Suggested TCI Schedule – Assessment 3

Quiz #3 – that is, the participation grade, reflects so much and is such a key factor in this entire grading approach. Some on this site have taken the position that grades should only reflect intellectual achievement, not participation.
I seriously disagree. The nature of what we do is that when the kids are consciously making an effort to show up for class, they learn. Language is that way. If you listen to it enough, you will learn it.
Kids being kids, and having learned in most of their classes to earn grades by memorizing, which doesn’t apply at all to what we do, will sometimes run into a kind of mental roadblock when faced with the rules up on the wall.
Those rules have teeth and must be followed for comprehensible input classes to work. But the kids, rather than change the patterning they adopted between 5th and 8th grade in order to survive, might choose to tune out .
If they tune out and are absent from the social fabric of the language class, by definition they are not part of the language acquisition process. This reflects Krashen’s statement that robots don’t converse.
Their decision to opt out of the class and to go only for the grade affects not just their own learning but the learning of the entire group. This may not be true in other classes, but it is true of language classes based on comprehensible input.
Imagine that – a class where communication skills are key. A class in which the good of the whole is totally dependent on the contributions of each individual. Sounds kind of socialist to me. Better watch that teacher closely.
Obviously, there are differing opinions on this, but, since that argument about participation counting as a grade here a few years ago, I have been observing with a fine eye what happens when I really hold the kids accountable for participation, following the rules, etc. and I like what I see.
As long as the participation grades are not lies, inflated jokes of what the kid is really doing, then it forces smart kids who are lazy or lacking in social skills to become a part of the social fabric of the classroom.
When privileged kids are expected to get A’s, which parents tell you in parent conferences, often as veiled threats, you have a situation. This is a particularly noxious problem when middle school teachers have rewarded kids for being good little memorizers but are not really smart in the true sense, having been lied to by too many middle school teachers.
Such kids come into ninth grade, having learned the memorization game, expecting more A’s of the same variety. But, lacking a social bone in their body, they criticize the instruction in ways that display their complete lack of understanding of how languages are learned, and often (usually) with their parents blessing, whose “fluency” resulted from countless verb memorizations.
Sometimes, unbelievably, teachers in a building who still use worksheets, too much output too early, and verb charts will align with parents on this point, targeting the teacher who tries to use the target language in the class over 95% of the time, branding them. It happens.
This cause us to lose sleep and is one of the single most challenging aspects of putting comprehensible input into our classrooms, if not the most challenging because the thing we need most is collegial support of the kind Diana Noonan offers each of the 93 language teachers in Denver Public Schools.
Profe Loca described this unique brand of shittiness here recently and it is certainly a leit motif on this blog. We can’t do much about colleagues who attack us because we try to implement Krashen’s work in our classrooms, but we can address the little memorizers who think that our use of the language in the classroom is not the way to go when everything we have been doing to in our careers as language teachers points straight to Krashen.
The good news on those kids is that time and the general class buy-in wears them down. By the end of their second year, and much sooner in most cases, the kids who think that we learn languages by memorizing have been exposed by the rest of the class – those true participators – and must cop to the behavior of the group or fail. The group forces them to participate. But we must force them to participate as well via the grading process.
When a child first expresses their incapacity to be part of the social fabric and basically try to get us to be like the teachers who rewarded them for memorization in middle school, what I do is point to my rules (posters page of this site). I say this to parents at meetings:
“My classroom is based on these rules. We learn because of them. We need everybody to show up for the discussion and the reading. If your child don’t show up for the discussion, she won’t be able to do the reading. The participation grade is roughly 25% of your child’s grade. Your child is smart. She averages 10/10 on the three quizzes given each week, but, because she has chosen not to participate, she only has a 3/10 on participation*. If you doubt that grade, come to class and observe. So the 33/40 this week is a B in this high school. Look how smart your child is – they earned a B without even participating in class! To earn an A in my class, all your child needs to do is follow those rules up there. Even if your child has a B or even a C, I would probably give her an A if she follows those rules up there, particulary rules 1, 4, 5 and 6, because they are the key to everything we do in this class, especially rule 6. By the way, I am sure that you would want your child to develop the social skills so necessary these days in the work place, right? Talking with neighbors at meetings with their boss at the wrong time, getting up to go to the bathroom every 20 minutes, which shows disrespect, putting their heads on their desk in their office, those are no-no’s in the workplace, right? You want your child to learn more in school than just content, right? I am sure you do. If you wish to take this up further, please do so with my principal. This is the way I grade and I consider the participation grade to be the best indicator of success for your child in the workplace of the future, and not only an integral part of my language program. So when your child follows those rules we are both in a win-win situation. I am sure that you are happy that your child is being challenged in this way in at least one of her classes. My job as an educator is exactly that – to provide your child with skills needed in the workplace.”
So, yes – the participation grade, for me in my world, is the key to everything. Below is the rubric referred to above*, which I don’t fill out on every kid because it takes too much time, but it is there when I need it with certain kids. This is a variation on the original format developed by Donna Tatum-Johns. I will add it to the posters page here when I get a chance: 

