Monthly Archives: July 2015

Entre les Murs: Incorporating film into an AP Curriculum

220px-Entrelesmurs Although many AP language teachers design excellent curricula by treating each AP theme in a linear way, I have chosen a slightly different approach.  Rather than designing my units around the themes or subthemes, I have designed each one around a film, and then woven the AP subthemes throughout the lessons for each film. The interlocking circle diagram used by the College Board clearly supports the interconnectedness of the themes and my syllabus was approved during the audit process, so I’m confident that this approach is appropriate for my students.  Successful results on the AP test and increased enrollment in my French 4/5 class has provided further support for this curricular design.

This year, the first unit in my AP class will be designed around the film, Entre les Murs.  Although the central topic of this unit will be Education (a subtopic of Contemporary Life), this film also addresses the following AP subthemes:

  • Diversity Issues (Global Challenges)
  • Economic Issues (Global Challenges)
  • Human Rights (Global Challenges)
  • Leisure and Sports (Contemporary Life)
  • Rites of Passage (Contemporary Life)
  • Professions (Contemporary Life)
  • Alienation and Assimilation (Personal and Public Identities)
  • Beliefs and Values (Personal and Public Identities)
  • Gender and Sexuality (Personal and Public Identities)
  • Language and Identity (Personal and Public Identities)
  • Multiculturalism (Personal and Public Identities)
  • Nationalism and Patriotism (Personal and Public Identities)
  • Age and Class (Families and Communities)
  • Childhood and Adolescence (Families and Communities)
  • Citizenship (Families and Communities)
  • Family Structures (Families and Communities)
  • Performing arts (Beauty and Aesthetics)

Before watching the film, my students will complete a series of learning activities designed to provide them with the necessary background knowledge to comprehend and discuss the film.  Following the explanation below, you will find a link to a 24-page packet of activities that I will distribute to my students at the beginning of the unit.

Lesson 1: Because this will be the first lesson of the 2015-2016 school year, my goals were to engage my students, get them communicating in French after the long break, and provide opportunities to review the structures required to narrate past events—an important expectation for Intermediate High students. In order to meet these goals I selected an authentic article from Phosphore magazine in which several teenagers tell about their favorite vacation memory.  In this lesson my students will complete a comprehension guide for this article, discuss their own vacation memories in small groups, write an article about their own vacation memory, listen to a video about low-cost vacations, discuss the video, write a blog entry encouraging French tourists to travel to our community and then prepare an oral presentation on the same topic.  Here are the pdf’s of the article: souvenir p.1souvenir p. 2souvenir p. 3souvenir p. 4

Lesson 2: In this lesson the students will look at a diagram/short article which describes the grade levels and exams which are included in the French school system.  This is important background information for further resources used in later lessons which will refer to grade levels and exams.  After a short discussion, the students will prepare a written and/or oral presentation comparing the two systems.  Finally, they will watch a Cyprien YouTube video and complete a related interpersonal and presentational activity.

Lesson 3: I designed this lesson to activate my students’ background knowledge about the Bac.  Although this important exam will not play a role in the film (whose students are middle school-aged), I think it’s important for my students to be familiar with this aspect of the French educational system.  Therefore, in this lesson the students will watch a short video as a hook to the lesson, read and discuss a brief infographic with statistics about the Bac, watch a news video with students’ reactions to their Bac results, and then discuss differences between the Bac and American college entrance exams.  Lastly, they will read a comic strip about the Bac, prepare an oral summary of the story and then write an e-mail explaining the differences between the Bac and ACT/SAT. Here’s the comic: le Bac

Lesson 4: In this lesson the students will be become familiar with slam poetry by watching and discussing the video, “Education Nationale” by Grand Corps Malade.  In addition to introducing the students to this art form, this video addresses some of the educational topics that will be presented in Entre les Murs.

