Last Thursday night, #langchat was the place to be! As teachers popped in from around the world to discuss how to maintain district standards while incorporating proficiency-based grading, the #langchat hashtag became a trending item after just 30 minutes!

Not only was there a lot of engagement over this topic, but participants were also able to share some really great insights into managing assessment expectations for parents, teachers, administrators and students, while promoting language growth.

– Follow the blog on Bloglovin

Grade Diluting: Is More Always Better?

Creating a Standards-Based Grading Classroom that Everyone Can LoveStandards-based grading (SBG) is the idea that students are assessed on their level of mastery of the objectives in a course. Students are not only assessed, but given feedback about how to proceed in the future to improve their level of mastery. One of the key concerns is that despite the move towards SBG, schools and districts may still require teachers to use traditional data points and assessment methods in addition to SBG. This puts a lot of pressure on SBG teachers to not only measure students’ proficiency on course objectives but also numerically factor in averages of assessments and assignments. This can in many cases increase the number of graded assessments that teachers include in their units, and can sometimes lead to a process known as “grade dilution.” @KrisClimer said, “A lot of grades does dilute meaning of each one, unless each assessment builds on the previous one.”

Yet, when using SBG students are not able to mask their level of understanding no matter how many grades they have because each assessment is created to prove mastery of a standard. Students should not progress unless they are proficient in a standard. This might mean that teachers have to give students many more opportunities to prove mastery of a specific standard versus just giving students extra work or other opportunities to build their grade (i.e. extra credit, attendance, etc.) @alenord said, “One thing I think must change is to take fewer grades than we have in the past. Lots of grades mean that they don’t mean much!”

Some teachers feel that grade dilution is not as bad as its name may imply. @SraSpanglish mentioned, it is also a way to “cover” yourself when parents or administrators want to know how a student is progressing in your language classroom. She explained, “Grade diluting…reflects trends rather than blips.

The #langchat community championed the idea of giving more personalized feedback over traditional assessment methods whenever possible. @garnet_hillman said, “Students can learn without grades, but they cannot learn without feedback…less grades more feedback for growth!”

– Like Calico Spanish on Facebook –

SBG and Transparency: Keeping Parents In the Know

Many districts have converted to “transparent” systems, in which parents can login to a personalized page for their student and see an updated grade percentage for the student at any point in the school year. Continually updating grade percentages has become a hot topic for many world language teachers. While there are different kinds of software that will calculate grades automatically, these platforms are not always conducive to SBG. @CoLeeSensei said, “My gradebook program crashed as I tried to do “proficiency” not grades.”

There were a few ways that teachers suggested keeping parents more engaged in the SBG method of student assessment.

1. Use a Simplified Point Scale. Whether you use a 7 point scale like @yeager85 or a 4 point scale like @garnet_hillman, a point scale can be effective as a quick way for parents to see how their students are doing in a language classroom. Often, these point scales can easily be translated into percentages with a handy reference chart.

2. Rubrics Help Parents Value SBG. As long as parents and students understand what is expected of them ahead of time, using SBG can be just as easy to understand as any other assessment method. @alenord said, “Convincing parents is a matter of teaching them about the rubrics. They need to know their babies aren’t penalized for everything. The #ACTFL or Lingafolio “I can” statements are also a powerful tool for convincing parents!”

3. Convert Standards to Grades. Even knowing the value of SBG, many parents and students still want to see grades. Since Standards-Based grading is about mastery, giving grades can be difficult. Although it would make more sense to simply have a “mastered/not-mastered” system, there are many parents who want daily proof of their child’s improvement. @trescolumnae suggested translating proficiency levels to grades so that it is more accessible. He said, “I use a system that @ccsspanish and I developed: At Standard (depends on level) is a high B, for example.”

– Follow Calico Spanish on Twitter

Mastery vs. Grades: What best prepares students for college?

This last point brought up the important question: What is the role of grades in the world language classroom? For many teachers, there really isn’t an option. A school or district often mandates grading methods, and there is not much that teachers can do to change that method whether they use SBG or not.

For those teachers with the autonomy to choose, however, there is a schism of opinion between whether grades are helpful or harmful in the long run.

