Category Archives: Musings

Give Me Five

handAs I was reading this month’s Okapi magazine I came across an ad for a free new app from Bayard press called Give Me Five by Phosphore. This app sends five short news stories to your device every day at 5:05 p.m. (French time).  While I hope to eventually have the students read the articles outside of class, I’ve begun implementing this resource by choosing an article and projecting it for the class. (Note: there’s a website with that provides the same articles.) After simply discussing a couple of the articles this week, I created this document which I will copy and give out at the beginning of each week (I see each class 4x a week). I’ll then project the article I’ve chosen for the day and give the students a few minutes to complete the comprehension guide, after which we’ll discuss their responses as a class.  Although the articles are difficult, I think that with the appropriate resources (, my students in Level 3 and above will be able to get some meaning from the articles. While I might not have time to implement this activity every day, I think that this resource will be a great way to introduce my students to current events and high-interest cultural topics.

Musique Mercredi à la Madame

songUnlike many of you, I have done very little to incorporate music into my curriculum in past years.  Although I’m embarrassed to admit it, I’m just not a very musical person myself.  I was familiar with only a few current French artists and seldom listen to music for personal enjoyment (Yes, I know this how weird this sounds!). As a Type A over-planner, I also felt uncomfortable spending class time on a song that didn’t relate to the thematic lesson objectives I had established. Of course, I did realize that music could be a great way to engage my students, especially after participating in #maniemusicale last year (Thanks @MmeFarab!) As a result, one of my goals for this year has been to work with one song a week this year.  Because I have one long block each week (a 90-minute, rather than 48-minute class period), working with a song seemed a great way to provide a brain break from the more communicative activities that we spend most of our time on.  Our 15-minute song activity, along with a 15 minutes of “Lecture Libre,” helps to keep these students engaged and motivated during these longer days.  

Although I’m hoping to come up with some more creative ideas in the future, this is the process I’ve used so far:

  1. I pass out a word cloud with the words that the students will later fill in during the cloze activity, along with other words that will not be used.  With my lower levels, I explain any words that they don’t know.
  2. I play the song once, and the students highlight or circle any words in the word cloud that they heard.
  3. The students then check with their work with their table groups.
  4. I then pass out the cloze activity, and play the song again during which time the students fill in the missing words, using the word cloud as a word bank. (Although the majority of the missing words are in the word clouds, a few are missing due to a computer glitch or user error.)
  5. I give the students a few minutes to try and fill in those blanks they didn’t fill with words that make sense.
  6. I play the song a third time, stopping after each verse to check comprehension.

I have been pleasantly surprised by how well even my French 2 students have done on these tasks, as well as how the students have been able to use the vocabulary they have learned from these songs on tasks related to our current unit of study.  Even better, many of my students have mentioned playing the songs for their friends and families and looking up other songs by the same artists.  

Here are the songs I’ve used so far and links to the materials I created for each one.

  1. Sur Ma Route by Black M. I was more ambitious on my first song, creating one word cloud for my French 2 and French 3 students (first page) , and a different one for my French 4/5 classes (second page).  Likewise, there are separate documents for the French 2/3 cloze activity and the one I used in French ⅘ (which also has a short comprehension section).
  2. Marcher au Soleil by Tal. I skipped the word cloud with this one, but did create separate cloze activities for French 2 and 3 and French 4/5.
  3. Tu vas me manquer by Maitre Gims. Click here for the word cloud and here for the cloze.
  4. On dirait by Amir. Click here for the document which contains both the cloze activity and the word cloud.

Note: In order to save time, I use lyrics that I find online to create these activities.  As a result there are often errors that I don’t catch right away and don’t always get corrected on the original document. Please proofread and edit before using!

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 (video no longer available) 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!

