Category Archives: Planning

Musings on Unit Planning: Designing the Interpretive Tasks

As I described in this recent post on unit design, most of my lessons begin with an interpretive activity designed to introduce thematic vocabulary, targeted structures and/or cultural content via an authentic text. In most cases, this task is based on a written text that the students will interpret individually or in small groups.  In selecting texts, I look for those that are interesting, culturally-rich and comprehensible (with a little bit of “stretch” built in). These are the steps that I take to create my interpretive tasks.

Step 1a: Select the Written Text. Here’s a list of the types of texts I use most often.

  • Infographics Even Novice Low students can interpret a carefully chosen infographic because of the highly visual nature of these texts. At the Intermediate level, I sometimes ask my students to interpret an infographic as the basis of an interpersonal activity to follow. To find infographics I type in the word Infographie and the French word for my topic into Google Images.
  • Children’s books Texts written for French-speaking beginning readers are often comprehensible for Novice Mid-Novice High students.  Some of my favorite sources for these texts are Reading a-z (free trial), Il était une histoire (documentaires) and Du Plaisir à lire . Although only Il etait une histoire is free, I find the others are well worth the money I spend.  I also use stories from French elementary teacher’s blogs. A search on “tapuscript” on Google Images will reveal many such stories that are comprehensible to Novice Mid-High students.
  • Children’s and Teen’s magazines I have subscribed to Astrapi, Okapi and Phosphore in recent years (But only one at a time–these don’t come cheap!)  Depending on the article, Astrapi is often comprehensible for Novice High, Okapi for Intermediate Low and Phosphore for Intermediate Mid. I’ve also used some online content from GeoAdo in addition to the print copies that I have picked up in France.
  • 1jour1actu.com Depending on the article and my objective, I use these online articles with my Nov. High through Intermediate Mids.  A search on a key word related to my current theme usually yields several articles and/or videos.
  • Petit Nicolas I have incorporated several Petit Nicolas stories into my curriculum over the years and the students continue to enjoy them.  The books are available for purchase and many of the stories can be found online.  Audio recordings can also be found, as well as cartoon videos that are loosely based on individual stories.
  • Google. Of course the majority of the resources I use come from Google searches.  I have found that adding “expliqué aux enfants” to the term I am searching sometimes yields results that are comprehensible to my Novices.
  • Pinterest. I depend on Pinterest to curate authentic resources shared by French teachers from around the world.  Feel free to check out my boards (madameshepard)

Step 1b: Select a Recorded Text. Some of my lessons incorporate either a written or a recorded text, while others include both.  These are the recorded texts I use most often:

  • Cartoons. For my Novice Mids – Novice Highs, I rely heavily on cartoons for interpretive listenings.  Of the series I use regularly, I find that Trotro is the most comprehensible, followed by Petit Ours Brun, T’choupi et Doudou Toupie et Binou and TomTom et Nana. I’ve also used short stories from Les Belles Histoires de Pomme d’Api with Intermediate Lows. There are, of course, dozens of other cartoon series available on Youtube–I just haven’t had a chance to explore them all!
  • Other. For the Intermediates, other than the previously mentioned 1jour1question series, I rely on the search function on YouTube to find videos on my chosen topic.  

Step 2: Create an Interpretive Task. After collecting several comprehensible, culturally-rich and high-interest authentic texts, I develop the formative assessment that will guide the students’ interpretation of these texts. Here are the formats that I use most often.

  1. Written Texts
  • IPA Template. When I first began implementing IPAs, I used this template for nearly all of my interpretive assessments.  By using this format for my formative assessments, I ensure that my students will be practicing and receiving feedback on the same types of tasks that they will perform on the summative assessments.  (Click here for an example from a recent unit.) However, this format does take some time to create as well as considerable class time to complete.Furthermore, providing whole class feedback requires extensive use of English.  Therefore, while I continue to use the template occasionally for formative assessments, I’ve added other formats to my teacher toolbox.
  • True/False Statements with Justification. An advantage of this format is that it can be used with students at all different levels of proficiency.  While I have occasionally used English sentences for my Novices, I prefer writing the statements in  French for all learners, as doing so encourages the students to collaborate in French as well as allows me to stay in the target language when providing whole class feedback. This format works equally well with both literal and inferential question types and is appropriate for both fiction and non-fiction texts. An additional advantage is that since I am writing the statements, I can incorporate targeted structures, (such as the use of the passé composé in these statements) that did not exist in the original text. Because this question type is common on the French IB test that some of my students will take, I think it is important to provide many opportunities for them to practice them.
  • Graphic Organizers.  Venn diagrams, story maps, cause-effect diagrams and various types of webs can be used to demonstrate comprehension of texts and the relationships of ideas found within them. Unfortunately, I don’t use them as often as I should as it is impractical for me to provide timely feedback due to the creative/individualized nature of the responses.  I do, however, often use graphic organizers as a pre-interpersonal communication task–more about incorporating this mode in my next post!
  • Cornell Notes. I was unfamiliar with this type of note-taking format until I learned that a colleague was successfully using it with her upper level students. I am looking forward to incorporating this note-taking format to both assess reading comprehension and as a springboard to small group discussions. Although I found many types of Cornell Note-taking diagrams on Google, this is the one I’m going to try first with my Intermediate Mids.
  • Multiple Choice.  On the summative assessments I create for my Intermediate Mid – High students I try to replicate the multiple choice/short answer questions that they will encounter on their high stakes AP or IB tests.  Although I find these questions very difficult to write well, I think it’s important that the students be familiar with these formats.  I have found that requiring the students to underline relevant sections in the text helps to reduce the “multiple guessing” of easily frustrated students.
  1. Recorded Texts
  • Edpuzzle For the past year I have been relying heavily on Edpuzzle for interpretive listening formative assessments, especially for my Novices.  Because each student has a Chromebook, s/he is able to listen as many times as necessary to the relevant section of the video before answering each question. Because I usually create multiple choice questions, the students receive immediate feedback. (Click here for an example.) The questions that I design for my Novice Mids primarily require them to identify familiar vocabulary in the dialogue or make inferences based on the visual content. I also introduce some new lexical items by providing the sentence in which the word occurs and asking the students to use context clues to determine the most likely meaning of the new (underlined) word.  
  • Picture Matching When incorporating cartoons with my Novices, I often create a matching activity for the students to work on cooperatively after watching the video. For these activities (example) I take several screenshots of scenes from the video and then copy and paste them into cells on a table I’ve created.  For each image I write a sentence that narrates what is happening/happened at that point in the video  I then print the table on cardstock and cut out the individual squares to create a manipulative activity.  The students work with a partner to put the pictures in chronological order and then match the appropriate sentence to each picture.  While this is not a pure assessment of listening comprehension (students must also read the sentences to complete the task), it is a meaningful follow up to watching the video which also provides a springboard to interpersonal communication as the students negotiate to complete the task. The task also allows for repeated exposure to the vocabulary and structures from the video, albeit in a written form.
  • Graphic Organizer. For my Intermediate students I often create a graphic organizer, such as this table, to assess listening comprehension. By providing opportunities for students to fill in both main ideas and supporting details I am able to differentiate these formative assessments for my mixed (French ⅘) classes.
  • True/False with Justification. I find this format is also appropriate for assessing listening comprehension, especially with Intermediates.  Click here for an example.
  • Multiple Choice in the Target Language.  While I wrote multiple choice questions to assess listening when preparing my students for the AP test (example) in the past, I found the process arduous.  Replicating the AP question types required avoiding the vocabulary from the original text when writing responses (and logical detractors), determining logical inferences,  identifying authors’ perspectives and other cognitively demanding and time-consuming tasks. While I will no doubt find myself creating some type of multiple choice questions when the IB test begins incorporating listening comprehension in a couple of years, for now I’m content to use more open-ended question types.

