In order to learn how to converse with someone, students need to hear conversations, plan conversations, and participate in conversations. So, if we’re giving students a lot of opportunities for interpersonal communication in class, which we should, how do we grade these conversations?
My first bit of advice is to resist the temptation to grade everything. You don’t need the burden. More often than not, be content to just listen and be sensitive to teachable moments. Students will be less nervous when you’re without pen and paper, and you’ll have lots of opportunities to give them effective feedback without attaching a grade to it.
Assess according to proficiency.
My opinion is it is just not practical to give students a rubric with a grade for everything they do, or even for everything you grade. However, I use my performance assessment rubric so much that it informs everything I assess. I like it that way, because I know I have certain questions always on my mind: what proficiency should this student have? what does communication at that proficiency level look like?
Use a quick, proficiency-based system.
When I’m actually going to grade a conversation between students, I keep in mind the same categories from that performance assessment rubric. Accordingly, I’ve developed a checklist of 4 things I go through as I listen for no more than 2 minutes. You can take however many points you want to assign to a conversation and divide by 4. I have set this up as a 20-point conversation:
5 points structure – are you using sentences when appropriate?
5 pts vocabulary – are you pushing your vocabulary? (i.e., level 3 students should not perpetually be talking about their likes and age)
5 pts comprehension – can you understand reasonably comprehensible prompts from the other person?
5 pts comprehensibility – could someone accustomed to a language learner understand you?
Limiting the conversations you grade and refining a quick, proficiency-based checklist of things you’re listening for will help you continue to offer students the opportunities they need to converse and the feedback they need to improve. Also, it will help prevent you from burning out on grading too much, correcting too much, and/or grading arbitrarily just to get a number.
Photo credit: Claudio Bustos