Benefits of Mastery:

Higher language enrollment. Students are attracted to the idea of not having so many grades to worry about throughout the semester. Although this does not eliminate the need for assessments at the end of the semester, it is much less stressful when the class is focused on learning, not making grades. This focus also makes language courses more fun and more authentic.

Often more rigorous than grade-only classes. Students who are in mastery classes can’t just “get by.” Often, the mastery score is higher than a typical “passing” grade, usually about 80%. That means that students must redo assignments that aren’t meeting this high expectation and gain a better understanding of the material.

Focus on communication. For many #langchat teachers, it’s clear that focus in the classroom can sometimes be so grade-heavy that deeper learning never occurs. In a mastery-based classroom, students have the flexibility to make mistakes without fear of lowering their overall score. It increases communication and helps them develop necessary risk-taking skills that are often missing from other types of classrooms.

Drawbacks of Mastery:

Not all support staff are supportive. @cadamsf1 said, “[SBG] has helped enrollment, but we are far behind in educating EVERYONE counselors, students, parents, admin. Not everyone believes that colleges will accept a Pass/Fail mastery course grade as equal to a grade-based classroom.

May not prepare students for college life. @SraSpanglish said, “So many people say all these 2nd chances don’t prepare kids for college reality…What do you tell a kid when the professor laughs in their face when they ask for a redo?” This is a very real concern for many teachers, administrators and parents. Some teachers argue that offering students multiple opportunities to complete assignments correctly is not often found in college or the real world.

Can be time-intensive for the teacher. Having to grade items multiple times can be a time-intensive task for teachers, especially when personal feedback is required. Instead of having a handful of scantron assessments or simply grading one interactive activity, students who are not meeting the standard must receive individualized feedback in order to pass. This might lead to unintentional lowering of standards in order to get students moved through the curriculum on time.

The Best of Both Worlds

Although both sides make excellent points, it was clear that many #langchat teachers prefer the mastery method in the elementary, middle and high school setting, with a healthy dose of grading mixed in. @trescolumnae said, “It’s a process. Some students are very grade-focused, but if you design the system well, “getting grade” requires proficiency.”

The key element is whether students are learning to be proficient in the classroom. @garnet_hillman said, “If our kids leave us without proficiency, we have not prepared them for college. They are better prepared having mastered the material when with us. Life is full of redos.”

– Follow us on Instagram too! –

Thank You

There were so many great comments and conversations that we just couldn’t include them all (although we wanted to!). We want to thank @msfrenchteach and @CoLeeSensei for helping to guide our discussion. Also, check out a full transcript here. There were fantastic suggestions for grading strategies, comments on the mastery/grade debate and good hands-on techniques for creating a growth-based classroom.

We love to know what you’re doing in your world language classroom. If you have an idea for a future #langchat topic, please share your ideas with us. We want to help you build your professional learning network and learn with you!

Additional Resources

Standards Based Learning and Standards Based Grading from the trenches – part 1
GECHS Spanish Proficiency Portfolio
Strategies for Standards-Based Portfolio Curation

2014 Calendar by danielmoyle, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  danielmoyle 

While the snow and wind blew around the country, #langchat teachers were snuggled up next to their phones and computers, excited to be back amongst friends. After a long, luxurious winter break, #langchat is back, ready to help language teachers collaborate and commiserate about what their new years’ teaching resolutions are for 2014.

In addition to a wonderful topic, last week’s discussion was graced by the presence of @AHSBlaz (Deborah Blaz), the noted world language education speaker and author. We were also happy to hear that @SECottrell will be returning as an occasional moderator, after taking a break to focus on her family.

Top 10 New Year’s Resolutions for Language Teachers

1. Grow Professional Learning Networks and Collaborate

One of the themes that kept surfacing throughout the night was the desire for many teachers to grow their professional learning networks (PLN.) Many teachers expressed a desire to participate in #langchat more regularly. @SECottrell shared a fantastic link to over 400 language teachers that are great to follow on Twitter. @Sra_Kennedy shared an interest in creating a breakoff Twitter chat for elementary language teachers – #FLESCHAT.

2. Stay Relevant

Many teachers shared their interest in creating relevant classroom experiences that get students excited about learning. @SECottrell suggested “accessing students’ passions and using more current authentic resources” as a way to stay relevant to students. Developing a relevant, student-centered program takes some work, but can have amazing long-term results for your students and overall language program. @senoraCMT said, “Staying relevant will GROW your program!!! The stagnant programs are the ones that shrink!!!”

