Poster 3: Do Your 50%
Project Poster 3 - or put it up as a wall chart. This 3rd poster - 50% of Your Grade - is perhaps the most important one to your students, since it specifically involves their grades.
Before explaining this poster, reread the sections on assessment in the Star Book 1 (Chapter 5) to make sure that you have everything about formative and summative assessment straight in your mind.
Once they can see the poster, give them a few moments to study it. Our students have the right to know exactly how they will be graded, and everything should be clear and simple.
“Do you remember when I said that I’m always grading you in this class? Now I will explain why I said that.”
Next, explain the poster in general terms. It’s an intentionally simple rubric and there should not be a lot of confusion. It’s amazing how so many students in schools don’t really understand how they are graded in their classes. Most just think that it’s all about what grades they make on tests but now, as we move away from the dark days of nothing but testing, things are getting better. Students are starting to see that there is more to school than testing.
Stress the point that the grade they give themselves doesn’t count, and that only the grade that you give them at the bottom of the page them goes into the grade book.
Notice that I did not put any space on this rubric for you to evaluate their five single prompt grades. There is only the single grade that you write at the bottom of the rubric.
If you want to grade them in terms of each of the five prompts, then just write your grade in the box next to theirs. I am too lazy to do that and I value my time, but with certain students, when it would actually help them understand more about why you gave them that grade for that day, it might be a good idea to grade them in each of the five boxes.
Are you starting to see that this rubric plays a major role in ensuring good classroom management? That is because it requires from the students their full attention during class.
CI Poster Scripts
Moreover, when the students know that they will have to take up to four quizzes in any one class period (explained below as the other 50% of their grade), the classroom management problem really shrinks. The kids simply don’t have time to act out, because another quiz rolls around on the Star every ten minutes or so on a daily basis.
If you are using the Square (middle school), there are four quizzes that roll around in Corner 3 all at once towards the end of each class period. Again, there is not a lot of time for kids to do anything but pay attention, because of the always-imminent quizzes, not to mention the fact that you are always grading them visually on a minute-to-minute basis according to the rubric as explained earlier.
Why create a classroom management “plan” or “system” when the problem is largely eradicated by the curriculum you are using and the way you assess them in that curriculum? Integrating the classroom management piece into the curriculum is far less trouble for you than having to have a “plan” at the ready to deal with misbehaving kids. With this assessment protocol, the kids are simply forced to behave properly at all times during class.
Here is the most important thing to say in this entire little book: It is absolutely imperative that you brook no compromise with your students when you give them the grade that YOU think they earned. They may rate themselves above a 2 when they are a 1.
Most typically, they give themselves a 3 when they are a 2, so you have to be vigilant about that tendency they have to inflate their grade. Refuse to accept their inflated grade. That is why only your grade (very bottom of the chart) goes in the grade book.
The biggest mistake you can make on this rubric, in this entire way of teaching, is to give a student a 3 when they deserve a 2. Why should they pay attention in class when they know that they can “play” you in that way, with a smile or because they are a popular student or athlete or something like that? It happens! There is a tendency for teachers to do that, because they want the kid to like them, and that would be your downfall.
The Poster #3 rubric is the crow bar, the driving force, in keeping both their attention and their behavior as it should be. If you over-inflate their grades, you will see negative results very quickly. Classroom management will dive. Phones will come out. They will be less involved. They won’t believe what you say about how the class works and how they will be assessed.
How does it help your students when you lie to them about their work in your class? It leads to bad education, to undemocratic education in which privileged elite kids turn into a class of privileged elite adults who don’t understand what accountability even means, and we know what happens when that stink works its way into our social fabric.
In that sense, we can say accurately that secondary teachers across America, because they generally have not held their students accountable in their classes, have dropped the ball for years now. Our jobs are not just to educate our students in our subject matter, but also to instill in them a sense of respect for teachers and for educational institutions in general.
The Square and the Star bring those things into play in our language classrooms, as long as we continue to grade them honestly and with integrity. They may not become fluent in the language we teach them as adults, but they will take with them into adulthood the message from at least one of their teachers that adults mean what they say.