Taking the plunge into proficiency-based grading

grade-28199_960_720A couple of years ago when I decided to drastically change what I taught (cultural content instead of vocabulary and structures) and how I taught it (by using authentic resources instead of textbook exercises), I took a close look at my assessment practices.  While I embraced the concept of IPA’s, I struggled a bit on how to assign a grade to these assessments.  In the beginning I used my own holistic rubrics and later adopted the Ohio Department of Education’s Performance Scoring Guides for World Languages. Being a rule follower, I chose the Performance rubrics because that’s what ODE’s website said that teachers should use for IPA’s.  Although I knew that some teachers were linking students’ grades to their proficiency level this practice didn’t fit with my understanding of proficiency, which I’ve been taught can only be measured by an OPI.  Because I understood that my classroom assessments were clearly performances (measurements of what my students had learned as a result of my instruction), I used the Performance rubrics.  While these are great rubrics, as I continue to adapt my instruction, I find that I will need to make some changes to my assessment practices in order to meet my goals for this year.  Specifically, I want my students to be more involved in their own learning. Rather than passively waiting for me to assign a numerical score to all of their performances, I want my students to understand their proficiency level, set their own proficiency goals, understand how to meet those goals, and self-assess their progress in reaching these goals. Because the descriptors in ODE’s Performance Rubrics do not reflect different proficiency levels (There is only one scoring guide for each skill/mode.), my students were not able to determine their current level of proficiency based on my completing this rubric.  Furthermore, they were not able to determine exactly what they needed to do to improve their proficiency (or grade). In the absence of clear descriptors for each level of proficiency, the students were faced with trying to hit a moving target.  As my performance assessments required increasingly greater levels of proficiency, a similar score on a string of assessments did not allow the students to see the progress that they were making.

In order to remedy this situation, I’ve decided to use ODE’s Proficiency Scoring Guides this year. Based on my current understanding of the common language of world language educators, I will be able to describe my students’ performances as exhibiting characteristics of a proficiency level, without implying that I am able to assign a specific proficiency level to an individual student.  But most importantly, because these rubrics contain separate descriptors for each proficiency level, they will enable my students to define their performances as exemplifying a targeted proficiency level.  Not only will my feedback allow them to identify their current level of performance, they will know exactly what they need to do to achieve the next level.  I especially love that these rubrics include three levels for each proficiency level (NH1, NH2, NH3, for example).  As a result, I hope to be able to measure each increment of progress in my students’ path to proficiency.

For many of us, of course, it is not enough to only identify a student’s proficiency level, we must also assign a numerical (or letter) grade for each performance.  After reading many outstanding teachers’ methodology for doing so, I’ve determined the following guidelines for implementing my proficiency-based grading system.

  1. Students who reach  ACTFL Proficiency Target will earn an 85% (B).  Because it seems unfair and unrealistic for the students to reach an end of course target first semester, I have (somewhat arbitrarily) determined that the first semester goal will be two sublevels below the end of the course target.  For example, since Novice High 2 is the targeted proficiency level for the end of French 2, Novice Mid 3 is the targeted level for first semester.   This table shows what score a student will earn for each proficiency level. (The numerical scores reflect my preferred maximum score of 10 rather than 100 [a percentage].)
  2. In order to more easily implement this system, I have prepared a first semester and a second semester rubric for each course. As indicated on the rubrics, the language is taken directly from the ODE scoring guides for each skill/mode. I simply chose which 5 columns I felt would be the most likely to cover the range of levels for a particular course and typed them on a single page, with an additional column for comments. I also took the liberty of creating a separate rubric for each Presentational skill and removed the comments about pronunciation from the Writing rubric in order to streamline the feedback process. I can easily use a lower level rubric (changing the scores accordingly) for those students who are unable to meet the lowest level on the rubric for his/her course.  Note: I have not included a 2nd semester rubric for French 4, as the ODE rubrics stopt Intermediate Mid 3. I’ll use my own judgment in assigning a score for any students who exceed this level.
  3. Because ODE does not have an Interpretive rubric (They provide only a link to the ACTFL IPA Interpretive Rubric), I will use the ACTFL rubric for interpretive reading tasks at each level. Because it is the task, rather than level of performance which demonstrates a student’s proficiency in interpretive assessments, the same rubric is appropriate for all levels. I will assign the following numerical scores to each level on the rubric: Limited Comprehension (7), Minimal Comprehension (8), Strong Comprehension (9) and Accomplished Comprehension (10).  A student who does not meet the descriptors for Limited Comprehension will earn a 6.

I’m sure that I’ll make modifications to these guidelines as I implement proficiency-based grading, so if you’re assessing according to proficiency, I’d love to know how it’s working in your classes!

