My Marking System for a Language Class Summarised.

“How do we mark kids in C.I. classes?” asks a C.I. newbie on the Yahoo listserv.  Assessment and evaluation are always hot topics.

First, definitions.  Assessment is observing how people are doing, and based on that observation

1. changing what you the teacher do and
2. giving students feedback in order to
3. improve student performance.

Assessment in a comprehensible input classroom means checking whether individual students (or the class) understand both statements and questions, and– if they don’t– clarifying. Weak choral responses?  No response?  Wrong answer?  Go back and clarify. The same goes for individual kids.  If Johnny can’t answer the question “What does ___ mean?”, go back and re-explain.  BOOM! that’s assessment.

Evaluation is assigning a number to student work based on a student’s performance in relation to standards (criteria).  This we do at the end of instruction (ie when a story cycle is done, or at the end of the year).

Second, principles.  If you havn’t been in-serviced about “assessment for learning,” google it, I can’t explain it all here, but let’s make three things SUPER CLEAR.

A.   We only evaluate “final products,” not practice, homework, behaviour, attitude, etc.   The long and the short of this surprisingly controversial statement is that we expect our kids to do X, Y and Z, and the mark we ultimately assign them at the end of Year ____ of Blablabian Language Class should reflect how well they do X, Y and Z, baseed on a set of criteria.  Whether or not Johnny is nice in class, and whether or not Suzy does her homework are irrelevant: what matters is how well they do in relation to criteria.

B.  We only evaluate what has been taught.  No random new vocab, no activities on tests the kids havn’t done, no gotcha! games etc.  You test what you teach, period.

C. We always let ppl re-do work so they can improve their mark. In my class, this means that their mark is always their most recent writing, reading and speaking mark.

Assessment should be fast, simple and minimal, because people learn from interesting comprehensible input and not from testing and feedback, and because teachers need to see their families & have a life 👍.  

Now, here is what I do.


My instruction is very loosely built around story cycles. I will ask a TPRS-style story, and add to that Movietalks, Intro Routine, Story Listening, Picturetalk, reading, etc. When we are “done” with one story and its associated vocab, I evaluate. Evaluation for a story cycle includes the following:

  1. Two listening quizzes. For this, I read a 5-7 sentence story that I make up on the spot aloud. The kids listen, write down the Spanish, and translate into English. This will be 33% of the story cycle mark. To evaluate these, they basically get a mark for getting the gist of each sentence. I don’t “grade spelling” unless the spelling makes their writing incomprehensible.
  2. One reading quiz. I will give the kids something to read, and get them to translate it. Whatever it is, it has to be 98% comprehensible. Usually, I will give kids a version of something we have created in class, or something similar to what we made in class. To evaluate this, I will randomly pick three sentences and see how well they understand. They will get a mark out of three.
  3. One Story Listening grade. I do Story Listening on Fridays. I get the kids to summarise a printed version of the story and hand that in.  They almost always get 2.5/3 or 3/3 on this. This goes into the reading category. If a story cycle takes more than a week, sometimes they get two SL grades added to their reading.
  4. One 5-min picture description write and one story write. This is how I mark writing.
  5. Other stuff: I can also grade comics for a reading mark. If we are reading a novel, I can copy a few sentences from a chapter and get the kids to translate that for a reading mark. You can easily get reading marks from Textivate, and I also use Sr Wooly scores sometimes for reading marks.

So, at the end of a story cycle, I will have two marks for writing, two for listening, and one or two for reading. Each category is worth 33.3% of grade. I print marks out & post them online.

Now, if kids have unexcused absences, or they didn’t do the comic or Q&A for stories, etc., they will get a much lower grade than they expect. If the grade is low, I tell the kid or their parent “Baninder is missing X, Y and Z. If she completes these next story cycle, she will probably get a higher grade.” So the kids know that the posted grade is their grade right now. They also know that they can change their grade by paying attention.

When the next story cycle starts, the gradebook resets.


In my course, the final exam is 100% of the mark. I tell kids and parents that their marks along the way are a rough indicator of how well they are doing.  At the end of the year, we do the following:

1. First class: they have a listening test where I read a longer story (15-20 sentences) aloud.  They have to write down the Spanish and translate. Then, we have a reading test: they get a written text they have never seen, and translate it into English. I randomly pick 5 sentences and grade those for each of reading & listening.

2. Second class: they have three writing tasks.  First, they have 5 min. to describe themselves.  Second, I project a picture, and they have 5 min. to describe the picture. Third, they have to write a story.

