Why is there such a push for teachers and schools to be held accountable? Would we need to "hold them accountable" if we simply trusted that educators had the knowledge, skills, and integrity to ensure that students are receiving an exceptional education? Rather than being encouraging, many of the methods of holding educators, from individual teachers to entire systems, accountable are punitive and strip us of our professionalism and freedom to do what's best for our kids - because someone else doesn't trust that we are already doing what we can and are willing and able to make adjustments where necessary.
Likewise, why do we need to hold students accountable? If we trusted that they truly cared about their learning and would fully engage in it, why would we need to hold them accountable? Sure, there is a place for tests to measure learning, but I would argue that the vast majority of quizzes, tests, and homework grades have more to do with "motivating" students to do the work. Isn't that the real reason behind the question "Will this be on the test?" and other similar inquiries.
I understand that I have a great deal of freedom in my current position than most teachers do not enjoy. I share what I do not to imply that it must be done just like this, but I do hope that something I say will be inspiring AND practical in your current situation. If anything, it's at least food for thought about the changes we need to make as a whole in foreign language education, if not our education system in general.
My students have two jobs:
- Follow directions.
- Let me know when you don't understand.
The first job, following directions, has to do with practicality. The fact of the matter is that I have 30 students in a classroom. I can't have a home run with each and every one of them every day in every activity, but I try. They trust that I will teach them what they need to know, and honor their academic, social, and emotional needs. They trust that I will do my best to make learning meaningful and pleasurable for them through compelling input. Because of this, I trust that they will "play along" with what I ask them to do when I ask them to do it and let me know in an appropriate way if they would like me to change what we are doing.
The second job, letting me know when they don't understand, has to do with students taking an active role in their learning. I cannot read their minds (although I can often read their bodies). I promise to do my very best to make class comprehensible, but I trust that they will let me know when I have not met this goal. In turn, I need to behave in a way where students trust that I will be responsive to their needs. Moreover, I have to create an environment where students trust that they will not be penalized academically, socially, nor emotionally by admitting that they do not understand. This is a tall order, but I feel that I have achieved this with most of my students. Here's how:
First, I frame comprehension and growth as MY job, not theirs. If they are doing what I ask, then it is MY job to meet them where they need me to. It is NOT their job to try to reach for the level at which the language is being provided - it is my job to ensure that I adapt the language to their level. Thus, letting me know you don't understand helps me do MY job better - and I can't do my job without them.
Second, any assessments are not assessments of them, they are assessments of my teaching. I need that feedback in order to know if I'm doing a good job. I shared with my students that their assessments not their grades upon which they will be judge. Rather, they are my grades for the principals to evaluate me, and my grading policies reflect that. If students are following directions and letting me know when they don't understand, they will get an excellent grade in my class - there are no tests or formally graded assessments. I frequently ask them to privately evaluate and indicate their level of understanding using our rubrics. When we do these assessments, I ask them to "grade me" by indicating what they were able to understand and do. These never go in the grade book. If they are following directions and letting me know when they don't understand, but they are still not "getting it", it is because I'm not doing my job to meet their needs.
As a result, my students are very honest. There is no stress - their learning is in their hands. Everyone can follow directions. Everyone can let me know when they don't understand. Every day, these things are 100% in students' control. And they trust that I will respect them and do my part if they do theirs - so (for the most part) they are very willing to grade me and let me know if I'm doing my job well.