Sunflowers in Provence
Performance-based grading reflects how well students can speak, read, write and understand spoken and written language. Vocab quizzes and tests are great to get students to study vocabulary and grammar, but they don’t do a good job of assessing how well students can maintain a conversation.
Performance-based grading, Integrated Performance Assessments, thematic units, etc. can be very overwhelming. While the profession is moving away from quizzes and unit tests, text book manufacturers are not. Finding materials, writing our own formative and summative assessments are not easy and it’s time consuming. Nevertheless, you can change up your classroom at any time. Little changes will eventually add up to big changes. Telling students how they will be graded and what to expect is the key. Plan an end-of-unit speaking assessment (Student will have to buy clothes for either a ski weekend, elegant wedding or beach getaway. He will have to name the clothes he is buying, describe some of them and say whether they are expensive or cheap, etc. for example). Students will then record their information either on Google Voice (see below), in the language lab, create a Vine or other technology-based method and you’ve made the first step to having a performance-based classroom!
Students are motivated by grades
One thing that motivates students is their grades. What students are graded on is what they will study and focus on. If you assign grades only for quizzes, unit tests and writing assignments, students will focus their attention on doing well in these three areas. Sure, students will do speaking activities in class, but most of them will not focus on doing well on them because they know they will not be graded on how well they can speak the language.
There are many teachers who have set up their gradebook to only reflect performance assessments. I am not 100% there yet. What I have done in my classroom is to add a category for performance assessments with sub-categories for speaking, writing, reading and listening (basically the three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive and presentational).
I still have homework as a category. Homework assignments are worth one point each; students receive a 0 if it is late but receive full credit when it’s turned in. It doesn’t affect their grade that much, but it looks bad when they have a lot of missing assignments. I let them turn assignments late for full credit because I like the idea of the assignment hanging over a student’s head. He can’t get out of doing it just because he was too lazy, had a track meet, went to a birthday party, etc. the day before it was due. This forces him to actually practice the grammar or vocabulary. I also have some other classroom assignments in the gradebook.
I think the hardest performance assessment to grade is students’ ability to speak the language because it takes up a lot of class time. This is what I have done to help improve students’ speaking ability and be able to assign grades for it so students will know this is important and will actually put in effort practicing speaking the language:
Practice often in class
I try to have students speak the language as much as possible, but unlike better teachers, I don’t enforce only French among the students. However, I have students speak French for five minutes at the beginning of class (after the mindset which I call La Sonnerie) three times per week on average. Students need a lot of practice on anything they will be tested on. By being consistent with making students speak the language, student will show a lot of improvement.
I have always had students write two sentences every day on the back of their mindset paper that I collect at the end of the week. However, students’ writing has really improved once I started having them write substantial paragraphs (minimum 50 words) often. I give them a writing prompt (what did you do yesterday, what are you going to do this weekend, what is your dog like, etc.) two or three times a week. The key is consistency and also highlighting errors and have students fix them the next day. Students have to correct and re-write. These are practice for the performance assessment students.
“Don’t Speak English” Cards
While students are speaking the target language, I circulate and if I hear someone speaking English, he or she receives a “Ne parle pas anglais” card. I made half-sheet cards using card stock that say, “Ne Parle Pas Anglais!” The student can give away the card to another student who he or she hears speaking English. I have about five or six cards handy.
At the end of the five-minute period, any student with a Ne Parle Pas Anglais card must come to the front of the room and speak the target language for 30 seconds. They can talk about any subject. I tell the rest of the class to be ready with questions for the speaker. This is a good way to get students to speak the target language and to get students to ask questions. Every time students speak they improve and consistency definitely helps improve students’ language skills.
Presentational speaking is easier to grade than interpersonal speaking. My school uses Canvas and students can use the recording feature on discussion posts. I have students leave record themselves once every two weeks. My school also has a language lab, which we go to once a week. I also have students record themselves at the end of the lab period. If you don’t have either of these methods, you can use Google Voice. Click on the Google Apps icon (the checkerboard in the upper right-hand corner of your Google screen), click More, then click Even More. Scroll down to Voice. It allows you to choose a new phone number that you can give out to students to leave messages on. I have students make their recordings in class from their cell phones or from the classroom phone, or call for homework. The students leave messages with what every topic you are grading them on (I also make them ask a question at the end). If for some reason you are not allowed to choose a new number in your area, you can use your own phone number and set it so that the students go directly to Google Voice.
This mode of communication is a little difficult for me to grade because you basically have to grade either student role plays or skits in front of the class or grade a few groups at a time over several days. I hate spending class time on a few students doing something and everyone else watching. Having a language lab, I record partners maintaining a conversation for 2 minutes, which works out great. If I don’t use the language lab, I walk around the room grading three or four groups each day during the week I am grading this performance assessment.
For presentational writing, since I have students write often, I will assign one of the paragraphs as their assessment. I like giving students a minimum number of words to write because it forces them to make longer, more interesting sentences, as well as use adjectives and adverbs. On Canvas, I have students make discussion posts once every two weeks and will sometimes use them as a performance assessment.
I love Padlet! It is free to use and it is so easy to use. Students post a picture related to the topic and then write a paragraph or whatever you assign. Students love it because they can post a picture and everyone in class can see their picture. I like to spend a couple minutes clicking on their pictures so everyone can see them on the big screen.
To me, grading students on their performance makes them focus on speaking, writing, reading and listening. I do not have time to re-write the textbook, find tons of authentic materials, nor create interesting thematic units. However, I can incorporate speaking and writing in to my lessons on a weekly basis. These are things that improve student performance immensely. Over the summer I will try to find more authentic reading and listening materials. For now if I can get them to speak more and write more, the students will be better off.
Also, I have made quizzes and unit tests less “high-stake” because they take valuable class time away from using the language. I still have them take quizzes, but I don’t spend as much time doing everything to help ensure that they get the best grade possible. Students need to study and I need to give them a lot of review, but now that their whole grade isn’t relying solely on quizzes and tests, I can put less emphasis on them in class.