Two years ago, a few of my colleagues made the leap from traditional grading to a more proficiency-focused path in our Spanish and other world language classes. It was intimidating to make the change (and I know not all teachers have control over their grading policies) but it was an update that was WELL worth our efforts.
After reading this post you’ll know exactly how we break down our new grading categories, and the many ways this change benefits our students. You’ll also see how this new approach has led to more purposeful and effective planning for my own classes. You will leave with many new ideas and a variety of free resources to try with your students.
Traditional Grading In Spanish Classes
Example of a traditional grading breakdown for Spanish class:
- 40% Quizzes
- 40% Tests
- 10% Homework
- 10% Participation/Classwork
This is the type of grade breakdown I followed for my first seven years of teaching. I was hesitant to change because I thought, “This is how it has always been done!”
As I watched my colleagues make the change to more proficiency based grading, I began to notice the glaring drawbacks of the traditional breakdown I was using.
- Feedback: My grades did not provide valuable feedback to my students. “You have a low quiz average.” What does this mean? What valuable guidance does this provide?
- Planning: My class grades were not supportive of a reflective planning practice. “Wow, a class average of 70% on that quiz.” A quiz that likely had 3 pages assessing varying skills. So, what did we need to review? How did this help me be a reflective teacher?
- Assessment: I noticed that I was assessing arbitrary skills on quizzes and tests. I had conjugation sections, fill-ins… typical grammar-focused assessments that don’t focus on communicative skills.
- Meaning: Did my student’s grades accurately reflect their skills? I realized that many of my graded assessments were focused on output, which was not appropriate especially for my novice learners.
Purposeful Grading in Spanish Classes: A Proficiency Based Approach
I followed the lead of my colleagues and implemented a more proficiency focused grading breakdown. To be honest, I changed my syllabus just a few days before school started. I wanted to commit to the change and now allow myself the chance to back out! (Want to see exactly what it looks like? You can grab an editable copy of my Spanish class syllabus!)
The new grade breakdown focuses on the modes of communication:
- 30% Interpretive
- 30% Interpersonal
- 30% Presentational
- 10% Study Habits
Right away, I noticed that the drawbacks of my previous grading practice had been turned into benefits that would support not only my students, but myself and my teaching practice.
- Feedback: I can now say to a student, “You’re doing amazing with your interpretive skills, now let’s add some extra interpersonal practice!” This is directly connected to their language skills vs. the vague “You did well on that quiz.”
- Planning: It is very easy for me to see the areas each class needs to work on! Low interpersonal grades? Let’s add in some Citas Cortas conversational activities this week.
- Assessment: My assessments actually have a FOCUS and MEANING. Instead of conjugation quizzes, my assessments consist of more real-world communicative examples.
- Meaning: When my students look at their grade, they can immediately invoke the meaning and value in their skills. Instead of arbitrary categories, they know the exact value and reason behind their grades and can more accurately monitor their own progress. These rubrics developed by my colleagues, the entire MHS world language department (adapted over years from various supports such as ACTFL) have truly helped guide us in this process. Please see the special notes at the bottom of this post for more info about these!
Now that you have seen the new grading breakdown and heard a little bit about the immediate benefits, I want to offer you some extra support, FREE RESOURCES, and ideas for each mode!
So, now that we have our grading scale. What do we do with it? How do we plan to practice and assess each of the four categories?
1. Interpretive Mode: 30%
Comprehension and appropriate cultural interpretation of written and spoken communication*
Interpretation of texts, audio advertisements, infographics, music, movies, and more
RESOURCES/ACTIVITIES TO TRY:
- Taco Tuesday — tutorial + free resource for Present Tense AR Spanish Verbs
- Leerrores — All digital and editable! Available interpretive reading resources
- Sonidos Secretos — tutorial + free sample for Present Tense AR Spanish Verbs
- Reading Passages — free resource for the present tense, free resource for the conditional tense, free resource for the future tense + more ideas from me
- Conversation Strips — available resources
- Interpretive Assessment Examples — check these out to see how I format my assessments!
- Listening/Reading Template (for practice or assessment) — Keep reading to get access to this set of editable templates and more additional free proficiency based resources from me!
Taco Tuesday is one of my favorite resources to use with my students to practice the interpretive mode of communication: I love how adaptable it is for any unit, and that it is ready for in person and digital game play! You can see all of my Taco Tuesday games as well as editable templates with five game board sizes!
Sonidos Secretos brings SO MUCH FUN into my class each time we play! And my students don’t even realize how much practice they’re actually getting with the target language! I have editable templates available for this activity as well.
