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.
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.
As I'm reflecting on the year so far, I figured it was a good time to invite input from my Beginning Spanish students on what they'd like to see happen in the future. Overall, I've been very happy with my Beginning Spanish classes and would have been satisfied to keep doing what I'm doing. But, hey, maybe there's something I'm missing? So, I decided to put the question out to my sixth and seventh graders and see what they have to say - and I'm so glad I did!
I labeled three areas on my board ("I like...", "I don't like...", and "We should...") and passed out sticky notes to each group. I invited them to write their feedback on the post-it notes and stick them on the board under the category it went with. I set the timer for 5 minutes and they were very engaged in writing the notes! Afterward, I went through what was on the board with them and responded (eliminating the suggestions like "taking naps" and "no homework", etc.) as well as asked for clarification on what they wanted to see happen. I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by all of their great suggestions (and I have to admit it gave me the warm fuzzies to see all of the wonderful things they wrote about class so far, with nothing mean or negative - I love my kiddos!). Here are some of my big take-away's from this discussion:
Students love Señor Wooly! In fact, there weren't any notes that said they didn't like the songs, but a few that asked that I don't use any more non-Señor Wooly songs because they're just not up to par with those on the website. There were a few that said they didn't like the Nuggets for homework, but once I told them that they were going to have homework, they all agreed that the Nuggets are better than anything else I could assign.
Students want to play games and use their devices to learn and review, namely using Kahoot. They report that they do it in other classes and that they pair up if they don't have their own device - and they agreed to "teach" me how to make it work. Overall, I want to do more review, so I will build in all of the requests for games by using them for review. Another activity that they suggested that they do in other classes involves giving hints and pictures of a spot in the world, and have students use their devices to figure out "where in the world" that place is. This could be an interesting way to introduce cultural activities or even have little mini-lessons in under five minutes.
Overall, students seem to enjoy the classroom environment and activities. These are things I already knew, but it's nice to hear them say they enjoy the teamwork, I'm building rapport, that I interact with them, that I'm joyful, and "awesome possum" haha. There were a number of different things they expressed that they enjoyed about class, and multiple students specifically said it helped them learn Spanish.
Students want more learning options. There were a number of students that want to act things out, make up songs, make up dances, do projects, etc. I could address this two ways. First, I could mix things up a little more. Although I address many learning styles, I can often get into some of the same routines with these activities. Students want to mix things up more with different activities. Second, I can assign tasks and projects with menus, allowing students to express their learning in different ways. They also don't want to present in front of the class - I could easily accomplish this by having students present in groups and using a variety of Kagan structures. Some items they suggested for menus include: arts and crafts, act out, make up songs and dances, translate authentic resources like songs and cartoons, etc.
Students want to move and interact. I can easily build in these activities with Kagan. They want both opportunities to do Kagan class-builders to "get it out" of their system (referring to talking to each other) as well as opportunities to practice talking in Spanish. I will have to look for opportunities to get the up, moving around the classroom, and talking to each other in Spanish during class time. Some even wanted to go outside. I'm sure I could accommodate that from time to time.
Students want to change seating. Of course, the request was for "free seating" and I explained that my seating was very intentional so that each person had something to contribute to the group (see information about Kagan cooperative groups for more information on my seating arrangements). As a compromise, I offered to change seats once per month. It sounds like I need to get my Kagan group tools set up so it can automate these seats!
Students want to learn about culture. I need to look for more ways to build culture in. I'm doing this much better in my higher levels, but we've been caught up so much with Señor Wooly that we don't have a whole lot of culture. But students want to learn more!
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