From Completed Template to Unit Plan: Implementing The Keys to Planning for Learning for a Novice High Unit on Leisure Activities

220px-Group_at_Piazza_del_Popolo2C_RomeAs I discussed in my previous post, I have spent some time this summer reading The Keys to Planning for Learning: Effective Curriculum, Unit, and Lesson Design by Donna Clementi and Laura Terrill. After completing a template (see this post), I turned to creating the actual lessons that will enable my students to meet the learning goals that I have established for the unit. While I have included many previously-used authentic resources and corresponding comprehension guides in this unit, I have incorporated many new ideas that I gleaned from The Keys to Planning for Learning when designing these lessons. As a result of my reading, I have included one or more daily objectives for each lesson, a hook for most of the lessons, a formative assessment for each objective, and have been more intentional in addressing the primacy-recency cycle. This aspect of planning continues to be challenging for me, as it is difficult to gauge exactly how long my students will need to complete the activities I have designed. In addition, at my new school I will have longer blocks with each class on one day per week. While I have designed each of these lessons to correspond to a traditional 50-minute class period, I will make changes as I implement this unit for my own non-traditional schedule.
Here’s a link (Updated link: 7/1/18) to a Google Presentation that includes a slide for each lesson with links to all the resources required to implement the unit, which is briefly described below.

Lesson 1: I’m starting this unit with a short oral presentation on my own preferred leisure activities. While I usually begin with an authentic resource, I thought this would be a way for my brand-new students to get to know me a little bit. I’ll ask various students whether they do any of the same activities as I do, in order to start to get to know them.Next, the students will look at an infographic showing the popularity of various French leisure activities and respond to questions that I ask. These questions will be about the information in the infographic, “Combien de Français regardent la télé?” I’ll also ask personalized questions such as, ”Tu regardes la télé?” Tous les jours? Une fois par semaine?”As a formative assessment, the students will be given a list of pictures showing various leisure activities and will put them in order according to their popularity in France. (They’ll be allowed to look at the infographic, as I’m not assessing their memory, just whether or not they are able to read the infographic–the objective for this lesson.) For the second part of the lesson (which I hope will address the primacy-recency learning cycle), the students will interview each other and fill in a Venn diagram comparing their leisure activities. In order to scaffold this task, I’ve asked the students to circle the sentences which describe their activities, rather than expecting them to create their own sentences.
Lesson 2: As a hook to this lesson, I’ll play a video in which a young girl describes what she does when she’s bored. Although this video will not be comprehensible to these students, I’ll pause it frequently to check for understanding of some key words. After discussing a new infographic as a class, the students will then complete an IPA-style comprehension guide. These students may not have much experience with this type of assessment, so I want them to have lots of practice/formative assessments before the IPA at the end of the unit. After completing the comprehension guide, the students will use evidence from this text(or others we have discussed) to support/negate statements about French cultural values. I will encourage the students to work with a partner to add an interpersonal aspect to this task, which is also a key step in helping the students be able to begin addressing one of the essential questions of the unit.
Lesson 3: After another child-produced video hook, the students will look at an additional infographic. This time, rather than participating in a class discussion, the students will complete a short writing task in which they write 2 true and 1 false sentence based on the information presented in the infographic. I’ll circulate to check for accuracy and then the students will exchange papers and write true/false on their partner’s “quiz.”
For the second primacy-recency learning cycle, the students will complete a speed-friending activity in which they interview several classmates about their leisure activities.
Lesson 4: Once again the hook to this lesson will be an authentic video. This will be followed by a movie-talk style activity based on a Trotro video. I’ll first play the video without sound, providing comprehensible input in my narration and question-asking. Then I’ll play the video with sound, again pausing to ask questions. As a formative assessment, I’ll have the students listen to a similar video and respond to embedded questions on Edpuzzle.
Lesson 5: This lesson’s hook will be a short discussion of an infographic from Switzerland in order to introduce another Francophone culture. My questions this time will include those which encourage the students to compare and contrast the leisure activities of the two cultures. The students will then write sentences based on the information found in the infographic. In the second learning cycle of the class period the students will survey their classmates and then present a graph showing how often their classmates participate in the activity which they were assigned.
Lesson 6: In this lesson, the students will present a short presentation about their preferred leisure activities, why they do them and how often to their small groups. The other members of their group will provide written feedback on the presentations. In the second learning cycle, I will introduce the students to a children’s book about seasons by providing lots of input about the pictures. The students will then read the book and complete a comprehension guide.
Lesson 7: This lesson is designed for the students to work independently to learn vocabulary associated with the weather. They will first watch an educational/non-authentic video to reinforce the video and then complete a series of interactive, online review activities. I will then assess the students by presenting a series of photographs from Francophone cities and asking true/false question for each picture.
Lesson 8: This is the first of four lessons in which the students will listen to a song, complete a cloze activity, engage in a discussion and then complete an IPA-style comprehension guide for an article about the season. While I have included the comprehension guides I had developed for these resources, I hope to make modifications to these lessons in order to add more interpersonal communication and avoid repetitive tasks.
Lesson 9: This is one of two lessons in which I will present a movie-talk style introduction to a cartoon and then have the students discuss the story in order to put screenshot pictures in order. They will then practice presenting a summary of the story before presenting it to me as a formative assessment. While the unit goal “ Learners will be able to summarize a cartoon video about a character’s leisure activities” is not clearly related to the Essential Questions of this unit, I included it because I wanted the students to begin working on the Intermediate Low Can Do statement “I can retell a children’s story.” These Trotro videos have been of high-interest to previous students and are mostly comprehensible to these Novice Mid students so I find great value in including them in the curriculum. The interpersonal ordering activity could be completed using manipulatives (by printing the pictures on cardstock and cutting out a set for each small group) or by having each group make a copy of the Google Doc and then moving the pictures around on the document.
Lesson 10: As with Lesson 8, the students will listen to a song and then read an article about a season.

