The last few days I have had some amazing and eye-opening conversations with students about grades, learning and a growth mindset (thanks in large part to my learning at ACTFL 2015). Shortly I will post the rationale behind all of this, but suffice to say a lot of thinking and conversation has gone into this moment. One particular eye opener for me came during dance class recently. I was teaching the foundation skills to help two students pirouette. We discussed the importance of a center of gravity over the working leg, spotting, turnout all the elements that would enable an amazing pirouette to happen... Yet, perfection was not achieved by either student. At best they made a slightly wobbly, off-center complete turn, yet most of the time they fell off their center mid turn. And yet, I was SO proud of the progress that they made as they stumbled through that skill, and I cheered them on because I they were dancing their toes off!
And the question remains, then why do I get so hung up when my Spanish students do not perform a particular skill perfectly in the time that I wish they would... And why have I historically taken the position of critiquing their mistakes rather than cheering them on for their hard effort?
Listen, there is so much to say here, but I will start with this... I actually love the mistakes and the bumbles that my students make as they struggle through a complete sentence, because they are working so dang hard! In the dance studio my colleagues promise to cheer when I fall because I have taken a risk and will understand better how to balance following that wobble. Similarly, I want my students to believe that I will cheer when their language wavers.
This week I began a conversation with my students about collaborating on a grading contract, and wow! It was an amazing conversation. I was astounded by how conditioned they (and I) are to define an A student as someone who is academically intelligent. Several students actually said, "An A student is someone who doesn't have to work too hard for their grade". Everyone agreed that, yes, there are different sorts of intelligences, and thus all seemed to accept that some are simply part of a system that won't reward them for their particular type of intelligence.
And so we brainstormed and shared our ideas. And I realized the magnitude of the shift that must happen before ALL of my students can assert with confidence that language proficiency is attainable for every single one of them, before students decide they are going to take charge of their learning and DEMAND that they take a functional skill away from my class (wouldn't every teacher love this?).
I would love to hear any feedback on this. At this age is it reasonable to expect that students can believe in what they are learning enough to take responsibility for some measure of their growth? Have you had experience with seeing a difference in students when they change their thinking and growth mindset? How do I encourage them in this direction?
Where does one begin? I came to ACTFL with a list of questions to begin to answer (I am not quite so foolish as to think that one conference will be the definitive answer to my questions). Among my questions:
Following the keynote I had an opportunity to connect with some amazing people, Meriwynn Mansori of the VIF Learning Center, Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell of Musicuentos greatness, Heather Witten, flipped class guru and the amazing Donna Clementi. It was so exciting to sit with like-minded educators and hear their ideas, thoughts, constructive critiques. But the day was just beginning... Here's a quick summary of the sessions that I attended with just a bit of reflection:
Assessment should be a part of the daily instruction. The questions shift from, how many points did you earn to, did you meet the expectations? Rubrics are not teacher-driven, but rather include space for students to interact with their own learning. There is a metacognitive piece involved in student self-reflection that enables them to become deeper, more authentic learners. I am so excited that we language teachers are moving in this direction. What do grades really mean? My personal view is that if I want my students to know that I believe in their abilities I need to situate myself beside them and cheer them on. Standards-based grading is one way to make that shift.
Elementary Spanish - From Flex to Proficiency in 30 minutes/day
This presentation was more narrative in nature as it shared how one school is moving towards greater proficiency expectations for their students as a result of increased daily Spanish instruction. The presenters shared some amazing videos of actual student language production after only a couple of months in school. This school is only in their second year, but it seems that they are already seeing some great results. I am so hopeful that there is more to come in the elementary program at my school, and I am grateful to the folks at The Blake School for sharing their experiences.
The TELL Project
At the last minute I decided to attend one more session, and it was a definite highlight to the day! The Tell Project is putting out some of the most high quality, FREE and empowering professional development tools for language teachers. I can not praise highly enough the quality and the mission and vision behind this amazing project and the amazing people who are part of it.
I came across this video and thought it is an appropriate and accessible expression of what I have been learning and reflecting on in regards to best practices in my classroom. I believe that there is an important biblical narrative that acts as an umbrella over all of my teaching, and what I love about recent shifts in world language education is that they fit beautifully into the larger and more important biblical narrative of our lives. So as you watch the video, think about the fact that at the heart of our need to become global citizens lies an understanding that "the earth is the Lord's and everything in it", therefore my understanding of, sensitivity to and compassion for all peoples in every culture matters a great deal.
Shannon Norquist, teacher of Spanish and Dance at Barrington Christian Academy, mother of 3 lovelies, wife to an artist, modern dancer, daughter to the King.