One of the things I want to do before next year starts is take another look at the end-of-unit IPAs I created last summer. I definitely think that moving from textbook-based tests to IPAs was a good move for many reasons. First and foremost, I haven’t used the textbook this year, so those tests wouldn’t have made sense anyway. Additionally, it allows me to see what my students are capable of, and their grades reflect their abilities much more closely than ever in the past. This makes me happy because I’m not giving Fs, and it lets my students see that they can be successful, that they’re making progress, and that they’re not necessarily the C- students that they’ve been told they are throughout their years of formal education.
However, this little experiment has been far from perfect, also for many reasons.
Time (AKA, Why are you not done yet!?)
This year, almost every IPA I have given has taken at least 2 days to complete. A couple took 3. When you multiply that by 6-8 units per year, I’m losing 6-10 extra days a year to testing. That may not sound like much over the course of a whole year, but when you add in 9 snow days (that’s just the ones we’re not making up), blood drives, field trips, days lost to state testing (something like 7 so far, and more to come!), sick days (yes, they happen, and most likely, no matter how good your sub plans are, you’re going to be behind because of them), and 2-hour delayed start days, that’s a lot of time that I can’t afford to lose! I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather spend those 6-10 days teaching and watching my students grow than “testing.”
So I have to take a hard look at my IPAs and ask myself, “Why are these taking so long, and how can I fix it?”
Well, I think part of the reason is that I was so gung-ho about this at the beginning of the year that I wasn’t willing to compromise. Every IPA had to have an interpersonal, presentational speaking, presentational writing, interpretive reading, and interpretive listening. While I still think it’s important to cover all the modes – why does every single IPA have to hit every single one!? We do these things in class all the time, I think I can get a pretty good idea of where my students are on the IPA without having every mode every time.
So for next year, I’m thinking this: Have some type of interpersonal every time, whether it be speaking or some type of writing/electronic communication. Alternate between presentational modes. Mix up the interpretive, and make sure to have the best authentic resources I can find, regardless of whether that means reading, listening, or (maybe sometimes) both. My goal is to keep them mostly even, but it seems kind of boring to do reading/writing together every time and listening/speaking (or reading/speaking, listening/writing), which is what would happen if I simply alternate for the interpretive as well. I don’t like for things to be too predictable.
That has to help. If they don’t have to write and speak every time, that should definitely cut down on time required, right?
Technology (AKA, This worked for me yesterday!)
Technology is excellent. I love it. It allows me to do awesome, new things and keeps me from getting boring. The kids are (mostly) into it, and it lets them exercise their creativity while also show me what they can do in Spanish. However, technology can create delays. Uploading videos to Google Drive isn’t instant. Both the kids and I are realizing that we need to be done at least five or seven minutes in advance to make sure that we can get everything uploaded properly – and, of course, they want me to make sure it’s there once it is uploaded (and I don’t blame them, some of them have a history of putting things in folders I don’t have access to). Every time I’ve required students to do something that means uploading to a shared Google Drive folder, I have had students either a) in my room after the bell rings, late to their next class, trying to get the file uploaded or b) don’t upload them properly, leave my room, and I don’t have access to their file. Sometimes kids in this category find their file and re-upload, but on more than one occasion, despite several reminders and warnings (and sometimes emails to parents), I have had students simply never rectify the problem. How can I grade an IPA when the biggest part of it is never turned in?! I think that’s a different issue than difficulty with technology though.
And beyond that, sometimes technology just doesn’t work the way you expect it to. I ran into this more than once this year. I very quickly learned that I need to test things in advance! And testing in advance does not mean pulling up the page and playing around on my desktop. It means testing on an iPad. A student iPad, because my iPad is on the staff wi-fi and that filter is much less strict. Sometimes it’s worth it for me to use something that’s blocked and bypass the filter for every student (by putting in my staff username/pw). An excellent commercial on iSpot.tv, for example, which I haven’t yet found a way to download to my computer the way I can YouTube videos. Sometimes I have to arrange to check the ChromeBooks out of the library because the website (Piktochart) doesn’t work on the iPads. It’s much better to know these things in advance (that way librarians don’t get cranky and students don’t get stressed), rather than finding out when it’s already too late.