Lesson 5: Finally—it’s time for the show! For the next five class periods the students will watch and discuss the film.  In the packet I’ve provided a glossary, as well as questions that can be used to assess comprehension and promote discussion.  During each “movie day” I will show about 30 minutes of film (which I will frequently pause to ask questions and check for understanding) and about 15 min. of conversational activities.  This conversation might include the questions in the packet, role plays, and “Controversial Statements” (see below). When designing role plays, I usually describe a hypothetical situation that the students will spontaneously perform.  Here are some examples from the film.


A: You and M. Marin and you’ve just come home from your first day of school.  Your partner wants to know all about your day.  Tell him/her about your day and your feelings about it.

B: You are M. Marin’s partner and today was his first day of school.  Find out all about his day including what his students and any new colleagues are like.


A: You and your partner are each students in M. Marin’s class.  Talk about how your school year is going and what you think of M. Marin and his class.

B: You and your partner are each students in M. Marin’s class.  Talk about how your school year is going and what you think of M Marin and his class.


A: You are Khoumba’s mother.  She has just brought home her “Carnet de Correspondance” with M. Marin’s comments about her behavior in class.  Ask her about what happened.  It’s up to you whether you will take her side or her teacher’s.

B: You are Khoumba and you’ve just shown your “Carnet de Correspondance” to your mother.  Explain your side of the story.


A: You are Wei’s mom or dad and you’ve just come home from your parent-teacher conference with M. Marin. Talk to Wei about what M. Marin had to say.

B: You are Wei and your mom/dad has just come home from their parent-teacher conference with M. Marin.  Respond to your parent’s comments.


A: You are Souleymane’s mom and you’ve just received a phone call from the school principal.  Talk to Souleymane about what the principal said and what you expect him to do to change his behavior.  Tell him what the consequences will be if his behavior doesn’t improve.

B: You are Souleymane and your mom has just gotten off the phone with the principal.  She’s pretty angry with you so you will try to defend yourself.


A: You are Khoumba and you’ve just come home with a cut above your eye.  Your mom wants to know what happened, so tell her.

B: You are Khoumba’s mom and you want to know why Khoumba has a cut above her eye.  It’s up to you to decide what you will do when you find out what happened.


A: You are Esmerelda and you’re angry with M. Marin for calling you a name.  You’ve decided to go to the principal about what happened.

B: You are the principal and Esmerelda has just told you about an incident with M. Marin.  Find out more about the situation so you can decide how to handle it.


A: You are Khoumba and you’ve just heard about Souleymane’s punishment.  You feel really bad about it so you go and talk to him.

B: You are Souleymane and you’ve just been expelled.  Khoumba has come over to tell you how sorry she is about what happened.  How will you react?

“Controversial Statements”

For this activity, I project a series of statements (one at a time) and the students discuss each one in small groups for 3-5 minutes. To add an additional dimension to the conversation, students earn “points” for the type of contributions that they make to the discussion. This system of points came from a resource I was given several years ago.  Unfortunately, I can’t remember the exact wording for each level—my apologies to the creator!

1 – Makes a statement of fact

2 – Supports another’s opinion

3 – Asks a question

4 – Provides a dissenting opinion

5 – Unexpected provocation

I assign one student in each small group to be the scorekeeper who will make a note of how many points each person earns.  While I don’t actually assign the points that each student earns (in order to avoid pressure on the scorekeeper to fudge the scores), I find that this system really challenges my students to increase the depth of their discussions.  Here are some controversial statements I might use for this film.

  1. M. Marin est un bon professeur.
  2. M. Marin charrie trop.
  3. Un système disciplinaire avec des points est une bonne idée.
  4. Il est important que les professeurs aient une cafetière.
  5. M. Marin est raciste.
  6. Il est importants que des élèves participent come délégués aux conseils de classe.
  7. C’est la faute de M. Marin que Souleymane a été exclu.
  8. Marin regrette ce qu’il a dit à Esmerelda.
  9. Le proviseur devrait virer M. Marin.
  10. Souleymane mérite son exclusion.
  11. Henriette devrait aller à un lycée professionnel.

I may also have the students discuss some of these statements as homework on our class forum.  This would give them an opportunity to engage in written interpersonal communication, a skill that I often overlook in designing my lessons.