3. Show Students How to Love Language Learning

Some of the most interesting resolutions of the night were from @alenord and @placido. @alenord said she wants to, “Work to train level 1’s HOW to be a language student.” @placido said she wanted to, “Create paths for students to discover a LOVE of Spanish!”

Although these may seem different language teaching resolutions, the underlying goal is the same. Helping to prepare students for a lifetime of language learning. By helping them know now how to be a better language student, you create a pathway for them to learn to love their target language. @alenord went as far as to explain that our work as teachers sets the stage for future language educators: “encourage, edify and challenge the next generation of world language teachers. Carry and yet pass the torch!”

4. Improve Your Own Language and Teaching Skills

From getting familiar with new language curriculum to picking up a second language, #langchat teachers are very motivated to beef up their own skills so that they can better help their students and colleagues. For some, this involves being more mindful of ACTFL standards and learning outcomes. For others, it means changing the way they interact with authentic resources and reading. For teachers like @mjosey1, it’s about sticking to goals already she has already set. She said, “I resolve to NOT give up on my changes to move to a performance based classroom/assessments.”

5. Use Technology More and Wisely

Technology is a necessary part of 21st Century instruction, and a number of participants discussed how they would like to increase efficacy of technology in their language classrooms. A number of specific resources were mentioned as good ones to focus on for the year. @senoradams said, “I want to incorporate more engaging technology esp. digital storytelling, etc. this year.” @CatherineKU72 mentioned using BitStrips and ComicLife, @mjosey1 suggested Storybird, and @mstort6 advocated for Padlet as good tools to look into this coming year.

6. Have Students Stay in the Target Language

@Melissa77459 said, “The most important resolution for me: More target language for them and for me both in and out of class.” This reflected a similar feeling from most of the language teachers in our Twitter forum.

Even so, it is much easier to say than to do. @Sr_Hache4 said, “I have been trying 4 three years to encourage students to seek opportunities to talk outside the classroom. Would love ideas.” @mjosey1 suggesting bringing in native guest speakers and @Ensenenme mentioned giving students more opportunities for “critical thinking and using the TL to explain themselves.” @SECottrell said, “I was just thinking about finding a Skype buddy for the same reason.”

7. Start a Blog. Read a Blog.

Blogging is a great way to process how you are teaching and to reflect on whether it is working. It can also be a great benefit to other teachers who are struggling with the same setback and roadblocks. For many of our #langchat teachers, the new year brings an increased motivation to begin sharing what is and isn’t working in their classrooms. @alenord said, “[Blogging] helps me think about what I am doing and learning.”

And, even if you don’t have the time or interest in writing a blog, reading good blogs is a great way to increase your own skill as a language teacher.

8. Have More Fun Being a Teacher

Although a lot of time was spent talking about ways to make the classroom more fun for the students, a number of teachers shared their goal to make their classrooms more fun for themselves. @Sra_Kennedy said, “One of my resolutions is to have fun. If I am then it’s much more likely my kids will too.”

@DiegoOjeda66 said, “After teaching for 24 years, my resolution is to recharge for the next class, never lose the steam.” He then shared a list of things we can do to keep ourselves happy to be world language teachers.

  • “Know that your next class will be better than the last one.”
  • “Know that your students will always appreciate an energetic teacher.”
  • “Remember why you chose to teach before the next class.”
  • “Always keep the excitement of your first day of teaching.”
  • “Stay away from complaining, unhappy, frustrated colleagues.”
  • “Before each class, think about those you love the most.”
  • “Before each class remember that you are human, you need water, food and laughter.

9. Create a Happier Work Atmosphere

Many #langchat teachers also shared ways they can change their physical and emotional spaces to have a more relaxed teaching environment. Some mentioned creating a physical space that is more inviting. Colorful bulletin boards, motivational posters and familiar objects from home are just a few things you can do to create a happier workspace. @SECottrell said, “If I am still teaching next year, I resolve to get beanbags and build a reading corner.”