Quiz Grade #3 – Participation in French Class

 How well did you do your job this week as a student in my class?  This is my assessment:

 1.  Did you make eye contact with me at least 80% of the time in class? Yes____  No____    

2.  Did you respond with enthusiasm when appropriate? Yes____  No____
3. Did you suggest cute answers to the questions? Yes____  No____
4.  Did you listen with the intent to understand? Yes____  No____
5.  Did you show up for class on time unless you had a note? Yes____  No____
6.  Did you sit in a way that conveyed respect to the learning process? Yes____  No____
7.  Did you speak English at the wrong times? Yes____  No____
8.  Did you use hand motions to make it clear to me each time that you did not fully understand something spoken in French? Yes____  No____
9. Did you do observe the bathroom policy? Yes____  No____
10. Did you bring an “I want to learn” attitude to my class? Yes____  No____

 Total grade: _____/10



23 thoughts on “Suggested TCI Schedule – Assessment 3”

  1. You say that this rubric counts for “about 25%” of your overall assessment. What distribution of weight do you apportion to your other rubrics? Also, what adjustments do you make (and how) when a student, no matter how great the apparent effort, performs much worse in one area than another? I do recall that at one point last year you mentioned something in that regard.

  2. Ah, looking back to your last entry, I see your distribution of weight in overall grading: about 50% for quick written quizzes on auditory comprehension, about 25% for quizzes of on reading comprehension, and about 25% for participation according to the classroom-interaction parameters of your participation rubric.
    But, then, do you still provide your students with supplementary vocabulary lists for individual study and test them on these? If you do, how does this figure into the weighting?
    Also, I repeat, what adjustments do you make (and how) when a student, no matter how great the apparent effort in one area, performs much worse in that area than in another? I do recall that at one point last year you mentioned something in that regard.

  3. Question 1: Since I give no major tests (they suck), then each week 25% of the grade is participation and each of the other quiz grades counts for 25%.
    Question 2: Frank I remember that we discussed this as well. My position is that if a kid can’t do well in a certain area in spite of heroic efforts, I don’t count it as long as the effort was clearly there. My job is not to burn kids; it is to build them up and make sure that they have reason to feel some degree of pride in the work they do for me, not to mention hope in the world. At the end of the year, a kid with a B average may have earned an A for the year if they have shown up as human beings and were a part of the reciprocal and participatory sharing that is language learning. Whether we like it or not, the human element can already be seen emerging, like a beautiful new shoot of a wonderful plant, up through the robotic grading and dehumanizing concrete of the way we used to grade kids. I like being a part of that. I like being part of my students’ success.

  4. Ben, I’m quite support your opinion on major tests, but how can we handle a school’s mandate that we assign one or more mid-to-longterm projects and give a midterm test plus a final?

  5. Ah, I can somewhat foresee your appropriate answer: we assign the projects and tests we are forced to assign, but downplay their significance if a student messes up on them but apparently worked hard with at least reasonable success on our regular class work.