While I have found these tasks to be effective in developing my students’ interpretive skills, I’m looking forward to incorporating a greater variety of activities in the future.  If you have any ideas, please share in the comments so that we can all learn from you!

In a Nutshell: 5 Steps to Designing a Thematic Unit

As a result of several recent questions by members of my PLN who are beginning their journey to a more proficiency-based methodology, I have created this outline of the steps I take when creating a thematic unit. While I am planning a series of posts with more detailed information about each step, I’ve included basic information about the process I use, as well as an agenda with resources for an Intermediate Low unit on vacations, in this post.

Step 1: Determine what I want the students to be able to do at the end of the unit and write a Can-Do statement for each mode of communication. Because ACTFL has not yet released their new version of the Can-Do Statements, I based these Can-Do’s on the current benchmarks. These statements are based on the Intermediate Low descriptors, which is my targeted performance level for these students.

  • Interpersonal Communication: I can participate in conversations about vacations using simple sentences.
  • Presentational Speaking: I can present information on a vacation using a series of simple sentences.
  • Presentational Writing: I can write briefly about a vacation using a series of simple sentences.
  • Interpretive Listening: I can understand the main idea in short, simple messages and presentations about vacations.
  • Interpretive Reading: I can understand the main idea of short and simple texts about vacations.

Step 2: Create the Integrated Performance Assessment. For an in-depth explanation of how I design IPA’s, please refer to this previous post. In short, I 1) Select an authentic written and/or recorded resource, 2) Create a comprehension guide based on the ACTFL IPA template, 3) Create an interpersonal task based on the authentic text and 4) Create a presentational writing and/or speaking task based on the authentic resource and interpersonal task.

Step 3:  Identify the structures, vocabulary and skills the students need in order to demonstrate the targeted proficiency level on the IPA.  In this unit, I determined that the students would need to learn/acquire the following language, structures and content.

  • Vocabulary related to the topic of vacations.  This would include terms for vacation activities, lodging, transportation, etc. While these students will be familiar with some leisure activities that are part of a typical vacation, a greater variety of vocabulary will allow for more detailed performances.
  • The ability to use past tenses to describe vacations they have taken. While these students used some past tenses in French 2, they will need lots of exposure and practice to be able to use these structures, albeit with expected errors, on these performances. Because the descriptor, “I can usually talk about events and experiences in various time frames” is part of the Intermediate High benchmark,   it will be some time before I will expect these students to easily use these structures. However, by providing opportunities for students to use past tenses in a variety of contexts in this unit I am preparing them to eventually reach this level of proficiency.
  • Cultural background on French products, practices and perspectives.  Because I assess my students’ cultural competence as part of each mode of communication, it is important that they have adequate preparation in determining these aspects of culture throughout the unit.

Step 4. Create a series of lessons that will allow the students to demonstrate the targeted proficiency level on the IPA. Having determined the students’ needs in terms of vocabulary, structures and content, I create individual lessons designed to fill these gaps. These lessons will provide the students with multiple exposures to the targeted vocabulary and structures as well as learning activities that will allow the students to practice/receive feedback on their use of these structures. Here is a simple explanation of the steps that I usually take in designing each individual lesson for a thematic unit. 

A. Determine an organizational structure for the lessons. Based on the theme of a given unit, there are many ways to break the topic into smaller subtopics to provide an integrated structure for individual lessons.  In general, I find it works best to begin with lessons that will provide general information on the topic before focusing on more specific details. So in this case, I began with lessons focusing on general vacation practices and then added tasks related to specifics such as beach destinations, vacation activities, traveling with friends, camping vacations and packing for vacation. Because I curate authentic resources on Pinterest boards for each unit that I teach, I often begin the process of creating subtopics by looking at the resources I already have, and grouping them according to subtopic. This saves a considerable amount of time compared to choosing subtopics and then finding appropriate resources. (Of course, I end up searching for additional resources after I have a skeleton of the unit design.)

B. Create a hook for the lesson.  I choose an authentic written or recorded text to present at the beginning of each lesson.  Presenting simple texts such as infographics or short videos allows me to provide comprehensible input as I talk about the information in the text and ask personalized questions incorporating the vocabulary, structure and content of the text. Click here for a transcript of a sample discussion during the hook portion of the first lesson in this unit based on this infographic.

C. Design an interpretive activity for the lesson. I choose an authentic resource that the students will read or listen to and create a corresponding learning activity/formative assessment that will allow the students to interact with this text.  While I will go into greater detail about this aspect of lesson design in a future post, you will find several different examples in this and other units in this blog. In my opinion, this is the most important part of each lesson, as it provides the basis of the interpersonal and presentational activities that follow.  In addition, because I don’t use a textbook in my classroom, the authentic resources used in the hook and interpretive activities provide the vocabulary and some structures that the students will use in their performance assessments. Note: You will notice that most of the authentic resources used for the interpretive activities in this unit are written texts. In order to ensure that my students have adequate opportunities to interpret recorded texts, I’ve included several video-based formative assessments (using Edpuzzle) that the students will complete in class or at home throughout the unit.

D. Construct an interpersonal activity based on the content, vocabulary and/or structures in the authentic resource. The interpersonal activity provides students with an opportunity to use the vocabulary and structures that were introduced in the authentic resource to create their own meaning.  In addition, as they negotiate meaning on these tasks they are practicing the skills they will use on the IPA with additional scaffolding. Based on the authentic resource and the targeted proficiency level, I incorporate a variety of different types of interpersonal activities.  At the novice level, I often focus on vocabulary-building activities such as those described in this post or even this one. As students reach the Intermediate level and are able to create more with the language, I often integrate interpersonal and interpretive activities by having the students co-create graphic organizers (such as in the 1st and 2nd lesson in this unit) or discuss responses on target language interpretive assessments.

E. Devise a presentational writing and/or speaking formative assessment. These activities provide the students with scaffolded opportunities to synthesize the vocabulary and structures introduced in the lesson to create a written or oral product. The scaffolding provided in these formative assessments, as well as the individualized feedback I will give on many of these tasks, will provide the support the students need to demonstrate growth in proficiency on the IPA. Note: While I have included an idea for a written or spoken presentational task for each lesson, it is unlikely that time will permit me to actually assign all of these tasks.  Instead, I will choose from among those tasks as time allows.

Step 5: Administer and assess the IPA. Because the format of the IPA mimics the organizational structure of the lessons in the unit, the students should feel confident in their ability to be successful on this assessment.

Stay tuned for additional posts on each step of the lesson design and let me know if you have any questions!

Image Credit: http://maxpixel.freegreatpicture.com/Peanut-Shell-Nutshell-Peanut-Shell-Nuts-Nut-390081

Starting off on the right foot: Using the language and getting to know each other

footAs many of you know, I relocated over the summer and will be teaching in a new school this year. After spending the last 15 years in a building where August meant mostly reconnecting with my former students (only the Freshmen were new to me each year), in a couple of weeks I will welcome about 150 brand-new faces to my classroom. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared to death! As a relatively introverted, somewhat anxious person, the challenge of learning a whole new school culture, finding my way around a humongous new school, and connecting with all of those new students is nearly overwhelming.  

