Grading is Killing CI

We have never in all these years here discussed the deleterious nature of grading on our work. We just accepted it. I suggest that we rethink that position of acceptance.

Knowing the nature of how people acquire languages – because we have actually studied the research – we should have fought for its implementation in our classrooms better.

We didn’t, we just accepted the fact that we need to grade our students like in other classes. Again, if we are to believe the research, then that was a mistake.

The result is a decades-old cacophony of illusion in language teaching. It’s just year after year of hot air. Grading and SLA research are mortal enemies and we don’t say that because we don’t believe it and so we and our students suffer, under the whip of Assessment, in direct disagreement with the research.

We know that to be true. In the following article, which I try to republish here every few months because of its importance, the point is made that conversation is communication is the standard and they all naturally exhibit an unhurried, free nature. The brain can’t produce or process or acquire language under any kind of force. So read this article again:

And yet in spite of the gold in the article, in spite of the gold in the research, in spite of the knowledge that is buried under the assessment sidewalk just under our feet, where we can’t get to it, we go on, day after day, month after month, year after year, crafting new and cuter and more confusing rubrics which in the end we justify as better than the 100-point scale but are really just further manifestations of our ongoing human need to judge children.

Judging children is not why I got into teaching. Ultimately, I wanted to share beauty with them. I wanted my students to know that there is beauty in this world and to see it. I didn’t want my own professional life, which impacts so heavily on my personal life, to be devoid of beauty, and so I chose a profession that would allow me to share something that I saw as really beautiful with people who still believe in beauty – children.

The beauty in my case, the talent that I was given this time around, was a deep knowledge, appreciation and love of France, of its culture, its language sounds, its beauteous structure, its unstoppable poetry, and the overall lively and joyous thing that is the French culture in all of its 29 French-speaking locations on the planet. France is worth a career, right?

But now, looking back on more than 40 years of trying, I realize that I have failed in my desire to become an effective sharer of things French and I’m pissed off about that. I want to blame somebody. I want to blame schools. Why?

It is because the nature of language as a school subject is that language instruction cannot be codified, predicted, planned, controlled or made to fit into our current concept of school in a way that reaches the hearts of children. The school is set up that way, unless we can break it and convince the authorities that grading is killing CI.

What is the real cause of our failure to reach children with the good stuff in our field? It is not the schools. It is our own inability to stand up to the grading monster, because we don’t even know that it’s a monster, that it is a primary player in why we can’t get these damn handcuffs off in our classrooms.

And yet we as the adults in the room amidst a sea of child administrators bow to their incapacity and sheer ignorance to help us implement the research in our classroom in the needed way. That’s not too strong a statement. Anyone who allows children who are already fluent in a language to be placed in a classroom with beginning language students doesn’t know what they are doing, and that is only one example.

A revolution is needed and child administrators must have their feet held to the fire of the truth of the research before we turn another entire generation off to the beauty of what we are stewards of.

But in the end it is our constant need to control and judge and evaluate defenseless children that is the real culprit here, and the grading piece – along with the dramatic need these days to figure out how to implement CI in our classrooms – is the darkest piece and where we must truly look before we can get this century-old language debacle turned around.

Don’t look now but we’re losing them. We’re losing our kids. We’ve already lost three or four generations of them, including the ones who come from privilege, because all those kids know is the grammar; they don’t know the language. Then CI comes along and we screw that up too. Why?

It’s because we botch the implementation of the CI and continue to give our students little to look forward to during their hard and lonely days, while touting how great CI is, as we stroll along with obvious pride next to some kind of weird instructional cliff like the Tarot fool. That was not Blaine’s vision.

Our students stroll into even our CI classrooms and immediately hunker down to protect their minds from the forced learning, the forced grading, the farce we put on them, in spite of having been given golden rifles that can blow away in one moment shitty and ineffective instruction.

We are not currently in alignment (Jenna this makes me think of the yoga piece and I’m still working on a response) – we are not in alignment with how languages work. We’re in alignment with how math works, and also how science works. But gaining knowledge about how math and science work can never apply to how languages work, so we can’t use the pedagogical principles used to teach math and science in what we teach.