  6. All this still leaves up in the air my question about whether or not you still issue supplementary thematic-vocabulary lists for periodic testing and how you would stir the results of such tests into your overall assessment. Originally, I remember, your words were quite strict on this.
    Remember, I’m with you. I’m just playing the devil’s advocate a bit so as to increase clarity.

  7. Hi Ben,
    Just curious after reading this post what exactly your bathroom policy is? I like the idea of holding the kids responsible and comparing it to the workplace.

  8. My bathroom policy used to be that two kids could go per class but a third could go only in case of emergency. In that way, the kids would police each other, kind of making certain that if a kid left it was with good reason. The habitual evacuators were called on their habitual evacuation. But that only worked in middle school. When I came to my current urban high school I quickly learned that the culture involved almost limitless bathroom trips and that since it was allowed in most other classes they expected it to be allowed in mine. The two person rule quickly failed. If I were to react strongly and try to enforce that rule it would create such negativity in the middle of the most positive lesson that I gave up on it, hence my current attempt, and I mean attempt, to do what I’m doing. It’s part of teaching that just sucks, the bathroom thing. I have no answers to it and probably never will, because it is so immediately and publicly confrontational, and I have learned to pick my battles in teaching and this ain’t one of them. One thing I do with habitual offenders, though, is to stop teaching and wait as they leave and return. In their shuffle there is at times defiance, so I just stop and look at the floor or something. The only thing to do with the real jerks is go to a parent or follow up with one of our deans.

  9. Frank in my heart I have decided that projects are bullshit grades. I won’t even honor it with a discussion. I don’t have mandated projects in my current school, luckily, or I would have another fight on my hands. We do have finals but I just do a big story on those two days of the year – more CI! – and I weigh that mid term and final grade and weigh it in at around 15% or so. So this is a downplaying of those results, as you said. That is the perfect word. I think that it is cruel to give big memorization tests. Teachers who put a hammer on a kid in this way – seeing how much shit they could memorize that year – have, I think in my own opinion, either a mean streak in them or they are very unconscious. If somebody could show me some value in testing like that, big summative testing, I would reconsider my view, but hopefully in this last series of posts I have tried to make the case to evaluate the human interaction going on in the class as the most important indicator of success. Language is, after all, nothing but human interaction. How could a student be said to be a success in a class in which they choose not to show up as a human being? Again, this may not be true in physics or math class, but it must be true in language classes, as per Krashen.
    And you are right on the thematic unit tests. But that was then and now is now. I still use them, but only in first year classes and for the primary purpose originally outlined – to make parents think that I give homework and big tests. Memorizing those word lists doesn’t lead to increased acquisition – it is just busy work. When I feel that parents of first year students are sufficiently convinced that my homework policy exists and that a big test will be failed unless their kids study the words at home, which happens about January, I stop doing the tests, because, in my school at least, only a handful of kids actually prepare for them. They worked in middle school where memorization seems to be such a popular way to grip kids’ minds, but they don’t work in my current school. Like projects, they don’t work in the real world. They would work in a language school, with motivated learners, I suppose, but not in the world I teach in. So really those tests have become fluff. I guess it depends on the school and the teacher. My colleague Reuben Vyn at GWHS in Denver gets a lot of mileage out of them. But, again, they are just a way to answer the question of parents of first year kids if I give homework and big tests. When I say that I do, they smile and are happy to meet such a reasonable teacher, and we smile and everyone is happy that such rigor exists in my classroom. But what is real rigor? Real rigor in language classrooms is when the kid puts aside their idea of what school is and instead shows up in a loving way, ready to play the game of comprehensible input with open heart and kindness. That, in my view, is real rigor.

  10. Ben, you have expressed here the inchoate musings of my own right brain!
    Now, excuse me for at least one more pain-in-the ass question. It’s in line with Krashen’s list of such material educational liabilities suffered by the poor as, for one, poor access to libraries. For your homework of online reading to be translated, what do (or would) you do re students who do not have easy access to the internet? One could gave them a paper version on Monday and allow them until Tuesday to finish their translation, but that might place a greater longterm-memory requirement on them than on the others. I don’t really think that would suit your main purpose of quickly following up with meaningful repetition designed to assist the very creation of longterm linguistic memory. The only solution seems to be to write the story Thursday evening and to find a way to give everyone paper copy on Friday, but we should not put unreasonable loads upon ourselves. What is your suggestion?