While I have pledged to be patient with myself when it comes to finding my way around my school and its policies, getting to know my students simply can’t wait.  Therefore, I’ll spend the first few days of school on learning activities that will help me learn more about my students, as well as introduce them to the types of communicative activities I’ll be assigning to help them increase their proficiency.  Here’s what I have in mind for each of the classes I’ll be teaching:

French 2 In this class the students will be introducing themselves to the class by presenting a self-portrait.

Day 1 I’ll show the students these self-portraits from TV5Monde. As I project each one, I’ll facilitate class discussion by asking the students questions about what they see, as well as personalized questions using the same vocabulary.  I’ve prepared this handout as a reference as I’m not sure whether they will have been introduced to the vocabulary required for these tasks. Next, the students will listen to these descriptions (Darius, Cheryl, Deivan Anastasia and complete this comprehension guide. (I’ve chosen to provide the students with direct links to the mp3 files rather than the TV5Monde website so that they do not have access to the transcripts.) For homework the students will prepare (and submit electronically) a self-portrait (drawing, painting, phone selfie).

Day 2 First the students to write out a script for presenting their self-portraits. As they are writing I will circulate and provide feedback.  Next, the students will present their self-portrait to classmates using inside/outside circles. Finally the students will compare self-portraits with a partner and complete a Venn diagram with details they discuss.  

French 3 In this class the students will be introducing themselves to the class by presenting 10 things about themselves.  

Day 1 The students will work in small groups to read this blog and complete this comprehension guide.  Then they will answer the same questions in the space provided.  Finally, they will circulate among their classmates, asking questions in order to find a classmate who has the same answer for each question.  

Day 2 The students will listen to this video and fill in this comprehension guide. I’ll then play the video and facilitate a class discussion by discussing what Benji says and asking personalized questions based on his information. Lastly, the students will write a script for their own “10 Things” presentation which will be submitted for feedback before being recorded.  

French 4/5 In this class the students will be introducing themselves by preparing a presentation on 12 things they have done.  

Day 1 The students will listen to this video (Note: 7/10/17. This video is no longer available.) and fill in this comprehension guide. I’ll then play the video and discuss it so that students have feedback on their comprehension.

Day 2 The students will read this blog and fill in this comprehension guide, which they will then discuss in small groups.

Day 3 The students will write a script for their own presentation of 12 things they have done.  They will then trade papers with a classmate who will fill out this feedback form. The students will then revise their scripts, which will be graded according to this rubric. For homework the students will record a video of their own presentation and submit it via Schoology. For the next day’s homework, the students will listen to three of their classmates’ videos and respond to each one with a comment and follow up question.

It is my hope that these activities will help me get to know my new students as create a focus for using the language from Day 1.  If you have other suggestions about how you achieve these goals with your students, please share!

Resources for Planning and a Food Unit for Intermediate Low French Students

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As regular readers may have noticed, I ended up taking a hiatus from blogging this spring.  It all started when I welcomed an awesome student teacher to my classroom who was so well-skilled in proficiency-based instructional methods that I didn’t need to create any new lessons for several weeks. Then I decided to relocate closer to family, creating a whirlwind of life changes which including finding a new position, selling a house, buying a new house, moving and setting up a new household.  Needless to say, I had to put aside my blogging for a few months!  However, now that I’m settled into my new home I’m anxious to share some of the materials I’ve been working on for my new students.

Creating units for students that I’ve never met, in a school with a different curriculum and culture than the one I left has been a bit of a challenge.  Although I don’t know much about the proficiency level or personal interests of my new students, I can’t wait until August to begin preparing instructional materials for my new kiddos.

Besides, reading Chapter 1 of The Keys to Planning for Learning for #langbook has me thinking about all of the ways I can improve my planning and I’m excited to start implementing some of the ideas that are reinforced in this book.

I decided to start with my French 3 curriculum, since I will have three different French classes this year–half of my school day.  In addition to reading The Keys to Planning for Learning, I completed the self-assessment survey provided by the TELL Project before developing this unit.  As a result of this self-assessment, I realized I needed to be more intentional in developing daily objectives for my lessons. Although I had previously created Can Do Statements for each unit, I hadn’t provided my students with a clear objective for each lesson.  I have therefore included daily performance objectives in addition to the Essential Questions and Can Do Statements for this unit.  

Because the first theme in my new French 3 curriculum, “Nourriture,” is so broad, I have broken it down into three topics–breakfast, school lunch, and Francophone specialties. This Google Slide Presentation contains the unit plan as well as links to the materials I’ve created/borrowed for each of the 19 lessons in the unit.I am hoping that this format will improve transitions, encourage the students to work more independently and allow absent students to complete work from home. It will also facilitate sharing this work as I can continue to make edits/correct errors without having to reload word documents to this blog. While I’ve previously shared some of these materials, many others are new, including several Edpuzzle video quizzes that will serve as formative assessments in the 1:1 learning environment of my new school.  

While I have not included assessments in the presentation, you can click here for the breakfast IPA and here for the school lunch IPA. As the agenda shows, the students will prepare a presentation, rather than a full IPA as a summative assessment on the Francophone specialty topic.

 

As always, I welcome feedback on these materials!

 

Image Credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Italian_cooking_icon.svg?uselang=fr

 

Integrating Culture – Step 1: Essential Questions

globeAs the World Language teachers in my district continue to work on revising our curriculum, one of our most important goals is to be more purposeful in teaching our students the products, practices and perspectives of the cultures who speak the languages we teach.  In Ohio, where I teach, the role of culture in communication is made clear by the inclusion of an interculturality component in both the performance and proficiency rubrics.  As a result of this week’s lively discussion on #langchat, I have realized that my local colleagues and I are not alone in our desire to more fully integrate culture in spite of the challenges inherent in doing so.

While it is clear that cultural knowledge plays an important role in communication, we face certain difficulties as we strive to develop culturally rich lessons for our students.  Designing units that address the breadth of our target cultures, are accessible to learners across proficiency levels, and are respectful of our students’ own varied cultural backgrounds is not an easy undertaking.  While designing our lessons around authentic resources helps us to infuse our lessons with relevant cultural information, it is often challenging to find appropriate materials that reflect Francophone cultures outside of Europe and North America. As a result, we must sometimes choose between the authenticity of the texts we select as sources of linguistic input and the diversity of the cultural information we present to our students. Furthermore, novice students, whose communicative proficiency may be limited to expressing their own basic needs,  may not be able to adequately represent their knowledge of the target culture in the target language. Lastly, the lack of a common culture among our diverse students sometimes makes cultural comparisons nearly impossible.

In spite of these challenges, there is no doubt that it is our responsibility to develop our students’ cultural competence.  As a first step to improving my own practices in this area, I looked over this year’s course outlines for my French 1, 2, and 3 classes and listed some cultural essential questions that are addressed by the instructional activities I’ve planned for each one.  (I’ve slightly modified the topics since my initial reflection in this post.)  For each unit, I identified a general essential question for the topic, as well as some more specific questions that will be answered in the authentic resources I’ve chosen for the unit. While most of the resources I’ve used in the past reflected mostly French culture, my first goal will be to incorporate more materials from other Francophone cultures in order to more fully address these essential questions.

