Talking to Administrators About Questioning

Observers and administrators require teachers to use frequent comprehension checks and questioning.  Teachers who use “a high frequency of questions” are given a higher score on teacher evaluations; teachers who ask fewer questions are penalized (Tennessee, 3).  In the SIOP Model, a teacher is praised for asking a question, then literally covering her mouth until a child answers (Echevarria, 103).  The lesson will not move on until someone answers.


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Talking to Admin About Assessment

Students acquire best when they do not feel tested (Krashen, 85).  While summative tests may be needed occasionally, most assessments should be natural, authentic observations of how much students enjoy and comprehend input.  It is sometimes difficult to communicate and document alternative assessments.

Here is a simple primer with 15 commonly asked questions and answers teachers may face about authentic assessment for second language learners.

Assessment: A Simple Approach

Krashen, S. D. (2011). Free Voluntary Reading. Libraries Unlimited.

Readers Notebooks & Story Retell Notebooks

Story Retell Notebooks

For Newcomers who can not read independently, simply ask students to retell stories with words or pictures.  Here is more on story retells as early response to stories for beginners.  Students can watch their story retells build overtime.  Perhaps ELLs may want to pick their best retell or illustration to submit to The Great English Reading Project.

Readers Notebooks

Used with Free Voluntary Reading for intermediate learners, Readers Notebooks can be a safe place for children to respond to text when they are ready to start reading independently. Continue reading Readers Notebooks & Story Retell Notebooks

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 ensure some students receive higher grades, others lower grades.  However, criterion-referenced* classroom assessments can not score students relative to other students, even previous years; 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