JGR Is For Communication

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10 thoughts on “JGR Is For Communication”

  1. I wanted to share the text of an email I recently wrote to a parent. The son, “Edward,” likes to fool around in class, and generally gets away with it. So when the rubric went home with a C on it, dad had a few “questions” about my grading policy, and even suggested that we might have to take this up with my administrator, since there is nothing between a C (needs improvement) and a B+ (proficient). I wanted to post my response in case other teachers are having their grading systems questioned and need a quick and easy response. This really relates to the insight that the rubric is about communicating with kids and families rather than labeling them, and I had that idea in mind when I wrote this.

    Dear Dad,
    My goal with the interpersonal rubric is to give students simple and clear feedback about how they are doing in relation to my expectations, and motivate them to improve. There is some difficulty in converting a 4 point rubric to a letter grade. I don’t expect all students to reach the “Advanced” level, but I do expect all students to demonstrate proficiency in interpersonal communication skills. Thus “proficient” is a B+ so that students will be happy with this grade, and it would not drag down an overall grade of A. A “C” for “needs improvement” seems fair to me, because it is only part of a student’s overall grade, but is significantly low to motivate students to improve.

    For me to evaluate students using more steps between “proficient” and “needs improvement” wouldn’t necessarily motivate students to improve. Some students are happy with a B or B-, or even a C+. I don’t want them to be happy with this. They either need to improve in significant ways, or they are fulfilling the realistic expectations I communicate to students daily.

    Edward has not been meeting my expectations on a regular basis. He enjoys fooling around during class and seeing what he can get away with when I am not looking. I have seen some improvement over the past week, and if that improvement remains consistent, his grade will reflect this. If he is unsure how to improve, he can consult the poster in the room, the rubric, or check in with me. As I tell the students, I want them to do well, and I am giving them lots of information and tools to reach those expectations.

  2. So, today I had my first big push-back against the use of JGR in class. In my classes, I have been valuing interpersonal as 40% of the grade. The parent of one of my 9th graders asked me for a meeting without her son. She let me know that she did not think it was fair that behavior played a role in the numeric grade. I tried to patiently explain that it was about communication and that it was not a behavior grade, although there are certain behaviors that the students need to demonstrate in order to effectively communicate.

    She was not having it.

    Her son is ADD and she, cordially I must say, explained to me that it is unfair to expect him to exhibit those behaviors and hold him to it as a grade. In fact, she mentioned the word “illegal” because I was not adapting to her son’s condition and it put him at a disadvantage. I attempted to explain that this type of class is great for kids with ADD, and that in fact I was making accommodations like moving his seat, and giving him jobs.

    No dice. She will be going to talk to the learning specialist, and I am sure, the principal about this issue.

    My school is a private school which receives no public funds, so I don’t think there is any legal issue there. We don’t have an IEP’s to follow for any students, and for this student I haven’t seen any listed accommodations like I have for others.

    What do you all think about this issue? I am a bit nervous that the shit is going to hit the fan because I am grading based on behaviors in class. But the way I look at it, how is that different from lowering a kid’s grade because he didn’t do his homework. Isn’t that a behavior? What if he has ADD and gets distracted and forgets to do his hw?

    I am grading specific behaviors in class. Without a doubt. Is that unfair to an ADD kid? (obviously a boring grammar based class would be more unfair, but that is a separate issue…)

    How would you all handle this question? Any feedback would be great.

    p.s. The kid has a B+ (92) average in the class.

  3. My first piece of advice would be to do your best to avoid an adversarial relationship. (But you probably already know that.) Parents are often used to battling an inflexible system and so start out “loaded for bear”. You want to try to disarm the mother.

    Without knowing how the 92 average was reached (Does he do really well on all tests but can’t focus? Does he have low tests that the Interpersonal piece has helped bring up?), it’s hard to give too many specifics. You might try something along the lines of, “I am required by my professional organization and the national standards to teach and assess using the Three Modes of Communication. Just as presentational communication includes a set of behaviors like proper manipulation of the vocal mechanism (lips, jaw, tongue, vocal folds, etc.), interpersonal communication includes a set of behaviors that I am required to assess. I can’t simply throw them out, but I can make accommodations. Since I don’t have any indication that ‘Johnny’ needs specific accommodations, can you and your son meet with me so that we can determine what accommodations he needs to level the playing field in my class? I really believe that he ought to have input on what help he needs, don’t you?”

    You may find that the son enjoys your class and is satisfied with his grade. (You may also find that he has some issues, but at least you are communicating.) I find it a bit troubling that mom has left her son out of the equation on this; it is, after all, his grade, and he needs to begin learning to advocate for himself. You can be very encouraging to him by focusing on his perceptions of the class, the grade, the fairness of it all and what he thinks the necessary accommodations are. He and mom may be at very different places in all of this.

