Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
I first learned about interactive notebooks during my pre-service training and loved the idea. However, I never quite figured out how to make it work for me as a teacher or for Comprehensible Input instruction, where I don't want my students writing down notebooks all the time. However, with my new plan to end everything we do with a Write and Discuss (coming by way of suggestion from Mike Peto), a clear and purposeful plan clicked. Just in time, too - my new school is an AVID school so interactive notebooks are a regular part of instruction. I've been working on an example notebook complete with all of the supporting documents, and I'm ready to share my draft* with you!!
Please note that my interactive notebook design is slightly modified from what a "true" interactive notebook is, but maintains many of the principals particularly for our daily documentation of learning (the Write and Discuss section). I am also attending a Jump Start conference for National Board certification as well as meeting with my colleagues in the upcoming weeks, so it may undergo additional revisions as things get fine-tuned for the 2018-2019 school year.
Why and When we will use the IN
I mainly want their notebook to be a resource which answers the question "What did I learn?". It will show the material for a particular day and their mastery of it as well as their progress over time. Any other activities they are welcome to keep in their notebook in the back, but I am only concerned about the items I want them to come back to throughout the year, including reviewing their progress and accomplishments.
This means there are only certain times which I allow students to use their notebooks or even have them out. For the vast majority of class, I want them to focus on being present and comprehending input. However, I hope that by routinely dedicating the last 10 minutes of class to write and discuss with our Interactive Notebooks, students also know they will have plenty of time to write down any notes they wish. The only other times they will need their notebooks are when they are evaluating and documenting their learning, which will usually happen during specific proficiency activities.
With that being said, the main items in my notebooks (with a more detailed break down below) include:
I have 30% of my gradebook set aside for "Classwork and Activities", most of which will come from items in their IN. Everything in the IN is going to be graded on completion as part of students' daily formative assessments - this means it's information for me to adjust instruction before the summative assessment of what they achieved. I want students to get comfortable doing their best and honestly evaluating and discussing their progress. If they know that items in the IN are graded on quality of completion, it will send a signal that lowers their affective filter and gives them permission to just do their best and not worry about anything else for a moment. I am going to review their progress each day (see the procedure in the next paragraph) to see what adjustments need to be made or conversations need to be had in order to get them where they need to be.
This policy fits in with the least amount of work for me as well. As students are working in their IN, I can easily move around the room and stamp/check off pages that have received full credit (or that are done enough that I trust will be worthy of full credit). I plan to check off the items on my student tracker and grading sheet as well as give them a stamp on their notebook page so they know it was checked and recorded as full credit. Anything that is less than full credit, I write a small score in the top left corner of the page so they know they still have some work to do if they want more points, but I did check it. Anything that doesn't get recorded in class, they leave open to the page that needs to be check and turn their notebooks in to the basket. I finish recording them and put them in their hand-back folder for them to retrieve the following day.
Students are going to give themselves a self-evaluation each day to let me know what's going on.
Items included in my IN
The spiral notebook will go in the front pocket or clipped into the front if students prefer. However, unless you get a large binder (which I don't want), having the notebook clipped in makes turning pages impossible, so I prefer it to be in the front pocket.
Do you use interactive notebooks in your comprehensible input classes? What do you include and why? Are there things you choose not to include? Share your thoughts below!
As the name of this post suggests, this is another step on a journey that started long before this post. It may be helpful to review the following posts before reading this one in order to contextualize what I'm about to write:
As I reflect on all that I've learned during our first trimester, I find myself compelled, yet again, to change the grading system. I was using an Interpersonal Mode rubric adapted from Ben Slavic which fit the needs of co-creating with the class (One Word Images, Ask A Story, Etc.) very well. However, with my recent transition to primarily Story Listening, the Interpersonal Mode rubric no longer fits the behaviors I expect of my students since they now have new roles for engagement. Moreover, there are things missing from that rubric that I want students to be doing, especially since so much of our class time is now spent reading.
