On a teacher email list, this question was posed:
With the discussion on free writes and why grading them is detrimental, I have been thinking about tracking student progress. I know I can track the number of words, but what other sorts of things do you track and how?
A child takes 10,000 hours of input to get to the level of language a 3-year-old uses.
Our kids get 104 hours per year, with luck, in most cases.
For me, the idea that we can reliably (in the statistical sense, or even the practical sense) show some comparable (between-students) measure of progress in language within the 104 hours of a year’s language course is just silly. I know schools really want it. But if we’re measuring acquisition, not memorized language or learning, it’s difficult to see that progress from one week to the next. Nor do the ACTFL standards “cut it” for this one. They are not finely grained enough to show differences in a month or two months’ time. And writing more words on a timed write is not really an indicator of increased proficiency if you take language as a whole. Yes, it shows that now Johnny has acquired (hopefully) more words, and that is a kind of progress. But Mary next to him can memorize more words out of a dictionary and get them down on a page using basic structure. Who has acquired more language — Johnny who uses more structures correctly, or Mary who writes down more words?
Tracking how many baskets someone can sink in three minutes isn’t going to tell whether they will be a good basketball player overall. There are a lot of other things involved. This is even more true if we’re talking about the peewee league.
I’m not saying not to assess — schools require it. Parents want it. Colleges crave it. Kids need to see that something is “happening”.
What I am saying is let’s not assign too much credibility to our assessments if what we think we’re measuring is Proficiency. That’s a really big potato, and we are only weighing a little piece of the peel here. We need to find a way to not take all this too seriously. There’s probably a reason why language acquisition was so easy back in the days before it was institutionalized.