French 1

  1. Why is it important to learn French?
  • Who speaks French?
  • How do French people greet each other?
  1. What is school like in a Francophone country?
  • What school supplies do students need?
  • How and where do students get their school supplies?
  • What classes do kids take in Francophone countries?
  1. How do people in Francophone cultures spend their free time?
  • How much leisure time to people have?
  • What sports, games and hobbies are popular?
  • What role does technology play in leisure activities?
  1. What are families like in Francophone cultures?
  • What members of a family live together?
  • How common are divorce and blended families?
  • What are the roles of each member of the family?
  • What role do pets play in the family?
  1. What is a year like in different Francophone cultures?
  • What is the weather like at different times of the year?
  • How does the weather affect people’s activities?
  • What major holidays are celebrated throughout the year and how are they celebrated?
  1. What are mealtimes like in Francophone countries?
  • When do people eat each meal?
  • What do people eat at each meal?
  • Where do people eat each meal?
  1. Where do people in the Francophone culture live?
  • What are their homes like?
  • What are their neighborhoods like?
  • Where do they go for various activities?
  • Where might a visitor to their area go and why?

French 2

  1. What is a typical day like for teenagers in different Francophone countries?
  • When do they wake up, how, and why?
  • What do they do after school and why?
  • When do they go to bed and how do they fall asleep?
  1. What do Francophone teens do with their friends?
  • What do they do when they get together at someone’s house?
  • What do they do when they go out together?
  1. How do people in Francophone cultures buy their food?
  • Where do they go to buy food?
  • What ecological and nutritional values are reflected in their shopping habits?
  • What dishes are commonly prepared at home?
  1. How do people in Francophone cultures stay healthy?
  • Where do people go for health care?
  • What role does exercise play in their daily lives?
  • What diseases cause the most concern?
  1. What are schools like in Francophone cultures?
  • What are relationships between students and teachers like?
  • What role do parents play in the education of their children?
  • What are the relationships among the students like?
  1. What was it like to live in a castle?
  • How were castles built?
  • Who lived in castles?
  • How did a boy become a knight?
  • How did castles evolve?
  • What did people do for fun during medieval times?
  1. What are some things you can do for fun in Quebec?
  • What is there to do in Montreal?
  • What do you need if you want to go camping in a provincial park?
  • What role did the French play in Canadian history?

French 3

  1. What role does travel play in Francophone culture?
  • Where do people go on vacation?
  • With whom do they travel?
  • What vacation activities are popular?
  1. How have educational reforms affected Francophone schools?
  • How are students graded?
  • What high stakes tests do students take?
  • When do students go to school?
  1. How do people form romantic relationships in Francophone cultures?
  • What role does dating play in forming a relationship?
  • What role does marriage play in the culture?
  • Who has the right to marry?
  • What is a marriage ceremony like?
  1. What role do sports play in Francophone culture?
  • What sports are popular in various countries?
  • What teams are popular?
  • What Francophone athletes play in the U.S.?
  • What athletic competitions are important?
  1. What is Impressionism?
  • How did Impressionism develop?
  • Who are the major artists associated with the movement?
  • How did Impressionists influence later artists?
  1. What are the ecological challenges in some Francophone countries?
  • What do people do to conserve resources?
  • How do economic factors influence conservation efforts in various countries?
  • What animals are endangered?
  1. What was France like during prehistoric times?
  • How did early humans live?
  • What prehistoric sites can people visit?
  • How are characters from ancient cultures portrayed in literature?

I have a long way to go before I will be satisfied with the degree to which I’ve integrated the diversity of Francophone culture in my instructional practices, but this list of essential questions will give me someplace to start.  I’d love to know more about how you integrate culture into your classroom, as well as authentic resources you’ve used to adress any of these topics as they related to French speakers outside of France and Canada.

How a little bird helped me with a challenging Can-Do

twitter-312464_640Last summer, when I decided to ditch my textbooks and develop a proficiency-oriented curriculum, I didn’t know for sure exactly what themes I would end up including.   Like many of you, I teach one or more French 1, 2, 3, and 4/5/AP classes per day, so I had to be satisfied with creating one unit at a time during my first year with this new course design. At the beginning of the year, I knew only that I would be choosing a theme for each unit, and would then create learning activities around that theme that would address at least one NCSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statement for each mode of communication. While I was nervous about having enough time to curate the resources and develop the learning experiences that my students would need, I wasn’t overly concerned about “what” to teach.  By planning lessons that addressed each of the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do statements, I felt I would be providing my students with what they needed to reach their proficiency goals.  This allowed me to focus on choosing themes that would interest my students and for which I was able to find an adequate number of authentic written and recorded texts. Although it was a challenging year in terms of time management, it was a rewarding one as well.  The majority of my students demonstrated proficiency at the expected or higher level and seemed to enjoy the class.  In fact, there was a significant increase in enrollment (due, undoubtedly, to many different factors).

So, as I reflected on last year while preparing for this one, I was feeling pretty satisfied with the curricula I had developed. I was confident that the thematic units I had created had allowed my students to meet each of the Can-Do’s multiple times, so I just needed to do a quick double-check as I wrote out my outline for this year. Since they’re first in the Can-Do document, I started with Novice High Interpersonal Communication Can-Do’s when I was preparing my French 2 outline. I can exchange some personal information. Check—they’ve been doing that since French 1.  I can exchange information using texts, graphs, or pictures. No problem here.  Many of my lessons are organized around an infographic that the students interpret and then discuss.  We also read and discuss illustrated stories and the students do lots of picture-based interpersonal activities, like “Guess Who” games, “Same/Different” activities, “Matching Pictures,” and picture sequencing activities to review stories or videos. I’ve definitely got that one covered. Next came, I can ask for and give simple directions. Piece of cake, they learn how to give directions in French 1, and the picture description activities ensure that the students maintain this skill.  Only two more Interpersonal Can-Do’s and I could move on. I can make plans with others. What??? Hmmm. I must have done something last year that addressed this one. So I checked out the examples given, hoping they would jog my memory:

  • I can accept or reject an invitation to do something or go somewhere.
  • I can invite and make plans with someone to do something or go somewhere.
  • I can exchange information about where to go, such as to the store, the movie theatre, a concert, a restaurant, the lab, or when to meet.

Nope. I couldn’t think of a single learning activity I had created that would allow my students to meet this Can-Do.  So, I prayed that no one would alert the proficiency police and then started planning how I could make sure to include this Can-Do in this year’s curriculum. (Fortunately, I’d addressed the final Novice High Interpersonal Communication Can-Do, I can interact with others in everyday situations, in a unit on grocery shopping and another on health, so I didn’t have any other unfortunate surprises.)

Unfortunately, introducing the skill of inviting and accepting or rejecting invitations proved to be more challenging than I had expected.  I just couldn’t come up with an authentic resource that would give my students enough comprehensible input with the phrases that are typically used for these language functions.  Fortunately, around this same time I came across this great post  and as I surfed around their fabulous blog I saw several references to the use of Twitter as an authentic resource.  While many of you have no doubt been using Twitter with your students for ages, I only got my own account a couple of years ago in order to stay in touch with my son. In fact, I didn’t follow anyone else until I was introduced to #langchat a few months ago.  As a result of my own lack of experience with this particular social medium, I hadn’t yet explored Twitter as an authentic resource that could be used with my students. I wondered whether this medium might provide the type of comprehensible input I was looking for.