The bottom line is that grades should be meaningful, and what I was doing no longer fits what I wish to communicate to parents and students. So, something has got to change.
What would be meaningful and fair to communicate?
Before I even begin to think about setting up my gradebook, assigning tasks, and grading them, I must be able to answer this question. The meaningful part concerns what I need to communicate to parents. How should they interpret the grades that their students receive? The fair part of this question concerns what students can control - and, as I've explained in the two posts linked at the beginning of this post, I do not view assessing what students can do in the language (i.e. proficiency or tasks) as fair and I have to honor that when assigning their grades (soap box moment: whether or not I agree with it, these grades do influence their quality of life based on how they and their parents feel about them! Not to mention that high school grades will affect college acceptances and scholarships. For those reasons, I take assigning them very, very seriously).
For my class, I've determined that Student Behaviors (Citizenship) and Completion of Assignments (Classwork/Assignments) are fair and meaningful to communicate:. To be honest, completion of assignments can be categorized under student behaviors, but there is some sort of satisfaction when students see a direct connection between the tasks the complete in class and what shows up in the gradebook. However, in honoring what is fair to assess, these daily tasks are formative assessments of my instruction and students receive an automatic 100% just for completing them. It feels great to them to get these regular 100% grades in the grade book, and it ensures that students can communicate openly with me about how well I am reaching them while only being graded on what they can control.
How does this look in the gradebook?
Although it may be somewhat arbitrary, I decided to give each of the categories (Classwork/Assignments and Citizenship) equal weight in the gradebook. The categories are broad enough that I can include everything we do. I've always preferred to use weights as I feel they give me more accurate control over my gradebook, but that is just a personal preference.
Because this approach is likely unfamiliar to parents and students, I plan to send a letter explaining how students are graded and how to interpret those grades. I also plan to review their proficiency assessments in their notebooks and touch base with the parents of students who are struggling in their proficiency so that they have a complete picture of their students' performance and how they can support them, while still maintaining fairness in the grade book. Once I write that email, I will link to it here.
Trust. It is impossible to run my classroom without it. Yet, it seems that trust is and has been rapidly disappearing from all aspects of life, but especially so in education.
Why is there such a push for teachers and schools to be held accountable? Would we need to "hold them accountable" if we simply trusted that educators had the knowledge, skills, and integrity to ensure that students are receiving an exceptional education? Rather than being encouraging, many of the methods of holding educators, from individual teachers to entire systems, accountable are punitive and strip us of our professionalism and freedom to do what's best for our kids - because someone else doesn't trust that we are already doing what we can and are willing and able to make adjustments where necessary.
Likewise, why do we need to hold students accountable? If we trusted that they truly cared about their learning and would fully engage in it, why would we need to hold them accountable? Sure, there is a place for tests to measure learning, but I would argue that the vast majority of quizzes, tests, and homework grades have more to do with "motivating" students to do the work. Isn't that the real reason behind the question "Will this be on the test?" and other similar inquiries.
I understand that I have a great deal of freedom in my current position than most teachers do not enjoy. I share what I do not to imply that it must be done just like this, but I do hope that something I say will be inspiring AND practical in your current situation. If anything, it's at least food for thought about the changes we need to make as a whole in foreign language education, if not our education system in general.
My students have two jobs:
The first job, following directions, has to do with practicality. The fact of the matter is that I have 30 students in a classroom. I can't have a home run with each and every one of them every day in every activity, but I try. They trust that I will teach them what they need to know, and honor their academic, social, and emotional needs. They trust that I will do my best to make learning meaningful and pleasurable for them through compelling input. Because of this, I trust that they will "play along" with what I ask them to do when I ask them to do it and let me know in an appropriate way if they would like me to change what we are doing.