Therefore, we can see that the class communication rubric is much more than just a way to assess your kids - it can also make your class function in a higher and more socially aware way on an everyday basis, with integrity, and therefore with dramatically less classroom management issues.
So, use the rubric in that way and give them the grade that they actually earn in each of the five categories! To make all of this clear to them, say:
“Do you all remember when we discussed the red poster and I said that everyone can easily get an A in this class? It’s because success in this class is simply a matter of coming to class and listening with the intent to understand. You don’t even have to be ‘smart’, whatever that means.”
“If you don’t do that, however, you will feel the consequences of not listening to understand in your grades. Now do you see why I made listening to understand #1 on the Classroom Rules poster?”
“So, this poster here is how I will grade you this year at a full 50% of your grade. It has everything to do with the way I see you communicating with me during class. That is why I told you earlier that I am always grading you in this class.”
“Everything about the first half of your grade depends entirely on the observable non-verbal behaviors that I see you doing in class.” (Discuss that term.)
“Really, this rubric should represent 100% of your grade because it’s the Standard. But I also want to give you the daily quizzes, so that is the other 50% of your grade, which we will discuss next.”
“Are there any questions up to this point?”
“If not, I would like you to reflect on a few questions that I will now ask you, to further your metacognitive work in here, because doing that is so important to your grade.
Read each sentence below twice and pause between reading them.
- “Are my eyes on my teacher and do they convey to her that I am trying to understand what she says?”
- “Am I sending to my teacher a message that I am trying to train my mind to focus on the messages that I hear in class?”
- “Am I sitting in a respectful way that shows the teacher that I am trying to focus on the message in [name of language]?”
- “Am I engaging with other students in a way that is not good for my grade?”
- “Is my desk clear of objects?”
“Oh, and that last one above brings up a very important point: If you have a phone out in this class, I won’t say anything, but you may see me writing your name on this [name of a color] pad of paper. (Hold up a brightly colored notepad.) This pad is where I write down names of my students who have a phone out in class, even for five seconds.”
“Then, when I grade you on this poster at the end of class, if your name is on this notepad, I will automatically put a zero in the space where I grade you at the bottom of the poster and you will get a zero for that day on the Communication Rubric.”
“Are there any questions on how I deal with phones in here? I’m very good at enforcing the notepad phone thing.”
“Remember what I said earlier a few times. I will not compare you to your classmates when I grade you. That’s the old way of grading. I will simply grade you on what I see you doing in class and on the quizzes and that’s it.”
“Therefore, it should be clear to you that your grade in here is completely in your hands, and if there is a phone in your hands during class, so be it – I am trained to make sure I enforce the ‘phone out gets a zero’ rule every day all day.”
“Do you think it’s fair for me to only grade you in terms of yourself and your own efforts and not compare you to what others are doing in class? Or would you rather be graded on what you do on tests compared to other people? Doing that isn’t fair, is it? I don’t think it’s fair for me to compare you to others when I grade you.”
“Do you think that if you don’t speak in class here that you can still get an A? The answer is yes. All you have to do is show me that you are trying to understand, and that you are trying to do well on the quizzes, which are very easy, and also giving me the one-word answers in class that we have already talked about already.”
“Do you think that we can still learn in here if people ‘talk over? We can’t. We talked about that when we discussed Poster 1. Have you ever been in a class where students talk over? Has it ever bothered you and kept you from learning?”
“Not talking over is a very important thing in this class. You won’t get a decent grade in this class if you cause disruptions or if you have your phone out even for five seconds, because I will make sure of that. I expect that you will all pay attention and focus on the message. Agreed?”
“I’m going to repeat the point that I just made. I guarantee that if you talk over during class, you will not get above a C, and probably not above a D, in my class this year. I will make that happen.”
Do you see the importance of metacognitive discussions like this one? In the past, we’ve not discussed things like this with our students like how we learn or the importance of behaving in class in a certain way, and yet we expected them to act in a certain way without them ever having even thought about it.