Since I wasn’t exactly sure where to begin in planning my first Twitter lesson, I simply logged into my Twitter account and typed in “Si tu veux, on peut” as I felt this would be a useful phrase for extending invitations.  Lo and behold, I immediately had dozens of recent tweets to choose from, each which contained this expression used in an authentic context.  I simply chose those tweets that were 1) comprehensible, 2) interesting, 3) culturally relevant, and 4) school-appropriate and then copied (using the snip tool) and pasted them into a Word document.  I then did additional searches for “Ca te dit de..” and “si on allait”” so that my students would become familiar with these expressions, too.  The students will read these tweets at the beginning of the lesson on invitations, and complete a simple interpretive activity.  I think this activity will be engaging to students due to its authenticity and connection with their own daily lives. They may or may not notice the lack of accuracy in the language used, but if they do I will use this teachable moment to discuss the register of language used in social media.

After reading these tweets, the students will then write tweets of their own to the other members of their group using these invitation expressions. I will provide them with an authentic resource which includes common texting abbreviations, so that the students can incorporate these abbreviations in their own tweets. Having practiced reading and writing invitations, I will then introduce the students to expressions used in accepting and rejecting invitations with another group of tweets. After reading these tweets, they will return to the tweets that were written to them by their classmates, and either accept or reject each one.

After this introduction to the language used in invitations, the students will complete an interpersonal speaking activity in which they extend several invitations to a partner who accepts or rejects each one as they fill out an agenda for a weekend together.  They will then complete a presentational writing activity in which they write a series of tweets between themselves and another student, inviting him/her to participate in the activities from the agenda.

Click here for the resource I created for this lesson: Twitter Invitation Lesson

Since developing this lesson, I’ve done several other Twitter searches for upcoming units and I’m really excited about how this authentic resource can be used with students.  I’d love to hear how any of you have incorporated Twitter into your classrooms!

5 Steps to Implementing Learning Stations in the Language Classroom

station folderMy readers asked such great questions about learning stations after my recent post, that I decided to write up a quick “How To” for those who are new to learning stations.  In this previous post  I commented on some of the reasons why I find learning stations to such a valuable teaching tool.  Today, I’ll just mention a few practical considerations. These are the steps I suggest when designing learning stations.

Step 1: Decide how many stations you’re going to have.   In some cases your resources will determine the number of stations you must have.  In my classroom, I have eight computers (including mine).  Because I like to include a computer station, I can never have groups larger than 8.  This means that if I have more than 32 students, I must have at least 5 stations.

Step 2: Determine the maximum number of students you will have in each group. (In other words, divide the number of students in the class by the number of stations.) This step is important because it will help you determine how many sets of materials you will need at each station.  I usually organize my stations according to language skill, sometimes with a game or computer station thrown in. Some of my station activities are done with a partner (such as the speaking) or a small group (some of the games), so I need to have the appropriate number of manipulatives for the number of groups.  For example, in the French I introductory unit, I will have about 8 students in each group.  I’ve instructed them to divide into groups of 2-3 for the games, so I will need at least 3 sets of each card game that I’ve created (if there’s only one game at the station).  If there is more than one game, the subgroups might be playing different games, so you might not need 3 sets of each one.  However, keep in mind that if there is more than one activity at the same station, the students will not finish at the same time, so you need to have a couple of extra sets. For example, if a group of 8 is divided into 3 groups (3 + 3 + 2) to play Go Fish, Memory, and Loto, it would not be enough to have one set of each game.  The Go Fish group might finish before the Memory and Loto groups, and would not have anything to do.  Stations work great for engaging students, until someone doesn’t have work to do.  I usually have a few enrichment activities, but students will resist starting something else when they know that they can play a game in 2-3 minutes.   Three minutes is a lot of time!  My students tease me for my now famous saying, “You still have 3 minutes, that’s 16% of our class period.”

Step 3: Decide the logistics.  In this French I unit, I wanted to spend only 2 days on each mini-lesson and I wanted to have some time to introduce the vocabulary at the beginning of the first day as well as a formative assessment at the end of the second day.  As a result, I determined that I would have 30 minutes per day to spend on stations. Therefore, I planned four 15-minute stations that would be completed over a 2-day period.  At other times, I create 48-minute stations and the students will do one per day for 4 days.  Note that it is vital for logistical purposes that kids stay in the same group every day and that the order of rotation is decided in advance and remains unchanged. For example, if on the first rotation Group A is Speaking, Group B is Reading, Group C is Playing, and Group D is at the computer, then on the second rotation, they each group moves one, so Group A is Reading, Group B is Playing, Group C is at the Computer and Group D is Speaking.  On the third rotation, they will move in this same order.  Once I have assigned each student to his/her first station, I usually just have them follow the order in the packet, with the understanding that when they get to the last station, they’ll go to the first one.  Another logistical consideration is absent students.  I usually tell them to join their group on their return, and schedule time for them to make up missed station work, so that I don’t end up with too many kids at one station.  The problem, of course, is if they missed the Speaking Station.  If I’m using the Speaking Station for formative assessment purposes, I might have an absent student move out of order if I won’t max out the number of students in a group.

Step 4: Design the station activities.  Stations allow me to implement so many resources that I wouldn’t be able to use otherwise, so I try to take full advantage of the fact that I don’t need 30 copies of any materials I use.  Authentic books and games, realia, teacher-created or purchased manipulatives, etc. can all be incorporated into stations.  I try to create more activities than I think the students will have time to complete, in order to avoid downtime (see above.) I also suggest organizing the materials in a way that increases time on task.  For the computer activities, I put all of the links on Canvas (learning management system) so the students can just click on the links. The materials for each of the other stations are in a folder labeled with the name of the station.  For the Speaking and/or Game station, each set of manipulatives is in a baggie which is labeled with the name of the activity.  (Hint: Make each set a different color so that if you find a card that isn’t in a baggie, you know which set it belongs to.) Keep in mind that each group will be starting with a different station, so the stations can’t be dependent on each other.  In other words, you can’t have the Writing students write about something they read at the Reading station, because some students will be at Writing before Reading.

station folders    manips

Step 5: Create your groups.  Depending on your own objectives, you might choose more homogenous or heterogeneous grouping.   I do try to have even-numbered groups when possible.  This allows everyone to have a partner at the speaking station (unless someone is absent).  Therefore, I might have a group of 8 and one of 6, rather than two groups of 7.  I usually try to have students work with students other than those they are seated near during station time so that they can get to know each other.  As a practical matter, I like to use the Popsicle sticks that I make with students’ names to organize them into groups before the first station day.  It helps me to visualize the personalities in my groups if I have this manipulative.

I hope this post has cleared up some of the questions that people had.  If not, keep those questions coming and I can address them in a future post!

 

 

 

Thoughts on Themes

thinkerAs I continue to reflect on curriculum planning, I’ve done a lot of thinking about the role of thematic units in proficiency-based instruction.  Although most of us seem to have designed our curriculum around themes, this organizational structure is not specific to proficiency-based methodologies.  Most of the textbooks I have used during my 27-year career have been divided into chapters, each of which addressed a different theme.  The difference, of course, was that themes were used to introduce a specific set of prescribed vocabulary and structures.  Rather than providing a context for students to increase their ability to use the language to express their own needs, interests, and connections to other curricular content, most of these textbooks provided non-contextualized exercises designed to increase accuracy on the structures and vocabulary that were presented.