  11. Great question. I just run about 70 copies and announce that they can be picked up on the way out after the class. With 170 students, that covers it.
    Many don’t do it, of course, like the thematic units. School is like that. I am passionately anti-homework for a million reasons but I do need a grade to make an A have value in my class and the Monday reading accomplishes that goal.
    The homework topic is so weird. Teachers expecting kids to do homework and then getting a bee in their bonnets when the kids don’t. Good grief.
    This stuff will keep on changing. But this latest version of my approach to the work week feels really good. It was designed around minimum stress on me and the kids with maximum input. I think the direction it is going in is more reading.
    I keep thinking that it takes some ridiculous amount of input in the form of listening and reading to gain proficiency – I know those 18,000 hours can’t be accurate but it stuck in my mind at some workshop.
    Then, if a kid stays in a program for four years, getting listening and reading CI all the time, they will get, at best, 500 hours of input. That would be 1/36th of the time needed to get to proficiency.
    Or, to break it down further, the four years represent 1/72nd of the time needed to get to proficiency in listening and 1/72nd of the time to get to reading proficiency.
    And in spite of the research that show that kids need staggering amounts of hours exposed to the language in the form of listening and reading, how many of them are going to sharpen up their pencils and do worksheets and write grammar structure stuff or get in groups and waste time this week? It boggles my mind. The current research is just being ignored.
    Long answer to a short question, that one, my friend. Have a great week in Chicagoland.

  12. Re: bathroom policy; Ben wrote
    One thing I do with habitual offenders, though, is to stop teaching and wait as they leave and return.
    One other possibility is to refer them to the school nurse for evaluation. Perhaps they have a physical issue or illness that requires medical attention. (While this is partly a deterrent to abuse of bathroom policy, I have had a couple of cases over the years in which a bladder infection was discovered, so it also arises out of concern for the physical well-being of the student.)
    Ben, thanks for the series of posts. As usual you’ve given us plenty to think about.
    BTW, I did the numbers as presented by the Foreign Service Institute in Monterey on achieving “General Professional Proficiency” – which is still not native-like proficiency. According to FSI, under the following conditions
    -mature students (nearly 40 years old)
    -motivated students
    -showing a good aptitude for language study
    -knowledge of other foreign languages
    -small classes of no more than six (6)
    -3-4 hours per day of self-directed study
    it takes 1020 hours for French/Spanish/Italian; 1275 hours for German; 1870 hours for Vietnamese; 2740 hours for Chinese/Japanese/Korean (other languages can be figured according to the category into which they fall).
    Now consider that we deal with
    -immature students
    -unfocused students
    -inexperienced students
    -unmotivated students
    -large class sizes (I have 43 students in my largest class, 33 in my smallest – the FSI would have made 6 to 8 classes out those numbers)
    -essentially no self-directed study
    for about 120 hours per year (as long as we don’t have “Budget-Cut Days”) if we’re lucky. At the end of four years students who have “been there” physically and mentally every day have had about 480 hours of exposure to the language. That, of course, assumes that we actually speak the language in our classes.
    The document from which I got my numbers for FSI was the draft version of the California State Standards. (The information about FSI disappeared from the final version that was adopted.) Note that they use the “Language Learning Continuum” rather than ACTFL Guidelines for placement of students. “General Professional Proficiency” is the same as “Advanced” for ACTFL, and neither is native-like fluency. Many people maintain that native-like fluency cannot be taught but must be “caught” (i.e. acquired) through living in the target culture and language. Also, the California State Standards state plainly that Stage IV (Advanced/General Professional Proficiency) is where a student should be after thirteen (13!) years of instruction in the public school. Realistically, I believe the best we can hope for with most students is somewhere in the low-intermediate to mid-intermediate stage, but that’s just my opinion.
    Which brings me to goals. Among the goals of my class is that students leave after any amount of time with
    1. a love for the language
    2. an understanding of how languages are acquired
    3. the ability to advocate for themselves in relation to language acquisition
    4. a sufficient base in the language to be able to continue to acquire it by whatever avenue they choose (formal, informal, immersion)

    1. I love your “goals” Robert. Leaving with “a love for the language” is so important, and I think should be the overarching goal of all learning that happens in schools. On that regard, so many schools are failing miserably.
      Grades and compulsion will never teach this.

