In a perfect world, my students would leave my class with a proficiency level in each mode of communication and culture as their "grade". I would be able to tell the next teacher that they they are at "novice-high" in interpretive reading but at a "novice-mid" level with interpretive listening. Unfortunately, parents and administrators don't know what these labels mean. Even each of us are constantly trying to understand them more clearly. So we continue to rely on numbers and letters to communicate how students are progressing.
In the real world, there are probably many methods to doing this, but here are some of the things I have done to make a happy marriage of the two...
1. Instead of using grading categories like "homework", "classwork", "participation", and "quiz", use categories that relate to the modes of communication. I have a category for listening, reading, presentational speaking, interpersonal speaking, presentational writing, and interculturality. If it is important for you to grade students on things like homework completion and participation, you can keep those too. Each time I give an assessment, I record the points for sections that related to interpretive listening skills under the category of "interpretive listening", the points earned from demonstrating the ability to write under "presentational writing", and the points that were earned from showing cultural understanding under "interculturality". So any one assessment may result in 2-5 different grades in my gradebook depending on how many skills it addressed. (note: I typically do not assess all 5 areas at the same time. I usually assess the interpretive modes one week and the others the following)
The benefit to this is that you will easily be able to see student strengths and weaknesses.
2. Weight the modes of communication according to how much time you spend developing those skills in your classroom with the ideal being an even balance. In my classroom I weight all modes of communication equally as I spend pretty much the same amount of time on each. I weight culture about half as much as the modes of communication because I spend about half as much time addressing it as I do those other skills. So, here is what the breakdown looks like in my class...
If you are using ACTFL rubrics, you will note that students can receive several different skill rankings. They may exceed expectations, strongly meet expectations, minimally meet expectations, or not meet expectations in any given area. If I were to equate this to letter grades, I would have to give students who exceed expectations an "A", students who strongly meet them a "B", minimally meet them a "C", and students who do not meet them at all would get an "F". With each rubric containing not only these skill ratings but also several skills that need to be rated, determining a grade was at first very confusing. I finally came up with a system that I think is fair for the students but also easy for me to use.
Here is a picture of a the ACTFL interpretive mode rubric I used a few weeks ago as students responded to some questions as they listened to a recording of a Mexican girl describing her sister in Spanish.
4. One of the keys of a proficiency based classroom, to me, is having students understand that progress does not and should not end when the unit does. As a result, I encourage students who have not met the expectations of a particular task to continue their efforts and retry assessments as they gain more proficiency. This means that I am often reassessing students in certain areas and changing grades as I see fit. Although I wish that more of my students would take advantage of this, many of them are also conditioned to a system that assesses and moves on. There is a constant and consistent message that has to be sent to them that everything is in flux. They need to know that they have complete power (and thus complete ownership) over the grades that they receive. If they want a better grade the answer is not extra credit, the answer is increased proficiency. I suggest having recommended tools and resources available for students that have difficulties in particular skill areas or modes of communication. Students often don't know how to "study" or improve their own proficiency and need real tasks that they can carry out. These are great to share with parents as well.
I am going to work on putting together a list that you may want to use for a future blog entry. In the meantime, please share your methods and successes with grading in a proficiency-based classroom in the comments below.