Lesson 11: In this lesson the students will use some of the vocabulary they learned in the previous day’s lesson to discuss their own summer activities and then compare them to what people do in France. They will then complete an Edpuzzle comprehension activity for a Trotro video that takes place in the summer.
Lesson 12: In this lesson the students will once again listen to a song and then read an article–this time about the fall.
Lesson 13:This is the second lesson for which the goal is for the students to summarize a cartoon story. Because there is a lot of new vocabulary in this story, I am giving the students some vocabulary in advance and will used personalized questioning to preteach the vocabulary. The students will then write a short summary of what they think the story is about, using the new vocabulary. I will then present the cartoon in a movie talk style before having the students discuss the story in order to put screen shots in order.
Lesson 14: In this lesson, the students will summarize the previous day’s cartoon for a summative assessment on this learning goal (both orally and in writing). They will also complete an Edpuzzle comprehension activity for a video about the fall.
Lesson 15: In this lesson the students will again listen to a song and read an article about wintertime in Canada.
Lesson 16: In this lesson the students will complete a speed friending activity in which they interview classmates regarding their wintertime activities. The students will then complete an Edpuzzle activity for a Trotro cartoon which takes place in the winter.
Lesson 17: In this lesson the students will begin the IPA by completing the interpretive tasks. As they are working individually, I will call small groups to my desk for the interpersonal task.
Lesson 18: In this lesson the students will continue working on their IPA by completing the presentational writing task and working on their video presentation, which will be submitted electronically.

As always, I’m grateful for your feedback on these lessons!

Image Credit:

10 Takeaways from “The Keys”

keysThis summer I am privileged to be participating in a discussion ofThe Keys to Planning for Learning: Effective Curriculum, Unit, and Lesson Designby Donna Clementi and Laura Terrill. While some of the discussion takes place in an on-air Google Hangout, additional conversations occur on Twitter using the #langbook hashtag. If you haven’t yet read this text, I recommend it highly and look forward to your thoughts!

After this week’s discussion of Chapter 2, I decided to challenge myself by the authors’ template according to a a French 2 unit on “Loisirs” that I’m currently working on. Although I have been developing my own thematic units for the past couple of years, I realized how much I didn’t know when reading this chapter.  While I found this work both challenging and time-consuming, I think that using this template is an excellent way for curriculum designers to ensure that their work is addressing current best practices in unit design.

Here are my take-aways as well as the template I completed.

