as I walk around and we all translate into English or Spanish, either one, if I hear you reading nice and loudly and with accuracy and confidence, I will make a grade for that.”

    And to prove it I went into IC and created an “assignment” called Reading 1 and it looks like a test to anyone who wasn’t in the room. It’s a grade in the book. It’s an assessment.

    But I just gave it to get her grade up to a C and get another grade in the book for those who think that they are helping our country by spying in teacher’s gradebooks when all they are doing is scaring teachers and making them think that teaching is all about grading when it is about actually using the language in the classroom as much as possible bc we learn languages by hearing it in massive repeated amounts.

    Who knows that this is a “manipulation grade” in my gradebook? Nobody. Who cares? Nobody. Admins spend their days putting out fires, negotiating the obstacle courses of their careers, and have no time at all, none, to challenge us on a grade in the book that may or may not be what they think a grade in a WL classroom should be. Not the parents, not the kids, not the adminsitration – nobody will challenge me on grading without some strong pushback, born from things I have learned on this site.

    This tactic is called “taking it to” those who would otherwise take it to us. By doing this kind of grading, we win and our kids win because our time goes to real instruction instead of losing SO MUCH TIME to bullshit.

    1. Somehow, I missed this post but I’m glad to read it now to refresh my thinking before Monday and especially before our 2nd quarter begins. I take to heart, in particular, this beautiful reminder:

      “But I just gave it to get her grade up to a C and get another grade in the book for those who think that they are helping our country by spying in teacher’s gradebooks when all they are doing is scaring teachers and making them think that teaching is all about grading when it is about actually using the language in the classroom as much as possible bc we learn languages by hearing it in massive repeated amounts.”

  9. So Ben, I read this REALLY closely and I think what I get from it is that ……… grading is pretty much bogus!!!! Will that get me an A in your grade book? 😉

    Luckily, I have a 4-day weekend coming up which will give me plenty of time to fudge around with my grade book a little bit. Thanks for all the great ideas!!!

  10. I grade so little. Just so little. It’s because for me grading really is bogus. In a language class based on comprehension methods that involve human back and forth reciprocal participatory skills, I think I would be more accurate just assigning a grade based on my interaction with the kids and a few quizzes to test for content. Really, if we are going to embrace ACTFL and observable behaviors, then that is different from quantifiable knowledge, and so with the Communication standard the idea of using test grades bases on memorization and such is just not viable anymore. Collection of data is not what we are about, but instead we are about observable behaviors. I have always thought of quantified granding as some kind of dark way to help average to lower kids remember that they are just average to lower kids and since we are labeling them with average to lower grades they must be that way. Same way with higher achievers. They must be so and if we burst their bubbles because they are in actuality not wonderful at all but little taker memorizers, then their parents get involved like Jeff and all of a sudden we are not teachers but lackeys for the images that the privileged have of their children. Using that reasoning, if a child is in a rich family, they must be more talented and there will be hell to pay if we don’t tell mom and dad, who are “concerned”, that their child isn’t. That is scary. On the other end of the spectrum, I see kids who should be going to the best universities, really bright kids, but they have a Mexican accent and I don’t see them think or behave as if they are bright. I see them drinking the societal Kool Aid that if they have an accent and if they are poor then they automatically shouldn’t be going to college. Some of my kids are academically and socially vastly superior human beings than some of the privileged college bound kids I have taught in my career. I could name a certain President who got through Yale on privilege not talent but if I name his sorry ass I would puke. If we allow ourselves to be manipulated by wealthy parents with jGR, then we are sorry teachers indeed. We need to make choices about backing up what we are saying when we give a child a 2 of 5 on the jGR scale. We need to make strong and vigorous and honest decisions not just about how we teach but also how we grade. We can’t not grade them, no grades only works with motivated people. My idea is to undergrade them, therefore. I constantly ask my kids how their other classes are going. I don’t give them shitwork that takes up their time. Many don’t have the time since they work. Long story short, the deck is stacked against my kids in so many ways. If I give a lot of homework and grade them in the way I did when I taught AP French (tons of work to make sure “I” got the A), then I am buying into a kind of sickness in our society. OK ramble over and it did go all over the place. But honestly, some of us in this group are still not giving ourselves permission to relax professionally and to relax in the knowledge that jGR is a kick ass in-your-face tool that should, when used properly and dispassionately, shut meddeling parents’ mouths up and get those parents out of the school and back into their SUV’s quickly so they don’t end up wasting our time and American tax dollars in their pathetic attempts to manipulate their child’s grade and in some cases avoid their real parental work of – with our help – seeing what kind of outlandish little robots they are raising. They should be thanking us for asking their children to grow as human beings, but instead they attack us. So it is with some of the privileged in this country. And yes, it is a class thing.


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