  13. -large class sizes (I have 43 students in my largest class, 33 in my smallest – the FSI would have made 6 to 8 classes out those numbers)
    What I meant to write was that they would have made 6 to 8 classes out of EACH of those numbers, i.e. the number of students I teach in two classes would comprise about 14 classes at the FSI. I have 184 students in five classes; the FSI would have 31 classes.

  14. Ben, a question related to the cultural projects: a while ago there was some talk on the blog about integrating cultural material into the CI. One example was: showing a DVD of people doing everyday things in a culture that uses the TL, and then pausing the film and discussing with circling, etc. Have you or anyone else figured out any strategies in year one for bringing in the rich cultural content in a more meaningful way but which also minimizes the use of English?

  15. Great information Robert. Within the limitations of our settings, then, our use of comprehensible input allows students to “catch” a language – great term – as much as one can realistically expect in a school setting. By providing 95% input in the form of listening and reading in the first two years, we approximate as much as possible their being in the culture. It makes sense – it’s kind of hard to “catch” a language when you are hearing basically English in the classroom.
    When you said that the best we can hope for with most students is somewhere in the low-intermediate to mid-intermediate stage, here in DPS we think that the mid-intermediate is a bit out of range unless the student is highly motivated and gets that practice out of the classroom. My personal thinking is that after three years we can get a kid to the low-intermediate level, who can then pass the AP exam with a 3 or 4.

  16. John anything can be circled into comprehensible input at any time. With that as a conceptual base for our work, we then need no longer think in terms of “strategies”. Just put something up exactly as you said by pausing the film or getting any source material whatsoever, and start talking about it in the target language. The reason this all works is because we now have a way of talking to the kids about any topic, anytime, where we didn’t before, because we were trapped within the confines of the book and all of that old stuff. This is what confuses people so much about what we do – it is counterintuitive and so easy that we, in our effort to come up with lesson plans and the like, miss seeing the ease with which comprehensible input works. All we have to do is just talk to them about whatever we want!

  17. Ben, I basically agree with you; by “best” I was indicating the exceptional instance. The “normal” case is probably high-novice to low-intermediate in our settings.

  18. Jim, in response to what Robert said about helping students develop a love of the language, you said:
    …grades and compulsion will never teach this….
    Right on. Imagine, though, how we have a unique opportunity to do this. This is not idle talk. We can do that with kids because we have a way of teaching them – comprehensible input – that reaches to their hearts every day.

  19. Jim/Ben
    I agree that …grades and compulsion will never teach this…. but what susie says also resonates with me…. that NOTHING motivates like success and quizzes a la Ben afford students to feel GOOD about what they can understand…

  20. Right on Skip. The primary reason I grade like that is because I want a life outside of school, but a close second is the truth that these precious young beings can’t learn, will never learn, if it is a grind for them and if they don’t feel good about themselves. When are we going to be done with that no pain no gain shit?