In a proficiency-based classroom, where the focus is on what the students can do with the language, our lessons might not actually need to be organized around specific themes.  We could simply create a series of lessons based on various high-interest authentic written or recorded resource that were rich in cultural content and appropriate to the proficiency of our students. If we then created interpretive, interpersonal and presentational learning tasks based on these resources (and aligned with the level-appropriate Can-Do Statements), I think our students would probably show the same growth in proficiency as they do in a theme-based curriculum.

I imagine, however, that most of us (myself included) will continue to develop our curricula around a series of thematic units for several reasons. The main reason is that we need an organization structure that breaks big ideas (unit themes) into smaller parts (lessons) in order to meet our planning and assessment needs. Because I use the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can Do Statements to guide my instruction, I need to know at the beginning of the year that I will be addressing each of the statements that correspond to the targeted proficiency level one or more times throughout the course of instruction.  In addition, my administration, students and parents expect to see some type of course outline at the beginning of the year.  While I think it is vital that these stakeholders understand that the overarching goal of each course is to meet proficiency goals, it is also valuable to share the thematic content of the course.  Students are excited to see what they’ll be learning and look forward to the units that most appeal to their own individual interests.

Thematic units also enable us to meet our schools’ expectations in terms of student evaluation.  By organizing a series of lessons around a common theme, there is a natural point at which the summative Integrated Performance Assessment is administered.  The tasks which are assigned in each lesson allow us an opportunity to provide students with feedback and to accumulate formative assessment data to guide our ensuing instruction, so that our students will be successful on the summative tasks.

So, if we are to choose overarching themes to organize our curricula, what themes will we use? As I was revising my curricula for next year, I considered the following questions in evaluating possible themes:

  1. Is this theme appropriate to the targeted proficiency level of the course?
  2. Can I find authentic resources based on this theme that are appropriate to the proficiency level of the students?
  3. Will this theme be interesting to the students—Is it something they like to talk about, would need to talk about in the target culture, and/or a topic that is relevant to other courses?
  4. Will this theme introduce the students to new aspects of Francophone culture?

Here’s the process I used to choose my themes for each course and some reflection on each one.

French 1

Since my goal for my French I’s is that they achieve the Novice Mid level, I first looked at these NCSSFL-ACTFL Novice Mid Can-Do Benchmarks (http://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/ncssfl-actfl-can-do-statements ):

  • Interpersonal Communication: I can communicate on very familiar topics using a variety of words and phrases that I have practiced and memorized.
  • Presentational Speaking: I can present information about myself and some other very familiar topics using a variety of words, phrases, and memorized expressions.
  • Presentational Writing: I can write lists and memorized phrases on familiar topics
  • Interpretive Listening: I can recognize some familiar words and phrases when I hear them spoken
  • Interpretive Reading: I can recognize some letters or characters. I can understand some learned or memorized words and phrases when I read.  Note: All italics are mine

Since the key phrase in these benchmarks is “very familiar,” I have chosen themes that relate to the students’ immediate environment. Not surprisingly, they are closely related to the themes from my previous textbook.

  1. Introduction to French class (I cover the Can-Do Statements for Novice Low in this unit by teaching greetings, introductions, the alphabet, numbers, calendar words, colors, school supplies, and geography of France. )
  2. All about me: What I’m like and what I like
  3. My Family
  4. What I do
  5. What I eat
  6. What I wear
  7. Where I live
  8. Where I go

In addition to these unit themes, include a mini-unit on Halloween, Noel (IPA is midterm exam), and Paris (IPA is final exam).  In my opinion, there’s much less “wiggle room” at this level.  As beginners, the students need to develop a variety of familiar vocabulary.  Because most tasks at this level involved memorized language, we need to ensure that they are memorizing frequently-used words that they will need as they progress to higher levels of proficiency.

French 2

Next, I looked at these NCSSFL-ACTFL Novice High Benchmarks, the targeted level of proficiency for my French 2 students.  Specifically, I wanted to make sure I address what was new at this level, in order to make sure that the topics I chose would allow my students to increase their proficiency level.  Here are the benchmarks:

  • Interpersonal Communication: I can communicate and exchange information about familiar topics using phrases and simple sentences, sometimes supported by memorized language.  I can usually handle short social interactions in everyday situations by asking and answering simple questions
  • Presentational Speaking I can present basic information on familiar topics using language I have practiced using phrases and simple sentences.
  • Presentational Writing I can write short messages and notes on familiar topics related to everyday life
  • Interpretive Listening: I can often understand words, phrases, and simple sentences related to everyday life. I can recognize pieces of information and sometimes understand the main topic of what is being said.
  • Interpretive Reading: I can understand familiar words, phrases, and sentences within short and simple texts related to everyday life. I can sometimes understand the main idea of what I have read.

 As the italicized phrases show, it seems clear that the jump from Novice Mid to Novice High requires that students be able to participate in “social interactions” that are related to “everyday life.” Therefore I thought about whom students would talk to if they were to spend time in a target culture and what types of conversations they would have in order to come up with the following themes.  Because I have a student who will be spending the year in France as an exchange student, I thought about the most important types of social interactions she would be having and what topics she might discuss with these people that extend beyond the themes covered in French This is the list I generated:

  1. Conversations with friends
  • Discussions about daily activities
  • Making plans, gossiping
  • Discussions about things that happened at school
  • Discussions about vacations
  1. Conversations with shopkeepers
  • Discussions about buying food and other items
  1. Conversations with health professionals
  • Discussions about physical and mental health
  1. Conversations with her teachers
  • Discussions about the content of lessons

Based on this list, as well as themes that had been well-liked by previous classes, I chose the following themes for my French 2 class this year.