  1. Writing Essential Questions is difficult! As many of my colleagues mentioned, I found writing an essential question to be one of the most challenging aspects to creating this template.  Like many others, I am not very experienced in writing these types of questions.  While I’m not entirely satisfied with the one I’ve written, I was reassured by the authors’ suggestion that we see our EQ’s as “works in progress” while we are completing our templates.
  2. Backwards design is the way to go. By writing the goals and then a description of the summative assessment/IPA, the teacher has a framework for all of the work that follows.  
  3. There are a lot of great resources for selecting meaningful themes.  Since I had trouble identifying which 21st Century Global themes my topic would fall under, I used the AP theme, Contemporary Life, instead.  Clementi and Terrill recommend that teachers use AP or IB themes when they teach these programs.
  4. I need to enlarge my understanding of IPA’s. While my original understanding of an IPA was that the tasks were completed within a short time period at the end of a unit, I have learned that many of my colleagues, including the authors of this book, spread the tasks throughout a unit.  Although I will give an end of unit IPA with the tasks I’ve included under Summative Performance Assessment, many of the formative assessments that I’m including throughout the unit may be considered Summative assessments by others.
  5. Sometimes the 3 P’s aren’t so simple.  Usually I find identifying a product, practice and perspective for the cultural component of a unit to be fairly straightforward. However, I struggled to identify a product related to leisure time.  This particular topic lends itself to considering Francophone practices in terms of leisure activities and perspectives in terms of the types of leisure activities are chosen, how much time is spent on leisure, etc., but I had trouble identifying a specific product to name in the template.  I’d love to hear your suggestions!
  6. I have more learning to do before I understand the Language Comparison component of the 5 C’s.  While I plan on revisiting this section of the template, I felt that the murkiness of my understanding here would not prevent me from developing an effective thematic unit.
  7. I am woefully ignorant regarding the Common Core.   Although I’m embarrassed to admit it, I’ve never taken a close look at the Common Core State Standards.  Fortunately for me, this text includes an appendix with the English Language Arts Common Core Standards.  It was easy to select a few that would be addressed in this unit.
  8. The Toolbox belongs at the end. I have seen districts use this template, but begin the process by filling in the vocabulary and structures that are to be included in the unit. As a result, the content of these units becomes a study of the language features rather than the cultural and content that is suggested by the standards. By waiting until the communicative goals, performance-based assessments and cultural comparisons have been established, we ensure that our students view their increased understanding of  vocabulary and grammatical structures as a means to achieving culturally-relevant communication rather than an end in itself.
  9. This template is brilliant! I can’t imagine the work that went into creating a single template that incorporated the 5 C’s, the 3 P’s, 2st century Global/AP or IB themes, the Common Core standards, and IPA’s, but these authors have obviously succeeded.  I look forward to using this template in the future to create curriculum with colleagues and design additional units.  
  10. This work is challenging. Completing this template was a lot of work, but as I once heard @burgessdave say, “It’s not supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to be worth it.”  I know that my unit design will continue to improve as I become more adept at including all of the information required in this template.  As usual, I’d appreciate any feedback you have to offer and I will share the actual unit plan and materials I’ve created as soon as I add the finishing touches.

Image Credit:


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


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 (updated link 7/3/2018)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:


What is a Proficiency-Based Teacher?

LuMaxArt Full Spectrum Collection Linkware Sampler : Orange LuMaxArt Linkware Freebie Image: Use it however you like all I ask is a credit link to: or

Over the past few days I’ve been honored to be part of a series of exciting Twitter conversations about what it means to be a proficiency-based language teacher. The conversation all started with this thought-provoking post.  Like many of the others who’ve contributed to this conversation, I don’t feel that my own methodologies fit neatly into either of the categories that the writer described. In fact, I disagree with her suggestion that “it helps us communicate better and more efficiently about diverse practices if we can categorize teaching styles.” It was clear from the responses  that the professionals in the language teaching community are committed to finding common ground and learning from each other.  Although I am not nearly as far along my proficiency-oriented journey as many of my distinguished colleagues, I’m thrilled to join the conversation by sharing my current understandings of what it means to be a “proficiency-based” teacher.

On the most basic level, being proficiency-based means that I make my instructional decisions based on what I believe will improve my students’ proficiency. However, this definition is not as straightforward as it seems. As the ACTFL Performance Descriptors state, “Proficiency is the ability to use language in real world situations in a spontaneous interaction and non-rehearsed context and in a manner acceptable and appropriate to native speakers of the language.”  Therefore, as a classroom teacher, it is only performance (“language ability that has been practiced and is within familiar contexts and content areas”) that I am actually able to assess. Nevertheless, I’m not quite ready to begin referring to myself as a “performance-based” teacher.  While I might not be assessing actual proficiency, my goal is to prepare my students to prepare my students to function in target language environments. As ACTFL states, “instruction needs to focus on real world-like tasks with the anticipation that learners will be prepared to do the same outside the instructional setting (as in a demonstration of proficiency).”

