Making the switch from teaching traditionally to teaching with comprehensible input (CI) is causing me to rethink everything I have been doing in my classroom, and particularly my grading practices.
In my department, we have the following grading categories: Tests 40%, Quizzes 25%, Participation 20%, and Homework 15%. This has started to cause problems for me. First of all, I have not really been giving any tests. In a traditional textbook-driven classroom, tests are given at the end of a chapter and/or at the end of a unit. A test is something that a student needs to go home and study for by memorizing lists of vocabulary words and verb paradigms. This is just not how things work in my comprehensible input (CI) classroom. So no big, comprehensive tests means I’m not using this category at all.
While I haven’t been giving big huge tests, I have been giving quizzes constantly. Unfortunately, I am still required to assess grammar, which I try to do as painlessly as possible and in a format that requires students to show that they know meaning of what they’re writing. I don’t give these types of quizzes very often. Most of the quizzes I give are unannounced and are a review of whatever CI activity we have recently completed (a Movie Talk, a Señor Wooly video, a reading, a chapter in a novel). They aren’t the kind of quizzes students need to study for. They just need to listen and pay attention in class and they will do fine. I think 25% is way too low for this, but this is what we as a department has decided to do, so I have to play along.
Participation has also been an issue for me. In my mind, participation rewards students who volunteer to answer questions. These are usually the outgoing kids. This sort of participation system is really not fair to my very quiet students, many of whom never volunteer to answer questions in class but do absolutely everything else I ask of them. In some instances, participation also artificially inflates or deflates grades. Am I not setting up a student for failure at the next level if the only reason he passed is because a strong participation grade turned his F into a D? Alternatively, is it really fair to give a student with an A average a B+ because of her fear to speak in class? Am I really grading for proficiency in these cases?
I have voiced my concerns about this but my words have fallen on deaf ears. My department head feels that this is a necessary category because she says that since we teach a second language we have to assess their speaking. I don’t agree with this, and research such as this article explains why.
I have two issues with homework. The first is the ease with which most of it can be copied. This morning I had to walk from one side of the school building to the other, and en route I saw at least seven kids coping homework. Why should I waste my time giving a homework assignment that someone can just copy from a friend? And why should I reward someone with a good grade when I know there is a good chance that the homework was copied? The second issue I have with homework is that so many traditional assignments are not based in meaning. They are assignments like this:
Of course students see work like this as a complete waste of time.
Here are the changes I plan to make to my grading practices for next year:
1. Rename the “Test” category. Instead, I will call it “Summative Assessment” to include any sort of assessment, no matter how informal or formal, that I give after students have mastered whatever material we’re working on at the time. The nice thing about the grading program we use is that we can weight assessments differently, so if I give one assessment with ten questions and another with twenty I can make the one with twenty worth twice as much as the one with ten if I want to. I will probably have this count for 40% of a student’s average.
2. Ditch the “Quiz” category. They will now be part of the “Summative Assessment” category.
3. Ditch the “Participation” category. I’ve already talked about why that category is not a valid measurement of student performance. I am thinking about possibly using this as extra credit for rewards such as being able to bring coffee to class and NOT for points. I’m still thinking about how I will set up my reward system and I’ll write another post about it when I have figured out what I want to do exactly.
4. Rename the “Homework” category. This I will call “Formative Assessment” and will include grades given for any homework, timed writings, completing Señor Wooly Nuggets, and anything else my students do that doesn’t fall under the “Summative Assessment” category. This will count for 60% of a student’s average. And just like the “Summative Assessment” category, I can change weights of assignments as I see fit.
I have a whole summer to refine and readjust this system as needed, and will update my blog if I change anything. But for right now I feel comfortable with this system because it uses categories that the principal wants to see and because it is broad enough to (I hope) be used effectively in a CI classroom. I’ll let you know how it goes.