Language Sensei

Thoughts on The Journey of Teaching Languages

November 20, 2016
by leesensei

Supporting Interpersonal Interaction in Class – What Helps Them Stay In The TL?

Group of Friends with Arms Around Each Other What allows you to walk out of the room, run to the copier and come back and still have them talking? What allows you to send them out to record a conversation and know that they won’t script? What is it that makes them confident to use and sustain a conversation in the Target Language? If you know – please share! This is an ongoing quest for all of us. I have been trying, as you all have over the years, to imbue in my students the ‘confidence’ to risk, to try, to talk.  Here’s a few of my ideas on what helps them out.. what I find helps them want to not only talk, but to sustain their talking in the Target Language.

It Begins with the Setting – A few years ago I was lucky enough to visit Catherine Ousselin at her school – my first #langchat face-to-face encounter. What I took away from that, beyond the idea to do more ‘stations’ in class – was her setup. Tables – long tables that allowed students to sit in groups and face each other. Imagine. No desks in rows facing the front. How could I have a communicative classroom if I made it physically difficult for them to communicate. When I returned home I made the immediate switch to tables of 4. No more rows, no more facing front. In fact I also removed myself from the ‘front’ of the room – switching my teacher area so that I am the ‘coach on the side‘.  Now there is more room for their tables, and more room for them to move easily to find a new partner…

They Build Their Confidence With “I Don’t Understand!” – It’s their biggest fear – that they won’t know what someone is saying, that they don’t really understand what someone is saying and that they are at ‘fault’ because they don’t. So from Year 1 we take on this fear. Our belief in class “If you don’t understand what someone it’s your job to tell them! And their job to assist you in understanding!” So we practice saying “I don’t understand!” We even practice not understanding – yes on purpose – and how to help someone out. In Year 1 it involves repeating, giving your own answer and/or providing examples. By Year 3 and 4 they are including circumlocution practice for their self-selected vocabulary.  It’s these skills that allow students to use the vocabulary of their choice with their peers. As we say “You can use any word as long as you can explain it!” And knowing how to do so reduces the fear and increases the likelihood of risk.

It Includes Teaching Conversational Skills – I firmly believe that often the cry of “They won’t talk!” is really not because they don’t want to but because they don’t know how to. We just assume that they can – which I find ironic because I am terrible at it at age 54 – why do we assume that they are practiced conversationalists at 15? So we practice and learn how to via follow-up questions. We make it a game initially in the early years and then I continue to expand it as they move up in their studies (they are always found in their course resource package & up on the wall in my room.) Students know, because they have practiced and used them over & over, how to extend the conversation. Interestingly I have found that the follow-up question approach also helps them to expand their presentational writing – an exercise we call “Wheel of Detail“.

We Set The Expectation of TL Use in the Post-Activity Rubric – I firmly believe that the value of a rubric is not in what is filled in – but in what it can communicate about expectations. I have used the same activity rubric over and over. “How Did That Go?” rubric sets out the goals that the student will work in the TL, will be an equal partner in the conversation and will ask & answer questions. Prior to the activity we look at the rubric and I always ask my students to set out their personal challenge as well as something they know they will be comfortable doing. It is amazing to see the number of students who choose “Didn’t use English” as a goal. They actually want to speak in the TL. After, because we always reflect before the rubric is filled in they get a chance comment on how it went – and again many are thrilled that they used their circumlocution skills to stay in the TL.

The Intention of the Activity Is Clear to Them – “Why are we doing this?” “What’s the purpose?”. I know I’ve sat through many meetings or even ProD sessions when I couldn’t answer this. I know that, as a teacher, I have the idea of why in my head. So I’ve started to also let them in on it and go over the intentions of the activity. Now I don’t do these for every one – and sometimes I rely on past practice or the post-activity rubric to set them out less explicitly. But before many interactive summatives I now do. In the junior classes I find that I spell it out for them, but in my senior classes I ask them – and they can, as a group, tell me why every time.

