Stop With the Approval Seeking

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26 thoughts on “Stop With the Approval Seeking”

  1. This post comes at an opportune time. The class in which the “complaining girl” I mentioned before the holiday was having a discussion with me about the jGR point scale. To be honest, some of the kid raised some good points. They were respectful in their approach so I listened to what they had to say. During quarter 1, I had jGR at 50% of their grade. Now for quarter 2, it’s at 30% and instead of a 10 pt scale, it’s on a 5 pt scale.

    Their frustration comes from the fact that a 3/5 gives them a 60% which is an F where if it were an 8/10 they would have an 80% which is a C grade in our school. I don’t think this is me trying to please them. I’m just trying to be fair while also slamming the hammer. Can I have opinions? Should I change back to a 10pt scale?

  2. I guess if the scale represents actual points it might make sense to go back to the 10 pt scale. For me, the 0-5 are not “points. ” They are skill levels, so I just have it pretty simple: 0=F, 1=D, 2=C 3=B 4=A. I don’t remember why I am using the 5 since we don’t give A+ at my school, but anyway, that is how I use the rubric.

    I use the 0-5 range and I just assign each level to a grade AND THEN make the percentages work. To be perfectly honest, I just wing it as follows: for my purposes A=95%; B=85%, C=75%, etc. Check the various posts in the category to the right; I know there is a version there where there are percentages calculated more carefully.

    Also, to be brutally honest, I suck at jGR. Seriously. I have lost any momentum I had earlier in the year. Our semester closes a week from Friday and I don’t feel like we have done anything all quarter. This is not entirely true, but since I got sick and missed a week and a half right after Thanksgiving, that was basically like 2 weeks with no routine. Then I barely got back and then we had 2 weeks off. So I am feeling completely lost. Today I made an even bigger poster of the rubric to try to get everyone back on track. At each infraction I walked over to the poster and pointed at the “1” because they were really out of control today. I had to do this several times today and then I finally took the hint and stopped trying to do a story. Just wasn’t working today. Bailed to a dictee and that worked great. I guess I need to try some of that writing y’all are posting about.

    Any ideas on how to recover from basically a whole month off? Is it even possible?This is the first time in 2 years I actually feel like throwing in the towel and handing out textbooks. I hate that I just said that but it’s true. I guess I need to pretend it is the beginning of the year and try to start over with a strict routine. I am feeling even more deflated bc of a conversation with the level 3 teacher who is frustrated that the kids (that I had in level 1-2) mostly bombed the irregular verb test. Seems like that is a “must do” for her…needing to learn irregular verb conjugations. Sigh.

    1. Jen, take a deep breath. If the kids failed a test in level three, that is on her, not you. She is an idiot to think that the students are learning Spanish if they can vomit back out a bunch of verbs. Give me a break. You are doing more for them that you realize. When they are older, they will remember the stories, not the endless conjugations. You have the answers you need already, now follow through with the actions.

    2. There is a chasm between a 3 and a 4 on the jGR. Look:

      4 (A/B) THE STUDENT CONSISTENTLY AND IN A CLEARLY OBSERVABLE WAY NEGOTIATES MEANING WITH THE TEACHER NON-VERBALLY. 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.

      3 (B/C) THE STUDENT SOMETIMES NEGOTIATES MEANING WITH THE TEACHER NON-VERBALLY IN AN OBSERVABLE WAY, BUT THE NEGOTIATION OF MEANING IS INCONSISTENT. ALSO INCONSISTENT USE OF “STOP” SIGNAL – this kid is also involved but more passively. They show that they are not always on top of all the CI because they let the stop sign slide a bit. This is the kid who used to get an A in my class just for getting 8 or above on quizzes. No more. But good kids nonetheless. They do not blurt out words in English or talk to their neighbor in English. They can be counted on not to blurt. They are limited co-creators of stories.