  1. Talking about daily activities
  • I think this is a good one to start with because it will allow the students to recycle the vocabulary and structures they learned last year. It will allow me to address several Can Do statements, as well as include cultural information by providing resources about the daily activities of people in various Francophone regions.  Although the theme of “Daily Routine” has been questioned by some of my #langchat colleagues, I think their criticism stems from the fact that we tend to focus too much on pre-determined activities with this topic, specifically those requiring reflexive verbs.  While some of my authentic resources will include reflexive verbs and I might have to do a quick pop-up lesson to explain the pronoun, the focus will be on talking about what we do and how these activities are related to our culture.
  1. Talking about other people and making plans
  • Although I didn’t use this theme before, I’ve decided to include it because I know kids like talking about other people/gossiping. I also wasn’t able to address the Novice High (Interpersonal Communication) Can Do “I can make plans with others” with the themes I used last year.  I have lots of high-interest authentic resources that I can use in this unit!
  1. Buying groceries and making food
  • Kids love talking about food and meals play such an important role in Francophone culture that this topic deserves to be recycled this year. Since the students learned the vocabulary for various foods last year, I’ll focus on the vocabulary, structures, and cultural background needed to purchase food items. I’ll also include some lessons on food preparation, in order to address the Novice High (Presentational Speaking) Can Do “I can give basic instructions on how to make or do something using phrases and simple sentences.” This is a Can Do that’s been hard for me to find another context for.
  1. Talking about how I feel and what I do to be healthy
  • It is important to be able to explain symptoms and injuries when in a target culture so I’ll keep this commonly-used theme. Last year the students especially enjoyed lessons related to mental health such as stress, so I’ll make sure to use those resources again.  This topic is also relevant because it addresses content that the students also learn in their health class.
  1. Talking about what happened at school
  • School is certainly an “everyday situation” for teenagers and is thus a relevant, high-interest theme. I’ve obviously added the “what happened” aspect to this topic in order to introduce the past tense into the students’ communication. Although students are not expected to be able to write in various time frames until Intermediate High, I think this structure must be introduced much earlier in order to provide sufficient practice to eventually achieve accuracy.  Assigning interpretive tasks on authentic resources that include the past tense is one way to introduce the students to these structures but still retain a focus on meaning, rather than form.  The introduction to past tenses at this level is further supported by the Can Do Statement “I can write about a familiar experience or event using practiced material” and the example, “ I can write about a website, a field trip, or an activity that I participated in” (italics mine).
  1. Talking about a vacation to Martinique
  • This unit allows the students to practice talking about (hypothetical) activities they did in the context of a visit to a Francophone region. They learn lots of new vocabulary that can be recycled when talking about actual vacations they have taken, as well as cultural information about Martinique. Because many students enjoy the beach and water sports, this unit has been a high-interest one in past years.
  1. Talking about life in a castle
  • Although my resources and methods have changed, I’ve been teaching units on Loire Valley Castles since 1989. Because students often cite this unit as one of their favorites and because I sometimes visit Loire Valley castles when traveling with students, I’ve decided to continue teaching this topic. In addition to being of high interest to students, this unit introduces important historical information about France and correlates to the World History curriculum in our school.  This theme also allows me to address the Novice High Can Do statement, “I can present basic information about things I have learned using phrases and simple sentences.”  Lastly, as I shared in a previous post, the materials I’ve used for this unit provide my students with an introduction to imperfect tense in a contextualized, meaningful way.
  1. Talking about a camping trip in Canada
  • As with the Martinique unit, this one is based on a topic from a textbook I had used in the past. Because my students are more likely to be able to use the language skills in Canada than France, I think it’s important that they learn to talk about thinks they might see and do while they’re there.  Although I include lessons on Quebec City and Montreal, by focusing on the context of a camping trip I’m able to introduce additional vocabulary.  I also include resources on animals that live in Canada, a high-interest topic for many of my students.  Finally, the authentic resources I incorporate into this unit introduce my students to the use of passé composé and imperfect used together, a concept that they will continue to practice in the following year.

French 3

In choosing appropriate themes for my French 3 class, I began by considering the following Intermediate Low Can-Do benchmarks (italics mine):

  • Interpersonal Communication: I can participate in conversations on a number of familiar topics using simple sentences. I can handle short social interactions in everyday situations by asking and answering simple questions.
  • Presentational Speaking I can present information on most familiar topics using a series of simple sentences.
  • Presentational Writing I can write briefly about most familiar topics and present information using a series of simple sentences
  • Interpretive Listening: I can understand the main idea in short, simple messages and presentations on familiar topics. I can understand the main idea of simple conversations that I overhear.
  • Interpretive Reading: I can understand the main idea of short and simple texts when the topic is familiar.

Because the key phrase here is “most familiar topics,” I think it’s relevant to include any topic that is either already familiar to my students, or that I familiarize them with using authentic resources.  The corresponding Can-Do statements for this proficiency level are quite general in nature, allowing me to modify them to fit any high-interest or content-based theme.  An additional consideration in choosing these topics is that many of these students will be enrolled in AP French next year, so I’m introducing some of the topics that are incorporated into the AP themes.  These are the topics that I will include this year:

  1. Education
  • The lessons in this unit are designed to teach the students about Francophone products, practices and perspectives regarding education. The cultural content of this unit lends itself to addressing the Intermediate Low (Presentational Speaking) Can-Do: “I can make a presentation about common interests and issues and state my viewpoint” as well as other content-based Can-Do’s.  The authentic resources I’ve selected for this unit will also introduce my students to the future tense in a contextualized manner.
  1. Entertainment
  • This unit, in which the students will read and listen to authentic resources on various topics such as music, movies, video games and other forms of entertainment. In addition to the interest generated by these topics, this theme lends itself to the Can-Do statements related to topics of interest.
  1. Love and Marriage
  • This is a very high-interest topic to my students and the authentic resources I incorporate present important cultural information about the role of dating and marriage in Francophone culture. The conversations and role-plays in this unit address the Intermediate Low (Interpersonal Communication) Can Do Statement, “I can use the language to meet my basic needs in familiar situations” as well as others related to familiar topics and situations.
  1. Sports
  • When I revised my curriculum last year, this one slipped through the cracks—probably because I don’t find it especially interesting. However, since it is a topic that’s relevant to most of my students, I definitely need to make sure to address it his year.  Lessons on various Francophone athletes will allow me to address the Intermediate Low (Presentational Writing) Can Do statement, “I can write about people, activities, events, and experiences” along with others related to personal interest.
  1. French Impressionism
  • This remains one of the favorite topics that I’ve consistently included in my French 3 curriculum. Impressionist works are among the most well-known products of French culture to Americans and many of my students have Impressionist prints in their homes.  In addition, the students who travel to France with me will see many of the paintings they learn about in this unit when we visit the Orsay museum.  The presentation that I assign during this unit addresses the Intermediate Low (Presentational Writing) Can-Do statement, “I can prepare materials for a presentation,” as well as others related to factual information.
  1. Environment
  • Although I’m going to work on increasing the student interest in this topic, I’m keeping this one because it is aligned with the AP themes, correlates to the curriculum of science courses, and provides an additional context for the Can-Do’s related to factual information, such as the Intermediate Low (Presentational Writing) Can Do: “I can write basic instructions on how to make or do something” for a lesson on recycling. Due to the nature of this topic, the students will also be introduced to the subjunctive in a contextualized manner.
  1. History
  • While many of my students study both World and European History, they do not seem to learn much about the history of France before the Renaissance. Therefore, I will include two separate history units in this curriculum.  The first unit, on prehistory, is especially relevant to French students because of the location of several well-known prehistoric painted caves in southwestern France. The second history unit, on Gaule, is one that the students enjoy because they are introduced to Astérix and Obélix for the first time.  The non-fiction authentic resources that the students read in this unit provides important content-based knowledge and the comic books and film familiarize the students with important figures in children’s literature.

Now that I’ve settled on my themes, it’s time to begin creating or modifying lessons. I’d love to hear what process you use when choosing themes and which thematic units have worked well for you!

 

4 Steps to Creating a Proficiency-Based Curriculum Map

mapWhile I was completing my French walkabout (pictures to follow!) a group of teachers from my district met to design a curriculum map in order to facilitate consistency across the district.  While I wasn’t able to participate in this work, here are the steps I’d suggest for designing curriculum, based on my current understandings of proficiency-based teaching and curriculum-design processes.

