A Book
There is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul!

by Emily Dickinsondoodledats_3

Grading Myth 3: Weighing Rubrics


The most common mistake in grading is to add up points earned on a rubric and divide by the total.  To grade with rubrics, scores should be weighted.

First, assess and score the rubric as objectively as possible, even if scores appear low.  Read the rubric descriptors and match what the student did and the descriptions as closely as possible.

Later  weigh grades to align with the instruction and curricular goals.  Grades reflect how well children are progressing toward the goals of a course. “Thus, ‘A’ …is the best one can reasonably expect for the unit and level of students in question…” explains John Biggs (1999  66).  Consider how much time children had to complete a product or performance, what the goals of the course are, the amount of exposure to L2, etc.  A Newcomer should not be scored the same way as a student who has been in US schools for years. 

There are two ways of thinking about doing the same thing:

  1. Adapting the rubric.  Modify the rubric for different ability levels. I used the SOLO taxonomy to develop my curriculum documents and rubrics so they align along a continuum, so my rubrics are already adapted and leveled.  I may mark “not applicable” or delete items or even entire rows or columns that don’t apply but this takes a quick stroke of a pen.
  2. Weighing the scores.  This is identical to 1, but you write out very simple math, which reassures some parents and students.  Here are simple step-by-step directions for (one approach to) converting rubric scores to grades.


When in doubt, just grade as compassionately as you can understanding that grades are a sometimes frustrating simplification of what children are acquiring.


Biggs, J. (1999). “What the Student Does: teaching for enhanced learning’, Higher Education Research & Development, 18 (1999): 1, 57 -75.

Popham, J. (1997). Scoring Rubrics: Maximizing the Value of Your Time. Educational Leadership, 55(2), 72-75.

Grading Myth 2: Grade Inflation

The myth of grade inflation is that we should design assessments not to measure criteria but to rank students: some students receive higher grades, others lower grades.  However, criterion-referenced* classroom assessments can not norm students; they were not designed for that purpose.  Skewing assessments to norm or rank students undermines the criterion validity and does little to inform teachers or students about how well they are working towards learning goals. Continue reading Grading Myth 2: Grade Inflation

Grading Myth 1: Self-Assessment

Never cheapen self-assessments with grades.

  “I hated going through (self-assessments) and having to figure out which students are ‘playing the game,’ which students are being honest, which students ‘deserve’ to earn a low grade. To my thinking there are less coercive ways that take longer, because they require me to deepen my relationship with some kid…” -Mike Peto, My Generation of Polyglots 

Continue reading Grading Myth 1: Self-Assessment

Free Voluntary Reading: Beyond Just SSR


Free Voluntary Reading is simply pleasure reading.  Students who can read at least somewhat independently can use FVR as a bridge to advanced academic language (Krashen 2011, 8).  There are many ways to promote Free Voluntary Reading, and it is important to chose the right approach to FVR for your students.


Sustained Silent Reading

Sustained Silent Reading is the most flexible and simple approach to FVR.  Students self-select any book, magazine, blog, etc. and encourage them to put down text that is too hard or boring.  The less accountability, the more student autonomy, the better.

Literary Circles

Literary circles are just book clubs with self-selected books, voluntary, open discussion, and limited accountability.  Per Smith’s “integrative motivation,” reading as part of a “club” lowers the affective filter (Krashen 2010, 1; Krashen 2008 ).  Children who just sat there during SSR time feel peer pressure to read if they want to be a part of the club and interact with peers.  Stronger readers who find a book they are enthusiastic about can become good reading role models.  Directing learning by choosing books and directing the discussion helps children feel like they are leaders (Smith).  Here is more on how to get started when your students are ready.


Sheltered Popular Literature

Sheltered Popular Literature is similar to the traditional English Language Arts literature curriculum in that it uses literature to explore cultures, world perspectives, art, etc. (Krashen 2003, 26). Stephen Krashen envisioned this approach for the purpose of introducing students to good books, generating excitement for reading, and exploring topics of interest, available books, text, and other media.  Krashen notes that although “there is class discussion of the structure of genre…all reading is self-selected” high-interest, and can pull from any media, not just “classic” literature (2014, 4).


Trips to the library

Weekly trips to the school library can feel like a fun get-away, provide access to books and magazines, and make children more likely to go back and check out more on their own time.

Donalyn Miller says she models “giddiness” and excitement, counting down the days until school library visits which she has on a special calendar (2009, 83).  Before visiting the library for the first time, I go over expectations (with help from my Junior Librarians) and treat library time as a very special time.  Later, students self-reflect on their check out time.  My most responsible readers get a fancy VIP library patron card, longer due-dates, and double the number of books to check-out.


