4 Steps to Creating a Proficiency-Based Curriculum Map

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

Step 1: Choose Unit Themes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step 3: Create the Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA)

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

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

 Step 4: Design the Lessons

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

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

19 thoughts on “4 Steps to Creating a Proficiency-Based Curriculum Map

  1. Audra

    Just when I think your posts can’t get any better, I get this one! You are so generous and I want you to know you have helped me become a better teacher with your ideas! Thank you Madame Shepard!!!


    1. madameshepard Post author

      Audra, thank you so much for your supportive comments. You have no idea how much it means to hear such kind words! Lisa

  2. Brian Wopat

    I second what Audra said. Your posts help me understand and put so many pieces together. I value the PD I get from your blog. Thank you!


  3. Denise

    I think the method you described makes a lot of sense, especially the start point, where teacher coordinate themes. This process also follows the UBD philosophy well of true “backwards design” and is very logical.

    How did you determine the target proficiency levels for your courses? My department made an attempt back in the fall to figure this out, and since reading on the topic on my own, I feel that their targets were way off (ex: according to my chair and colleagues, an AP student should be at Advanced-mid). We start our kids in Grade 7, so 7-8 = Level 1, and we teach up to AP (we call it Level 5).

    Thanks for your wonderful blog posts!

  4. Véronique

    Bonjour Madame Shepard,
    I just wanted to tell you how valuable your blog is to me. The units and lessons you have developed are very impressive. Our WL team has been working on developing proficiency-based thematic units and using authentic resources, and you provide great models on how to do just that. I am greatly inspired by your work and very grateful to you for so willingly sharing the fruits of your labor. Merci mille fois!

  5. Denise

    Thank you so much! I am so impressed by what OFLA has on their site. Thanks again for the wonderful resources on your blog!

  6. Chris

    Dear Madame,

    I love your unit on one day in the life of…I too am trying to make the switch to proficiency based learning. I just had a couple of questions for you. In this Unit, how do you asses the interpersonal conversation in the IPA? Do you use tape recorders? Do you give a rubric?
    Are you finding that the students have enough grammar and can write well when they make it to level 5 and AP?

    Thank you!

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Chris! I assess all of my interpersonal assessments in person by calling random pairs to my desk and listening to their conversation. I will give the students a copy of the Ohio Dept. of Education rubric in advance, as I will be using this same rubric throughout the year. I plan on having them do some goal-setting with this rubric, too. I know that some teachers have good results with having the students tape their conversations with phones (or tape recorders), but I personally would feel overwhelmed by having to listen to all of those recordings outside of class. By assessing them in person, I am able to offer some immediate verbal feedback, which I wouldn’t be able to do if they were recording their conversations. Because last year was the first year that I taught entirely without the textbook and with very few explicit grammar lessons, I do not have personal experience regarding how the students will do when they reach Level 5/AP. I do know that when I did teach a lot of explicit grammar, many students were either not successful in memorizing the grammatical rules, or were able to memorize some forms for the quiz/test, but did not use the same structures correctly in later written work. For these reasons, I’ve been willing to try something different. I will say that last year many of my French 1 students were able to write very nice paragraphs on a variety of topics. They were also able to understand authentic written and recorded texts at a much higher level than I would have ever expected. I’m looking forward to seeing how much the kids retained from last year when I go back to school in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know what I find out! Lisa