Students stress out when they’re handed new technology and told “do this!” So this year, whenever I plan to have them use a new website/program/app/etc. on an IPA, I try to give them a low-pressure environment to play around and learn about it before the actual IPA day. Usually I give them a simple assignment that will be conducive to their figuring out the tricks to whatever new tech we’re using. This has saved my butt in the past, specifically with Piktochart, I found out that it didn’t work on iPads on trial day, rather than test day. Our practice day was kind of a loss, but it was still a much better situation than it could have been!
Attitude (AKA, This is NOT a test! Don’t freak out!)
My attitude about IPAs is great. My kids still freak out as if we were taking a chapter test from the book. They tell me they’re going to fail. They worry about getting all the grammar right (But if I don’t know how to say this/conjugate this tense, I’ll lose points!), despite my many reassurances that I grade only based on this rubric (there’s an editable version somewhere, but I can’t seem to find it and I the only copy I have is on my school computer), which is 90% proficiency and 10% task completion. Usually, after I remind them of that for the 100th time, and remind them that they’ve all done very well on these in the past, and quickly recap what I expect to see for a B (complete sentences. Try a few transition words.) or an A (maybe try for two paragraphs! Use some specific, deep vocab that comes from this theme!) and they realize that they can totally do that, they calm down a little.
I think part of the problem is that, in class, I still call them tests. I’m trying to move away from that, but I don’t know what else to call them. I want them to realize that it is for a grade (that just seems fair to me), unlike 90% of the rest of what we do in class, so I don’t want to call them just an “activity” like everything else. The term IPA means nothing to them – maybe that’s the problem. Maybe I should just tell them, “This is what an IPA is. This is typically what we do at the end of units,” and that would solve all the confusion. I don’t know…by the time they’re in high school, kids are so conditioned to freak out about tests. I understand, teachers want their students to take the test seriously, so they hype them up and admonish them to study and blame the kids for being lazy when they don’t get As. I’m in the odd position where I don’t want my students to cram. I don’t want them to freak out. I just want them to do what they can, show me what they’re capable of right now, no extra studying, no freaking out, I just want to see what they can do. My 1s are OK with this. It’s all they know from my class. The other levels, definitely still a work in progress.
Clarity (AKA, I can’t believe you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing!)
One of the issues I have run into this year is the fact that, despite what I think are clear, easy to follow instructions, my students sometimes have no idea what they’re supposed to be doing. Part of this comes from the fact that most of my students will readily admit, “I never read directions!” It gets them in trouble every year when the junior English teacher, knowing this, gives them a multiple choice test and tells them (only in the written instructions) to choose the wrong answer. One or two kids catch on, and when they come into my room (immediately after English class), it’s all they can talk about.
Part of this is that the kids like to do things in order from easiest to hardest, even if that’s not the way the IPA is designed. If I instruct them to read a movie theater schedule, talk with their friends about what movie they want to see, and then write an invitation to a student who wasn’t in on the conversation, this is what they do: They read the movie theater schedule. They write an invitation to a friend. Then they sit around, waiting, hoping that someone else will start talking first. Until I say, “Hey, you really need to get this done now!” no one will ever strike up a conversation. They’re nervous and a little embarrassed. As we’ve done more and more things like this this year, the affective filter has definitely dropped some and they’re more willing to jump in now. But it has been and still can be a struggle. And this definitely affects the amount of TIME each IPA takes.
I give instructions for IPAs in English at all levels, because if they don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing, then I don’t know if they can do it or not with any certainty. Still, I also start out each IPA by giving a brief rundown of what they’re supposed to do (and if there’s a specific order it should be done in, I make that very clear), and a few minutes for questions. It has helped, but I feel like I’m giving in to a culture that has taught them that they don’t need to read the directions.