Sick of Grading (and not for the reasons you’d think)

The end of the school year brings lots of positive moments: students who show growth in being able to speak a new language, seniors with whom I’ve developed a connection who leave with hugs and tears, and a general ease and mutual feeling between teachers and students of needing to “tough it out” with the last few days of classes to survive final exams.  But this time of year also brings forward a situation that has finally driven me crazy enough to really thing about change.

Do we get extra credit for this?

Is there extra work I can do so that I can bring up my grade?

Will there be extra credit on the exam?

Is the review packet worth any points?

Can I drop a quiz score?

What???  I do give a few measly extra credit points for games that we play, and yes, we do play a lot of language games and competitions in class, but due to how I’ve weighted class activities and exams in my room as well as how few points I actually make that extra credit worth, it amounts to nothing, which I thought was what I’ve always wanted.

But I think I’ve created a monster here.  And I want to do something about it.  My students only do work when they think it’s worth points.  Where is the natural curiosity to learn and the desire to demonstrate what they’ve learned?  I think that I’ve squashed it by awarding points to everything and using extra credit to get students excited to participate.  And maybe there are other factors too (parents, you know you bribe your kids now and then, too, now).

So, being especially reflective as the year closes, I wanted to find some sources that addressed this issue of encouraging intrinsic motivation.  I found an excellent list of suggestions on a resource that I really recommend to any teachers out there, Te@chThought.

There are a few suggestions that I want to keep in mind when planning for school next year.  Here are some ideas that I’m tossing around, not sure yet if and what I’ll do next year.

1) Not grading homework (but checking it in to keep track of who’s keeping up with practice.)

2) No retesting* unless students have completed all of the homework in a unit.

3) Possibly handing out practice work at the beginning of a chapter and having students pace themselves through the course of the unit. (I would be VERY nervous about having entire classes full of students do nothing if left to their own will to do homework, but this could push students to set a schedule for themselves and train themselves to build in practice.)

4) Sacrifice grammar and vocabulary to make room for culture.  It’s what interests the students and it’s why the students are learning the language, but I still have the bad habit of compartmentalizing culture as a separate theme, then running out of time to discuss it.  I need to make time for this.  Culture personalizes language and it’s at the core of what connects novice and expert language speakers.

5) Watch what I praise and offer the right kind of praise generously.  I need to pay attention to where I give acknowledgement.  Are they putting forth effort or courage in using the language?  Have they creatively used the language?  If so, I need to recognize it.

6) Create multiple skill assessments that students choose to take.  This is suggestion #20 from Te@achThought.  I like this idea, but I wonder how this would look.  There are four typical language skills (reading, writing, speaking, hearing/understanding), and ideally I want students to be able to do all four given any theme.  But I do like the idea of giving students choices in how they are assessed.  Maybe it’s possible for students to show me in lots of different ways that they’ve mastered a skill.

7) Help foster teamwork and peer-encouragement.  I think that I do this already, but I add this to my list of things to reconsider because I’ve been wanting to look into a system called Kagan that one of my colleagues swears by.  It provides a framework for grouping students to work together while building in space and time to encourage teacher-student praise and student-student praise.

So, this gives me quite a few things to think about.  But as I sit down to catch up on grades and think about the MANY requests for extra credit I’ll be receiving from students this year, I know that rethinking all of this is what I need to do.

This is the sheet I use to have students track their extra credit earned while playing games.  They get really excited to pull out their "feuille bleue" to log their wins.
This is the sheet I use to have students track their extra credit earned while playing games. They get really excited to pull out their “feuille bleue” to log their wins.  Hopefully next year  I can get them excited for other tasks, too, without needing this.

*At our school, 64% of the students’ grades are unit tests, 16% is class activities, and 20% is the semester final exam.  Students are judged most on whether or not they can master the concepts that we have selected as the most important to test them on as unit tests.

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