@mjosey1 reminded us that how we deal with students also affects the happiness level of our classrooms. She resolved to include, “More praise/positive reinforcement (encouragement) for my students.” @LauraJaneBarber said that this would also work with colleagues. She said, “Try to redirect negative conversations to a positive focus,” in order to create a more positive school atmosphere.

10. Make Reasonable Resolutions

Although every teacher wants to be a superhero, it is never good to attempt to do everything all at once. Instead, choose one or two resolutions that you can actually accomplish and then focus on them. @alenord said, “Don’t have TOO MANY resolutions!” @AHSBlaz said, “I agree: baby steps. Do one thing, get good at it…then another. Too many at once leads to burnout/frustration.”

Other Fantastic Goals for 2014

  • @Melissa77459 said, “Give as much time and effort to my Span 1 classes as my Span 3 pre-AP classes.”
  • @placido said, “Stop neglecting free reading time/SSR.”
  • @trescolumnae said, “Incorporate second language role play regularly, especially in upper-level classes.”
  • @TraciMittag said, “Teach students to be responsible for their own learning.”
  • @mstort6 said, “Incorporate more AP skills into lower levels. There should be no surprises on what is required for the exam by the time students get to AP.”
  • @alenord said, “Do a better job questioning/engaging ALL students.”
  • @Ensenenme said, “Remember to teach like a pirate and, at the very least, play catchy music in the TL to welcome kids.”
  • @CatherineKU72 said, “Look more at the ACTFL assessment/guidance and @tonitheisen’s “Lenses” for bringing world issues into WL.”
  • @alenord said, “ADVOCATE for our profession MORE!!!”
  • @placido said, “Bring more social consciousness into my lessons via Kiva.”
  • @mjosey1 said, “Use indexcards with names on them to pull from during class to make sure I don’t forget students. I tend to call on the same “seats” for answers.”
  • @MiddInteractive said, “Provide more students with authentic materials and access to native speakers to teach language AND culture.”
  • @alenord said, “Become a student of research and read more!”
  • @senoraCMT said, “Get more teachers involved in @ICTFL (and @ACTFL)! Stay plugged in!”
  • @madamebaker said, “Try to help (new) language teachers reach their students via authentic language.”
  • @mjosey1 said, “KEEP GOING. Don’t let the first speed bump turn me around running back to the text only.”
  • @TraciMittag said, “Learn more about Standards-Based Grading to improve learning and communication.”
  • @mjosey1 said, “Work on a Medical Spanish 1 and 2 to work on Spanish 4 Careers to engage our Health Academy students.”
  • @CatherineKU72 said, “Let the students explore the topic/vocab through different media than me. In short, I need to be invisible.”
  • @MiddInteractive said, “Provide young learners with exposure to world #languages through engaging activities, songs, games in supportive, fun environment.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “Read more novels and plays, maybe some Lorca, Sor Juana.”
  • @eatontheword said, “Celebrate student success and highlight important connections more often!”
  • @mjosey1 said, “Join and go to ACTFL conference and FFLA!!”
  • @MMLALanguage said, “Give more students more opportunities to live abroad and immerse themselves in language, community, culture.”
  • @AudreyMisiano said, “Get organized! I want everything in a nice neat space. Never-ending project!”
  • @SECottrell said, “I want to make a reading corner and do more SSR and FVR in AP class.”

Thank You

We want to thank @DiegoOjeda66 and @SECottrell for sharing such great thoughts and guiding our discussion. We had so many people involved in the conversation, it was clear that many language teachers are focused on learning from and building their PLNs this year. Since we had so many participants, there were a number of great resources and comments that we couldn’t include in our summary. If you’d like to see what you missed, you can read the full transcript here.

Do you have suggestions for future langchat topics? Feel free to share your ideas with us. We are so excited about getting to know you and finding out how we can make #langchat a place where we can learn and grow together.

Additional Resources

The chuck-it bucket
Give Them What They Want
5 New Year’s resolutions for every WL teacher
New Tools ACTFL
¡Feliz año nuevo!
iOS Apps for World Language education
2014 resolutions #5: Use more authentic sources
20 Web Apps to Help You Learn More and Study Less
2014: The year of “Why Not?”
Una Palabra
Getting things ready for our first Mystery Hangout
Screencast: Edmodo
Spanish Proficiency Portfolio
Professional Development
Your Own Personal Spanish Curriculum