The second job, letting me know when they don't understand, has to do with students taking an active role in their learning. I cannot read their minds (although I can often read their bodies). I promise to do my very best to make class comprehensible, but I trust that they will let me know when I have not met this goal. In turn, I need to behave in a way where students trust that I will be responsive to their needs. Moreover, I have to create an environment where students trust that they will not be penalized academically, socially, nor emotionally by admitting that they do not understand. This is a tall order, but I feel that I have achieved this with most of my students. Here's how:
First, I frame comprehension and growth as MY job, not theirs. If they are doing what I ask, then it is MY job to meet them where they need me to. It is NOT their job to try to reach for the level at which the language is being provided - it is my job to ensure that I adapt the language to their level. Thus, letting me know you don't understand helps me do MY job better - and I can't do my job without them.
Second, any assessments are not assessments of them, they are assessments of my teaching. I need that feedback in order to know if I'm doing a good job. I shared with my students that their assessments not their grades upon which they will be judge. Rather, they are my grades for the principals to evaluate me, and my grading policies reflect that. If students are following directions and letting me know when they don't understand, they will get an excellent grade in my class - there are no tests or formally graded assessments. I frequently ask them to privately evaluate and indicate their level of understanding using our rubrics. When we do these assessments, I ask them to "grade me" by indicating what they were able to understand and do. These never go in the grade book. If they are following directions and letting me know when they don't understand, but they are still not "getting it", it is because I'm not doing my job to meet their needs.
As a result, my students are very honest. There is no stress - their learning is in their hands. Everyone can follow directions. Everyone can let me know when they don't understand. Every day, these things are 100% in students' control. And they trust that I will respect them and do my part if they do theirs - so (for the most part) they are very willing to grade me and let me know if I'm doing my job well.
I've had a yet another transformative experience this weekend when I attended the COFLT-WAFLT Fall 2016 Conference this weekend. And while it would be easy to chew on the information for a while and continue class as normal in the meantime, for the sake of my students I feel obligated to march into class tomorrow and make significant changes that I feel are necessary NOW.
First, I realized at a fundamental level how not only our instruction needs to change, but the system itself needs to change. As the only teacher in a brand new program that I am laying the groundwork for, I have a high degree of autonomy within my middle school program. If I can shoot for the stars with my 7th and 8th grade students, why settle for anything less? And why wait? While I cannot control what happens to my students once they leave my classroom and move on to the high school (and therefore I have an obligation to ensure that they are ready for the different system there), there is still a lot I can do in my own classroom, and my grading needs to change. Right now, I am using standards-based grading and expecting my students to achieve a certain amount of proficiency by the end of the year. They are held accountable for reaching certain benchmarks by the end of the grading period. However, one of my first ah-hah moments of the conference came from Dr. Beniko Mason when she said
Wait, what? Shouldn't students be held accountable? Well, yes. Of course. But not for what I (and I suspect others) thought. I wanted to hold them accountable for the end result of language acquisition. But, there's one major problem with that:
STUDENTS CAN'T CONTROL THEIR RATE OF ACQUISITION.
Language acquisition is like physically growing children. For instance, let's take those strange little middle-schooler bodies. We know that they will get bigger, taller, stronger, and more adult-looking as long as they are provided the things they need. If we put the things in their bodies that they need and help them learn healthy habits, they will grow no matter what. Will they grow at the same rate? No. They can't. Those ladies shoot up in middle school and leave their male peers feeling like children. Well, except for the one or two star athletes that happen to be taller than even some of the teachers by 8th grade. But, we know that the boys will eventually grow as well. It can be awkward, and the students can worry about it, but as adults we know that it'll pretty much all work out eventually. We just have to be patient, because there's really not much else we can do about it. And if we want to know how tall someone is right now, we simply tell them their exact height along the established scale. If you're in the United States, it will probably be in feet and inches. If you're in the rest of the world, this information will likely come in meters. But even though that might cause temporary confusion, we can easily and reliably convert from one system to the other and re-establish understanding.
