Category Archives: Musings

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 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!

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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.

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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 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!


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What is a Proficiency-Based Teacher?

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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!

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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!




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 ( ):

  • 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 ( 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?

Musings on Assessing Interpretive Listening

listeningA couple of weeks ago I shared my thoughts about assessing interpretive reading.  In that post gave my opinion  that ACTFL’s IPA Template was a generally effective way to design an assessment of reading comprehension and that, with a couple of modifications, their rubric was well-aligned with the tasks on the template. I have reservations, however, about the use of the ACTFL IPA template to assess listening.  Here are a couple of my thoughts about assessing listening, please share yours!

Assessing Interpretive Listening is Important

By defining both listening and reading comprehension as Interpretive Communication, ACTFL has given us an out when writing IPA’s.  We can choose to include either one, but are not required to include both.   My guess is that when given the choice, most of us are choosing authentic written rather than recorded texts for the interpretive portion of our IPA’s.  There are several good reasons why this may be the case.

  1. Authentic written texts are usually relatively easy to find. A quick Google search of our topic + Infographie will often produce a content-filled, culturally-rich text with the visual support that Novice learners need. Picture books, ads, social media posts, etc. provide additional resources.  For our Intermediate students, our options are even greater as their proficiency allows them to read a wider variety of short texts, an unlimited supply of which are quickly located online.
  2. Written texts can be easily evaluated regarding their appropriateness for our interpretive assessment tasks. A quick skim will reveal whether a text being considered contains the targeted language and structures, culturally-relevant content, and appropriate visual support that we are looking for.
  3. Assessments of interpretive reading are easy to administer. We need only a Xerox machine to provide a copy of the text to each student, who can then complete the interpretive task at her own pace. When a student is absent, we can simply hand him a copy of the text and interpretive activity and he can complete the task in a corner of the room or any other area of the building where make-ups are administered.

Curating oral texts and assessing their interpretation, however, is considerably more time-consuming.  While we have millions of videos available to us on YouTube (my person go-to for authentic listening texts), videos cannot be skimmed like written texts.  We actually have to listen to the videos that our searches produce in order to evaluate whether they are appropriate to the proficiency of the students for whom they are intended.  In some cases, we have to listen to dozens of videos before finding that gem that contains the appropriate vocabulary, cultural content and visual support that our learners need.  When it comes to administering these assessments, we often face additional challenges.  In my school, YouTube is blocked on student accounts.  Therefore, I have to log into 30 computers in a lab (which is seldom available) or my department’s class set of IPads (sometimes available) for all of my students to individually complete a listening assessment at the same time. While many of us play and project our videos to the class as a whole, I think this places an undue burden on our Novice students who “require repetition, rephrasing, and/or a slowed rate of speech for comprehension” (ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, 2012). A student who has her own device can pause and rewind when needed, as well as slow the rate of speech when appropriate technology is available.

In spite of these challenges to evaluating listening comprehension, I think we have a responsibility to assess our students’ ability to interpret oral texts. As Dave Burgess said at a conference I recently attended, “It’s not supposed to be easy, it’s supposed to be worth it.”  Assessing interpretive listening skills IS worth it. As the adage says, “we teach what we test.”  If we are not evaluating listening, we are not teaching our students what they need to comprehend and participate in verbal exchanges with members of the target culture.  While technology may allow us to translate a written text in nanoseconds, no app can allow us to understand an unexpected public announcement or participate fully in a natural conversation with a native speaker. In my opinion, our assessment practices are not complete if we are not assessing listening comprehension to the same extent as reading comprehension. As a matter of fact, I include separate categories for each of these skills in my electronic gradebook.  While others may separate grades according to modes of communication, I’m not sure this system provides as much information regarding student progress toward proficiency. Although both reading and listening may require interpretation of a text, they are clearly vastly different skills.  Students who are good readers are not necessarily good listeners, and vice versa. In their Proficiency Guidelines, ACTFL clearly differentiates these two skills, don’t we need to do the same when evaluating our students using an IPA?

Designing Valid Interpretive Listening Assessments is Difficult

 In my opinion, ACTFL has provided us very little direction in assessing interpretive listening.  While we are advised to use the same IPA Interpretive template, I find that many of these tasks do not effectively assess listening comprehension. Consider the following:

Key Words. While students can quickly skim a written text to find key words, the same is not true of recorded texts.  Finding isolated key words requires listening to the video multiple times and attempting to isolate a single word in a sentence.  I find this task needlessly time-consuming, as I will be assessing literal comprehension in other tasks.  Furthermore, this task puts some students, especially those with certain learning disabilities at a significant disadvantage.  Many of these students have excellent listening comprehension, but are not able to accurately transfer what they understand aurally into written form.

Main Idea. Although this task seems fairly straightforward, I question its validity in assessing comprehension for Novice and Intermediate learners. According to the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, Novice-level listeners are “largely dependent on factors other than the message itself” and Intermediate listeners “require a controlled listening environment where they hear what they may expect to hear.”  This means that all of my students will be highly dependent on the visual content of the videos I select to ascertain meaning.  Therefore, any main idea they provide will most likely be derived from what the students see rather than what they hear.  A possible solution might be for the teacher to provide a series of possible main ideas (all of which could be extrapolated from the visual information) and have the students choose the best one.  However, this task would certainly be unrealistic for our novice learners who are listening at word level.

Supporting Details.  I think this task on the IPA template is the most effective in providing us feedback regarding our students’ ability to understand a recorded text.  By providing a set of details which may be mentioned, we provide additional context to help our students understand the text and by requiring them to fill in information we are assessing their literal comprehension of what they hear.  In addition, this type of task can easily be adjusted to correspond to the proficiency level of the students. Providing information to support the detail, “Caillou’s age” for example, is a realistic expectation for a novice listener who is watching a cartoon.

Organizational Features While I see little value in this task for interpretive reading, I see even less for listening.  As previously mentioned, even intermediate listeners need to be assessed using straightforward texts so that they can anticipate the information they will hear.  Having my students describe the organization of a recorded text would not provide additional information about their comprehension.

Guessing meaning from context. As much as I value this task on reading assessments, I do not find it to be a valid means of assessing aural comprehension.  The task requires the teacher to provide a sentence from the text and then guess at the meaning of an underlined word.  As soon as I provide my students with a written sentence, the task becomes an assessment of their ability to read this sentence, rather than understand it aurally.      

Inferences As with the main idea, I think Novice and Intermediate listeners will be overly dependent on visual cues to provide inferences.  While I believe students should be taught to use context to help provide meaning, I prefer to assess what they are actually able to interpret verbally. ACTFL does suggest providing multiple choice inferences in the IPA template, but again the teacher would have to provide choices whose plausibility could not be derived from visual information in order to isolate listening comprehension.

Author’s Perspective. While I regularly include author’s perspective items on my assessments for my AP students, I feel this is an unrealistic task for Novice and Intermediate Low listeners.  Students who are able to understand words, phrases, and sentence-length utterances will most likely be unable to identify an author’s perspective using only the verbal content of a video.

Cultural Connections. Authentic videos are one of the best tools we have for providing cultural content to our students.  The content provided by the images is more meaningful, memorable, and complete than any verbal information could be.  However, once again it is difficult to isolate the verbal content from the visual, creating a lack of validity for assessment purposes.


For now, I’m planning on using supporting detail or simple comprehension questions when formally assessing my students’ interpretive listening skills in order to ensure that I am testing what I intend to test. When practicing these interpretive skills, however, I plan on including some of the other tasks from the IPA template in order to fully exploit the wealth of information that is included in authentic videos.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you about how you assess your students on interpretive listening!