      I won’t give a kid a 4 who is earning a 3. That is THEIR problem. This is the guts of the jGR. I am able to give the kid a 3 (what the kids said to you is a failing grade at 60%) in good conscience because it is a true evaluation of their interpersonal skills as per the Three Modes and it is also not my fault that a 3 is a 60. That is a school thing. We all have to deal with it. We even it out by making 70% of their grade a reflection of formative academic achievement. I fear that to change the rubric because of their (warranted in their grade-conscious minds) is to weaken the great power of jGR. Weakening jGR in our game plan in mid year is not what I would suggest. I would acknowledge the kids points and tell them that this is the way it is going to be and if they want the 4 then will have to earn it by their performance in class.

    3. Karen and Ben have both offered good advice. I’ll add just a couple more things.

      It’s never too late to start afresh. You have a natural re-start at the semester, but there is no reason why you can’t just say to your students that with your being out and the break, you sense the need to go back to the basics of class procedures, policies, etc. Your students haven’t had the consistency they need and crave (whether or not they admit it). You really do have to re-norm the class.

      Today we had a prank fire alarm; because I refuse to play Russian roulette with my students’ lives, we immediately left the room. The administration decided to use this as an impromptu fire drill (which was, I think, a wise decision since the disruption had already occurred). By the time we got back, there wasn’t a lot of time left in the period. I had wanted to do the timed writing, and suggested we go ahead with it, but the students said they would benefit more from the continued conversation. Had I been a traditional teacher or succumbed to the “need to cover” idea, I would have forged ahead. Instead, I made the decision to honor their request and continue the conversation. First, though, I de-briefed the drill in English. It was still difficult to get them back on track because of the disruption, but eventually we managed it. That’s just a single interruption in routine, not weeks’ worth. (Of course, it didn’t help that this was fifth period.) So relax and go back to setting the norms. The time taken now will ultimately save you huge amounts of time later.

      Karen is so right; there is a reason why storytelling remains the best way to transmit knowledge, customs and principles – it fits how the brain works. Your students will remember things from your class long after they have forgotten “shoe verbs”, irregular conjugations, etc. Stay with it.

      Here are a couple of potential wrinkles for you in the grading.
      1. The 1-5 scale must be “translated” when dealing with a percentage scale. Perhaps it will help to think of it in terms of the language of state testing.
      5 = Advanced; the person has gone above and beyond, putting things together that were barely mentioned (or not even mentioned) in class and voluntarily speaking the target language. Whatever your percentage score must be, this is an A grade.
      4 = Proficient; the person has a solid, thorough grasp of the standard and is able to fulfill all of the requirements. Whatever your percentage requires, this is a B/B+ grade.
      3 = Basic; the person has a basic, though not thorough grasp of the standard and meets many of the requirements. This is a C grade.
      2 = Below Basic; the person is approaching the standard, but there are still “holes” in ability or performance. This is a D grade (whatever the percentage must be).
      1 = Far Below Basic; the person has significant and systemic gaps in performance and does not grasp the standard. This is an F grade.
      So, manipulate the percentages to reflect performance on jGR.

      2. This has as its foundation Standards-Based Assessment. Many districts follow Robert Marzano on this. One concept that Marzano presents is “power grading”. Students should be held more accountable toward the end of the semester or year than at the beginning, and their grades/assessments should reflect that. Thus, if a student shows me over the last grading period that he or she has finally gotten what it means to participate in Interpersonal Communication, I will change the earlier Interpersonal grades to reflect that. (I will also lower them if there is a decline in performance, but I usually don’t have to do that.) After all, the idea is to master a standard, and the earlier practice shouldn’t penalize the student unduly. Note, however, that this is based on 4-5 weeks of Interpersonal Communication, not just one or two days. (Almost any student can “fake it” for a day or two, but not for several weeks.) When students ask what they can do to raise their grade, go over the rubric with them and tell them that their demonstrated proficiency during the next “x-number” of weeks will have a significant impact on the grade. Earlier this year I mentioned a student who came to me with that question and subsequently significantly improved his participation. He is still maintaining that level of involvement, and I can tell that he is enjoying the class more as well. Before the end of the semester, I will change all of his Interpersonal grades to a 4 (possibly even a 5 if the speech that I’m starting to see actually emerges). The idea behind “power grading” is to record what students are demonstrating at the end of the grading period rather than during the initial learning phase.