But, say we started grading them on height. The students who "achieve" a height of 5'6" get an A, the students who achieve a height of 5'0" get a B, and so-on. In this system, some of my students get an A+ while I, the "full grown" adult, would get an A-. My mom barely gets a B-, and many of my students would earn a C or lower (I wouldn't be able to pick them out of a crowd of fourth graders). Is this fair or even necessary? No? Why? Because students can't control how much they grow, we know they're going to keep growing as long as their needs are met, and we already have a clearer and more informative method of communicating their growth. The same is true about language acquisition. The nutrition comes in the form of comprehensible and compelling messages. The exercise is what students do to interact with those messages and ensure that they are comprehending (indicating to the teacher by various means when they do and don't understand). Under these conditions, they will grow.* We know this, but neither students nor teachers have any control over the rate at which they grow, and consequently whether they will reach a certain "benchmark" by an artificial and external deadline. And the measurement tool is proficiency level. Conversations about credits and grades must be replaced by conversations about proficiency and real-world application of skills in authentic and unpredictable settings. Already, high schools, colleges and universities, and jobs use proficiency levels to award credits and establish requirements. We want credits and grades because, in theory, they represent what we "learned." But, we all know that it's a flawed measure at best. In any case, we don't really want credits and grades - we want proficiency and real-world skills. So why are we using some nonsensical measurement tool when there is something better out there already?
It's worth stating again, though, that students cannot be held accountable for this proficiency. So, then, what should they be held accountable for? And what should teachers be held accountable, if not the achievements of their students? The answer is BEHAVIORS. Are teachers providing the nutrition in the form of comprehensible and compelling messages? Are students doing their exercise by listening and reading with the intent to understand, and letting the teacher know when that isn't happening? If so, everyone is doing their job and deserves a great grade or evaluation for performance. (Objectively measuring the answers to these questions can be quickly twisted into something it wasn't meant to be, but that is a topic for another post.
So what am I telling my students tomorrow that will make their day? I'm going to tell them that we will continue to do the mini-proficiency assessments that they're already doing, but they won't be going in the grade book. Instead, I'll be grading that they did them at all, that they measured their progress, and that they set goals for future growth. I will continue to collect the data in my classroom to see who needs what, but there is no accountability for mastery on my students' part - I'm just asking them to exercise, and I'm using this data to figure out the right nutrition to give them. Their grades will be based on whether or not they do their exercise (in the form of the Interpersonal Mode Self-Evaluation Rubric). I was also inspired by Dr. Mason's discussion of extensive reading to require it outside of class, although I am going to wait until we come back from Spring Break in order to ensure that my students have enough comprehension in order to ensure that all are able to read at a level that feels easy. I am also going to provide a plethora of scaffolded reading so that all students can find an appropriate text at the (i-1) comprehension level. Students should not held accountable for what they read in the form of comprehension quizzes or questions, but rather just that they are reading, likely via an online form for them to summarize in English about what they read, as Dr. Mason showed was more effective for language acquisition than completing cloze exercises or summarizing in the target language. I'm not going to tell them about the reading yet, but I WILL be talking to administration about adding appropriate Spanish readers to our school libraries.
To wrap this up, the only thing I have to say is that I'm going to school tomorrow with a happier heart than I did last time I walked through those doors - and that's saying something. I am relieved of holding myself to student achievement of proficiency standards that I know not everyone will reach. Some students will acquire at slower rates than others, and that is ok - for both myself and my students. They don't have to worry about how it will affect their grade anymore - I will be relieving them of that pressure and simply ask them to exercise. Have fun. Get lost in the story. Be yourself. And be happy with whoever that is as long as you're making an honest effort to read and listen with the intent to understand. Help me help you understand. And that is all that you will ever have to worry about - the rest will come.
*Of course, there are exceptions in extreme cases where students may have learning disabilities that impede their ability to acquire any language, including their first language
Dr. Beniko Mason
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