Editing Final Projects: An Exercise in Giving up Micromanagement (part 1)

Finals time is always stressful – coming up with assessments, writing rubrics, hoping the students have had enough (or paid attention enough to) Comprehensible Input to be able to complete the tasks we’re assigning. Lots of teachers use IPAs or hand out AP practice tests. These things would be awesome for me to do, especially the IPA, but I just don’t have the time to get it all done (or at least I haven’t figured it out yet, as soon as I do, I’ll be back here letting you know!)

My final assessment is a project. This year, 6th and 7th graders are completing variations on a School Brochure / Biography project (our two biggest units were about describing ourselves and others and describing our school and schedule-a consequence of switching back to the book, which you can read about here).

8th Graders have a different project: They have Kindergarten Buddies and they made children’s picture books about them.

Old Routines and Unintended Consequences

When I assign my projects, I have some requirements:

  1. Due to how many times I have caught students using translators rather than their own language, they are only allowed to work on rough drafts in class
  2. There are a ton of due dates – rough draft due date, 2nd draft due date, storyboard draft due date, final project due date.

The reason that these things are in place is so that I can make sure it all gets done well and on time. This comes from years of being behind schedule and getting caught short at the end of the year because of all of the missed class days for 8th Grade events. Unfortunately, my very heavy oversight of the students leads to a consequence that I am only now realizing: with my constant correction and help, they feel like they can go beyond their level and write like they would write in English (i+1? More like i+100).

Case in point: Students would write their first drafts and use dictionaries to say what they wanted to say. Then, because of our schedule, they wouldn’t see their work for 5 days. When they came back, they would look at what they wrote and ask me, “Mr. F, what does this word mean?” This is a word they looked up and wrote down in their story. What this showed me was that they were not using what they knew of Spanish but rather writing in English and translating word by word. I used to think that this was taking initiative and learning new words, but it isn’t: It’s them using a dictionary or translator instead of the language they have acquired. Then, when rough drafts were finished, I would end up reading and correcting (otherwise known as re-writing) their work.

Ultimately, I don’t want their stories to reflect their ability to search in a dictionary or my ability to decipher what they’re trying to write; I want them to reflect the language that is in their minds.

How Can I Fix This?!?

The first thing to do is to approach the assessment in a way that will actually be at the correct level for the students. Next year, the 8th Graders will still have a story activity, but it will be shorter and it will have a set theme for them to write about. For example, since we started using the TPRS book “Look, I can Talk,” the students have a very solid template to use for their story. I can then have the topic of the story be similar for the students (the kindergartner needs a friend and the 8th grader is the friend they find or vice versa). Other ideas include a biography or autobiography activity using the kinds of language they have worked to acquire. In other words, the project will be much more structured and will reflect their abilities in Spanish rather than their abilities in English. If I have learned anything as a teacher, it is that students will find an opportunity to be creative and will surprise you no matter the constraints you give them.

In the 6th and 7th grade this year, I was more successful than with 8th grade. I created an assessment that fits their abilities. Because of this, I was able to let go—no more hours of correcting their work! I was able to let them show me what they could do and I was able to get a real sense of what the language in their head truly looks like.

Since the language necessary for the activity is closer to what they are used to using in their day-to-day activities, they now have the ability to use their knowledge to correct their own work: After they finished their first drafts, I displayed correct versions of the paragraphs and pointed out some common mistakes (using 3rd person instead of 1st person in the autobiographies, using Soy with age instead of Tengo, and other things like that) and I let them make their own corrections.

Most importantly, I made no corrections on their papers at this point. The idea is that it is now up to them to evaluate their writing on a deeper level rather than just scribbling whatever comes into their heads with the expectation that I will just fix it for them.

What I learned about me

This whole process let me to a realization: Micromanaging students has a detrimental effect on my students language acquisition and production. A hands-off approach with an appropriately leveled assignment paints a truer picture of the students’ abilities and proficiency. (This is in the running for the MOST obvious conclusion I have ever come to in the history of me writing this blog)

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