Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

January 25, 2016
by leesensei
4 Comments

Proficiency Descriptors Not Numbers – Students React To The Change

DSC_6868This is the year that I began the switch and took a new path. As I’ve written previously I am now ‘talking ability/proficiency’ and not numbers with my students. It has meant changes in how I provide feedback and also how I record in my gradebook. Most importantly – this is a switch that I know will take some time/adjusting to get right …if I ever do.

It is my custom to ask students to reflect both in the middle, and at the end of term. This year I wanted to see how this change in feedback and marking proficiency is going over with them. So I asked them – 3 classes worth (90 students in all in grades 9,10 & 11). I kept in mind that some might tell me what I want to hear but I believed that all the work we do in self-reflecting would mean that they would be honest with me about this. The question on the form was “I made a switch to ‘meeting expectations’ grading instead of ‘numbers’ in order that you understand how well you are doing. What is your feedback on this style of grading?” And the responses came…

The Negative (12% of respondents). Most of the number-preferring students were older (grade 10 or 11) and have been in this kind of grading system a long time. What is interesting to me is the belief among these students that a ‘number’ is more accurate and precise. It reflects what they see as achievement.  I noted that none of the responders who favoured numbers mentioned their ability to use the language or how this in any way showed them how proficient they were. This is a call to me to work with students to ‘bust’ the idea that a “77/100” tells you how well you can do something.

  • Personally I prefer numbers. The new system for me sometimes feels vague or misleading.
  • I feel that it isn’t precise…with numbers its easier to see why classmates did better than you on something
  • The new way is sensible but I think my Mom prefers numbers  (ah – communication with parents is going to be key!)
  • Numbers still tell me what I have to do to bring up my average
  • Numbers are a more straight forward way to visualize our ability to do things
  • Numbers are more precise and accurate and more explicitly tell me how I am doing
  • Not a fan as students are more used to numbers

The Ambivalent  (2% of respondents). There were few of these kinds of responses and came I think, as one student correctly noted, because I still have to translate the proficiency grade into a number grade anyway.

  • “I don’t think there’s much difference either way”
  • Not much of a difference but it does show what you are looking for
  • It doesn’t make a difference to me either way
  • You still translate it into percentages so there’s not a big difference

The Positive (85% of respondents). Wow – they like it, they really do.   One common reaction is that it is more accurate in showing how them how they are doing.  This means that my shift in message, and in wording ‘you will be fully meeting expectations if…’, is getting through. Others said that it was a great way to show them how they can improve which affirms that my message about ability/proficiency is clear and understandable to them.  Some cited that they found the system “less harsh and more supportive”. I take this to mean that they see that they are on a continuum of learning and that they are encouraged to continue to move forward. They know that, on a particular task/skill, they might have met ‘minimal expectations’ which means they are getting credit for what they can do – not being penalized for what they can’t. Finally many used the word ‘ability’ or the phrase ‘can do’ in their responses. Awesome – it means that my message and effort to re-frame how we measure ‘achievement’ in my classes is bearing fruit!

  • It’s more accurate about how I am doing and is way better in showing me what I need to improve
  • I like it because I wasn’t marked by numbers but the ability to do the work
  • It doesn’t pressure me to be perfect and is less ‘harsh’ when you are still learning
  • It’s great and the notes under them (checklists) tell me what I need to do for next time
  • It’s more informative
  • It’s more forgiving than numbers
  • It gives you a more gentle push towards improvement
  • It pushes a student to try harder
  • Numbers can’t express how I am doing
  • There is less comparing between students this way
  • It helps me to understand the criteria more than numbers do
  • It’s a more accurate way to describe how you are doing in a language
  • It outlines what I need to improve on
  • It encourages me to do better
  • It’s less stressful
  • It’s more forgiving for anyone who doesn’t receive high marks …lets them know they are on the right track
  • It is more accurate (than numbers) and I know what to improve on
  • It’s a more accurate reflection of what you can do
  • I like it because with numbers are you all concerned about is your letter grade
  • I love it. It is less intimidating and give you a more genuine understanding of why you are where you are

The responses, and my own feeling about making this switch, means I will continue down this path…future posts to come I’m sure!

Colleen

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