      Ben also touches on an important concept, and this is “who owns the problem?” I’ve been intending to write something up but chose not to do it during the break. Now I will write it and send it to Ben for a possible post. Don’t let the students make their problem your problem.

      1. Jennifer, Robert said:

        …the 1-5 scale must be “translated” when dealing with a percentage scale….So, manipulate the percentages to reflect performance on jGR….

        What I am hearing him say is that you can honor your kids’ concerns in any way you want. You can translate those numbers 1 through as you see fit. This topic is something those who use jGR should weigh in on because we need all the opinions on this we can get.

        I am open to changing the “translation” – as Robert says – of a 3 from a 60 to something higher. I probably won’t, because my kids haven’t raised the questions your kids have.

        In the end, however, I see your kids as possibly manipulating you. If you make the 3 into something above 75% or so, then they win. They can operate in class at that lower 3 level, and your desire to raise the quality of interpersonal interaction in the classroom then fails.

        Compare that with the kid in Robert’s class, where he was forced to move up to the 4 range, did so over the course of the grading period, and both he and Robert ended up winners.

        Ask yourself, “What do these kids want from me? Do they want more for less?” If they do, I wouldn’t give it to them. They are not in charge.

        Of course, that is just my opinion. We all have to make jGR work for ourselves in our way.

        1. Just for further clarification. I think for most of us a 3 is pretty much an average grade. It is the center grade of a 5-point system, which is usually considered “average”. In a straight percentage, however, that equals 60%; for most of us that is the bottom of the D range, which is still lower than what I think a 3 represents. For Jennifer, though, that is an F, which is totally unrealistic as a grade because that would make jGR as unfair as the traditional grading scale. Seriously? Three of the five grades on jGR represent failure?

          /Ramble mode on/

          It reminds me of the meme that’s been circulating on the Internet. Supposedly spoken by Bill Gates at a commencement address, it is a list of ways in which “real life” differs from school. #8 is the one to which I react most strongly because it says that in real life you don’t get to keep trying until you get it right; you only get one chance. My response is always that I’m glad to know Microsoft always gets every new release right the first time, since in “real life” you don’t get to keep trying until you get it right. If Bill Gates’s company didn’t get it right first time every time they would quickly be out of business, because that’s how “real life” works – according to the meme.

          /Ramble Mode off/

          1. Yes, my issue is this, as you mentioned:

            “In a straight percentage, however, that equals 60%; for most of us that is the bottom of the D range, which is still lower than what I think a 3 represents. For Jennifer, though, that is an F, which is totally unrealistic as a grade because that would make jGR as unfair as the traditional grading scale. Seriously? Three of the five grades on jGR represent failure?”

            I know kids typically want something for nothing (as do most adults, anyway) but this time I feel they were just asking for my old 10pt scale back where a 3 is really more an 8 and so an 80% is more a middle B. I think I’ll change it to a C.

          2. I’m sorry, I meant an 80% for me is a mid C. So I think the kids were asking for fairness, not favors this time.

          3. If the kid is playing for the 4 by asking you to change what 3s and 4s mean, then they are playing the numbers/grade game. Their interest is the grade.

            The entire jGR thing is all about making them step it up on the human interaction level, which is what the standards are now about. Not the grades.

            So if they are getting you to change values so they can kick back with a 3, then I vote against that. What is their intent, really? Fairness really? Or are they trying to avoid stepping up to the plate and go for the 4?

            I really don’t know.

  3. I love this. This is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. I am a total approval seeker. I also am lousy at jGR but will be striving to be a rockstar at it this semester as I cannot allow for the teens’ behavior to go unchecked any longer. Today I had a kid that left my class because he said he wasn’t learning anything. My ego was crushed. However, I then realized that if he wasn’t learning anything then he should be getting 100% on everything because he knows it all, but he doesn’t. In fact, he is one of my weaker students. If I could just lose my ego, I would be an even better teacher. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. I think that kids who claim they are not learning anything are being influenced by their parents, who probably did well in grammar/worksheet classes in school and don’t get Krashen and never will.