Note: I haven’t seen the film in a couple of years, so I will be able to add more specific role plays and controversial statements after re-watching the film.

Click here for the activity packet for this unit: Unit 1 Packet

Integrated Performance Assessment

After watching the film, my students will take the summative assessment for the unit—an IPA composed of the following tasks:

Interpretive Reading: The students will read an article about an educational reform related to ZEP schools (like Dolto).  I designed the interpretive task to mimic as closely as possible the question types found on the AP exam, while at the same time trying to address some issues I’ve had when designing previous AP-style questions.  Namely, I have found that my students are less likely to read carefully when presented with multiple choice questions.  I have tried various ways of addressing this problem in the past, and these are the modifications that I’m trying on this assessment:

  • I’ve required the students to underline the sentence(s) in the text where they found the response (for literal level questions)
  • I’ve required the students to justify their responses to inference and culture-based questions by writing supporting information.

Interpretive Listening: The students will watch a news video about the ZEP/REP reform and respond to multiple choice questions.

Interpersonal Communication: The students will play the roles of two teachers at Dolto who are discussing how the ZEP/REP reform would affect various students in the school.

Presentational Writing: Students (acting as a Dolto teacher) will write a letter to the French Minister of Education, requesting they be given REP status and explaining why their students need smaller classes and extra help.

Click here for a copy of the IPA: unit 1 IPA

Here’s a tentative agenda for this unit: unit 1 outline

I’d love to hear back from you about how you incorporate film in your upper-level classes!







Grading: A necessary evil?

reportcardIf it were up to me, I would provide feedback, but not numerical or letter grades to my students.  In my experience, assigning scores to assignments, assessments, and overall achievement often has a negative effect on the learning process.  My more ambitious students are so focused on their scores for various assessments that they tend to disregard the feedback provided to help them increase their proficiency. The less motivated students sometimes regard a low score as an excuse to stop trying, rather than directing their attention to constructive feedback that would help them improve on future performances. Furthermore, parents and other stakeholders are inclined to request opportunities for their students to “earn more points,” rather than suggestions for how these students can improve their proficiency.

As much as I would like to completely eliminate the process of assigning grades to my students, I know this is not a realistic expectation given my current teaching situation.  In my school, as in most large public high schools in the country, grades serve many purposes for the students and stakeholders in their education.  Here are a few that immediately come to mind:

  • Some parents use grades to determine the extent to which they need to become more involved in their child’s schoolwork, limit extra-curricular activities, take disciplinary measures, etc.
  • Grades provide input to guidance counselors when making scheduling decisions.
  • Administrators consider grades when placing students in various educational programs.
  • Coaches make decisions about what types of intervention to provide based on student athletes’ grades.
  • Mental health professionals consider students’ grades when diagnosing certain learning differences or mental health issues.
  • Colleges use students’ grades to make decisions about whom to accept or give scholarships to.
  • Students make decisions about work habits and even whether to remain enrolled in a course based on their grades.

For these reasons, I am required to keep an (electronic) gradebook in which I record numerical scores for various assignments and assessments.  These scores are then used to determine a numerical average, which is then converted to a letter grade based on the district’s grading scale.

Although I cannot totally eliminate the grading process, I do have a fair amount of autonomy in determining how these grades are tabulated.  In my current teaching position, I am able to make the following decisions regarding the grading process:

  • The formula used to convert individual scores into an overall grade
  • The types of assignments/assessments that are graded
  • The methods I use to assign a numerical score to these assignments/assessments

When making choices about these aspects of the grading process, I take many factors into account.  First and foremost, it is of utmost importance that my students’ grades reflect what they can do with language (and therefore their proficiency), rather than their compliance, behavior, effort, etc.  Secondly, it is important that the scores provide targeted feedback on each student’s strengths and areas for improvement. Lastly, I want my grading system provide motivation for those students who are grade-driven, yet not be overly punitive for those students who are less motivated by grades. While I continue to tweak my grading system as my understanding of proficiency evolves, this is the grading system I will implement this year.