They Have a “Compelling” Reason to Want To Talk –  I don’t think there is a teacher out there that doesn’t try to find a purposeful task to encourage students to interact. It is a challenge to continue to find them and I have used a variety of ideas, many adapted from those shared with the #langchat community by generous teacher. Lately I have been working to make the talking ‘valid’ by using the information gathered for a presentational task. In Year 1, for example, students find out if their peers like the same foods that they do (and how often they ear them) and then write out what they learned in basic comparing sentences (an extension that reinforces written work). In their reflections many said how fun it was to meet new people and learn more about them in another language. “Oral Worksheets” provide both an opportunity to talk and dig for information as well as practicing particular concepts. In my summative oral Interactive Fairs in all levels the information gathered is always used in the summative writing task.  As they go about all of these tasks they do so without my guidance – moving from a current partner to the next one on their own (something we call “Talk,Stand, Switch“).

There are so many more ideas out there shared by the #langchat community on how to encourage sustained TL use. The ideas above are a product of the professional development work that the community engages in on a daily basis. And I thank everyone for sharing what they have learned via their amazing #actfl16 tweets – it’s almost like I was there….







April 28, 2016
by leesensei
1 Comment

When You Ask For Their Feedback – Empowering You and Them in Class

recap self grading rubric

The ‘original’ participation tally handout

It started with good intentions. I frequently do a class ‘recap’ of a reading and I wanted to encourage my students to say more, give more during this process. I am a big believer in letting a rubric or other such tool set & guide expectations. However finding one for this purpose had eluded me. Suddenly timely posts by Carrie Toth on her independent reading yielded a class discussion participation sheet. Perfect I thought. With credit to Carrie, I took her original idea and modified it to what I wanted. By ‘what I wanted’ I mean to include descriptors of the kind of language that I expect, and know, my students are capable of producing and how they corresponded to expectations.

Admittedly I sprang this on them. They were not warned in advance of this addition to the activity and I was okay with that as I wanted to encourage spontaneous, not prepared, depth and detail. I introduced the ‘recording sheet’ and reminded them to keep track of the types of answers they were giving. I also reviewed how those answers would ‘rate’ in meeting expectations. So we started. Wow it was amazing. My students really worked to try to add in detail, depth and breadth to their answers. I was almost in tears hearing what I was hearing. Lots of props, thumbs up and smiling from me. They were fantastic. Then – perhaps I sensed something but really I’m not that tuned in – after the activity I asked them to reflect not on their work but on the success of using this type of tally to spur participation. They were sincere in their comments – I collected and read them and was ‘floored’ by some of the comments. They felt:

  • intimidated by others
  • ‘compared’ to other students
  • that they were not warned
  • confused by the process itself
  • it made them less likely to try
  • demeaned because their answers weren’t ‘as good’
recap pptn rubric modified 2016

Participation Sheet 2.0 (after student feedback)

Not good. Not what I intended and not what I value in my classroom. To quote Paolo Jennemann, “We needed to talk”! The next day I acknowledged to them what had I read. I posted on the board what my intentions were and, more importantly, were not(!) in using this tool to help them participate more. I explained that this tool was for them, to encourage them and that clearly it hadn’t done that and that I needed their help. And then I set them to the task. I wanted their own opinions on this so I chose to have them work with their partner. They were given a copy of the tally sheet from the day before and ask to ‘make it into a better tool to encourage them in this activity’. Wow – 20 minutes of talking intently, honest feedback on the form (and I mean honest!) and suggestions. They shredded the original document and provided me with ‘Participation Sheet 2.0’. The new sheet tells me so much about my classes and what they value in learning:

They believe in “I can” as a motivator – It’s been a couple of years and this crop of Yr3 started in Yr1 when I started to use ‘I can’ statements on the first page of my unit book. And apparently this is making an impact. More than one group turned the ‘statement’ of what they said into a representation of what they ‘can do’. Wow. They like the sense of accomplishment and they like to be able to articulate what they are capable of.

