Skip to main content

How did you decide how to structure your gradebook?

Without exception, in every language class that I took from middle school through college, the gradebook looked very similar. Every graded assignment in the course was placed into a category that matched the assignment type: quizzes, tests, homework, classwork, participation, projects, etc. The weight of each category varied--sometimes, each category carried the same weight (20% quizzes, 20% tests, 20% homework, 20% classwork, 20% projects, for example); other times, quizzes and tests were weighted more heavily than other assignments.

Grade for proficiency in your language class: your gradebook must reflect your instruction!


Because this kind of a gradebook structure was all that I had ever known, it should come as no surprise that I structured my gradebook similarly when I began teaching. It never occurred to me to look for alternative gradebook setups or to ask questions like

  • What does this gradebook setup say about is valuable in this course?
  • What behaviors does this gradebook setup reward, and what behaviors does it encourage?
  • How do I prepare my students to be successful with this gradebook setup, and is that the kind of preparation that I want to do in class?


When I began meeting with Michele Whaley's First Fridays group here in Anchorage and learning about Standards Based Assessment, I realized several things about this gradebook setup that had been handed down to me and I had adopted without question. I realized that this traditional gradebook setup evaluates and communicates a few things that I want to evaluate and communicate, and it evaluates and communicates a lot of things that I don't.

In a traditional gradebook in which grades are sorted into assignment type, all of these factors contribute to the final grade:

  • Language performance/knowledge
  • Responsibility/work ethic
  • Attendance
  • Test-taking skill
  • Home/family situation

I asked myself, "Is this really what I want my gradebook to reflect?" 

Teaching Spanish? A traditional gradebook setup evaluates and communicates a lot of information that has nothing to do with language ability--and quite frankly that is out of the students' control!


Thanks to Scott Benedict (and to Betsy Paskvan who introduced me to his materials), my gradebook underwent a radical shift. I decided that that I wanted my students to be graded on what they know and can do in the target language--period.

As a slight compromise--even though I didn't want this in my gradebook--I kept a nearly worthless category to catch everything that students did or didn't do in class that didn't fall into the category of "What students know and can do in the target language". I originally called this category "Work Habits", but I have since changed my thinking and now would call it "Formative", as in Formative Assessments.

The Formative/formerly Work Habits category is where I put ALL of the "Complete/Incomplete/Not done" assignments that we do in class every day. This category WAS about accountability, and it was a category that I could point to during Student Led Conferences or at the end of a marking period to help explain why a students' Performance-Based Grade might be so low: typically, it was because they had missed many, many days of school and had therefore not completed any of the activities that result in language acquisition.


This is where my gradebook ended up:

Reading - 30% - How well do I understand written Spanish, in the context of the classroom?

Listening - 30% - How well do I understand spoken Spanish, in the context of the classroom?

Writing - 20% - How fluently and accurately can I write in Spanish, in the context of the classroom?

Speaking - 15% - How fluently and accurately can I speak in Spanish, in the context of the classroom?

Formative - 5% - Am I engaged such that I can acquire language?

Because I value communicative performance, I needed my gradebook to reflect that. I had changed how I was teaching, and my gradebook needed a change as well.

When you change the way you grade, you have to change you teach! If you grade for proficiency, your instructional practices must teach for proficiency. Teaching Spanish or any language!


I chose to use the four communicative skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking) as my gradebook categories; other teachers might prefer to break it down into the modes of communication (Interpretive, Interpersonal, Presentational), or a blend of the two (Interpretive reading, Interpretive Listening, Presentational Speaking, etc.). Other teachers also might weight the categories differently. I think that these are all minor differences that provide students, parents, administrators, and other teachers with the same kind of information; helpful information; the right kind of information.


Once you've got categories, you need grades to go in them! But... what grades? What assessments fit in this grading system?

All of my assessments are performance based; meaning, they are designed for me to be able to evaluate my students' performance in a specific skill are (interpretive reading or listening, presentational writing or speaking, etc.).

Here are some blog posts that talk about my assessments:


Perhaps you are wondering why I don't include vocabulary, grammar in this gradebook:

Consider categorizing grades on communicative skills or by modes of communication--when you do, categories for grammar and vocabulary are not needed. They will be factors that affect the grades within each communicative category. Teaching, assessing, and grading Spanish

If you have been to my Assessment for Acquisition workshop, you have heard the story about my super brilliant brother Nathan and a little vocabulary test challenge that we did a few years ago. The point of the story was this: in the real world, no one is walking around quizzing you on discrete vocabulary or grammar items. In the real world, your vocabulary knowledge and command of grammar is observed and evaluated always in the context of messages. Always. So why would I distort that for my classes?

I wouldn't.


Culture is a HUGE part of what we do in class. It is ever-present in the SOMOS curriculum. It is my passion.

Buuuuuuuut...when it comes to grading, I honestly don't care about what my students remember or don't remember. I want culture to engage my students; to make them think; to make them wonder. And I am okay leaving it at that!

If you would like to measure the cultural knowledge that your students have gained in your course, then certainly go ahead and create a gradebook category for it. I can appreciate that, and for now I am content to leave it out of mine.

If you would like a more detailed explanation as to why I made this shift and how it has positively affected my students, please see this post on Standards Based Assessment and visit this Performance Based Assessment board on Pinterest:

Does your Spanish class gradebook communicate student proficiency?

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter and get instant access to 150+ free resources for language teachers.

Subscribe Today