Monthly Archives: June 2017

Continuing Along the Path with a Novice High Mini-Unit and IPA on Leisure Activities

For the past few years, my life has been all about following paths.  For three weeks each summer I hike on the Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle/Camino de Santiago and during the rest of the year I plan how to lead my students on their own path to proficiency. Just as I find myself returning to Europe to discover new routes to the same destination, I continue to rework my lessons to more closely align with my current understandings of best practices.

This year I will once again start my French 2 classes with a unit on leisure activities.  This topic is well-suited to their proficiency level and the nature of the unit helps us all get to know each other. Rather than a lengthily, all-encompassing unit this year, however, I’ve created a short mini-unit. Last year’s more thorough unit presented a few unanticipated problems.  Due to the length of the unit, my students did not take a summative assessment/IPA for several weeks.  As a result, I did not have formal data on their level of proficiency for my own records or to share with them, until the end of our first 6-week grading period.  Because one of my goals for this year is to provide more targeted, proficiency-based feedback, I want to create earlier opportunities for this type of conversations with my students, especially those who may not have been exposed to the idea of proficiency during their first year of language study. When my colleague suggested we create a short mini-unit to introduce the topic of leisure activities (which will be followed with a longer unit that includes daily activities, weather and seasons), I thought it was a brilliant idea.  This 2-3-week unit will give us an opportunity to introduce our students to proficiency-based Can-Do statements, lessons designed around the three modes of communication and exposure to authentic resources.  Furthermore, the IPA will give us data on the proficiency level at which the students are able to perform.  Armed with this knowledge, we will be able to begin the process of providing the types of feedback that will help these students to progress throughout the year. Best of all, our conversations about how we spend our free time will help to create the types of relationships that will facilitate the warm and positive classroom environment that is so important to language learning.

Day 1: As this agenda shows, we’ll introduce the topic of leisure activities with a teacher-led discussion of a basic infographic on Sunday activities.This discussion will allow us to provide comprehensible input using some of the targeted structures. The students will then engage in a short pre-viewing conversation before listening (as a class) to a video in which a girl describes some of her leisure activities.  A teacher-led discussion during the viewing will help provide additional comprehensible input. Lastly, the students will begin reading a detailed infographic on leisure activities and completing an IPA-style comprehension guide.  (This interpretive activity will continue the following day.)

Day 2: The lesson will begin with a video and teacher-led discussion of the video as well as personalized questions.The students will then complete a heavily-scaffolded interpersonal activity in which they ask and answer questions about a partner’s leisure activities, and then fill in a graphic organizer comparing their pastimes. The rest of the class period will be used for finishing the infographic from the previous day.

Day 3: After another short teacher-directed discussion based on an infographic (with personalized questioning), the students will interview a new partner about the frequency with which s/he participates in various activities. The students will then participate in a matching “game” in which they take turns describing pictures in order to match each picture on their paper to the corresponding picture on their partner’s paper.  I often use this type of activity with my novice learners and have found it effective in engaging these students and encouraging their spontaneous speech. Time permitting, I may conduct a formative assessment in which I describe a few of the pictures and the students jot down the number/letter of the corresponding picture.  

Day 4: I will begin this lesson with another infographic-based discussion, which will be followed by an interpretive activity for an infographic on teens and sports.  In this case, I’ve created French comprehension questions in order to encourage target language use as the students work on the task.

Day 5: I will start this lesson by going over the correct answers on the previous day’s interpretive activity. This discussion will provide additional input that will prepare the students for the interpersonal and presentational activities that follow. Finally, the students will complete a series of Edpuzzle formative listening assessments for cartoon videos in which Trotro the donkey does various sports-related activities.

Day 6: This lesson, on the topic of music, will again begin with a teacher-led discussion of an infographic as well as personalized questions about music.  The students will then complete an interpretive activity about a music-themed infographic and a related conversation.

Day 7: This lesson will begin with a cloze activity for the current top-20 song Je joue de la musique. The students will then complete a presentational writing assignment designed to encourage them to synthesize what they learned about the listening habits of French teens and compare these practices to their own.  Finally, they will complete an Edpuzzle for a  music-based Trotro video.

Day 8: This class period will be spent preparing for the IPA. The students will both practice the conversation prompt and prepare a draft of the writing prompt.  I will divide the class into two separate groups, enabling me to provide feedback to those students who are speaking.  I will collect the written drafts at the end of the period and provide feedback using this document from my previous post.

Day 9: If all goes as planned, the students will take their IPA during this 90-minute block. (Otherwise, I will give it over the next two days.)  I will distribute the article and IPA packet to the class, and will call up pairs of students for the interpersonal task while the rest of the class is working on the reading.  As students finish the reading, they will begin the final draft of the writing, on which they will have access to their first draft as well as my feedback.  

Note: You should find each of the resources and materials linked to the agenda.  However, if anything is missing or not shared correctly, please let me know.  I encourage you to make a copy for your own use so that you can correct any errors you may find and make modifications based on your own students’ needs.  As an additional resource for my students, I prepared this document which includes the learning goals for the unit and some vocabulary and structures that the students can use on the learning activities throughout the unit (but not on their IPA).