They are children and so need to be told. They need an adult who will follow through on what they say in the classroom. So, I consider these early year conversations a very important part of our overall language program. They are when you deflate the rude kids’ egos with your adult strength, and when you win over the good kids who want to believe in you as their champion against the rude kids in class. Another way of saying that is that they want an adult in the classroom, setting limits and enforcing good behavior.
“By the way, do you all know what a rubric like the one we are using in this class even is? Does everyone know what a rubric in grading is? Let’s take a moment to look at the dictionary definition: A rubric is a “type of scoring guide that assesses and articulates specific components and expectations for an assignment.” It is a “scoring tool that lists the criteria for a piece of work or ‘what counts.”
“OK, let’s unpack that. For example, a rubric for an essay in English class might tell students that their work will be judged on organization, details, mechanics and voice. Your teacher will give your essay a number, not a letter grade, to each of those areas of the rubric.
“Like you might get a 3 out of 5 on how well you organized your essay, and a 4 out of 5 on its details and a 5 out of 5 on the mechanics of your essay, etc. So, do you get the idea there, on what a rubric is?” [Discuss - you may ask students to give examples of rubrics used in some of their other classes.]
Note that the version of the poster in the Star 1 book is exactly half a page, with two copies, one on the top and one on the bottom. This allows you to easily print them out and cut them in half to use on a daily basis with the kids as explained in the book.
“Now let’s look at each prompt.”
“The first prompt says: I follow the Classroom Rules. This is straightforward. Just look at the rules and give yourself a grade from 0 to 4 on the right side of the assessment sheet and go on to the next prompt.”
“The second prompt says: I show my teacher that I understand in my eyes and in my facial expressions and body language. Again, this is not complicated and we’ve talked about all this before. Just ask yourself if you do this all the time, and if you do give yourself a grade of 4 on the right side of the assessment sheet. If you never do this, give yourself a grade of 0 on the right side of the assessment sheet and move on to the next prompt.”
“Be honest, because the grade that you give yourself doesn’t count. Only my grade for you counts, and I base it on this rubric and also on the daily quizzes, which you will hear more about later in this very important discussion.”
“If at this point a student asks, and we hope they do, “Then why do we have to fill out the form?”, you can give them one or all of these three answers:
- “First, it’s because I need to know that you’ve thought about your work in my classroom in terms of all these posters we’ve been talking about. If you don’t actually think about your work in my class, then you won’t get a very high grade. Metacognitive thinking about your grade is an important thing for you to do.”
- “Second, this is not a class where you can learn without doing the five behaviors in the rubric. You just can’t memorize like you can in some of your other classes. You have to do these five things. “You have to show up as a human being and interact and do these five things in this poster, and when you do those things, you will learn.”
- “The third reason I don’t count your version of your grade is because some students tend to overrate themselves. Have you ever seen a student in a class just sit there and not contribute to the learning community and then wonder why they got a low grade? That may be ok in a science or math class, where the standard is different, but in a language class where the Standard is Communication, that student who just sits there isn’t doing any communication and therefore should not pass the class. So that’s another reason.”
“The third prompt says: I help the class stay focused. You help the class stay focused by your own focused behavior, of course, but you should also feel free to let me know if someone seated near you is keeping you from learning. This happens all the time in school and few teachers actually do anything about it.”
“I can’t see everything all the time, so feel free to come to me and I will talk to the student without mentioning your name. Or you can actually tell other students directly that you don’t like their behavior in class, as long as you are comfortable doing that. This is our class, not theirs.” (You always have to make sure that your quieter students who want to learn have your full adult support in your classroom.)
“The fourth prompt says: I understand the metacognition posters and can explain them to others. This is a good prompt, because if you understand the posters then you will know how to behave in class and that will get you the A or B. If you don’t understand and cannot explain these posters to others, then you will have a hard time getting a decent grade in here, because the posters tell us how the class works.”
“The fifth prompt says: I support the flow of language to the benefit of the classroom community and my teacher. There is a great language researcher - his name is Noam Chomsky - who has said this about learning a language:
“...[language] is acquired by virtually everyone, effortlessly...merely by living in a community under minimal conditions of interaction, exposure, and care....” Isn’t that an amazing quote?” (Read it again.)
