05 March 2016

Attack of the Translator: What is the debate REALLY about?

I thought we had an understanding.

You can use the T-word or WordReference on practice assignments, as long as you put what you look up in bold (or CAPS if it's a Blogger comment or something that doesn't allow formatting). And keep it under 10% of what you're writing. And for interpretive practice, I typically assign looking up 3-5 words, to expand their vocabulary.

But this does not apply on IPAs.

Integrated Performance Assessments are the closest thing we have to tests in Spanish class. Yes, they get "Test Grades" for each section (interpretive, interpersonal, presentational), but it's still not a right/wrong answer type of situation. Each error does not mean a point off--they get an AAPPL rubric score for each section, essentially based on how much language they can actually string together.

A translator will not improve their score.

I mean, sure, they could turn on the "Would you like to translate this page?" on the interpretive assignment, but A) I circulate as long as I can before the interpersonal part begins (which is how I caught a kid ACTUALLY DOING THIS) and B) I know I have never used the word alrededor in your presence and C) you were not able to grasp singular present tense last week, much less irregular preterite constructions.

I just want to know what they actually KNOW.

But the thought of formatting, printing, and copying every single page for every single interpretive section from here on out hurts my little environmentally sensitive heart. I guess I could set them up in a way that kids could highlight the paper instead of copying every line they understood to spare their little fingers, but oh the PAPER!

So I called on Geoff Crosson, one of the coolest teachers I've ever had the pleasure to work with. He was the first teacher I knew to go paperless, and also a teacher I know students trust.

So Sr. Crosson asked me the important question: basically, what's the translator debate about?



Trust? Relationships?

As with any interaction in the classroom, of course it's all of these.


I'm not saying no T********* or dictionary on IPAs to exert control. But maybe they think I am. They still frantically check to make sure it's okay to guess on this or that line. I refer them to the rubric and remind them you can't be more wrong than nothing. They are supposed to focus on what they CAN do though.

So if it's an issue of control, it's an issue of their ability to control the outcomes on their assessments. Choice does not solve everything, and it clearly panics a good chunk of my kiddos this semester. I tell them to just pick out what they know, and they don't believe me. They still think every misstep is going to subtract from the all-powerful grade. (I know, I know, grades are the root of all evil, but I think they reflect reasonable expectations and actually show where the kids are inn their journey to meeting them in this case.)

A #LangChat revelation may help here: why not have an extra column for guesses? That might give them a stronger sense of control in their own interpretations, which, really, why would I deny them that? To get an accurate read, I need the lowest affective filter possible, right?


For me, that's really what this is about. Perhaps less so for the grade-obsessed, though. My problem is I can't assess their progress if I can't be certain what is actually them and what's an online algorithm. I get all excited thinking they're actually absorbing something, and then they throw in a few lines of flawless "guesses" for a section with subjunctive and imperative forms not yet even used, and you have to question the rest of it.

I suppose I could prepare a text with only terms we've used before to cut down on the doubtful areas, but 1) I swear I really do sleep and would like to continue to be able to do so, and 2) I think it's really good for them--and for me--to see how they would survive in the Real World, so I want to use authentic texts for the assessment. I want to see that they can discern what they do know from what they don't.

Plus those Real World bloggers and infographers have much cooler ideas than I could come up with, especially while focused on keeping it in baby Spanish.

Trust & Relationships

I confess things haven't been the same since my sick day. I noticed suspicious constructions in their writing and conversations when I came back, but, well, they had the prompt ahead of time, so it's possible they looked up a few things to commit to memory, right? But then I come back and see a translated page pulled up while I circulate and several suspicious guesses? This is not where I want us to be. 

I don't want to be the teacher who revels in catching cheaters. (Truth time? I've been her.) I want to know what drives a student to think they need this tool that really doesn't improve their score anyway! Do they not trust that I'll give them something they can handle? Do they not trust their own brains?

As the illustrious Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell has said before, cheating is a heart issue more than a brain issue. They're not trusting someone here.

My students know what "please see me" means on Google Classroom. Some are able to explain where and when they saw the special vocabulary, often in their passion projects or self-improvement pins. Some also try to say they looked it up for their blog, but have nary a bolded word to support their claims. Some come clean after a prod or two, but then I'm obliged to bring parents into the mix by school policy.

But is it really worth it?

If the same kids whipped out a calculator on the no-calculator section of the SAT, you can bet the College Board would set their test aflame before they were unceremoniously booted from the room. But my "tests" aren't really Tests, are they? I suppose writing tests are scored with a rubric too. So maybe I should be taking up cell phones and printing everything on paper so they're not tempted? I mean, one kid when confronted straight up said that's what they needed from me to help them resist temptation.

I think a big, BIG part of what's wrong with education today is exactly the kind of assessment that seeks to control people with outrageous restrictions designed to protect the TEST more than the learner (example: I didn't wash my hair for the GRE--I just wanted to keep my bandanna on while they had a camera trained on me for hours on end).

The bottom line is I want to know what my students know, and I have to create an environment where it's possible to find that out. Might it mean I have to kill a few acres of rainforest?


But what it definitely means is I have to talk with my kids, so they feel like they have control--not me, and not WordReference. So they trust that I really am grading what they CAN do and not what they can't, and that I'll give them something they actually can work with. So they can trust themselves and what they actually can do.

So that assessment is a positive part of our relationship and not a wedge between us.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, that was a great, heart felt and meaningful post, something all teachers grapple with, getting the balance with digital help and student originality, especially when they get more advanced. I really enjoyed this post, thanks for sharing!