Formulating a Quarter Average In order to ensure that my students’ overall grades reflect the extent to which they have met the proficiency goals I have set for them, 80% of each student’s quarter grade is derived from his/her scores on the two or three IPA’s that I administer each quarter. Rather than recording one score for each IPA, however, I assign a separate score for each language skill that is assessed on the IPA.  Therefore, each student will earn a Reading score for the interpretive reading task on the IPA, a Listening score for the interpretive listening task, a Speaking score for the interpersonal communication or presentational speaking task, and a Writing score for the presentational writing task.  Each of these skill categories are worth 20% of the overall grade.  The advantage of recording these scores in separate categories, rather than as a single score, is that I can immediately identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses and provide individualized coaching to help students improve.  While some educators use the communicative modes, rather than language skill areas as their grading categories, my personal experience does not support this configuration.  I have found little transfer, for example, between interpretive listening and interpretive reading skills.  Likewise, my students with strong presentational speaking skills do not necessarily have the accuracy required to be strong writers.  I do find, however, that students are fairly consistent across modes in terms of language skills.  For instance, a student who can communicate effectively in a conversation can usually transfer these same skills to an oral presentation.

In addition to these language skill categories, I have a fifth section which includes all other assignments/assessments.  Grades on classwork/formative assessments, quizzes, etc. are recorded as Miscellaneous scores. While many teachers don’t record scores on formatives assessments, I have found that many of my students are more motivated to complete classwork and to prepare for formative assessments if their scores on these evaluations will appear in the gradebook. Due to the large number of scores in this category, each individual score has only minor mathematical significance.  As a result, a poor score on any of these assignments will have very little effect on a student’s overall grade, ensuring that the student’s quarter grade is primarily derived from his/her summative IPA’s.

Assigning Scores to IPA’s This year I will assess my IPA’s using the Ohio Department of Education’s Presentational Speaking, Presentational Writing and Interpersonal Communication  Scoring Guides and the ACFTL IPA rubric for Interpretive Reading (with the modifications discussed in this earlier post).  As I assess the IPA’s, I will check the appropriate box in each section of these rubrics in order to provide comprehensive feedback to my students.  However, I will not provide a numerical score in order to ensure that the students remain focused on their learning, rather than their grade. As I will need a numerical score for my gradebook, I’ll use these formulas to convert the rubric evaluations into scores for record-keeping purposes.

Interpretive Listening: Because I have not found the ACTFL template to be an effective method of assessing interpretive listening skills (see this post), I am currently using a variety of comprehension questions to assess listening.  My method for determining a grade based on student responses to these questions is, however, a work in progress.  Although I try to create questions that could be answered using previously-learned vocabulary and context clues, my students’ performances have demonstrated that I am not always realistic in my expectations.  It is clearly not reasonable to expect Novice students to answer all questions about an authentic video when “I can understand basic information in ads, announcements, and other simple recordings.” is an Intermediate Mid NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do statement. Therefore, I used data from my students’ responses on IPA’s (all of which were new last year) to inform my calculations. I then create a table such as this one.  Because this process is norm-referenced rather than criterion-referenced, I am not entirely satisfied with this process and will continue to reflect on how best to assess my students on interpretive listening.

Assigning Scores to Formative Assessments While the primary purpose of my formative assessments is to provide feedback, I also assign scores to some of these assignments.  Doing so provides additional motivation to some students as well as encourages absent students to make up their missed work. On most days, my students will complete at least one of the following, which may be scored as a formative assessment.  I use these rubrics to formulate a score on the following types of formative assessments.

  1. Presentational Speaking – I sometimes choose 2-3 students to present on a topic that was assigned as homework (Novice) or to present what they have learned from a reading or conversation (Intermediate).
  2. Interpersonal Speaking – I circulate among my students as they are completing the interpersonal speaking activities during the unit. While I cannot spend enough time with each pair/group to adequately assess them, I do choose to 3-4 groups to assess during each interpersonal speaking activity.
  3. Presentational Writing – My students complete several presentational writing assignments throughout the unit that are designed to help them practice the skills they will need to be successful on the IPA. While I cannot assess all of these assignments, I will provide feedback (or use peer feedback) as often as possible. In addition, by randomly selecting several papers to score on each assignment, I can ensure that all students will have at least one writing formative assessment score for each unit.
  4. Interpretive Reading/Listening – In many cases, I provide whole class feedback by going over the correct responses to interpretive activities. However, I do sometimes collect student work in order to evaluate and provide feedback on individual performance. Depending on how much time I have available, I might correct all or parts of an interpretive task for feedback purposes and then assign a score using the interpretive formative assessment rubric.