Why don’t language teachers read and embrace the research more? It is because they don’t have the time so there is no blame. But why don’t they stand up to their child administrators and yell loud enough to get their attention and finally make them get truth out about the research? Is it that the administrators can’t hear us because they’re deaf, or is it that they aren’t hearing us because we aren’t yelling loud enough?

Bless their hearts. Bless our hearts. Bless our students’ hearts. Bless everybody’s hearts. Some day someone will forgive us for making language instruction in schools so unpleasant for so long. Someday we will forgive ourselves for judging our students with such venom. It will all be new.



12 thoughts on “Grading is Killing CI”

  1. Research is the key. So how do we implement it? How do we implement any good thing, we have to wobble through it until it becomes natural. Just like this CI journey.
    In my children’s elementary school the second grade team gives homework, nightly. This killed my daughter who would slowly, painfully read the pages and suffer through it for an hour each night. Through tears and frustration we would work on it. Until I told her she didn’t have to anymore. I wrote on the homework packet what we did that week that supported learning: chores, visiting a museum, cooking together, etc. I was never worried about her not learning these concepts that she brought home. She loves science, loves learning new things and is a natural explorer. This was the one variable I never wanted to snuff out. Homework was killing her love of learning.
    One-hundred eighty (180) research papers say elementary homework is useless and even detrimental to learning. I understood the teachers’ position, she had to fit into the Danielson Evaluation which was created from Marzano…down the rabbit hole we go… THE TEACHER WAS BEING GRADED ON IDEALS THE RESEARCH DOESN’T SUPPORT! This I believe is the crux of it. Until policy lines up with research. Until we, in good faith, fight for love of learning and human growth, grading is going to be an easy out. We need to believe educators are professionals. It takes faith to believe that someday children will get it- that it will fall in place. In many ways we’ve lost faith in children and it has caused educators to even doubt themselves. I don’t know how many times I have graded something or done something in my classroom I knew had no value but went with it anyway because it’s easier to follow the flock, to play the school game, and to look good on paper.
    Thank you for your heart, Ben. I wish these conversations were allowed and encouraged in our academic world. I wish we could slaughter these sacred cows that distract us from the divine faith that allows for real education.

  2. One current comes to mind here. She has met with me twice about how to get an A+ in my class (she daily gets 95% on her jGR). She is really frustrated that she doesn’t know how to get the A+. We recently had Parent-Teacher Conferences, and her dad came. The whole time we talked about how it’s burdening her that she doesn’t have an A+ and that she’s confused about how to get one. The dad wasn’t demanding I give her an A+, but he was concerned because it was bothering her. I’ve challenged her to think beyond the grade, to let go, and just enjoy my class. This is very difficult for her. She likes my class, but her dad says she’s distracted sometimes about the grade. I get it because that’s all the kids know; however, to your point, there are bigger things at stake: the sharing of beauty and joy for its sake, not for a competitive edge. The competition, while catering to those who thrive on it like this student, kills joy, peace, and beauty turning them into something that can be transactional. This is a fruit of utilitarianism.

  3. She’s confused about how to get an A+.

    Oy! We all have had such students. The dad is complicit. Perfectionism in my view is a symptom of mental imbalance.

    What I did in this situation myself was to give them extra credit for extra work done. I’d give her the old Bloom’s grammar workbook and have her do some work on certain grammar structures for the extra plus grade.

    She’ll change, of course, but not for awhile, when she’s out of school, when the needle of approval seeking is finally removed – by life – from her injured heart.

    I would certainly not bring up the idea of learning for the joy of it. She wouldn’t hear that argument. Bless her heart.

    School sends some crazy messages to kids. Like something bad will happen if you don’t answer all the questions correctly, or don’t win the state meet in cross country. I know that one well. Bless my heart.

