Essays about CI teaching

Keep students from EVER falling through the cracks!

When I used to routinely assess my students on all four language skills (or five if you include cultural competence) I would create and grade monster assessments in two week cycles, working overtime and exhausting myself on weekends to keep it up. I was always grouchy on Monday, and my students noticed. Worse yet, since one assessment is never enough to capture a trend, it would take me a whole month before I identified a student in trouble.

Some CI teachers rely on participation rubrics to capture an assessment of what is done by students in class every day, but I think these are too easily challenged.

Parent: “Can you honestly claim that you have heard everything said by every child in class? You only see my child when he is misbehaving, you never praise him for all of the good things he does”.

Teacher: “Trust me, I know. I see his eyes.”

Parent, unconvinced, continues to complain bitterly to other parents behind the teacher’s back.

Rubrics are great when we have the time to calmly evaluate a writing sample or a recorded conversation, but I do question using rubrics to evaluate the simultaneous participation of an entire class, evaluated in real time while the teacher is teaching and attending to the thousand details of managing a classroom. Implicit bias is a real concern here.

There is no way to respond satisfactorily once a parent claims you are “against” their child. But don’t blame the parent: you are the professional, you are reporting your professional observations… so why are you putting yourself in a position that begs parents to question your competence? In situations like these it is better to have hard data that cannot be questioned on the grounds of subjective observations. I am not saying that I don’t use rubrics; however I prefer not to use them for the daily assessment that forms the core of each student’s grade.

There is a simple solution that will transform you into the kind of teacher that never lets a student fall through the cracks: end each class with an exit quiz. Collect hard data that are objectively correct, not subject to incomplete observations taken while juggling other tasks and recalled later with questionable accuracy. Base your exit quiz on comprehension of what was said and created in class so that the grade truly does reflect what each student understood. Exit quizzes have several other advantages:

  • Get a reliable data point from every student, every day.
  • Grade them quickly between classes & record the grades after school means you can have a life!!
  • Identify slow processors whose eyes did not show signs of misunderstanding
  • Identify who you need to focus on when introducing new language
  • Lead kids to engage every day, even if they are not super interested in the activity
  • Communicate the true basis of success in this class– understanding messages in the target language

Simplicity is the key to exit quizzes. During every class period, after completing the Write & Discuss, we complete a quick four or five question exit quiz. The questions are based on class discussion, but more often than not many of the questions come straight from the Write & Discuss text. Sometimes I leave the W&D on the board, sometimes I erase it to provide a greater challenge. On Monday my students rip a piece of paper into quarters to get the paper for four exit quizzes a week, but if you need something more orderly try using index cards. On the fifth day of the week the exit quiz is often a quick written translation of the W&D text. They write their name at the top of the paper before we start; when we finish the quiz everyone puts down their pencils at the same time. Most questions can be answered with one or two words. I tell them not to write full sentences because I want to be able to correct them quickly between classes. I give my quizzes in the target language (Spanish); responses in either Spanish or English are fine. I am interested in their comprehension, not their spelling.

During the first two weeks of school the exit quizzes are ridiculously easy as I norm the class. As the year proceeds the quizzes become harder and I get more useful information from each of my students. I never make the quizzes too hard; I want to stay true to the idea that simply coming to class and listening with the intention to understand is enough to acquire the language. I grade them quickly between classes; since most students earn 100% I can quickly flip through them and place the few that do not earn 100% on the top of the stack, fastening them together with a paperclip before the beginning of the next class. These daily quizzes are weighted as 65% of their overall semester grade because they best reflect the hard, rigorous work of acquisition that we do in class every day. Since they form such an important part of the overall grade, I also do not want to make these quizzes tricky because I do not want to encourage a class culture of cheating.