“Chomsky says that you don’t even have to think about the language in order to learn it. All you have to do is BE IN A COMMUNITY like the one that we have in this classroom THAT SPEAKS THE LANGUAGE AND YOU WILL LEARN IT AUTOMATICALLY, WITHOUT THINKING, BY JUST FOCUSING ON THE MESSAGES YOU HEAR IN CLASS.”
“So that is why it is so important for us to have a quiet and focused community in here so that we can learn [name of language] together. So, the last prompt here asks you to grade yourself on how much you support the flow of language and thereby help build our community.”
“So that’s it for that rubric. We’ll be filling them out almost every day here at the beginning of the year.”
“OK that’s 50% of your grade right there - the Communication Rubric.”
Here is one other point that I would like to make before we go on to discuss the other 50% of your grade:
“You may wonder how often I put these communication grades in the grade book. It could be five times a week or one time a week, or not at all. It depends, and I reserve the right as your teacher to put the grades in whenever I want. You just don’t want to come into class and stare at the ceiling on any given day because that could be a day that I choose to put a communication grade in the book.”
“So that is how 50% of your grade this year will be determined. Get used to filling out a lot of those.”
The Quizzes (The Second 50% of Your Grade)
“Next, we turn our attention to the quizzes, which comprise the other half of your grade. They are not represented on the poster we just looked at, but on another poster, the Star poster. So, let’s look at that poster.”
If you don’t have much room on the walls, of course don’t put the other posters up - you can just project them, but it is important that you have the two most important posters - the Classroom Rules and the Star poster - up on the wall physically because you will find yourself referring to them every day in class.
It’s important to the kids to know where they are in class. In the case of the Star and to a lesser extent the Square, you will see them referring to that poster a lot during class. If you see a student looking at the poster, it is a good idea to support them by saying something like:
“Oh, Jenny, I see that you were looking at the Star poster just now. I’m proud of you, because you just told me that you are in touch with what is happening in class right now. That’s a very good thing!”
“Class, let’s take a look at the poster so you all know where we are right now in class. Walk to the poster and point and say something like, “OK, class. Here we are in Phase 4 of this poster, this field in purple here in the lower left corner of the Star Chart. We just finished the Silent Reading activity and we are about to start the Choral Translation activity. Do you all see that when Jenny was looking at the poster just now, she was doing some metacognition? She was referring to the chart to think about where we were in class. She may have been looking up here in the upper left-hand corner of the chart as well, this area in red here, and she may have been thinking about the two quizzes coming up in just a few minutes (point to them) when we transition into the next phase of the Star.”
“Very good job, Jenny. Metacognition, or thinking about how you are learning, is a big part of this class and you did a great job just now in communicating to me that you are handling the demands of this class quite well indeed! It will show up in your grade.”
Now, point to the four quizzes in Phases 2, 3 and 5, as per:
“Let’s review when the quizzes happen in this class. You can see here in Phase 2 that there is the Phase 2 Quiz. Now look here in Phase 3 and you will see that when we get to this third phase of the Star there is another quiz, the Writing Quiz. And the 3rd and 4th quizzes are both in Phase 5 - you can see them both there. The first is the Translation Quiz and the fourth is the Dictation.”
“I won’t go into how each of these quizzes work right now - you will see how they all work later. For now, I just want you to see at what point in class they happen as we work our way around the Star each day.”
“Are there any questions at this point? Do you all understand that on any given day as we work our way around the Star you will probably have at least one of these quizzes and possibly all four?”
“And so there will be tons of quizzes in the grade book for you and your parents to talk about, and then you can tell them all about how the class works with all the focus on the Communication Standard and output and input and how important listening is to your grade and all that. I’m happy that you will be able to explain your grades to your parents. That’s another reason to stay focused in class, because there is a quiz always coming right around the bend in class, right?”
“Do you see how different this class is? You get your grade while you are in class and not by studying for tests outside of class. If you are not focused while this class is going on, you probably won’t pass it.”