Although I hadn’t heard the term “task-based” used to refer to proficiency-oriented teachers, I can see why Martina chose it.  ACTFL talks a lot about tasks when describing best practices for instruction and assessment. For example, they recommend that “Educators should provide language learners with practice of a variety of tasks related to the curriculum. In this way, learners will be ready to apply these elements in the context of the new tasks they will face on the performance.” Based on my understandings of these Performance Descriptors, the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, and the ACTFL Can-Do Statements, I have come to believe that well-designed tasks can lead to increased proficiency.  Therefore, I use the following types of tasks in my instructional practice.

Interpretive Tasks.  Much of my planning involves designing tasks in which my students will interpret a written or recorded text.  Because I am preparing my students for the “real world” these texts are nearly always authentic–created and produced for native speakers by native speakers.  While the reliance on authentic texts continues to be a point of divergence between my fabulous “Comprehensible Input” colleagues and those of us that are “Proficiency-based,” for now I’m convinced that using these resources is vital. I believe that my students must practice the skills required to interpret a text in which they don’t know all of the words.  As with other language skills, many students also need to develop a certain level of confidence to complete these tasks.  Practicing the interpretation of authentic resources in class both develops the skills of using context clues, identifying cognates, making inferences, etc. and builds the students’ confidence in their ability to do so. By choosing texts that are appropriate to the students’ proficiency level and then designing tasks that allow students to successfully demonstrate their comprehension, I ensure that my students are able to interpret increasingly complex texts on a wider variety of topics.

Interpersonal Tasks. As a proficiency-based teacher, I believe that students can increase their ability to communicate in this mode by practicing the skills required to negotiate meaning with another individual.  For the novice students, this means lots of class time is spent practicing the questions and answers that they will use during the performance assessment.  I try to create a variety of contexts in which these questions and answers are used, so that the students are never rehearsing the actual conversation that will take place during the assessment.  As the students’ proficiency increases, more open-ended tasks allow the students to practice creating with the language on a wider variety of topics.

Presentational Tasks.  After my students have been exposed to new vocabulary and structures in the authentic materials that they read and use this language to communicate with others, they complete and written and/or spoken presentational task. Depending on their proficiency level, the students may write (or say) short sentences or paragraph-length discourse.

Although my current practices seem to fit with the “task-based” methodology that Martina described, I found that many of the descriptors she used did not describe my teaching.  For example, she indicates that proficiency-based teachers use English to teach culture.  In my classroom, it is the authentic resources that I choose that enable my students to develop new understandings about the target culture.  She also mentions that the infinitive is the “default form” in a proficiency-based classroom.  My students see all types of verb forms in the materials they read and use the forms that they need to express their meaning on the instructional tasks.  With my early novice learners, this means that most of their responses use the first person and they add the second person as they begin to ask questions. Lastly, she describes task-based teaching as providing broad and shallow input.  While it’s not clear to me exactly what she means by this, the gains that my students have made in their language performance reassures me that the input they receive may be deep enough to lead to increased proficiency.

While I didn’t agree with many of Martina’s assumptions about what those of us who refer to ourselves as “proficiency-based” do in the classroom, I sure am glad she wrote this post. Her professionalism in responding to her readers and openness about her own growth is inspirational.  I am looking forward to continuing to learn from her and from the other great educators that have joined in the discussion about best practices in the language classroom!

Image Credit:


4 Interpersonal Activities for Novice Learners

talkingAlthough I recently shared a few thoughts about assessing novice students in the interpersonal mode, I didn’t describe any specific interpersonal tasks.  However, a recent #langchat discussion has me thinking a lot about the types of tasks that help our beginners increase their proficiency in this mode.

In order to for an interpersonal activity to increase student proficiency, the students need a reason to produce language. While many of my Intermediate learners would be happy to spend most of each class period talking about topics of interest, my Novice students need a lot more direction.  Therefore, most of the activities I design for them are quite task-oriented.

While I have shared many of the following activities in various unit plans, I thought it might be helpful to put them all together in one post.  Because one of my first units in French 1 is likes/dislikes, I’ve used this theme as an example in my descriptions. with a few suggestions for other common introductory topics. Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for any of these activities, they’ve all been shared with me through the years by great language teachers.

