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by Erica Fischer on Nov 9, 2016

#Langchat: Number grades on proficiency? How?

Las week, #langchat took on the super important topic of how the world language classroom might be able to change it’s grading system to all for more of a focus on building proficiency in class rather. Contributors talked through their decision processes for choosing which assignments will receive grades, along with thinking through the benefits/challenges of using the three modes of communication as part of the grading system. Participants also shared their thoughts on how grading for proficiency affects the structure of assignments, as well as how to figure out when it’s appropriate to use/not use a performance rubric on a task that receives a grade. Finally, langchatters shared their ideas for ways to make assessments (with proficiency in mind) without a specific proficiency rubric.

Question 1: How do you decide what assignments will be graded?

Figuring out which assignments will be “graded” in the traditional sense is the first step towards building a more a proficiency-minded world language classroom. Participants all agreed that some activities just naturally lend themselves to being graded such as anything that shows growth, IPA’s, quizzes, or summative activities. @racapsuto summed it up well when she said, “Always use a variety of assignments [for grading] – Writing, Speaking, Listening, Reading. Typical ones that can show growth.”

Langchatters generally established that in order to only grade specific activities, you really have to be willing to shake things up in order to make it work.  @PiperKrupa explained her system by sharing that, “Homework does not get graded. Quizzes are graded for feedback. Tests are language performances to show off new skills.” Similarly, @welangley shared that he structures it so that, “In class ‘practice’ is all formative, [then] take completion grades as a thank you, and [any] summative assessments from 3 modes gets a ‘score’.”

Overall, @CatherineKU72 shared a much-liked idea when she suggested teachers:

Give feedback on our grading system by listing the proficiency level & not a number grade. [Then] we can also tie proficiency to a #.

Question 2: What are the benefits/challenges of using 3 modes of communication as part of our grading system?

Using the three modes of communication as a part of the grading system in a world-language classroom comes with lots of benefits but it can also present us with a lot of challenges. One challenge being that students and parents aren’t going to automatically understand what interpretative, interpersonal, and presentational actually mean without a super clear explanation from Day #1, so it will take a bit more time to get them acclimated to a new way of doing things.

But for the most part, langchatters felt that the benefits outweigh the challenges because they include things like the fact that it helps to be able to align grading to actual standards, it keeps everyone (teacher and students alike) focused on the modes, the grades themselves start to communicate something meaningful, it’s easy to give students specific feedback/ways to improve, students are exposed to authentic materials/real life tasks, gives obvious structure for assessments, it provides for a variety of well-rounded activities to be used, and lots more. @LesliePhillips3 encouraged her fellow langchatters to give the 3 modes a shot when she said that, “I LOVE that my gradebook is now organized by the three skills. Makes it easier to see progress, and give feedback. It also makes it easier to identify each students’ biggest opportunity for growth and help them practice that skill.” Similarly, @SenoritaHersh agreed saying, “It [makes it] so easy to identify EXACTLY what skills your kids are struggling with and can build in strategies and practice in class.”

Some challenges that chatters shared included the thought that it doesn’t provide for as many opportunities to have all 3 modes the same amount of times in the gradebook, not all modes are equal, output from scratch cannot be forced/requires lots of hours of heavy input first, it’s hard to find authentic resources at all levels to complement your themes, the fact that there is always some level of subjectivity especially with the interpersonal mode, and having to get used to having less grades/knowing that’s ok.

But as @SraWienhold pointed out: “With grading categories as modes of communication it forces me to actually assess communication & reevaluate what is worthy [of being kept in the class].”

Question 3: How does grading for proficiency affect the structure of your assignments?