I schedule trips to the public library immediately before summer break as recommended by Krashen and Ramos in “The Impact of One Trip to the Public Library: Making Books Available May Be the Best Incentive for Reading.”   Children get the message: libraries are fun.


Junior Librarians

Strong classroom libraries are also important; displaying books with interesting covers in an appealing way takes little time but has a big impact (Chambers, 20).  Involve students  with Content-Based Instruction in Library Science, then practice running a classroom library.  Students can select books, arrange a display, or read aloud in L1/L2 or organize a special event for the classroom, school library, or even public library.   This could be a privilege for students with very good reading habits, and could help build leadership roles and send the message school-wide: ESL students are good readers.




 Chambers, A. (1996). The reading environment: How adults help children enjoy books. York, ME: Stenhouse Publishers
Krashen, S. (2003). Free Voluntary Reading: Still a Very Good Idea. Explorations in Language Acquistion and Use. 15-29. Retrieved from: http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~genzuk/Free_Voluntary_Reading-Krashen/FVReading3-Krashen.pdf

Krashen, S. (2008). The Comprehension Hypothesis Extended.  Piske, T. & Young-Scholten, M. Input Matters in SLA. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, 81-94.
Retrieved from: http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/comprehension_hypothesis_extended.pdf

Krashen, S. D. (2011). Free voluntary reading. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S. (13 October 2014) Remarks on Language Acquisition and Literacy: Language Acquisition and Teaching, Free Reading, “Test-Prep” and its Consequences, The Use of the First Language, Writing, and the Great Native Speaker Teacher Debate. Presented at the Roundtable Discussion on English Teaching in Hong Kong.  Retrieved from: http://www.sdkrashen.com/content/articles/remarks_roundtable.pdf

Miller, D. & Anderson, J. (2009). The book whisperer: Awakening the inner reader in every child. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Morrow, L. (1996).  Motivating Reading and Writing in Diverse Classrooms: Social and Physical Contexts in a Literature-Based Program. National Council of Teachers of English, Research Report No. 28. Retrieved from:  http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED398543.pdf

Ramos, F. & Krashen, S. (April 1998). The Impact of One Trip to the Public Library: Making Books Available May Be the Best Incentive for Reading. Reading Teacher, 51(7): 614-15.

Smith, F. (1988). Joining the literacy club. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Concerning Mentor Texts

The most effective way to learn to write is not to practice writing, but rather to read extensively in a style or genre that we want to write ourselves (Mason 2004, Krashen 2014).

Smith explains that books children share succeed in “showing how something is done but doing it with us.  The situation is identical to that in spoken language when adults help children to say what they want to say… The author becomes an unwitting collaborator” (25).  Books give children words before they are ready to write on their own.

Recently, educators have embraced this idea and the phrase “mentor text” has become a buzz word.  Mentor texts are good books that represent a genre or style to help students learn to write by reading.  This is a huge step in the right direction, away from worksheets or intensive writing “practice.”

Mentor texts have great potential, however, the only pitfall is the type of reading used.  As always, intensive reading, as with novel studies, is not as effective as extensive reading or Free Voluntary Reading.  Mentor texts are most efficient when paired with Free Voluntary Reading through Krashen’s Sheltered Popular Literature.


Mason, B. (2004). The effect of adding supplementary writing to an extensive reading program. The International Journal of Foreign Language Teaching, 1(1), 2-16.

Krashen, S. (2014) The Composing Process. Research Journal: Ecolint Institute of Teaching and Learning. International School of Geneva. 2: 20-30.

Smith, F. (1988). Joining the literacy club. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.



Acquiring a second language is a natural, innate process.  There is only frustration when input is not comprehensible.   Answering the question “What do I do when I don’t understand?” with explicitly-taught metacognitive strategies empowers students.

Sit along side students and think aloud as you preview the book.  Point at the difficult words and ask: “Is this too hard?  Is it boring?”  Model putting the book down and picking a new one.  Matter-of-factly pointing at the book deflects from the frustration of incomprehensible text.   The book is the problem, not the child.

Often children are assigned books in their mainstream classes.  Students can’t put just put down their math or science textbooks without teachers misinterpreting this as disrespectful or lazy.  ESL teachers can explicitly teach children to state clearly 1. what they tried and 2. where they got stuck.

  • “I tried looking at the picture and title (point) but I got stuck here (point).”
  • “I read this part (point) two times but I don’t understand.”
  • “May I talk with Maria?  She doesn’t understand these directions (point).”



Beginners or shy students will not use these strategies.  But all it takes is one student leader to open dialogue and make teachers aware of the needs of their ELLs and appreciate their efforts.  Children learn they can be assertive in an appropriate way and feel in control of their education.