“OK. So far, we’ve talked about how you get graded during the regular first and second semesters on a daily and weekly and monthly basis: half is the rubric and half are the quizzes.”
“But what about the first semester exam? I will explain about the semester exam when we get to it, except to say now that it is easy and based on what we did during the term leading up to it. In other words, no memorization.”
“If you have no trouble keeping up with our daily work in class because you are a good listener, you will have no trouble with the semester exam.”
“What about the final exam at the end of the year? We actually usually don’t have a final exam, but a celebration. We celebrate what we did together over the course of the year. We look back on the year and watch some of the videos of the stories that you made up in class, and we have those videos thanks to our videographer and the assistant to the videographer.”
Now is a good time to go to Poster 8 and show where the videographer and the assistant to the videographer sit. Doing this is not just informational, its real purpose is to possibly spark an interest in a couple of students, perhaps friends, who are kind of tech-oriented to want those jobs.
Take every opportunity you can to remind kids about the jobs, because the more of them that you fill (a total of 17) over the course of the year, the better the class functions. If you do the math, if there are 34 students in a class, and 17 have jobs, that provides you with a kind of little “police force” of half the class that helps the class stay on track, since they are busy doing their jobs every day and don’t want to be interrupted by unfocused students.
Now you can already see how there are three strong classroom management tools embedded into the Star curriculum. Of course, you already bring strong classroom management when you make the class interesting, which the five phases and various activities of the Star certainly do, but you also do that when you:
- Grade them at every moment of class according to the Communication Rubric. (“Don’t forget that I’m grading you right now...”)
- Grade them up to four times per class during class with the four quizzes, which also keeps them on their toes.
- Have 50% or even more of your students on your side because they don’t want to be distracted by other students while doing their jobs every day.
Continue on with the discussion of the end-of-year celebration:
“So, when we do the end-of-year celebration that takes the place of the final exam during the exam period, besides the videos, we also look at the drawings our artists did, and it’s a big celebration with pizza and popcorn and stuff like that.”
“But, the end-of-year celebration is only for the classes that earn it. Classes that don’t earn a celebration will take a regular final exam. I’ll tell you more about all that later.”
“So, both of those summative exams are no sweat for you. If you pay attention in class and if you do everything we’ve talked about earlier in this discussion about how the class works, you’ll be just fine.”
Now wrap up this discussion of Poster 3 by saying:
“Like I just said, you can see that in this classroom, besides the 50% Communication Grade and the other 50% grade based on the four quizzes, that your entire grade in this class depends entirely on work that you do in class.”
“I don’t compare you to others and I respect your time outside of class by not giving homework, but I also expect you to respect my efforts to teach you [name of language] when we are in class together.”
An aside: If a parent ever snarkily asks you, hopefully in front of other parents at Parents’ Night, why you don’t give homework, you might say something like this:
“Thank you for asking. I don’t give homework for several reasons:
- The time demands on our kids are too high these days.
- Other teachers seem to think that the only class your child is taking is theirs. That’s disrespectful.
- We can’t learn a language by doing homework. Maybe doing more math problems might help in math class. But if homework helped us in learning languages, you would probably see a lot of people who would really love to learn another language doing a lot of homework, but they can’t because it doesn’t work.
- Some teachers give homework to impress parents and administrators that they are “tough”. That’s not a reason to give homework.
- The main way people learn languages is by listening to understandable messages, and that is very hard to make happen in homework.
- In that sense, my job is certainly not one that will ever be replaced by Artificial Intelligence. It’s because having a real human being, according to the research, is a requirement for learning the language. No amount of listening to tapes or watching those high-priced language programs or reading anything created by AI can do it.”
- I have noticed over the years that when I don’t give homework, the students appreciate that, which increases the good will in the classroom, and the kids end up learning more.
- Since they know that their entire grade is determined by how well they pay attention in class, they tend to pay better attention in class.”
- If you want to know more about why homework is generally a bad word in education, read “The Homework Myth” by Alfie Kohn.”