They want to challenge themselves/set their own expectations for how they will do – I’ve worked a lot on the pre-setting expectations both by me and having themselves set them and apparently they like to do this. The new sheet now starts with a ‘predictor’ or a setting of expectations but the student themselves.

They want to see if they meet their own expectations – They like the ability to set a bar and rise to it. I’ve never yet seen it as an excuse for just wanting to minimally meet. They like the setting of goals and several groups wanted them to not only be able to record how many items they offered a type of answer but also to be able to ‘check’ off the category as we they went along.

They want to reflect about the process after – This was my favourite. One group’s critique included a rather incredulous “What? No reflection?!!!” comment about the lack of opportunity to process the activity. So I combined this with a statement in which they get to say how well they met expectations. They know that the “That went…” starter demands both a statement about how they felt about it and, more importantly, reasons why they feel as they do.

They value when they take risks in using new items they are learning – They get that to meet expectations for a unit they are going to have to show that they can understand and use current unit items. They also realize that using new items requires them to risk. I loved this “I step out of my comfort zone…” statement one group suggested. It means that they know that they have to not be content with the ‘old’ but take what they know and layer on – expand – it with the ‘new’.

They don’t value a ‘points or expectation value’ on contributions – Many groups said  to ‘ditch’ the expectation indicators. Some said that any contribution at all was valuable and shouldn’t be discounted for a perceived value. Others said that they ‘know’ what is expected and what ‘meeting expectations’ involves so you don’t have to have it on there. And still others said that if they delivered the majority of the tupes of contributions they know they would be meeting expectations anyway. Gone.

They know that what they think/do matters – I will be presenting this updated sheet to them in the next few days. They already know that I value their choices and learning goals in the room. Now I am taking their feedback and working it into the document – and demonstrating their role/importance in the learning environment.

They have voices – and they matter. After all it’s all about their learning (not my teaching). What a process – what a powerful process.








March 18, 2016
by leesensei

Encouraging Risk/Rewarding Growth with “Checks And A Smile”

How do we encourage students to risk? How to we encourage them to ‘stretch’ and try something new? It’s a big challenge in the world language classroom. I have been using rubrics a lot to find out about how something went for a student, but it took until this year for me to use them to ‘prepare’ students to interact.  I realized that the rubric (and it’s construction/labels etc) is one way that we communicate class expectations. So why don’t we ask them, prior to the activity, to set up/predict/plan how they willSource: work to meet them?  This post focuses on interpersonal speaking but the concept may also be adapted for writing as well.

Initially I started asking students, prior to starting the activity, to select their ‘challenge’ (the ‘extra push’) – and check off (on the rubric) what they wanted to focus on doing/improving. Then I asked them to share that challenge with their partner to build in a bit of accountability. Then we moved on to the activity. It seemed to work well – they sincerely considered their ‘extra push’ in the interaction. But for me it wasn’t enough. It felt a bit focused on the ‘what I am not doing’ and not acknowledging ‘what I can already do’. Clearly, I needed a more balanced approach.

Lately I’ve been trying to acknowledge/encourage via “checks and a smile“. Prior to the activity the students select the ‘challenge/push’ for the activity – that gets the check. For my novices I generally have only 1 check, but in my upper level courses I source: openclipart.orgexpand that to 2 challenge/push areas. Then I ask them to select something that they already feel that they do well – what they are proud that they already incorporate into their interpersonal work. That gets the happy face.  I like how this combination gives a personal pat on the back for something already accomplished and still sets out something for them to reach for in their work.

When I ask students to reflect, as I always do, they are ready to tell me how they well they felt they did in meeting their checked challenge. Increasingly, with the equal focus on a strength, I see reflective comments about what they are ‘proud’ of  as well. And that is a happy face for everyone!