  1. Interview One of the first interpersonal activities that my novice low students complete are simple interviews. Because these students are not yet able to create with the language, I provide the students with questions they will use to interview a partner on a topic that has been introduced by an infographic or other highly visual authentic resource. For example, after interpreting a graphic organizer on popular leisure activities among French people, the students will interview a partner by asking a partner whether s/he likes each of the activities shown in the infographic.  These true beginners can either check a yes/no column to record his/her partner’s responses, or circle the pictures that represent the activities their partner likes.  As with many of the interpersonal activities I use with my students, this one can be serve as a springboard to presentational speaking and writing activities.  In this case, a student might introduce his/her partner to the class by telling five activities s/he likes or write a series of sentences giving the same information.
  2. Guess Who Any interpersonal activity that is formatted like a game is highly motivating for students. Although the students will not be communicating about their actual preferences, activities, etc. they will be practicing the questions and answers they will need to discuss these topics in a more open-ended format on a later assessment. In addition, the repetitive nature of the game aids the students in memorizing key vocabulary in a contextualized way.To play this game, each students receives a handout with several names each of which is followed by a series of pictures representing vocabulary related to the unit theme. (No two names will have all of the same pictures.)  Students are paired up and directed to choose an identity from those on the page.  The students then take turns asking questions in order to eliminate identities until they determine which one their partner has chosen. In this example, the students asked the question, “Tu manges …?” in order to guess which identity their partner had chosen. I have also used this game with my Novice students for the following topics:
  • Preferences/leisure activities: Students ask Tu aimes…? and the pictures show various leisure activities
  • Clothing: Students ask Tu portes…? and pictures show various clothing items.
  • Places: Students ask Tu vas…? and pictures show different places that people go.
  • School subjects: Students ask Tu as…? and pictures represent different classes.
  • School supplies: Students ask Tu as…? and each picture shows a different school supply.
  • Vacations: Students ask Tu vas…? and each picture shows a different vacation activity.

As a formative assessment following this game, I might make a series of true/false statements about the various identities and have the students respond in writing or physically to demonstrate their comprehension. Alternately, I might have the students write sentences about one of the identities on the page (or comparing their actual preferences to those of one of the identities).

  1. Friendship Circle In this activity, student interview each other in order to complete a Venn diagram comparing their preferences, activities, etc.  For early novices, it is helpful to prepare the students for this activity by giving them a list of activities and asking them to circle the ones they like to do.  The students then take turns asking their partner whether s/he likes to do each of the activities that they have circled.  If the partner responds affirmatively, both partners write Nous aimons + activity in the middle of the Venn diagram.  If the partner answers negatively, then the asker writes J’aime + activity on the left side of the diagram and his/her partner writes Il (elle) aime + activity on the right side of the diagram. An added benefit of this activity is that it provides contextualized writing practice including three different subjects/verb conjugations.

This activity can be used to compare preferences, activities, items in one’s bedroom/backpack/lunchbox/closet and personality/physical characteristics, to name a few.

  1. Speed friending: This activity involves interviewing a series of classmates in order to determine compatibility. Before beginning the interviews, I have each student write down the questions they will ask (yes/no questions about preferences, for example) in order to find the most compatible classmate. I then arrange the students in two rows which are facing each other. (For a large class, I might have a total of four rows, arranged into two pairs of facing rows.) The students have a pre-determined amount of time (usually 2-3 minutes) to interview the person they are facing.  When the time is up, the students in one of the rows each move one space to the right (the student on the far right end goes to the beginning/spot on the left.) The student continue their short interviews until they have interviewed each person in the row facing theirs, or until I feel that the activity has achieved its maximum potential.  Here are a few topics that I have used or intend to use for these interviews:
  • Preferences/Pastimes Students ask a series of questions about their classmate’ likes/dislikes in order to choose which classmate they’d like to stay with when their own parents go out of town for a few days. As a follow-up activity, the students write a message to their parents telling which friend they’d like to stay with and why.
  • School Novice students assume the role of incoming high school students and ask questions about their classmate’s school schedule in order to decide whom to shadow for the day. They then write a note to their guidance counselor telling which classmate they have chosen and why.
  • Food Students interview each other about their eating habits in order to choose whose family to stay with for a few days and then write/talk about why they chose that person.
  • Family Students are told that they need to do some babysitting to earn extra money. They then interview their classmates about their families in order to choose which family they’d like to babysit for. They then write a note to the parents explaining why they would like to babysit for them.
  • Daily Routine Students interview each other about their daily routine in order to choose which classmate they would choose as their roommate on a class trip to France. They then write a note to me explaining the student they have chosen as their roommate and why they have selected this person.

