Language learning is an inherently confidence-shaking enterprise. It is commonplace to work really hard, practicing every day for months, only to see someone else achieve the same level as you in weeks. We get our students to come to school and face this tangible reality every day. It is true that everyone can learn a language, and they can do it by applying the same natural language-learning skills. While those skills are universal, every learner has a heuristic that works best for them, and progress is never equal.
It is through ownership and cognizance of their learning that students can discover the correct recipe that will consistently lead to progress (at any rate). So, how best to provide them with guidance in this endeavor, and, in this setting?
In Ontario, with our new focus on CEFR-inspired, action-oriented tasks in the French classroom, it is of paramount importance to foster classroom environments conducive to taking risks. It is what you can do in the target language that counts. And, to get students doing things in French, you need them to take risks. I see grades as an impediment in fostering risk-taking and metacognition. Students need to focus on the increments of progress native to their own language-learning heuristic, and that can be best helped along by receiving judgement-free feedback based in observations and conversations. What do you think?
Really, what do grades mean in language-learning, anyway? Language is fluid. If you do not use it, you lose it. If a student receives an A+ for French in grade 9, for example, then proceeds to not use French for 10 years, would the A+ have any value to an employer? Would it in any way tell anyone about their current language ability? Even thinking of the mark as a “snapshot” of this hypothetical student’s potential is erroneous, I think. But, at this point, I want to know what others think.
Please, leave a comment with your thoughts about this blog post.