March 9, 2016
by leesensei

The New Feedback Rubrics – Part 2: The Interpersonal Oral Rubric

As I mentioned in my previous post, my rubric journey has been a long and winding one. In the previous post I talked about how I have developed (and continue to) my presentational writing rubric – with the goal of both providing guidance for what is expected and feedback on how a student is doing. Again – and especially for this rubric, I owe a huge debt on these to Amy Lenord who first developed the checklist idea. Stop now and go read her post first – it sets the stage for the ‘feedback’ checklist portion of the rubric.

The Interpersonal Oral Rubric:  Again this rubric is still evolving – and I continue to tweak the descriptors to fit what I am hearing and what I want my students to push 301276952-Oral-Interpersonal-With-Checklist-2015-1towards.  At Fully Meets a student is using current knowledge and tapping previously learned items. They are not giving speeches or talking in very long complex (and often memorized) sentences. Rather the detail and complexity shows itself in the what kind of information they are trying to communicate and how effectively they are doing that.  A student in this category is using follow-up questions often and effectively to dig for details and their choice of questions indicates how well they are listening to their partner. Errors can, and will occur, but a student in this category is often self-correcting – which for me is not an ‘error’ at all. The Fully Meeting student is at ease in the interaction and is an ‘equal’ – not a dominating partner. We work hard to make sure that students are comfortable when they don’t understand something in my class and so ‘facilitating’ can mean explaining a word – or helping a partner to find one – in the target language.   Minimally Meets for me is the ‘unit’ items – and at this level the student is showing me what they have mastered from the current unit but is generally not drawing heavily on past knowledge. This student is often the ‘follower’ in the conversation and they minimally meet expectations by recognizing what their partner is saying – but not necessarily generating as much as they are.  A student, for me, generally falls between Minimally and Fully – and I usually find they have items selected from one or more columns.  At this point – with selections out of several columns I often use a +/- to show where they are. For example a “Meeting+” means that you are moving out of “Meeting” and starting on your way to “Fully Meeting”. A “Fully Meeting-” would be ‘not quite there but definitely out of the “Meeting” area. I believe that the +/- also serves to encourage/show students that they are ‘on a continuum’ of skill building.

The Feedback:  Here is where the real value is for me – the quick and easy way to add extra comments to the piece. This is Amy’s checklist and fully credited to her.  It is general enough to provide a ‘guide’ for a student and has room to allow me add specific points as well.

Student Self-Evaluation First: This year I also started having the student participate in this process. For the Oral this comes prior to the evaluated interaction. We use the checklist for this in what I call “2 Checks And A Smile”. The students select two descriptors that are to be their ‘challenge’ or focus on including/improving in their conversation. These are the “Checks”. The “Smile” is a happy face put next to something that they already feel that they are doing well. It’s a reaffirmation of a skill/strength they already have.

As I wrote in the previous post, the rubric language is still not fully what I want – there are areas to improve it and make it more clear. But I like the mix of the ‘how you met’ and the ‘here’s some feedback’ that it provides.  The link to the rubric is here – and if you are inspired by it please credit myself and Amy for what you use.



March 2, 2016
by leesensei

The “New” Feedback Rubrics – Part 1: Presentational Writing

My rubric journey has been a long and winding one. What started with rubrics modified off the French DELF program have now come a long way. Gone are the number descriptors – and now in their place – words to describe how fully meeting expectations the student work is. Also I have refined how I use the rubric. As I worked to implement more of them I realized  (in one of the ‘duh!’ moments) that the rubric is not only an effective way to communicate how a student has MET expectations but also as a way to give feedback and reinforce WHAT is key.

I owe a huge debt on these to Amy Lenord who first developed the checklist idea. Stop now and go read her post first – it sets the stage for the ‘feedback’ checklist portion of the rubrics.