I have found that interpersonal activities such as these provide my students with the opportunities they need to practice the vocabulary and structures they will use for the more open-ended prompts that I assign for their interpersonal assessments. In addition, these activities allow me to circulate among the students providing individualized feedback that will enable them to perform successfully on these summative assessment tasks.


Reflections on Interpersonal Writing

computer-313841_640This week was a particularly exciting one on #langchat.  The topic of Interpersonal Communication had everyone so engaged that I couldn’t keep up with the rapid-fire pace of the Tweets, especially given the free-for-all format.  In fact, Thursday evening’s chat left me wanting more—more insight, more opportunities to reflect, and more time with the amazing professionals that contribute each week to this amazing resource.  As a result, I logged on for Saturday morning’s session, too. The question/answer format of this session was a little easier for me to follow and also gave us an opportunity to begin a discussion on Interpersonal Writing—a topic which never came up on Thursday’s chat. While some contributors pondered whether written communication allows for the negotiation of meaning which takes place in face-to-face conversaton, the ACTFL description of the Interpersonal communicative mode clearly includes writing. In fact, as some users noted, #langchat is an excellent example of a forum in which there is an “active negotiation of meaning,” in which “Participants observe and monitor one another…” and “Adjustments and clarifications are made.”

As world language teachers, I think that it is vital that we provide our students with opportunities to engage in this same type of written interpersonal communication. After all, while some of our students may never have the opportunity to actually speak to a member of a target culture, but they can all follow native speakers on social media and comment on their Tweets, YouTube videos, Vines and Instagram photos.  In fact, many of my students have begun to do so on their own, without any prompting from me.  It doesn’t get much better than that!

Fortunately, the prevalence of Learning Management Systems and Google applications makes it very easy for us to develop opportunities for our students to engage in this type of communication in a way that supports our curricular goals.  My own district has recently adapted Canvas and their discussion boards are easy to create and evaluate. Each student’s post and replies are grouped together in the “Speedgrader” and both a “Score” and “Comment” box are included so that I can quickly provide feedback and assess each student’s overall contribution.

Given the user-friendliness of this new system and my own reflection as a result of the #langchat discussion and this blog post, I’m planning on incorporating a lot more interpersonal writing into my curriculum this year.  In fact, I’ve included the frequent use of online discussion boards in my annual professional SMART goal. Not only will these assignments provide the students with an opportunity to practice a real-world skill, they also supply an audience for the students’ writing. When I assign a presentational writing task, I am usually the only one who reads their work. By assigning contributions to a discussion board, rather than a paper/pen writing assignment, I enable the students to receive feedback on the comprehensibility and quality of their messages from their classmates’ comments and questions. An additional advantage of these discussions is that they prepare the students for oral in-class discussions. Because the students have had an opportunity to look up important vocabulary and structures, formulate their opinions, and read others’ ideas, they are more confident in oral discussions on the same or similar topics.

My first two discussion boards for the year were assigned to my upper-level students who have been watching Entre les Murs.  In the first, the students discussed whether M. Marin was a good teacher.  Each student had to write one post in which she gave her opinion and then reply to two classmates’ posts, as well as to comments and questions on her original post. I used this rubric (Online discussion rubric – Intermediate), which I will no doubt modify for future discussions, to assess their contributions. While I was thrilled with the quality of the students’ responses, I wish I would have avoided assigning a due date that was before the end of the film.  I did so in order to be able to provide feedback before their summative writing assignment, but many students’ opinions evolved as the film progressed and they were a little frustrated that they couldn’t go back and add their new understandings on the discussion board. The second discussion board was created for the students to share their own “auto-portrait” using the questions provided by M. Marin in the film.  While I had originally intended that this be a paper/pen assignment in order to protect the students’ privacy, when I gave them a choice, the students preferred to use the online forum.  Their enthusiasm provides even further evidence of the value of this type of assignment!

As a result of the positive feedback I’ve received from these students, I’m planning on incorporating discussion boards with my other students, too.  This week my French 2 students will be discussing what they like to do when they get together with their friends and my French 3 students will be discussing how our educational system compares to what they have learned about the French educational system.  I’ve modified the rubric I created for the upper level students in consideration of the difference in proficiency and task-type. Although I will undoubtedly revise this rubric, this is my first draft: Online discussion rubric – Novice. I hope that these students will be as enthusiastic about sharing their ideas as the upper level students were!

I’d love to hear how you are incorporating interpersonal writing into your own classrooms.  Please share in the Comments box!