While I will continue to evaluate my grading practices, it is hoped that this system will allow me to assess my students’ progress on the goals I have established and to provide the necessary feedback that will enable them to make continued progress along the path to proficiency.


A Day in the Life…

Sad man holding pillow and the clock

Like many of you, I spend a lot of my summer trying to get a good head start on my planning for the following school year.  This year I began by revising my first unit for my French 2 students, which focuses on the theme of discussing a typical day.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the theme of “Daily Routine” is often criticized by proficiency-based teachers.  This seems to be because many textbooks have used this theme to present reflexive verbs without adequate authentic context. While this may be true, as I was previewing the French children’s magazines I recently purchased this topic came up again and again.  Many of the articles that I chose for their cultural content included information about a typical day in the life of the children who were interviewed for the article.  As a result, I have chosen to begin my French 2 course with a unit on “A Day in my Life.”

Can-Do Statements

As has been my practice, I began planning this unit by choosing/modifying the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements that I wanted to address. Because the targeted proficiency level for my French 2 students is Novice High, most of my Can Do’s are based on that level.  However, since my students have excellent reading skills, I chose an Intermediate Low Can-Do Interpretive Reading Can-Do.

Interpersonal Communication: I can exchange some information about my daily routine.

Presentational Speaking: I can tell about my daily activities using phrases and simple sentences.

Presentational Writing: I can write about my daily activities using practiced material.

Interpretive Listening: I can understand simple information about a character’s daily activities in a cartoon video.

Interpretive Reading: I can identify some information from an article about someone’s daily routine. (Intermediate Low)

Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA)

The next step in my planning was to prepare the IPA for this unit.  I began by choosing an authentic magazine article in which Francophone students discussed what gets them up in the morning (previously shared in this post) and creating an interpretive task according to the ACTFL IPA Interpretive template. I then created interpersonal and presentational tasks based on the types of information included in this article.  In addition, I included an interpretive listening task based on a cartoon video in which the character is taking a bath—a typical daily routine activity.  Although this video is not closely integrated to the interpretive reading task, I think it’s important to assess both reading and listening skills in each IPA.  Therefore, I’ve sacrificed the integrative aspect in order to include an authentic text which is appropriate to the proficiency level of my students.

Lesson Plans

Having created the IPA, I turned toward creating the lessons that would provide the students with the necessary skills to perform successfully on this assessment.  Each of these lessons is based on an authentic written or oral text and includes corresponding interpretive, interpersonal and presentational tasks.  Because the Can-Do’s at this level clarify that students at this level are highly dependent on memorized speech, I have included a few additional activities designed to help the students memorize the words and phrases they will need on the IPA.  These “non-authentic” activities include:

  1. Educational daily routine videos that will be used to reinforce vocabulary and as a springboard for personalized questioning. (See agenda below for links)
  2. Guess Who  game  which requires students to ask and answer questions about daily activities.
  3. Matching Activity in which students will describe what the people in images are doing.

The last lessons before the IPA will be a series of learning stations in which the students prepare a rough draft of their presentational writing task, practice their interpersonal task (with different partners), listen to similar cartoon videos, and read an additional authentic article.

Here are the materials I created for these lessons:

  1. Unit 1 Activity Packet (Requires this article: Mama p. 1, Mama p. 2
  2. Unit 1 Learning Stations (Requires this article: Nadine p. 1Nadine p. 2
  3. French 2 unit 1 agenda
  4. Unit 1 IPA (Requires this article: matin p. 1 matin p. 2 matin p. 3 , p. 4)

As always, all feedback is welcome!