Presentational Writing – The Rubric:  This is still evolving. I continue to tweak it to try to pull out what I want students to show me that they can do – and encourage them to do more. Fully Meets Expectations is my top criteria for 99% of mWriting-With-Checklist-Jan-2015-Copyy class, with “Exceeds” there for my heritage writers and the very cream of the second language crop. At Fully Meets a student is using current knowledge and tapping previously learned items. They are expressing themselves in a complex and varied style – pushing for subtlety and detail in their writing. Errors are still allowed to occur – a point that I feel encourages risk in writing.  A student who Fully Meets my expectation produces a piece that is easy to read, whose writing ‘flows’ (in a second language context) which means that transition devices and organization fully support the piece.  Minimally Meets for me is the ‘unit’ items – and at this level the student is showing me what they have mastered from the current unit but is generally not drawing heavily on past knowledge. A student, for me, generally falls between Minimally and Fully – and I usually find they have items selected from one or more columns.  At this point – with selections out of several columns I often use a +/- to show where they are. For example a “Meeting+” means that you are moving out of “Meeting” and starting on your way to “Fully Meeting”. A “Fully Meeting-” would be ‘not quite there but definitely out of the “Meeting” area. I believe that the +/- also serves to encourage/show students that they are ‘on a continuum’ of skill building.

The Feedback:  Here is where the real value is for me – the quick and easy way to add extra comments to the piece. Generally I found that I was writing the same comments over and over – and, borrowing from Amy’s idea, wondered if I could put together a written checklist. It is general enough to provide a ‘guide’ for a student and has room to allow me add specific points as well. Some of the checklist points reflect specific Japanese language items (such as ‘form’ – the difference between plain/formal forms for example) and others are more generic. I wanted to have the ‘For Future Pieces’ portion to be encouraging in nature which is why used words like ‘try’ and ‘review?’ to hopefully encourage the student to seek out assistance in these areas.

The rubric language is still not fully what I want – there are areas to improve it and make it more clear. But I like the mix of the ‘how you met’ and the ‘here’s some feedback’ that it provides.

Student Self-Evaluation First: This year I also started having the student participate in this process. At the end of the piece – be it a presentation or summative exam write – I ask the student to look at the rubric and check where they think the piece falls. I want them thinking about what I am looking for and evaluating how well they are meeting expectations. I find that most are quite aware of where there writing is and, using this style of rubric encourages growth in writing.

The link for the rubric is here if you wish – please credit based upon how much you borrow.

Next post – the Oral Interpersonal Rubric.






January 20, 2016
by leesensei

“How Am I Doing? I Know How!” Improving Formative Feedback

YOne of the reasons I am making a big shift from numbers to proficiency/expectation descriptors is to ensure that students don’t wait for me to tell them how they are doing – but rather that they will know and be able to articulate for themselves. With this shift comes more challenges in improving feedback and learning opportunities for students. I am by no means good at this – but, as a believer in ‘small tweaks lead to big changes’ I have been experimenting with additional ways to provide feedback. I think I’ve been really weak on this in the past….so my ‘small tweaks’ this semester included:

Pop Check-In – born out of the frustration of students being able to do things for a quiz but not 10 minutes later, and a desire to see if they are really ‘getting it’, I introduced the concept of the “Pop Check-In”. These are not announced beforehand and focus on a particular skill/structure we may be working on. As my students know – and can repeat back to me – this is a chance to see ‘what is in their heads’ now. It is not ‘for marks’ but rather is for learning and feedback for them on how well they are internalizing a concept. More here….

Rubrics With Feedback – Ah Amy Lenord – where would I be as a teacher without the amazing sharing (and challenging) that you do! I realized after reading a piece by Amy that my rubrics needed to be reinforced with some ‘great job/for next time’ comments. And Amy’s amazing post on this inspired me to make a change to my rubrics too. With attribution, I have added her checklist to my oral interpersonal rubric – fabulous and so easy to use when I am grading students. Extending beyond that I decided that my writing rubric needed it as well. This is my first draft of this and I know it will evolve but I am looking forward to using it in the future!

