"Yaruki" points as part of a classmark

“Yaruki” (やる気), loosely translated means “one’s desire to do something, or one’s enthusiasm or drive”.

Dave Kees, http://davekees.blogspot.com/ has cleverly elicited three responses from me on the topic of how and why to use a classmark as part of my oral communication classes. I started calling students’ efforts they made in class, YARUKI POINTS, as a way to praise students. Here are my responses linked together:

1) I found this link by Christine Coombe http://exchanges.state.gov/forum/vols/vol42/no1/p18.html talking about portfolio marking, and plan to try it out in my EFL high school situation in Japan.

2) I’ve had tremendous success with a simple visual grid with student names on it this year. As soon as they saw me recording participation points next to their names, hands shot up all year.

The courses are “Oral Communication” (about 20 students)and therefore there is a premium placed on communicating. I welcome questions, follow-ups, and comments on what I or other students say in class. I also semi-regularly elicit error corrections and attempt to give non-verbal types the chance to collect points through written efforts. Whenever students participate they get credit for that. The students are told that their tests make up 60-70% of their grade and their classmark is 30-40% (depending on the class).

Of course, there are many ways to calculate a classmark. From objective formulas to subjective opinions, the classmark evolves from class to class. Say a typical class has a 30% classmark. I first present the classmark idea and explain my belief that learning should be a goal throughout the course, not just for the tests. I state in a loud voice that I believe that using English leads to more learning than simply studying “about” English.

Some components of the mark can include how many diaries they hand in (graded at 1 or 2 points each), how many participation stars (*s) they accumulate next to their name on my seating chart, how actively I’ve noted that they participate in pairwork or groupwork, how much effort I see and feel them making in class, etc.

The calculation can be general (pick a class average, say, 20/30 and mark each student up or down from the average) or it can be specific (using excel, breaking the classmark into various columns, and totaling their efforts). I have used both systems.

The whole classmark concept rests on the premise that you must get to know your students. I’m always trying to find ways to connect with them both inside and outside of class. Each time I get to know them a little more, it pays dividends in terms of classroom interaction, a relaxed, friendly study environment and, hopefully, learning opportunities.


4 thoughts on “"Yaruki" points as part of a classmark

  1. I’ve done something similar, but now I’m wondering about it. Why give a grade for participation? Does it make a difference if students know beforehand whether the teacher is grading on a curve (norm-referenced) or not? Are they “participating” because they fear failing, because they assume they are competing with their peers, because they are genuinely interested in learning?

    Another question I have (for myself) is whether a subjective “participation/attitude” score isn’t a cop-out because I can’t be bothered (or have failed adequately) to assess their actual competence?

    On the other hand, participation can be considered an important aspect of learning, especially in the light of Vygotsky’s ZPD theory. (see James Lantolf for further work on this).

    But… after reading this paper by David Jeffrey, I wonder, isn’t this just bribery? You could substitute the tokens with cookies, thousand-yen notes, or sex, and get pretty much guaranteed successful “results”. But is that what I want?

  2. My primary interest in using some sort of scoring system is in formative assessment.

    When I have a clear understanding of how they are doing then I have the ability to try to make my training more effective in two ways.

    First, are my students “getting it”? Am I helping them to learn what will be useful for them to know?

    Second, I can customize my training more to my students’ specific needs. I may not be able to give each student individual training (that ability and technology will be coming in the future) but I could segment the class. I want to know who is doing well and who is doing poorly.

    When I know this I can offer extra training to those who need extra help. What about students who are doing very well in the class? Sometimes there is an academic ceiling in the classroom. Bright students cannot go higher because the teacher is teaching to the “middle level” of the class. But if we know which students are doing very well and how many of them there are then we can focus on their needs better by providing extra challenge.

    Tracking this sort of information can be very useful in other ways, as of Action Research in the classroom. If you are monitoring many aspects of the student’s performance in the classroom and you have a student who always participates correctly, does the pairwork, groupwork, homework, listens and doesn’t goof off but does not seem to progress in their English from one term to the next then that would raise some very good questions for the teacher.

    Of course, finally, the data that is collected can help in summative assessment. The teacher does not need to simply rely on a final exam for a score. The teacher will have a multidimensional way to look at the students.

  3. The idea of grading “yaruki” is interesting. The next step should be to
    “operationalize” this – in other words, consider ways to make the desired
    traits explicit to both the teacher and instructor. This will enhance transcparency. One way is to consider an incentive point system for
    grading. I wrote a short article about an incentive point grading system
    I used in my class at http://www.tnewfields.info/Articles/game.htm.

    With highly motivated classes, there is seldom a need to award
    “yaruki” points, but in classes where many of the students are not
    motivated it might have value. The important point I would make
    is that if you are going to grade on “effort” communicate to students
    what that precisely means . . . unless the standard is clear and transparent,
    it has limited value.

  4. Thanks Tim,

    Your comments are well-taken. I’ve been working on exactly the idea that you had about clarifying what “effort” means. Transparency is the key.

    I’ve only spent 30 minutes reading through your homepage, but I’m suitably blown away… You’re a machine! I laughed out loud at your poem “Classroom”. I’m impressed that you’ve gotten so much actually finished and out to the masses.

    I’d love to talk with you sometime if you’re interested; we have many ideas and one employer (long ago) in common. I’d like to share some of the things I’m focusing on at the moment. Maybe I can pick your brain a little…

    If you are into skype, then it’s easiest to contact me. Thanks for the link to your homepage. I’ll be adding you to my blogroll for sure.



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