Have a great rest of the summer!

Closing the Feedback Loop: An Action Plan

 As my understanding about how languages are acquired continues to evolve, so does my vision of my role in the classroom.  When I began teaching, I considered my prime responsibility to be that of providing vocabulary lists and explanations of grammatical rules followed by opportunities to practice them. A lot has changed over the past few years! I now see my primary role as that of creating contexts for my students to communicate using language suitable to their proficiency level and then providing feedback on their use of that language.  Specifically, I provide language input via culturally-rich authentic resources (as well as my own language use) and create activities that require the students to interpret this language and use the vocabulary and structures they acquire to communicate with others. Of course, my work isn’t finished when these learning opportunities have been created!  These students need feedback on their language use.  They need to know whether their interpretation of a text is accurate and whether their own oral and written communication is comprehensible.  More importantly, they need to know what they can do to increase their proficiency in the language.  

In an ideal world, this means that the students would engage in communicative activities, I would provide immediate feedback on this communication, and the students would use this feedback to set goals enabling them to communicate more proficiently in the future.  However, in the imperfect world of my classroom, this process has not been working they way it should. My feedback has not been timely enough and I have not provided adequate opportunities for the students to use this feedback in a way that would inform their subsequent communication.  As a result, my feedback process looked like the image linked to this post rather than the loop it should have been. The feedback my students received from me often seemed to be a dead end–clearly I need to do much better at closing my feedback loop!

After careful reflection, I’ve come up with the following action plan for the upcoming school year.

Interpretive Communication

My students read a lot of authentic materials in class, but I often fail to provide timely feedback on the accuracy of their interpretation for several reasons.  First of all, I’ve been using the ACTFL IPA template to create comprehension guides for many of these texts.  While I think it’s important that instruction mirror assessment, the use of English for these formative assessments (which I support) would impede my ability to stay in the target language. Furthermore, I worried that my students will be less likely to focus on interpretive tasks if they know that I would be providing the answers at the end of the class.  As a result, I collected way too many papers, spent way too much time grading and recording them (and cajoling absent students to complete them) and wasted valuable class time passing them back to students who looked at the grade and threw them away. I plan to address these obstacles this year by 1) creating formative comprehension tasks that don’t require English, 2) letting go of the idea that grades can be used to control student behavior and 3) providing whole-class feedback directly after the formative interpretive task.  As a result of these changes, I will spend less time grading and my students will receive immediate feedback on their interpretive communication.

Interpersonal and Presentational Communication

While whole-class feedback can be effective on interpretive tasks that often have right or wrong answers, students need specific, individualized feedback to improve their performance on this mode.  While I am able to provide some feedback as I circulate among the students during these activities, I think I could provide more global feedback if each student had an opportunity to receive feedback on the entirety of their performance.  Therefore, my plan is to provide each student an opportunity to be formatively assessed on the same prompt they will have on the IPA, although with a different partner in order to maintain spontaneity on the summative task.  I will then use this document to provide feedback, an opportunity for goal-setting and a means of self-reflection for the students. As the document shows, the students will check the level of proficiency that their formative performance demonstrated (see note below).  They will then check which steps they need to take to improve on their performance on the IPA, based on the feedback given on the rubric on the back of the page. In cases where I have suggested additional practice on vocabulary and grammatical structures, this document provides opportunities for individualized interactive practice. I will then assess their performance on the IPA using the rubric on the second (identical) rubric.  After the IPA, the students will complete the reflection portion of the document which I will then file until the next round of IPA’s. (I might end up making the process digital, rather than paper and pencil.)  I am hoping that the requiring the students to choose action steps, simplifying the rubrics and providing an opportunity for reflection will help close the feedback loop on interpersonal assessments.

I will follow this same process for the presentational task of the IPA.  Using either the presentational speaking or presentational writing feedback form, the students will again record their formative proficiency level, create an action plan and then reflect on whether they were able to achieve their proficiency goal.  

Note about the rubrics

One of my favorite aspects of the Ohio Department of Education rubrics that I had been using is the fact that they break down each proficiency level into 3 different sublevels.  This has allowed me to track small changes, which helps my students see their progress and me to use proficiency-based grading.  However, this specificity makes the rubrics very wordy.  While this would not be especially problematic if I were using them as they were intended–to document proficiency growth from the beginning to the end of an academic year– I found that my students did not have the patience to read through the lengthily descriptors.  Therefore, I created the simplified versions I have included in the documents.  However, in order to document smaller increments of growth, I will add the following sublevels to their proficiency level.

Sublevel 1 Meets all relevant criteria for previous level and at least 70% of the relevant criteria for the targeted level.
Sublevel 2 Meets all relevant criteria for the targeted level.
Sublevel 3 Meets all relevant criteria for the targeted level and at least 30% of the relevant criteria for the targeted level.

While I may adjust the percentages, I think these sublevels will enable the students to see growth and allow me to continue to assign grades based on proficiency levels.

I’d love to hear suggestions on what procedures you’ve developed to create a successful feedback loop!