Completion Required – I am taking in more small pieces of writing this semester. I realized in the past that I left too much to the final summative writing piece. My twist on feedback is not to do the corrections for them but to highlight areas of weakness and ask them to work on them. They get an ‘incomplete’ in my evolving grade-book until that is done and the piece is then marked as ‘complete’. In order to be able to do the corrections I often include hints or reinforcement of the concept via a written comment, a chat with me or pointing them to one of my on-line reviews.

Reflective Responses From Me – I am very keen on collecting reflections from students especially after they self-evaluate an activity. I used to read them but this semester I added what I thought was a missing component which is my comment on that reflection. So now – especially after a summative oral that has been self-assessed (yes – I do those!) I take the time to read and respond to their comments. Then they receive that back with their ‘unit summative’ sheet and I make sure to attach it so that they see the comments that I have made. I notice that they take the time to read and note them.  I also do an ‘end of course’ reflection and take the time to write, or orally respond to each as well. They get this back at the final exam – a nice way to end I think.

Unit Summative Sheet – I usually don’t have students keep a summative writing piece but have always felt that they should retain something at the end of the unit to chart their progress. So this semester I introduced their unit summative sheet (brightly coloured so its easy to find). On it are two rubrics that I have filled out – their writing/oral pieces with checklist feedback (see above) showing how they are doing in meeting expectations. I also attach the pre-oral rubric they fill out – so that they can see how they felt about how they would do going into the oral. I am also looking to incorporate a space on that for them to include a reflection about what worked for them in learning in that unit and a place where they can articulate how they felt about their learning during that course of study (based upon a piece from the TELL project). I saw many students voluntarily take these out as we were preparing for finals to help them prepare.

Oh there’s so much more I think that I can do…but with these small steps I hope I’m moving in the right direction….



January 11, 2016
by leesensei

My Evolving Gradebook: From Numbers to Descriptors…

The Disclaimer: First up and straight out I am still required to submit ‘percentages’ that translate into a letter ‘grade’. Secondly I do not grade on the ACTFL continum yet of labelling proficiency from novice low to intermediate and beyond. Thirdly I still look at the ‘four’ skills – reading/writing/speaking/listening but my summative assessments are oral interpersonal, presentation writing and interpretive reading.

The Problem: What does a 6/6 mean? Why do kids ask “How do I get an A?” and not “How fully am I meeting expectations?” and even more key – why are they asking me how they are doing? Don’t they know? Can’t they articulate where they are in meeting expectations for a unit?  Why does my gradebook look like this?

THE OLD - part 1

And More Pressingly…. How do I meld the desire to address student goals and achievement with the requirement of keeping ‘grades’ in my province.

So…it started with removing all numbers from my rubrics. Big step. Removing the ‘calculation’ from the task.Now I find myself saying “In order to be fully meeting…” and students are catching on. In fact I have gone a step further and ask them to complete the rubric for the assignment/task in advance to set up/establish where they think they are in addressing expectations. Then after my evaluation they get ‘both’ back to see how their perceptions, and mine, line up.

But how to represent this in my gradebook and still come up with a grade?  My solution is not mine but rather is taken from work done with an amazing colleague, Connie Santos, in my school’s English department. She developed a grid to translate the descriptors to ‘marks’.  This is still a work in progress for me but the maximum that a student can achieve is “Fully Meeting +” and this is my 100%. The descriptors and % are here… Fully Meeting


Now my gradebook is a real combination that is beginning to reflect my shift from ‘numbers’ to descriptors. I have created a series of ‘special scores’ that work as a percentage of the ‘score’ of the task. So the O-FM code is a special score of 95 – meaning that it translates to 95% of whatever the assignment is out of

Now what students are seeing is:

THE OLD part 2Some details as to what you are seeing:

Numbers – quizzes on items that students have had at least 1 formative assessment with feedback in. Any achievement here is ‘re-doable’ upon student request to show further mastery – at their request.