    In that light, they just lack information and can’t be blamed. Let the kid go. Don’t think twice. By doing CI, you are performing at the level of best practices, current research, current ACTFL requirements (the 100% Use Statement and the Interpersonal Skills piece of the Three Modes in particular) and, by thus aligning with standards, no one can fault you.

    Thank you for getting that.

  5. I hate to say this but I feel like I agree with my students. It’s got to do with my school’s grading scale. Should a kid who SOMETIMES NEGOTIATES MEANING HOWEVER INCONSISTENLY receive what, in my school, equates to an F or should it not be at least a C? Isn’t that above description that of an average student?

    Changing it, for me, would mean that I’m going back to what I originally had. Does it really seem that this would make me a pushover? I want to be fair in my grading. I also want students to feel like there is some hope if they’re not scoring so well on the rubric. Even if kids perceive falsely that something is not fair, it could lead them to shut down completely and possibly en masse.

    1. Jennifer, see my comments above. Just to add to them: if you take those numbers straight across into percentages, it will skew the grades against the students. Your school situation forces you to adapt the numbers to the percentages; in my situation I am able to make the percentages bow to the numbers. I grade based on 5-4-3-2-1, not on points or percentages. Since my grading program converts everything to percentages, I have the following scale:
      100% = A+
      81-99% = A
      61-80% = B
      41-60% = C
      21-40% = D
      0-20% = F
      I suggest you start entering a letter instead of a number (or convert your 5-4-3-2-1 to a percentage before you enter it into the grade book program). You could do something like
      A (Advanced) = 95%
      P (Proficient) or B = 85%
      C (basiC) = 75%
      L (beLow basic) 0r D = 65%
      F (Far below basic) = 50% or 55%

      The entire academic grading scale is so detached from genuine human experience as to be ludicrous. Think about baseball, for example. Someone with a batting average of .300 (hits the ball safely 30% of the time) is a hero. (Incidentally, did you know that the players with the most home runs – like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig and Hank Aaron – were also the players with the most strikeouts? Ty Cobb holds the record for the highest career batting average at .366. ) Yes, there are things in life that require much higher degrees of accuracy (like packing parachutes), but I think sports performance and language performance have a great deal in common, among them the realization that you don’t have to be perfect to be awesome.

      1. Robert,

        In my school here is how the GPA is scored:
        93-100 = A 86-92 = B 78-85 = C 70-77 = D Below 70 = F

        Therefore, when I enter the numbers for the rubric in that particular grade category, I think I’m going to make the denominator out of 100 pts and then do this:
        (5) will be 100/100
        (4) will be 95/100
        (3) will be 85/100
        (2) will be 75/100
        (1) will be 60/100

        Now, what do you think?

        1. It looks like it should work in your setting. Implementation will let you know if it needs to be tweaked.

          I think all of the different ways we accommodate the “grading scale” simply show how detached from anything real and organic the whole grading game in school is.

          1. “I think all of the different ways we accommodate the “grading scale” simply show how detached from anything real and organic the whole grading game in school is.”

            Yup. A sad thing. And in a way liberating so that we can put our best energy into things that are real and organic.

      2. …the entire academic grading scale is so detached from genuine human experience as to be ludicrous….

        Right on, Robert. You rock. So when I give a kid a 60 (a 3 on jGR) it’s really a kind of a compliment, like they are batting twice the standard of .300 in the baseball image.

  6. I also use a 5 point scale on JGR, but I look at it much like Robert so wisely put in his post.

    5 – They are excelling all standards – 100%
    4 – They are meeting the standard – hence they should get an A 96%
    3 – They are inconsistently meeting the standard – B- 86%
    2 – They are infrequently meeting the standard – D+ 76%
    1 – They are not meeting the standard hardly at all F – 66%
    0 – absences only.