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Chris! Yes, my IPA’s usually take 2-3 days. On the first day, the students begin the reading. During this time I also have them rotate on and off of the 8 computers I have in my classroom for the listening. On the 2nd day, they do the interpersonal speaking task. In the past, I also had them do the presentational writing tasks on Day 2. That is, they would start the writing and then I would call pairs up to my desk. The problem with this approach, is that according to ACTFL’s IPA Manual, the presentational writing task really should reflect the information gained from the partner in the interpersonal task (which is supposed to be based on the interpretive task). That is, they should be writing about something their partner said. In my real-world classroom, this doesn’t always work for the following reasons: 1) I need something for the kids to be doing while I’m listening to the pair discussions, so it is most practical to assign the writing task at this time. 2) It is not always realistic to design a writing task based on a discussion of an authentic resource, especially for Novices, who are dependent on memorized language. 3) In my real world classroom, I have 2-5 students absent per day. If I were unable to assign a writing task to any student who had missed either the interpretive or interpersonal tasks, my make-up schedule would be more of a nightmare than it already is. 4)I like to assign a rough draft as a formative assessment in advance of the IPA (especially for Novices). I provide written feedback on these drafts which increases student success on the final copy/IPA. If the presentational task were dependent on the interpretive and interpersonal tasks, I could not assign a draft in advance of the rest of the IPA. So, for these reasons, my presentational writing prompts are usually quite general in nature (not specifically dependent on the interpretive or interpersonal tasks.) In this way the students can be working on them while I am assessing interpersonal speaking. While I am hoping to design more integrated IPA’s in the future, I’m still trying to work out the logistics for my own teaching situation. If any of my readers have suggestions, I’d love to hear them!!!

  7. Holly

    I just discovered you and I am so grateful for all the wonderful units that you’ve shared! I am the only French teacher and I teach French. 1,2,3, and a split 4/5, both AP and DP tracks. We got rid of text books last year and I pretty much rewrote my entire curriculum to be a standards based curriculum last year. I struggled the most with the 4/5 AP,DP for obvious reasons and I’m getting a lot of inspiration from you to make the curriculum better. I apologize if you have published this somewhere that I didn’t see, but if you would be so kind, do you have a word doc that outlines what you teach when in terms of theme, grammar and verb tenses?
    Merci mille fois!

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Holly. Thanks for your kind comments! I have a question for you–What is DP? I’ve seen it mentioned lately, and don’t know what it is! I don’t have the type of document you suggested posted anywhere, but I did write a post about the themes I’m planning on using this year. Here it is:
      http://madameshepard.com/?p=672 I don’t teach much explicit grammar, so I don’t have specific structures for each unit. The students learn the grammar they need for the tasks in each unit. Having said that, I have developed units to ensure that the students will learn certain structures. For example, the French 2 castle unit is designed to introduce the imperfect (in addition to the cultural content). Thanks for reading! Lisa

  8. Sarah Giddens

    Hello Madame,

    I first need to echo all of the previous comments – I am a first year teacher trying to dive into proficiency based learning, and wrestling with what the ACTFL standards look like in “real-life classrooms.” I appreciate your blog not only for the valuable resources you generously provide as guides and samples, but even more for the opportunity to see how you wrestled with the same concepts, how you thought through them, and how (and why) you settled on your final conclusions.

    In general, I am liking thematic units and IPAs (just need to keep getting better at doing them), but I am running into some difficulty with them at the upper levels for 2 reasons:
    1. The interpretive task remains my biggest challenge – finding an authentic resource that is not overwhelming (I recently read your blog on this topic and am re-evaluating my materials)
    2. How to cover more subtle advanced grammar like the subjunctive? It appears a lot in authentic texts and formal interactions. How have you dealt with these in the past?

    Mille merci!

    1. madameshepard Post author

      Hi, Sarah! Thank you so much for your kind comments! I have a few suggestions for your challenges. Do you use the articles and videos from 1jour1actu? I really like them for levels 3 and up. The site is searchable and there are articles/videos on every topic under the sun. Also, are you on Pinterest? I found that once I started using Pinterest to curate resources, I did a lot less searching. I have a board on every theme and would just pin things as they showed up on my feed. Here’s my board if you want to search my boards: https://www.pinterest.com/madameshepard/ (Sorry about the random irrelevant boards–I use Pinterest to curate resources for my consulting work/real life, too. As for the grammar, I think it depends on your goals. If you just want the students to recognize the structures, I would just explain what the phrases mean when they come up. If you want the students to be able to use the structures, I’d present lots of examples (search Twitter for authentic examples of specific phrases like “il faut que j’aille”) and then create communicative tasks which require the students to use the structures. Since the ACTFL expectation is Intermediate Mid after 4 years, I would not expect students to master the subjunctive in high school. Please keep in touch and feel free to ask me any questions that come up! Lisa


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