  21. My blogging companion came up with a nice idea to answer John P’s question. Let the kids research (for one day? for 15 minutes?) a bunch of cultural “stuff,” answering questions they have decided they want the answers to. They can make a one-slide power point and send it to the teacher or share it on google documents.
    Then the teacher can show those slides and talk about them, using them as alternatives in stories.
    This idea may give the teacher a much-needed break period in the lab, lets the kids determine their destiny to a certain extent, and it allows the teacher as much leeway to circle as desired, being free to choose which PP’s to use. I love it!
    And a useful corollary: you can use this idea to get actual help from the native speaker types who might inhabit your classes. I have a very sweet, very wiggly native speaker who doesn’t like what he sees as work, and who distracts (of course! he’s misplaced) from my lessons whenever possible. He doesn’t really like to read in TL, and doesn’t like to write even more. So what he’s doing is reading sources on different space-related topics, pulling out the most critical, easy-to-read sentences from a variety of sources, and posting that with pictures into a shared google presentation. I have told him this is plagiarism, and that it is only a useful way to help me, not the way he should ever handle reports for school. (Next I need to have him at least credit his sources.) I haven’t told him that it’s my way of getting him to read a bunch. We have a presenter coming in to work with kids on a space topic, and I didn’t have the time to set this up. He’s thrilled.
    If you’d like to see what he’s done, look here:
    He’s not quite finished, but I think that even non-Russian readers will be able to see that it’s mostly short snippets of readable text for my advanced class. (We have a Russian resident artist coming in to work with the kids on watercolors and space themes; we are also paying a trip to the Planetarium, where the talk will be in Russian. It’s all going to be over their heads, but I think it will be okay if they have a bunch of comprehensible reading and clear images in their minds first.)

  22. Ben wrote, When are we going to be done with that no pain no gain shit?
    Some people will never be done with it for a variety of reasons. However, I think – as with many aphorisms – part of the problem lies in the misunderstanding of the intent because of the pithiness of the language. “Pain” in the saying doesn’t mean “hurt”. I like the German version much better anyway: Ohne Fleiß kein Preis (Without industry, no prize). Work is involved and always has been involved in human endeavor since the beginning of time. But what kind of work? Bear with me while I ramble.
    Whether we consider the story of Adam and Eve to be literally true or not, it contains great truth. When God created them, he gave them work to do: tend the garden. By its very nature, that work was delightful and rewarding. I’m certain that at the end of the day Adam and Eve enjoyed relaxing from their work. But only when they turned aside from the “natural order” of the world, did their work become toil and drudgery; “sweat of your brow” and “thorns and thistles” were introduced. Work – rigor – does not have to be onerous or toilsome when we work in accord and concord with the way the world and our brains function rather than in discord.
    Babies work very hard, but it is playful work. They also sleep a lot because they work so hard. If we can keep – or bring in – the sense of play, our students will be willing to work hard because it is enjoyable. (Caveat: some of our students will come to us so misformed by their personal misfortunes and the system that we will be unable to reach them. That is one of the tragedies of the assembly-line philosophy of education.)
    People often work harder at their hobbies than they do at their jobs because the hobbies are interesting to them. I first came across this idea at a fairly young age when I read the book “Black Beauty”. It is articulated in that book very clearly. In addition to teaching, I am part of a medieval re-creation club. People in the club sew magnificent garments and make their own armor – do you know how much hard work that is? Yet they do it willingly and enthusiastically because it interests them. If our classrooms can become places where students pursue what interests them, we are more likely to get that kind of sustained effort.
    I’m a bit late with it, but I decided to try the “Most Awesome Thing in the Universe” idea with my level two classes (and share with the others). I introduced it by talking about March Madness and saying that we would be dealing with April Awesomeness. Not all of my students have caught on to what I am doing (that will come), but all are intrigued. Those who figured it out have said, “This sounds like fun”. I’m sure they will work hard to convince people why their “thing” is the most awesome. My 3-4-AP class just did personal Coats of Arms. Some of theme were amazing. Today they shared them in class, and the conversations were great.
    Speaking of sharing in class (I told you this was rambling) . . .
    Many of my students express dismay at the thought of standing in front of the class and presenting. So, when we do get to more output in the upper levels, I usually do a “conversation carousel” so that they present several times to one or two people at a time. The stress level drops dramatically, and students view this as a positive experience.
    So, effort certainly has to be involved, but it shouldn’t hurt. As a personal trainer once told me, “If it hurts, stop immediately.” I may go home at the end of the day tired, but I don’t have to go home hurt (physically, mentally or emotionally).

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