    (my school has a 7 point scale, not 10, so 70 is the minimum passing grade). My experience with this system is that it is probably a bit generous on the top end with the students who vacillate between 3 and 4 from class to class. However, my overall interpersonal average is almost exactly the same as my overall interpretive average (obviously individual students will vary widely).

    In terms of getting back on top of it after slacking for a bit, I am there as well. It is tough, and time-consuming, and frustrating (but, hopefully, worth the effort).

    Halfway through the 1st semester I put up a big sign that I stole from Bob Patrick’s website with the different rules and pictures which go with them. I have gone back over this poster with my more difficult (i.e. Latin) classes. I also will be redistributing mini-self-evaluation sheets for the kids to turn in at the end of class. I think that a) keeps them somewhat honest and b) calls their own attention and focus to this aspect of class.

    When my 2nd semester starts (we have classes now, but are still in 1st semester, how weird!) in two weeks, I am going to switch the percentage to 30% of the grade but am going to talk with them about what my expectations are, and reiterate that I am going to give them the grade they earn based on observable behaviors. Hopefully that helps some, because my Latin classes are a mess right now.

  7. I am doing something that Ben suggested a while ago. I take down the information (0-5) over the course of two weeks, then average the numbers.
    I set my gradebook up as follows:
    5 – 120%
    4 – 100%
    3 – 80%
    2 – 60% (a failing grade in our district)
    1 – 40%

    I feel that for a kid to get a 4 they have to be on top of their game, adhering to all the rules and being mentally/emotionally present at all times. The 5 is reserved for those kids who go above and beyond, trying to manipulate the language in sophisticated ways and never, ever speak English in class.

  8. Andrea Westphal

    I’m not sure if this is the correct place to ask this, but what does everyone do about students who have chronically excused absenses? I have a student that has missed my class almost 40 times this semester, and almost all of the absensces were excused by the administration. She is obviously not acquiring the language, but she pays attention and “plays the game” when she is present. When a student only misses class occassionally, I don’t worry about it at all; but this is obviously a different situation. I generally rely on quick quizzes and the jGR to make up most of the grades. Any suggestions or ideas?

    1. Andrea do what your bosses tell you. Those absenses are excused and if the child tries and does what you ask her to do in class, since you don’t know what is happening in her personal life, you may be giving her, in those small successes (being able to understand what is going on in class, etc.), some of the best moments in her life – a class she can go to in which she is not “behind”.

      The child is and never was behind. She is just trying to live. Love her, give her success. Honor her struggles. Build her up. We are teachers. And we can do what traditional teachers can never do – teach kids, via comprehensible input, in a way that they are never behind. Anyone should be able to walk into our room at any time and follow us and acquire.

      It’s not about how much they are in class. In my school, my kids, for various reasons many of which connect to poverty, miss a lot of class. I have noticed that some of them, those who work at that 4 level in jGR, because I teach using comprehensible input (i.e. in a way that my students can understand me, I thus honor them.

      When we teach using comprehensible input, we use the time that is given to us well. Gandalf/Krashen would approve.

  9. A general comment on approval-seeking:
    I think it’s hard not to get sucked into superficial approval-seeking in our culture. If you look at the way Facebook is set up, it’s all about posting something that will receive “likes” or comments. This begins to influence why and how people post communications, and eventually how they think (do kids keep a private physical journal anymore?). Once you have posted something, you check back frequently to see who “likes” what you have posted. It becomes addictive, and before long, you may begin editing your thoughts in order that they become posts that are more likely to receive more signs of approval. This type of insecurity really undermines people’s sense of who they are, and plays into companies that want us to buy things, things we don’t need, things that will help us become the kind of person whose postings are “liked” by lots of people.

    Now, the kids we teach need frequent affirmations from us, as long as they are not fake. But for us to seek affirmations from those kids, is not age-appropriate. We have to model the kind of security and sense of self that the culture at large is trying to undermine.

    1. Andrea Westphal

      “We have to model the kind of security and sense of self that the culture at large is trying to undermine.”
      -Very well stated and very true.

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