C/Incl/NHI – pop-check in corrections, written work feedback and ‘homework’ (such as it is) completion

MM-….FM+ – Writing  – a major piece or summative assessment in writing.

O-NYM ….O-FM – Oral evaluation – either by me or by them for class speaking/interpersonal activities and tasks

P-NYM….P-ME – Project/Out of Class Work – This is generally a ‘meeting/minimally meeting/not yet meeting’ mark for ‘project work

This experiment is definitely a work in progress. And I understand that I run the risk of ‘confusing’ readers (almost as much as I am as I try to refine and use this). But I am really pleased with where this is heading…and hoping, just hoping, that one day I will be allowed to enter descriptors on report cards…and not a percentage!



November 19, 2015
by leesensei
1 Comment

Using the Rubric As A “Dialogue Starter” To Increase Student Awareness About Their Learning

IMG_1616I’ve done a lot of work with my rubrics in the past couple of years. This year my move was to eliminate all numbers from the rubric. I learned that no matter how great your criteria is – the minute you put a number on the rubric students will spend time ‘calculating’. I’ve made one other change this year as well. My goal is for students to really look at the criteria for how they are meeting/not meeting/exceeding expectations. With that in mind I now request that anything submitted (from projects to summative written pieces) come in with ‘checked’ by the student. Why this shift?

Students complete first because…

  • It makes them look at the criteria
  • Establishes what they think the expectations are
  • Allows them to ask the follow-up question of  ‘how do I get to….?’
  • Increases student awareness of where they are currently and where they might want to get to

Teacher completes second because….

  • I see what the student has ‘taken in’ as the expectations – Was I clear? Did I establish both a base of knowledge to accomplish the task and demonstrate knowledge?
  • Deal with any wildly differentiating opinions – Have I missed a chance to clarify what levels of achievement are? Is the student ‘missing’ something in what they think they are expected to do? Why did Johnny think he was fully meeting when he was only minimally meeting?
  • Student receives even more specific communication from me about where they are. And the more that I can increase this flow of information the better it is for learning.

This is a step in the journey to more student awareness of what level of language they have mastered. And its a great chance for me to make that I am providing those opportunities to demonstrate that.


August 24, 2015
by leesensei

My Rubric Descriptor Quandary….Questions And Maybe An Answer


Image source:

With 2 weeks to go before I return to the classroom I am starting to think about what needs to be worked on before the year begins – what do I need to have in place for Day 1. This is one of them!

Rubrics- they are the cornerstone of how I evaluate and I have developed many – for all of the grades I teach and the modes that I am accessing. To me they are how I both lay out expectations for what students ‘can’ do and also encourage them to push themselves when they do it. It’s the reason my Yr2 writing rubrics contain an emphasis, for example, on ‘transition words’ – because I really want them to begin to thoughtfully use them. I started my rubric journey with 3 basic rubrics. However, unlike many teachers perhaps, I am someone who is constantly ‘tweaking’  and they have expanded, and morphed, beyond just these first attempts.

My latest issue is ‘descriptors’  When the rubrics first came on the scene I used numbers for each category – but the ‘5-4-3-2-1’ I did not like. Then I moved on to ‘words’ to describe the categories – as I did not like the focus on the numbers. For my interpersonal self evaluations this means things like ‘comfortable’, ‘not so comfortable’ etc. But in the rubrics that I am using to provide direct feedback this has meant – traditionally the following:

  • Not Yet Meeting – you are not yet meeting expectations in this area
  • Minimally Meeting – you are ‘just there’ in what is expected
  • Meeting – you are doing what is needed to do – beyond the minimum
  • Fully Meeting – rich and varied and showing depth — you have pushed to go beyond what you were asked to do
  • Exceeding –you are way beyond what is expected

However as the year went along I began to dislike these descriptors.  There were too many categories I realized and, as a result, I saw too many students who were in the minimally meeting/meeting and too few who ever reached exceeding. A rubric should clearly show a student where they are – and mine weren’t.