Step 1: Choose Unit Themes

I order to provide an overarching organization across levels and to avoid repeating topics, I would select the themes that would be addressed at each level.  Because our school year is organized into four, nine-week quarters, I would choose about eight broad themes for each level.  I would rely heavily on NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements for the targeted proficiency level when choosing these themes in order to ensure that they are appropriate for the students’ proficiency level. Since the Novice-Mid Can-Do Benchmark (Presentational Speaking) states “I can present information about myself and some other very familiar topics…” I would choose themes such as Introductions, What I like/dislike, My Family and Friends, Places I Go, My Activities, My School, Where I live, What I eat, etc. for French I.  Because the Novice-High Can-Do Benchmark (Interpersonal Communication) says, “I can usually handle short social interactions in everyday situations” I would choose themes that are slightly outside the students’ immediate environment such as Shopping for Groceries, Buying an Outfit, Visiting the Doctor, Going out with Friends, etc. for French 2. I would also begin introducing cross-curricular content themes such as topics related to geography, history, and Francophone stories at this level, as these topics are clearly suggested by the Can-Do Statements. In French 3, where the targeted proficiency level is Intermediate Low, I would suggest a greater variety of cultural and cross-curricular themes such as Travel, Education, Environment, Art, History, etc.  These themes are consistent with the Intermediate Low Benchmark (Presentational Speaking) which states, “I can present information on most familiar topics” and will prepare the students for the AP curriculum in our level 4 classess. These suggestions are purposely broad in nature, and I would suggest phrasing them in a way that was consistent with whatever curriculum format or template is being used.

 Step 2: Write Proficiency-Based Can-Do Statements for Each Theme

Having chosen the themes for each level, I would then write a Can-Do Statement for each communicative mode/language skill.  In some cases, one of the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statement examples (those which are placed below the bold-print statements and next to a box) might already correspond to the chosen theme. In other cases, the language from the actual Can-Do could be modified to fit the unit theme. For example, in a French I unit on Likes/Dislikes, I would suggest using the following Can-Do Statements as they are written:

  • Interpersonal Communication: I can answer questions about what I like and dislike.
  • Presentational Writing: I can list my likes and dislikes such as favorite subjects, sports, or free-time activities.
  • Presentational Speaking: I can say which sports I like and don’t like. (Although I would add other categories such as free-time activities.)

Because there are no specific NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statement examples for Interpretive Listening or Interpretive Reading that are related to the theme of Likes/Dislikes, I would write my own, incorporating the language used in the Can-Do Statement.  ACTFL clearly invites us to do so, by including the blank line at the bottom of each list of examples.  Here are some examples for this theme (the italicized words are taken from the published Can-Do’s):

  • Interpretive Listening: I can recognize and sometimes understand words and phrases in a recording where someone discusses his/her likes and dislikes.
  • Interpretive Reading: I can recognize words and phrases, about likes and dislikes such as sports and free-time activities.

Note: While some of the bold-print Can-Do Statements will be used in more than one unit, I think it’s important to make sure that each of these statements are included at least once in each curriculum map

Step 3: Create the Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA)

According to the principals of backwards design, the next step is to create the IPA that will serve as the summative assessment for the unit.  The IPA should allow the students to demonstrate their mastery of the Can-Do statements. For specific suggestions on writing IPA’s, see this previous post.  In my opinion, it is equally important that any curriculum development also address how the IPA will be assessed. Whether the ACTFL IPA manual rubrics, those developed by the Ohio Department of Education, or another source, in my opinion choosing a common rubric is a vital part of any curriculum planning process.

While these three steps might be adequate in designing a curriculum map, districts in which the teachers are less experienced in proficiency-based methodologies may find it helpful to design common lessons for some or all of the units.  These lessons should be designed to provide the students with the background knowledge they need for the performance tasks on the IPA.  This knowledge might include cultural competence related to the theme, as well as language skills such as the development of vocabulary and/or structures needed to complete the tasks.

 Step 4: Design the Lessons

In my opinion, the best organizational structure for proficiency-based lessons is the “Authentic Lesson Cycle” described by Amy Lenord (http://www.amylenord.net/uploads/2/3/8/2/23820400/authenticlessoncycle.pdf). As this document describes, a proficiency-based lesson will enable the students to practice the skills that they will demonstrate on the IPA.  Therefore, for each lesson the teacher will begin by selecting an authentic written and/or recorded text.  I would suggest choosing texts that a) are suitable to the proficiency level of the students, b) contain key vocabulary and structures that the students will need for the unit, c) are rich in cultural content, and d) are similar in nature to the authentic resources used for the IPA.  After selecting the resource, the teacher will create the interpretive task for the text.  I suggest similar tasks as those that are used on the IPA so that the students can practice these skills and the teacher can give targeted feedback as well as collect formative assessment data. Once the students have completed the interpretive task and been given feedback (either as a whole-class discussion or by being given individualized written feedback), the students should then complete an interpersonal task based on the resource.  This task will allow the students to practice the skills they will use on the IPA, but with more scaffolding.  Therefore, students might have access to a list of helpful vocabulary, grammatical forms and/or sentence starters to be used in completing the task. As the teacher circulates among the dyads or tryads, s/he can provide individualized written or oral feedback on the students’ performance. In the last phase of Amy’s Authentic Lesson Cycle, the teacher assigns a presentational writing assignment in which the students personalize the cultural and linguistic competencies they have gained from the authentic resource. Depending on the teacher and students, these performances might be completed inside or outside of class. In my particular situation, I prefer to monitor my students as they complete these tasks.  However, I often add an additional task, in which the students prepare a short oral presentation based on the Presentational Speaking Can-Do.  I then randomly select 2-3 students to present their performance at the beginning of the following class period.  Note: each of my authentic lessons usually require at least two 48-minute class periods, so a unit usually includes about five lessons.

I’d love to hear to hear feedback on these ideas from those of you who have been involved in designing a proficiency-based curriculum.  Did you follow a similar process or did you go about designing your curriculum in a different way?  What worked and what didn’t as you worked through the process?

Happy Halloween!

Halloween
Happy Halloween!
Although I’ve embraced many aspects of middle age, I’m still a kid at heart when it comes to celebrating Halloween. In spite of the fact that my husband and I have been empty nesters for several years, our house is the most decorated one on the block, and we’re more excited than most children when we choose our costumes each year. Fortunately, most of my students get as excited as I do about Halloween, so I make sure to set aside a week or so each year on Halloween-themed activities. Although most of my authentic texts come from children’s books and magazines that I can’t share, here are a few activities that some of you might be able to use.
1. Vocabulary List & Flashcards Vocab_list & flashcards
This document includes the vocabulary list that I hand out with pictures and words, as well as the pictures without the words. I printed 30 copies of this version on tagboard several years ago and cut each one apart so I can hand out a baggie of picture cards to each student for review games such as Bingo, Memory, and Go Fish.
2. Vocabulary Review Worksheet Vocabulary review (novice)
I’ve used this worksheet with French 2 students. Although the “choose the word that doesn’t belong” format is traditional in nature, it does encourage interpersonal communication when students are allowed to work in small groups.
3. Same/Different Pair Activity Halloween same_different
I think I got a little carried away when I made this one up! (I could have probably stopped after the first 10 pictures, but I was having too much fun!). To use this activity, you will first have to cut the table down the middle (or reconfigure the table), and number each picture (1-25). The first column is given to Partner A and the second column to Partner B. The pairs must discuss their pictures in order to decide whether they have the same or different picture for each number. (I have them write #1-#25 on loose-leaf and write Même or Différent next to each number).
4. Halloween Videos Halloween Videos
On this document I’ve included English comprehension question for several Halloween-related YouTube videos. Included are two stories (L’Ogre qui avait peur des enfants and Franklin fete l’Halloween) as well as two news videos. I have used these videos with French 3 students.
In addition to these activities, my students will read authentic stories (titles depend on the proficiency level), and the French 3 students will read authentic articles about the history of Halloween, bats, and spiders.
I’d love to hear back from those of you who incorporate Halloween into your lesson planning. What resources have you used with your students?