  4. Hopefully, my class is planting a seed for her. As you say, she’ll probably learn it later on in her life. When we’ve talked about it, she tries every excuse in the book why she should get a perfect grade, and she’ll admit w/out batting an eye that she’s in competition with her older sister. I want her to look honestly at her desires and what’s driving them. I want to challenge her to think critically and to see the flaws in her thinking. This will be a journey for her as it was/is still for me.

  5. …I want to challenge her to think critically and to see the flaws in her thinking….

    I don’t think that is an area you can go into. You could 20 years ago, but that may not be allowed in this new time, in my opinion. Parents seem o.k. with letting social media teach their children.

    Just keep delivering the CI, and wait, and maybe one day we’ll get back to teaching the whole child. Maybe one day.

  6. Do you mean that I ought not go into it because I could get into trouble? I know people today don’t want to be challenged anymore. I found that out in my old job. Challenging people is a personal assault on who they are. Perhaps I dodged a bullet with challenging her, and there will be no negative ramifications.

  7. I mean it in two ways. First, I don’t think she CAN change at this point. She’s stuck. Second, it seems that right now in our country things that are good and true and honorable aren’t as important as getting all the money. This child’s currency is grades.

  8. I agree especially because all of her other classes and her entire academic life have reinforced the idea that grades are the goal. My one conversation with her and using the Invisibles is only a blip compared to all that learned experience.

  9. What we are doing is such a radical paradigm shift. There is literally no such thing as an A+ in acquisition! I waffle all the time with the ramifications of this in terms of the old school judgement (oops I mean grading) mentality. Over time my “inflated grades” have become even more “inflated.” I used to connect “meeting the standard” with 85% grade (our school has competencies AND numerical grades…don’t get me going on the absurdity).

    I always tried to “match” the competency (standard) grade with an adequate number for numerical grade. Since I only assess (rather than grade) I use a 1-4 scale to be consistent with school requirements. So previously I was like…ok 4=95, 3=85; 2=64 (because 75 would mean passing…but they are not meeting competency, so I picked 64 to keep that consistent since 65 is passing grade); 1=50.

    BUT…more and more I go back to the reality that is acquisition. A student can only show me where they are at that moment. How can I justify giving a kid 85 vs 95 on an interpretive task? They listen and show me what they understand. They read and show me what they understand.

    The 95 kids shows more details, etc. But that is likely individual variation that we expect. So now I pretty much give 95 for “meeting competency” and 100 for “exceeding.” It is still super subjective. I come to the same argument with myself: how am I deciding between 95 and 100? 100 student is “exceeding” how? By more details? By their emerging output? (but then this runs the risk of kids forcing themselves to say things beyond their level just to get a better grade). So again, I am like “ok, why should they not get 100 on any interpretive task?” They cannot control their processing speed or the internal mechanisms at work in the acquisition process. They only thing they can control to any degree is their “negotiation of meaning” aka interpersonal skills –letting the speaker know when meaning is breaking down.

    I’d love help clarifying my “system.” ???

    1. Your system, jen, and your jGR (new people search that acronym), have accurately reflected what the research reveals to us as best practices in terms of assessment, for over ten years now. We’ve had some big breakthroughs here over the years, and your jGR was not the least of them. The core ideas that you express above are exactly the message re: assessment that I want our group members to know. Your idea that there is NO WAY that we can accurately measure language gains is EXACTLY what Krashen says and so must be more respected. But even among CI teachers that fact is largely ignored. So you need not analyze your system. It’s not you, it’s the big fog of irresponsibility round you. If we are not going to work for responsible bosses (i.e they know the research and try to help us to implement it) then what can we do? We can’t serve two masters. My master is the research, so the bozos around me won’t receive anything from me.

  10. ……more and more I go back to the reality that is acquisition. A student can only show me where they are at that moment. How can I justify giving a kid 85 vs 95 on an interpretive task? They listen and show me what they understand. They read and show me what they understand….

    This is poetry. How indeed can we measure acquisition? We can’t. End of story. The internal challenge for us who know the research is to rise above our tendency to lash out at such ignorance, bc if we really think about it, we are dealing with power being in the hands of insane people. That’s not good. That’a real bad.

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