3.  For speaking, I do this.

After seven years of C.I., I have found this system clear, simple, low-work and low-stress for the kids. To sum up,

  • students are always marked on their most recent work
  • no oral evaluation for beginners
  • this is real “assessment for learning” where only final products are evaluated with reference to criteria
  • there is no marking of attitude, homework, participation, etc.  If kids screw around, or don’t work, I deal with it– but not by using marks as carrot or stick


  1. Mr. Stolz, I loved some of these ideas. I also use and love the comic idea, as in an illustration w/ captions to retell. It’s from my elementary days. I do think it’s cute that you call them “marks” -you adorable neighbor to the North.

    I am confused about the necessity of separate listening, writing, reading, and speaking assessments, as opposed to a more holistic assessment of language and/or literacy. Is this data you feel you can use to drive instruction, or just something your school requires?

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. I don’t have a way of assessing “holistically” or whatever. The marks program blends the 3 or 4 categories together to produce a mark.

      In a CI class, marks provide very little useful feedback to the teacher. The real feedback is comp checks esp. on barometer kids. If you figure out where meaning breaks down and then address that, and provide lots of CI, things tend to work out nicely.

      1. “In a CI class, marks provide very little useful feedback to the teacher.” Yes, that’s evident in the assessment instruments you are using. So why use those assessments? Could you not use the “real feedback” from comprehension checks you mentioned?

  2. You will obviously do formative “breakdown” assessments during the storytelling process. I suppose my question is why would the written/illustrated retell after the story is done–why would that not be enough to provide both grades and feedback on how well students understood a story that they listened to and read? This seems like a fair assessment that aligns to the instruction you used and allows students to respond to/interact with the language they heard and read in class.

    So why the additional speaking, writing, and listening test? Are those mandated in your school?

  3. A question about the TW rubric you linked to: the numbers at the top of the columns aren’t the points, are they? If they were, a student who is almost there would get a 75% (3/4 on each part). How do you translate those descriptors to numbers?

    1. They get a mark out of three for grammar and a % built on word count. A kid who gets 2/3 for grammar and 90/100 for words gets about 75%.

      Very few kids get less than 2/3 for grammar.

      1. Right, that’s your ongoing grading schema. I am interested in whether you have a rubric for that 3-point grammar score as well.

        But in the post’s section on final evaluation, you have a link to a Timed Writing Rubric from Kirstin Duncan that seems to have a scale of 1-4 (

        I was wondering whether those numbers were the actual points: if so, a student who:

        -met the word count
        -wrote in long compound sentences
        -made limited enough errors not to affect comprehension
        -used a variety of recent vocabulary

        would get 3/4 in each row, for a total of 12/16, or 75%, which seems a very low score for those descriptors.

        If they don’t indicate the points, then what are the numbers at the tops of the columns?

        Sorry to be unclear, and to keep pestering you about this. I’m just trying to move over to a consistent grading system to provide predictability and support for my students as I continue to move in a CI direction from a grammar focus.

        Thanks for your time and all your great posts here on what really makes for good language teaching!

      2. I’ll tet back to you in a few days. I have to go and re-read my own post!

        But one thing to keep in mind: eval. should be fast simple and as infrequent as possible. It does not help kids and it wastes teacher time.

  4. I waffle between your system and Lance’s. I did a year where only the last grade is in the grade book, no hw, and final exam overrides everything w retake if you want (nobody did). Grades were in line with work during the year, and I put estimated “proficiency level” in the report card notes.

    I loved it that the capable but manipulative scholarship athlete who was being moved through by admin who did not come to 1/3 of classes (w admin approval) passed the final (hence passed the class) because, apparently, he was getting input even though he minimally participated and had absences. But I was not satisfied when popular smart girl who distracted in class got an A, and hard-working slow-processor never moved beyond Novice Low+. I need to up my classroom management (call popular girl’s parents) and find more engaging material (but two kids just would not engage).

    HOWEVER, it also appeals to me that ALL students take ownership/accountability of their 50%. I can lead the horse to water – even give it soda – but I can’t make them drink it. The more input they receive, the more they will acquire – both popular smart girl and hardworking kid. If I make hw be input (rereading), and they “log” minutes and the pages read at home and during SSR (they can fib, but I can have a chat and check on that), if they are NOT distracting during class, (I do not worry about eye contact or body position), then they are doing their part to receive input, and that can boost slow-processor’s grade – not his or her fault what their processing speed is – and distracting smart kids should be getting more input and should not earn an A.

    This is a BIG dilemma for me and one I would love to resolve. I am open to all comments-arguments. Help solving this puzzle would be appreciated.

    1. Well everybody is diff. Slow processor is…a slow processor. Variability in ability is standard esp during the extremely limited time we have with kids. If they all do the same test, their results will show how much they acquired.

      1. I guess I unofficially do. I think that by Spanish 1 about 2/3 of my kids are at Novice High and 1/3 at Novice Mid. my 2s should all be at Int Low or Mid.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s