Leerrores is a great confidence builder that offers a LOT of comprehensible input, as well as extention activities for students. Every set is digital and editable, with student and teacher copies included.
Conversation strips are a great way to practice interpretive skills even during a quick warm-up.
2. Interpersonal Mode: 30%
Active negotiation of meaning, often including adjustments or clarification*
Non-scripted conversations, open-ended class discussions
RESOURCES/ACTIVITIES TO TRY:
- Citas Cortas speaking activity — tutorial + free resource for Spanish Introductions
- Text Conversation template, and
- Chispas speaking activity — Get access to these additional free proficiency based resources from me!
Want your own editable copies of these interpretive and interpersonal resources?
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3. Presentational Mode: 30%
Creation of message that stimulates interpretation without opportunity for negotiation of meaning*
Written reports and presentations, rehearsed spoken presentations
RESOURCES/ACTIVITIES TO TRY:
- Presentational Projects for Spanish Class
- Structured Speaking Activities — Free Cacto Conversación for Spanish AR Verbs, Free Llama Mía Game for Preterite of Spanish AR Verbs
- Open-Ended Writing — Free restaurant writing prompt
- The Chispas speaking activity above can absolutely be adapted to work as a presentational speaking assessment, if students are able to prep their speeches/contributions ahead of time!
These Spanish class projects are my go-to assessments each year for the various levels of high school Spanish that I teach.
I have made sure that each resources is completely editable as well as digital-friendly, so that you can truly adjust to meet your unique class needs.
I hope you find some inspiration for your next presentational assessment!
I also have Spanish project templates available if you’d like to design your own, with all of the elements that I like to include (student drafting space, teacher example, student checklist, etc.)
4. Study Habits: 10%
This final category is where many teachers include homework, classwork, and participation. I honestly stopped giving homework last year and I don’t plan to begin again. I also do not grade much classwork; it is very rare that something would fall into this category rather than one of the 30% categories related to the communicative modes.
So for my students, this final 10% is based on their participation in class.
You may already know that my students assess themselves on their Spanish class participation. I was tired of trying to find an objective way to grade participation without feeling like the “good kids” always got the better grades automatically.
This (completely editable) student self assessment participation reflection / rubric has been my solution for the past 5 years or so, and I’ve never looked back!
Yes, this means that 10% of my students’ grades are in their hands. I have the final say in the grade, but I have found that my interference is very rarely needed.
We complete this reflection at the halfway point and end point of each quarter, which means we complete it 8x per year.
My students get used to this routine quickly, and I especially love that their reflections help me to consider adjustments to my own teaching practice. This is their opportunity to let me know what is working for them, and what isn’t!
I tell my students that if I agree with their self-given score within 5 points, I award them their grade. If I disagree with their score, we meet one on one to discuss our misunderstanding. I have only ever had to meet with TWO students about this.
Many students are harder on themselves than I would be! When this happens, we talk about self-advocacy and asking for what they deserve. “You gave yourself an 80, but I honestly would have given you closer to a 90. Next time, please consider giving yourself more credit for your hard work!”
I have had a lot of success with this practice, and I hope it inspires you to approach participation grades in a new way!
Why make the change to Proficiency Based Grading in Spanish Class?
- PLANNING: My planning is more clear and purposeful
- BUY-IN: There’s no more “why are we doin’g this activity?” from students! They KNOW why, because they are aware of the exact skills we are working on!
- GROWTH: Students can observe their growth more clearly; and so can I!
- AUTONOMY: Since there are no questions about students’ areas of strength and weakness, they are more able to take their learning and review into their own hands.
- LANGUAGE ACQUISITION: I have noticed that increased buy-in from my students and better planning by ME has led to more engaged classes, and more long term benefits!
The focus of each mode that I describe above is interpreted from wording in ACTFL’s communication packet. I found this packet very helpful during my transition to a proficiency based approach!
When it comes to grading, my department worked year after year to develop a set of rubrics for our World Language classes to help guide us and our students throughout each year of their language learning. A few summers ago, I was asked to help format and streamline the scale on these rubrics for my department. I settled on a rubric for start of year, mid year, and end of year for each level, with a scale that adjusts as the year progresses. I received permission from my DH to share them with you, in case you’re wondering how we started! These rubrics are not my own, but from my wonderful department after years of collaboration and hard work.
Thank you for reading!
I hope you are leaving with new resources and ideas to support you in your proficiency-focused classroom this year. My planning is much more purposeful since leaving traditional grading categories behind, and I motivate you to take the leap! It’s worth it!
Do you have any ideas to share? Please comment below!