Here is a final note and one stressed heavily earlier but not heavily enough: Do not fall into the trap of inflating a student’s grade. We made it so clear above. You can’t do that, especially early on in the year. Don’t do that.
This is the time, in those first weeks of class when the students self-assess at the end of class just before they leave your classroom each day, that you MUST GIVE THEM THE ACTUAL GRADE THAT THEY EARNED THAT DAY.
Unheeded, this point is your potential Achilles Heel. It has taken down a lot of teachers. If a kid is just sitting through class, uninvolved, waiting for a test, not feeling any great need to pay attention, you can’t allow that.
You must absolutely crush them now in the first weeks of the year for that with the right grade of 0 or 1, not even a 2. This is a behavior that few teachers ever master. It is based in strength of character and professional integrity.
It is the polar opposite of how many teachers currently grade their students these days, but if you continue to coddle and enable your students to get away with not listening with rigor in your class when you take trips around the Square and the Star, then how are you going to get them to make the class work?
This is the time, so do it! Don’t mess this up - especially in the first weeks of the year - or you will be doing all of this retooling work in how you teach right now for nothing.
Of course, when you give your students the Communication grade that they in fact earn in the first few weeks, when you do your job right in the first few weeks, there will be some parent pushback.
Most of the complaints usually come from the parents of the coddled college-bound robot memorizers, who have a hard time understanding, let alone adjusting to classes where their children are expected to show up and interact with us as actual human beings and not robots.
Those parent emails and calls and in some cases the resulting conferences are teaching moments. Yes, they are hard and emotionally challenging. Sometimes you can’t sleep the night before such meetings. We have all been there! But it is our professional responsibility to tell parents and administrators what the research says in a kind and patient way, as if you were talking to toddlers.
Each time we have a successful parent meeting about this charged topic, we are bringing necessary reform and dignity back to our much aligned profession.
There are many artifacts in the Star materials that help to bolster your case with parents:
- The posters clarify the research and the Communication Standard.
- The student drawings on the back of the wall in the Gallery help to shine a spotlight on how creative the kids are. The fun they have in class is evident in their drawings.
- Videos that your students have done in class as collected on your class website help tremendously in winning doubting parents over.
- Mentioning how your class enrollments have exploded since you started teaching in this way helps.
- Page 21 of the FlipChart – the Note to Visitors – explains to visitors in very clear terms how your instruction is based in the research and the Communication Standard.
- Showing them the parent letters - or actually using them as templates to communicate with some of the more gnarly parents - in Chapter 6 of the Star 1 book helps tremendously.
- Sharing this article with your students and if needed with parents serves to bring more buy-in to the four point Communication Rubric:
To end parent conferences, make sure that you tell the parent that, once their child has turned their grade around because they now understand how you grade and what is expected of them, you will of course drop the low grades that they earned in the first few weeks or months.
I have had students who needed half or more of a nine-week term to turn their failing grades into high grades. I am perfectly happy to give an A to a student who makes the change half way or even later through the first grading period.
That is because I didn’t compromise my professional integrity in filling out the blank at the bottom of the rubric template during the time they were being re-trained and broken of their need to memorize.
This is a huge point to make with parents, because really all they care about is their child’s grade, sometimes even more than their child does, and so it placates them and sends them straight into conversation with their child to make the same points that you have been working so hard to make in class to the child.
In most cases of parent and student (and sometimes administrative!) pushback, if you can stay calm and steady and, like a broken record, keep your communication with them steady and based in the research, always giving the grade the child earns, you will win because you are the professional and you know what you are doing and they don’t.
Do you see what this is really about? It is about language teachers reclaiming our profession! It is demanding accountability from previously-coddled children. It’s about helping fix a failed system. Is that not worth the considerable effort involved?
As mentioned, there will indeed be sleepless nights as this retooling happens. It is brave work. It is work that allows us to finally teach according to the research and not to the dictates of the textbook lobby and their huge supporting cast of teachers who would rather not change.
We hold the upper hand, because with the Star (and Square for middle school teachers), our teaching is held firmly in the strong and capable hands of the research and the standards when we use this approach.