If you do find a culture of cheating developing among your students, respond with the following multi-pronged strategy:

  • Explicitly name the problem without identifying any particular wrongdoer: “I have the impression that some people are whispering the answers under their breath. That is cheating“.
  • Name the solution: “I am making these quizzes easy so that you do not have to cheat. If any question is too difficult, tell me so that I can replace it with an easier question“. Now give the quiz and after each question ask people to quietly raise their hands if they want a different question. When a hand is raised, tell them the answer and then either give the same question or a much easier question. You are learning a lot about who needs help in your class, and you are teaching your students valuable life skills concerning honor and honesty. By giving away these answers you are building a culture of trust between student and teacher. In a culture of cheating the teacher is an enemy to be fooled; you need to build a bridge to a culture where the teacher is a coach that helps every student shine. It’s not a bad idea to explicitly say that last line so students understand why you are acting so strange, giving the answers away!
  • While doing the above, sit directly behind the group that was cheating. Temporarily switch a student’s seat if you must, but recognize that the students who are most involved in a culture of cheating may likely see the above speech as evidence that you are easy to fool. You need to sit directly behind them so that you can hear every whisper. Separate them if necessary. The speech above prevents the rest of the class from adopting the ethos of cheating as they observe that you are not a fool. Make honesty the easier and more gratifying path in your class.
  • If the group that you have identified continues to cheat, quietly inform them that if they need to be closely watched during the quizzes then you will require that they take their exit quizzes during lunch every day. It will be a different exit quiz, of course.
  • Over the next week continue to purposely ask the class whether an exit quiz question is valid whenever a question flirts with trivia. Encourage students to advocate for themselves so that they see you as the coach who helps them improve rather than an enemy to undermine.

A daily exit quiz provides actionable data for the teacher to use to modify instruction. After all, the reason we spend any time on assessment is to improve instructional outcomes, not to rank students or simply get some grades in the grade book. If you are not reacting to the grades, why are you assessing?!

In my own classes I glance through the daily exit quizzes and make sure that none of my students develop a trend below a B. If I see that Tammy earned a D yesterday, I will direct more of my attention to her when checking for comprehension. I will make sure that I am speaking at the correct pace for her. If she offers, I will be sure to incorporate her suggestion into the One Word Image that we are creating so that the class feels more compelling to her. Not every class period will be a home run for every student (some classes aren’t home runs for anyone, student or teacher), but I will make an effort to personalize the class towards Tammy on that day so that she is drawn in and then finds it easier to pass the exit quiz. I might even check in with her during the quiz to make sure she feels strong about her answers. I will certainly check to make sure we broke the emerging trend and put her back on a path of success.

I know that I cannot be everything for every student on every day, but using the results of the previous day’s exit quizzes helps me pace my classes to the slower processors rather than the vocal fast processors.

Subscribers to the CI Master Class can read about my entire approach to grades, which includes the six categories that I include in my grade book. Not every assessment is graded; read about how I do Fluency Writes in my classes. One of the greatest non-assessments that motivates my students to read and discuss their pleasure reading are the adapted gallery talks that subscribers can read about in the Browsing Strategies section of the module on the Reading Program.


    1. I give them orally (because I make them up at the moment based on whatever we talked about in class, which is rarely planned out to the extent that I’ll know students’ responses to the questions I ask). However students do write their answers (one or two words, not a whole sentence) so that I can quickly scan through them and identify students who were not following the class conversation. I can do this between classes, so that I find the one or two students who need my attention before the next class comes in. I put their quizzes on top, note their grade, fasten the pile with a paperclip and then return to the pile during a prep period or after school to quickly put grades in the grade book. Then I’ll make a list of students in each period that I need to track the next day. Altogether it might take 15 minutes after school, but it is very effective to make sure that nobody ever gets left behind.

  1. LOVE exit quizzes: instead of being first to leave, the “slackers” who didn’t pay attention are at the end of the line begging other students to quickly teach them what they need to say to get out…and the student-teaching-student dynamic is the best for longterm storage!! And a good occasion to give praise.

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