Grade for proficiency in your language class: your gradebook must reflect your instruction!

Gradebook Categories

How did you decide how to structure your gradebook?

Without exception, in every language class that I took from middle school through college, the gradebook looked very similar. Every graded assignment in the course was placed into a category that matched the assignment type: quizzes, tests, homework, classwork, participation, projects, etc. The weight of each category varied–sometimes, each category carried the same weight (20% quizzes, 20% tests, 20% homework, 20% classwork, 20% projects, for example); other times, quizzes and tests were weighted more heavily than other assignments.

Grade for proficiency in your language class: your gradebook must reflect your instruction!

ASKING QUESTIONS

Because this kind of a gradebook structure was all that I had ever known, it should come as no surprise that I structured my gradebook similarly when I began teaching. It never occurred to me to look for alternative gradebook setups or to ask questions like

  • What does this gradebook setup say about is valuable in this course?
  • What behaviors does this gradebook setup reward, and what behaviors does it encourage?
  • How do I prepare my students to be successful with this gradebook setup, and is that the kind of preparation that I want to do in class?

WHAT DOES MY GRADEBOOK EVALUATE?

When I began meeting with Michele Whaley‘s First Fridays group here in Anchorage and learning about Standards Based Assessment, I realized several things about this gradebook setup that had been handed down to me and I had adopted without question. I realized that this traditional gradebook setup evaluates and communicates a few things that I want to evaluate and communicate, and it evaluates and communicates a lot of things that I don’t.

In a traditional gradebook in which grades are sorted into assignment type, all of these factors contribute to the final grade:

  • Language performance/knowledge
  • Responsibility/work ethic
  • Attendance
  • Test-taking skill
  • Home/family situation

I asked myself, “Is this really what I want my gradebook to reflect?” 

Teaching Spanish? A traditional gradebook setup evaluates and communicates a lot of information that has nothing to do with language ability--and quite frankly that is out of the students' control!

WHAT SHOULD MY GRADEBOOK EVALUATE?

Thanks to Scott Benedict (and to Betsy Paskvan who introduced me to his materials), my gradebook underwent a radical shift. I decided that that I wanted my students to be graded on what they know and can do in the target language–period. And as a slight compromise–even though I didn’t want this in my gradebook–I kept a nearly worthless category to catch everything that students did or didn’t do in class that didn’t fall into the category of “What students know and can do in the target language”.

This is where my gradebook ended up:

Reading – 30% – How well do I understand written Spanish?

Listening – 30% – How well do I understand spoken Spanish?

Writing – 20% – How fluently and accurately can I write in Spanish?

Speaking – 15% – How fluently and accurately can I speak in Spanish?

Work Habits – 5% – How much effort do I put forth in class?

Because I value communicative proficiency, I needed my gradebook to reflect that. I had changed how I was teaching, and my gradebook needed a change as well.

When you change the way you grade, you have to change you teach! If you grade for proficiency, your instructional practices must teach for proficiency. Teaching Spanish or any language!

WHY SKILLS?

I chose to use the four communicative skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) as my gradebook categories; other teachers might prefer to break it down into the modes of communication (Interpretive, Interpersonal, Presentational), or a blend of the two (Interpretive reading, Interpretive Listening, Presentational Speaking, etc.). Other teachers also might weight the categories differently. I think that these are all minor differences that provide students, parents, administrators, and other teachers with the same kind of information; helpful information; the right kind of information.

Perhaps you are wondering why I don’t include vocabulary, grammar in this gradebook:

Consider categorizing grades on communicative skills or by modes of communication--when you do, categories for grammar and vocabulary are not needed. They will be factors that affect the grades within each communicative category. Teaching, assessing, and grading Spanish

If you have been to my Assessment for Acquisition workshop, you have heard the story about my super brilliant brother Nathan and a little vocabulary test challenge that we did a few years ago. The point of the story was this: in the real world, no one is walking around quizzing you on discrete vocabulary or grammar items. In the real world, your vocabulary knowledge and command of grammar is observed and evaluated always in the context of messages. Always. So why would I distort that for my classes?

I wouldn’t.

WHY NOT CULTURE?

Culture is a HUGE part of what we do in class. It is ever-present in the SOMOS curriculum. It is my passion.

Buuuuuuuut…when it comes to grading, I honestly don’t care about what my students remember or don’t remember. I want culture to engage my students; to make them think; to make them wonder. And I am okay leaving it at that!

If you would like to measure the cultural knowledge that your students have gained in your course, then certainly go ahead and create a gradebook category for it. I can appreciate that, and for now I am content to leave it out of mine.


If you would like a more detailed explanation as to why I made this shift and how it has positively affected my students, please see this post on Standards Based Assessment and visit this Proficiency Based Assessment board on Pinterest:

Does your Spanish class gradebook communicate student proficiency?

20 thoughts on “Gradebook Categories

  1. Beth says:

    My team is working on changing from categories like “homework”, “quizzes”, etc. to skill categories as you do. However, I am concerned about the receptive skills carrying too much weight in the grade. It’s not that they aren’t important–at the lower levels, I think they are the most important skills. It’s just that I generally don’t grade them except on end of unit tests. As a result, I’m curious what you do for reading and listening that results in them being weighted at 50% of the students’ overall grade.

    PD–LoVe the blog!

  2. SenoraChase says:

    So we’ll timed! Our dept just had this conversation 2 weeks ago. We’re transitioning to this next year. In Levels 1 and 2 we’re weighting similarly to how you described and weighted the skills a bit more evenly in the upper levels. We’ll see how it goes!

  3. Mary says:

    Martina, I will be using your curriculum this year and changing my gradebook categories. This is scary to me since I’ve done the traditional categories for 26 years. Could you help me with where I would include my midterm/final grades and how? I normally count them as 20%. We are required to give end of term tests. Thank you!

    • Martina Bex says:

      Hi mary ! I have always broken down my midterms and finals into separate grades by modality. So, if a midterm has six parts (two reading sections, two listening sections, one speaking, and one writing), students get six different grades for it–two grades for the reading category, two that go in the listening cateogry, one that goes in writing, and one that goes in speaking.

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