    Mom may also be reacting from the traditional view of what she thinks a language class ought to look like. I’m sure there are many dynamics at work here.

    My comments are obviously coming from a position of not knowing much about the situation, so filter them through what you know about mom, the son, the setting, etc.

  4. Robert has excellent advice! I had one small idea to add: what about speaking with the learning specialist directly yourself? At my school at least, the learning department faculty are great in helping maneuver between parents of kids who get help from their department as well as kids who need help but mom & dad aren’t willing to do testing for whatever reason. I would go talk to the principal myself, too, after getting some ideas from the learning specialist. Use Robert’s points to illustrate why. I bookmarked pages in the ACTFL website about (for example) students needing to learn culturally appropriate communication skills as part of their language learning. (I’m paraphrasing.) That, to me, means a child who speaks with their chair tipped back, speaks in a sassy tone of voice, and blurts in English occasionally, is absolutely not demonstrating a cultural understanding as well as a language communication skill. So I’d bring in the cultural knowledge as well.

  5. Thanks so much guys.

    I actually coach with one of the learning specialists, and have been in email contact with both of them, so I definitely have that end of it covered.

    Robert, the kid is fine with the class. It is the mom flipping out. I tried to defuse as much as I could without backing down from my position.
    The kid is actually really involved in class, but had some blurting issues, yelling out over other kids, not listening -again nothing bad, he was after all a B+ student. He is a fast processor, and gets great quiz grades, so the interpersonal grade was his lowest grade (90%).

    Her point is simple – this is grading her son because of behavior, and she doesn’t feel that is fair given his disability.

    What I take out of your response, Robert, is basically – yeah we are measuring specific behaviors that have to do with communication, and that is fair game for grading. That is what I would like to argue as well. Am I on solid footing to make that argument using the ACFTL standards to back me up?

    I have a hard time imagining how I could make accommodations on this. What would that look like? Do any other teachers work around this grade with IEP’s?

  6. An accommodation is a change that helps a student overcome or work around the disability.

    I don’t read: An accommodation is the teacher accepting a student’s poor behavior and grading them differently than other students.

    I’m going to munch on this one for a while. What changes does David make in the classroom that help this student overcome his difficulties? Start brainstorming that one.

    For starters, I notice that David has made the expectations in the class extremely concrete and measurable for the student via the JGR–pretty important for a student with attention difficulties.

    There are other easy accommodations when working with ADD/ADHD kids, that help THEM overcome and work around their disability, like conferencing with the student individually about how he/she is doing or coming up with a private signal (with the student) for you to use to set the kid up for success when you see a possible pitfall coming up for him during class. There are a ton of these.

    I think you and mom need to be on the same page about what accommodation means.

  7. I really like Jody’s idea of a private signal between you and the kid. If he’s ADD, I would think he could use frequent reminders. Perhaps, when you see he’s getting excited and about to blurt, you make the signal. If he blurts, it counts against him because you signalled. If he blurts and you didn’t signal, it doesn’t count. It doesn’t sound like he would use this to manipulate you, by deliberately blurting before you’ve had enough warning to signal. If so, you might start signalling before almost every question.

    It sounds like all Mom is interested in is the A average. A talk with the kid might be all it would take to get his average up and Mom off your back. If there is a conference with the principal, I’d insist that the boy be present and I would make it clear that you’re willing to help the boy succeed and get an A average, but blurting in class is harmful to everything you’re trying to do and learning to speak in turn is a skill that the boy needs to be successful in life in general.

  8. Jody’s reminder about the nature of accommodations is excellent. I’m not a resource specialist, but our staff has done a good job of working with us to be able to work with students and parents in making accommodations and modifications for our special ed students.

    As they explained it to us, an accommodation does not change the standard but helps the student achieve it. A modification changes the standard. So, if mom is asking that her son not be graded according to the class rubric, she is asking for a modification, not an accommodation. The consequences of that are more far reaching. Since an accommodation does not change the standard, the student gets credit for level of mastery. Because a modification changes the standard, that may result in the student’s not receiving college prep credit for the course (at least in California). Does mom really want to jeopardize her son’s college prep work by asking for a modification?

    In addition to the signal, another accommodation might be to allow the student to have something in his hands to write on. Whenever he feels the need to blurt, he writes the comment on a white board or piece of paper instead. My suggestion would be a white board that he could then erase. Somehow that seems more substantive than a sheet of paper. You would have to know the student to know if this would be appropriate and workable. (After all, this is an individualized plan.)

    The point is, these accommodations help him meet the standard; they do not change the standard.

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