In Translation: I’ve Never Been So Proud of Any Class

Friday I had the kind of teaching experience that makes pre-service teachers want to teach and keeps in-service teachers in teaching.

On Tuesday I learned I was getting a new student–a refugee student who speaks no English. I immediately felt my own inadequacy as a teacher, but I tried to brush that aside with ideas for how I could include this student in my classroom and help him participate in our lessons.

If I’m honest, Wednesday wasn’t stellar. I see my students every other day and decided I could make Friday better. I planned to incorporate a Power Point with pictures into the lesson plan, and then I used the translator feature in Microsoft to translate the text from my Power Point into the student’s native language. I know that electronic translators have flaws, but I figured this was the best hope I had of communicating with my new student, who, by the way, is pleasant, alert, bright, and trying his best to make sense of his new world.

On Friday, I put up the Power Point with an explanation in English and the student’s language explaining to the class why I was using this additional teaching method. I told the class I wanted the whole class included in our conversations. I explained that the translation I was using was not perfect and might at times be confusing for our new friend, but it was the best we had, and we needed to try it.

My classes are currently mid-way through a project-based-learning unit I call “The Big Event.” They start by researching a variety of medical conditions that affect diet. We learn about MyPlate as well as safe food handling and kitchen safety procedures. The students make a healthy snack in the lab, and then I introduce the problem: We’re planning a large family party for a group of fictional family members, several of whom have specific medical conditions. The students must plan a menu that meets the needs of those family members as well as other criteria. On the last day of the unit, they get to cook some of the items from their chosen menu.

On Friday, the goal was for each team to make a list of healthy foods their fictional family member can and should eat, as well as a list of foods that person should avoid.

I told the class with the new student that even though I typically expected nothing more than a presentation of a list from each team, for this class, I was hoping they would also include pictures, which might help our new student feel connected to the content.

That’s when the magic happened. As teams started to research and build their lists, they began to pull me aside with questions like this: “Mrs. Coray, can we use the translator feature and make Power Points with pictures and translations of what we are talking about?” The whole class was a buzz of excitement. I was showing some teams how to use the translator feature in Microsoft, and other students were showing me how to make it better, and there was this whole-class, synergistic, collaborative effort that brought me almost to tears! Each team seemed eager to include their new friend in the conversation.

Our new student’s own team went even further. They pulled out their computers, pulled up translator apps, and began passing their computers back and forth as a way to communicate. One girl on the team with artistic talent drew elaborate pictures as they made their list in regard to their fictional family member, Uncle Jake, who was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. As the team made their list, their art specialist drew a page depicting soda, candy, and baked goods, and another page with fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and foods made from whole grains.

I got an even bigger surprise when that team asked me if they could use the translator app to allow their new friend to speak when their team presented their list to the class. They would have him read his part in his native language with another student standing by as interpreter to read that same part in English. It was fantastic!

The team presentations were amazing, and more than I could ever have hoped for!

Just before the bell rang, one student on the new student’s team asked if he could also use the translator app next time we’re in the foods lab as a way to help his new friend participate with cooking.

Junior high students are often careless with their belongings, and I find all kinds of things left after class in my classroom. They never take papers with them if the papers do not affect their grade. I noticed as the bell rang how those beautiful drawings were left behind on the table. I also noticed how my new student carefully scooped up those drawings and tucked them in with his things.

It made me happy!

Why I Love Grading with a 4-Point, Competency-Based Scale

I hear teachers say that they don’t want to change to standards-based or competency-based grading because it’s easier to keep doing what they’ve always done. Competency-based grading has simplified my grading process in a way that saves me hours of work! I never have to count points—a point for this, 2 points for that, ½ point off for “this one little thing missing.” Competency-based grading isn’t really about the points; it’s about the student’s ability to show what they know and what they can do. I can see competency very quickly when I am using a rubric. Often a quick glance is enough to give me the information I am looking for, especially if the assignment is visual. If the work is research-based and designed to show critical thinking and use of relevant sources, I spend more time on grading, but competency-based grading is still faster than adding up individual points for each little thing.

Students also know what to expect with competency-based grading because I try to be specific with a rubric. If they don’t score 4 points on the first try, I give them feedback offering them an opportunity to improve their work.

Let’s take the example with the following objective from FCS Exploration:

I can effectively use fashion as a means of expression (Strand 3, Standard 4).

The assignment itself looks like the one below. Although my own fashion drawings lack the seemingly effortless style and movement of professional design drawings, I love to draw clothing, and I can capture clothing construction details, so I feel these drawings are a helpful guide when students are unfamiliar with design drawings.

“Fashion as Communication and Expression” Canvas Assignment

After explaining the assignment to the class, I point out the rubric and go over the rubric with them so that they know exactly what to expect.

As the students submit their work, I give them feedback based on the rubric, so that they always have the opportunity to improve.

Here are four samples of student work matching the scores of 1, 2, 3, and 4 on the rubric.

This student had a good start–but the work is only that–a start.

The second assignment sample is rushed and low in quality. However, the student did make effort to include at least some design details that show personality.

This student work shows an understanding of fashion as expression while still lacking professional detail.

The final sample shows high-quality, professional details with accessories, closures, movement, etc. This student has clearly mastered the idea of fashion as expression.

Is there a way that you could simplify your teaching practice by using a 4-point, competency-based grading scale?