So for next year I have pulled back from ‘exceeding’ and will concentrate on the NYM to FM range.  They will still be able to be ‘between’ descriptors and this will generate the “+/-” ratings such as “MM+” on their way to “Meeting”.  And what of the student who is exceeding.?Well they are going beyond what I would describe as ‘fully meeting’ and for me that will by “FM+” – because they are ‘exceeding’ what I consider to be fully meeting. I am still working out the ‘how’ this will translate to percentages/lettered grades. I hope that this will allow students to more clearly understand the difference between categories – and allow me to feel more comfortable with where they are. Of course if I didn’t need to translate this to percentage ‘grades’ my descriptor quandary would be lessened.

This is definitely a work in progress….and may change by the time I start. A rough look at my rubric is here…and comments are welcome!


PS Why not check out the most amazing proficiency rubric ever (!) from Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell on her Musicuentos site!

February 2, 2015
by leesensei

The “What We Know How To Say” List – Supporting Summative Writing…

Student WritingThis may be controversial, and I am really open to hearing back on this…you see – it’s about ‘the list’. The what? Not a prescribed vocabulary list (breathe Amy Lenord breathe!) but a reminder list. I work hard with my students to expand ‘how’ they say things. We do readings, we practice with targeted games, we do ‘pop-up’ grammar lessons, do interactive homework and I try to tie the summative write to what has been done in our summative oral task. Still – when I ask them to do a summative write I often don’t see ‘it’. The ‘it’ being the new ways students can express themselves – and often any inclusion of ways of expressing themselves learned in the past. Some students are instinctively good at this but others aren’t. And when I mark on my writing rubric I would often not see “goes beyond current unit” or even “good evidence of unit concepts” in their written expression.

So this semester I tried an experiment. My concern is that my students show me that they know how to incorporate and use new expressions/structures – and don’t forget what they already know. Yes, I want them to be aware of what they have learned. No I don’t want to be prescriptive in what they ‘must’ use (they are marked on a holistic rubric). Enter the “what we know how to say” list as a way to support their writing. For me, it’s about showing what the can use, do use and know how to use.

At the start of the semester – In the writing period I allow 4-5 minutes for students to peruse notes and jot down things they want to remember to use in their writing. My rules are that this must be in English – like “Comparisons” or “Plan to do” but  cannot be in the Target language or a ‘formula’ (or ‘how’ to do it). Once they have their list – and I’ve checked it for compliance – they begin to write.

By the end of the semester – Students no longer get time to ‘look over notes and construct’ but are, instead, doing this as part of their exam preparation outside of class. They do get time/paper at the start of the exam class to note down the items – but this time it’s from their memory. I did this at the start of the final as well.

As students progress through their time in my classes I will gradually drop the exercise. It’s my belief that by their 3rd and 4th years their awareness of their learning should bring them to do this kind of thing instinctively.  I am also hoping that this spills over – positively – to influence other types of writing that they do.

It was interesting to gauge student reaction to this. Many said that they actually didn’t look at their list during their write – but it made them more aware of the different ways that they could express themselves while they did so. Several said that it helped in their write “because I knew I had to use what I noted down – it pushed me to write more”. For some this was a ‘natural’ thing to do anyway. “I’ve always had this in my head but this time I got time to write it down to refer to it” while others found it a new, and helpful experience.

As for me I noticed an uptick in the use of/variety of sentences I am seeing in their writing. I don’t want to create robotic writers who are driven by including specific “grammar” in their pieces but I hope that this exercise makes students more aware of what they have learned – and pushes them to show me their growth in their ability to express themselves.





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