Grading for proficiency naturally affects the structure of assignments, meaning that teachers have to focus more on other things such as assessing students’ skills rather than their knowledge. Suggestions for new ways to structure assignments included making tasks open-ended/focused on authentic real-life situations, making sure to give meaningful assignments that stays within the ‘Can-do’ that’s being worked on, not allowing for guesswork (aka – multiple choice questions), trying to make all assignments be related to reading/listening/speaking/writing, gearing assignments towards communication, and focusing in on the meaningful skill that’s being assessed by a given assignment – and if there isn’t one, then scrap it!

As @welangley succinctly explained it, “Teaching for proficiency/knowledge of affective filter hypothesis makes it so that assessments never feel like ‘tests’ because proficiency is real world, not pulling random parts of language out of your head and tossing it on paper arbitrarily.”

Question 4: When is it appropriate to use/not use a performance rubric on a task that receives a grade?

Deciding which graded tasks do or do not need to be compared to a specific performance rubric depends on what the end-goal is for that activity. For the most part, chatters felt that performance rubrics do the most good when used for summative assessments, IPA’s, presentational writing assessments, and tasks that ask students to use a specific set of vocabulary/language structure. @SraSpanglish explained it saying, “For me, I don’t have to RATE them on a rubric until summative time. The rest is personal/pattern feedback.”

Others participants felt that performance rubrics can be used on every assessment (depending on the level) since then every activity/performance translates to a pre-determined score. As @srafischer explained, “[I’ve] been using the rubrics for everything. If I have to put a grade in, I need to have evidence. It’s also a feedback [conversation] starter.”

What it really comes down to is that there is no one-size fits all answer to this question since each WL department/school district has it’s own set of rules. In the end, you have to make the decision based on each class/level as to which assignments need to be graded with a performance rubric.

Question 5: How do you assess with proficiency in mind without a proficiency rubric?

Making assessments on an assignment or task (with proficiency in mind) but without a specific proficiency rubric can be very challenging. Langchatters suggested tips like making sure students have an understanding of proficiency guidelines that need to be met (aka – complete sentences, comprehensible, fulfills the task, etc.), using the ACTFL Can-do statements, constantly pushing verbs so that students have the ability to form sentences, thinking about what students can do at their level/looking for evidence that they CAN do it/complete the task, and lots more. As @SraWienhold pointed out, “Even without physical rubric, I use my mental one & knowledge of proficiency levels to assess [activities].”

@welangley summed up the answer for this question best when he said:

If [I] as a very sympathetic listener/reader am having trouble understanding your messages… [then] we need to do more work.


This week, langchatters had a lot of great ideas to share about the possibilities that exist for changing up grading systems to allow for more of a focus on proficiency. Takeaways included it’s important to take a look at interpretive rubrics, if it’s going in the grade book be able to explain how it was graded and why it was graded that way, and it’s a good idea to reflect on what gets graded and why (and made adjustments if needed).

@SrtaSpathis summed up the conversation best when she shared that, “It’s never too late to change it up and try something new. There is not just one way to do it! As always gracias,”

Thank You!

Thank you Laura (@SraSpanglish) for heading up this week’s chat, and as always, we’d like to give a big thanks to everyone who takes the time to join these discussions every week. We hope that you continue to link up with #langchat as often as you are able – if the weekday chats on Thursday evenings at 8 p.m. ET don’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday morning at 10 a.m. ET instead!

Our weekly #langchats have gotten busier and busier, so due to space limitations, the summaries always focus on the main themes and takeaways from each week’s conversation. Many tweets have to be omitted but to read the entire conversation from this week, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

One comment

  • Mark Pyfferoen

    I am really trying to shift my focus in my classroom to building proficiency whether it be through my teaching style or the types of activities that the students do in class. One of the activities that I do in class, especially in higher levels is to have students read a newspaper article from Mexico for example. The students need to be able to write a review and present orally a summary and a personal reflection of the article.
    In my lower levels, I am striving to use more TPRS and Movie-Talk to get the students speaking and understanding more and it really does seem to be working.
    Thank you for the great ideas and I look forward to reading more and if anyone has any comments or tips about what I am doing, I would welcome them.

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