Sub-zero temperatures have cancelled the next two days of school here in Ohio. I took to twitter tonight to express my disappointment to students that we will have to wait a few more days to meet again in class. Their responses got me thinking about measuring student growth. Of course, their excitement over an extended vacation outweighed their desire to return to class. However, their tweets were in Spanish – not perfect Spanish, but who cares? I couldn’t help but wonder how willing they would have been to tweet in Spanish a few months ago.
There’s an important component to every successful language user that I’ve been trying to define recently. Tonight’s twitter revelation got me closer, but I’ve still not quite landed on a fitting definition. It has a lot to do with willingness. Most Spanish students would have the knowledge to be able to write what my students tweeted, especially if they were prompted with a, “How do you say . . . ?” But, would they be willing to do it? Would they try it if they weren’t required? Would inhibitions, fear of failure and a lack of natural language experience keep them from communicating?
Is there a way to measure a student’s comfort with using the target language and willingness to try? I see it in my classes. I see the results of my commitment to 90% in the target language and my emphasis on proficiency over knowledge. I see students who, at the beginning of the year, claimed to have no abilities and now speak to me in Spanish before class starts. Their speech may be simple and erroneous, but it shows growth. I see students who hear, comprehend and respond instantly. Again, the conversations are simple, but the ease of use that they possess was not always there. I hear from students like this girl who understand how a CI based class prepares them for anything.
But, how do I prove it? How do I prove it’s important? As we move towards an increased focus on showing student growth, I fear that “growth” is equated to “knowledge”. What has been covered? What do students know? And while increased vocabulary and grammar are important, I believe there is another key factor.
My goals are to define and measure that factor and to convince others that it must be considered when measuring growth.
*When I mention “my students”, I do not mean to sound arrogant. I am using my students as an example for all students who participate in CI based classes. Likewise, any direct or indirect reference to “other students” does not refer to any specific set of students or teachers.