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. Sometimes, after a few bad grades, the less motivated students will even use cheetahpapers.com to write their assignments for them in an attempt to increase their grades. After a while, the focus of the assignment goes on the grade, instead of the work itself. This means that students often feel as though they’re never improving, harming their future learning.

Grading can have a negative impact on students and, 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!

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 (http://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/ncssfl-actfl-can-do-statements ):

  • 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 (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?

Bon Chemin!

Le_Puy-en-Velay,_Église_Saint-Laurent_et_Aiguilhe_PM_48569Just a quick post to let my regular readers know that I’ll be off the grid for the next three weeks.  Tomorrow my husband and I are headed to Le Puy-en-Velay for a 200-mile walk on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle (known to my Spanish readers as the Camino de Santiago).  Having completed the most popular route of the pilgrimage, from St. Jean Pied-de-Port to Santiago during the past two summers, we’ve become addicted to spending our vacation in Walk-Eat-Sleep mode.  After a busy, but very satisfying school year, I’m looking forward to a bit of relaxation.  (Yes, walking a half-marathon a day, for 18 days in a row, with all of my possession on my back IS more relaxing than teaching!)

So, while I won’t be able to respond to any comments or questions during this time, please keep leaving them.  I’ll look forward to re-connecting with all of you when I return!

Bonne Fin d’Annee,  Bonnes Vacances, ou Bon Chemin!

 

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.

 Conclusion

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!

Checking for Comprehension: Providing feedback on interpretive tasks

checklistA couple of weeks ago I shared the checklists I created to streamline the feedback process with the new Ohio World Language Scoring Guides. These checklists were designed to quickly inform students of their strengths and areas for improvement on Presentational Speaking/Writing and Interpersonal assessments. Although Ohio did not create their own Interpretive scoring guide, I decided to make up a quick checklist to accompany the ACTFL interpretive rubric so that I would have a complete set of these checklists to guide my feedback process on both formative and summative assessments.  Here’s a copy of the checklist: interpretive feedback .

In order to maintain consistency with the other checklists, I wrote the expectations in the middle column.  Most of the wording I used here came from the “Strong Comprehension” column on the ACTFL rubric, although I made a few slight changes, based on my reflections in this previous post.  In the column on the right, I have listed some suggestions that I will check for students who don’t meet the descriptors for Strong Comprehension.  On the left are comments designed to let the students know what their specific strengths were on the task.  As it is my intention that this feedback checklist would be used in conjunction with the ACTFL rubric, I have also included a section at the bottom where I will check which level of comprehension the student demonstrated on the interpretive task being assessed.

Because I rely heavily on authentic resources and corresponding interpretive tasks in designing my units, it was very important for me to be able to provide timely feedback on these assignments/formative assessments.  It is my hope that these checklists will help me quickly give specific feedback that will enable the students to demonstrate greater comprehension on their summative assessments (IPA) for each unit.

Musings on assessing Interpretive Reading

readingAlthough I still have a four days left in my current school year, my thoughts are already turning to the changes that I plan on making to improve my teaching for next year.  This great article in a current teen magazine (matin p. 1matin p. 2matin p. 3,  matin p. 4 ) prompted me to write this interpretive task for my first French 2 IPA in the fall, as well as to reflect on what has worked and not worked in assessing my students’ proficiency in the interpretive mode.  I have learned a lot after writing 30+ IPA’s this year!

As my readers will have noticed, I create all of my interpretive assessments based on the template provided by ACTFL.  For the most part, I love using this template for assessing reading comprehension.  The tasks on the template encourage my students to use both top-down and bottom-up processes to comprehend what they are reading and in most cases the descriptors in the rubric enable the teacher to pinpoint the students’ level of comprehension based on their responses in each section.  I do, however, have a few suggestions about using this template in the classroom and modifying the rubric in a way that will streamline the assessment process and increase student success. Below, I’ve addressed each section of the template, as well as the corresponding section of the ACTFL rubric.

Key Word Recognition: In this section, the students are given a list of English words or phrases and asked to find the corresponding French words/phrases in the text.  Because I don’t give many vocabulary quizzes, this section helps me identify whether the students have retained the vocabulary they have used in the unit. In the lower levels I also add cognates to this section, so that the students will become accustomed to identifying these words in the text.  I also include some previously-learned words here, to assess the students’ ability to access this vocabulary.  This section of the ACTFL rubric works well, as it objectively assesses the students on how many of these words the students are able to identify.  I have found it helpful to identify in advance what range of correct answers will be considered all, the majority, half and few, as these are the terms used to define the various levels of comprehension on the rubric.  The IPA that I’ve included here there are 14 key words, so I’ve set the following range for each level: Accomplished (13-14 correct responses), Strong Comprehension (9-12 correct responses), Minimal Comprehension (6-8 correct responses) and Limited Comprehension (5 or fewer correct responses). Establishing these numerical references helps streamline the process of evaluating the students on this section of the interpretive task and ensures that I am assessing the students as objectively as possible.

Main Idea: While this is a very important task, I have found that it is rather difficult to assess individual student responses, due the variety of ways that the students interpret the directions in this section. In the sample IPA, I would consider main idea of the text to be “to present the responses of a group of teenagers who were questioned about what gets them up in the morning.”  However, upon examining the rubric, it is clear that a more detailed main idea is required.  According to the rubric, to demonstrate an Accomplished level of comprehension, a student must identify “the complete main idea of the text;” a student who “misses some elements” will be evaluated as having Strong Comprehension and if she identifies “some part of the main idea,” she falls to the Minimal Comprehension category. Clearly, a strong response to the main idea task must include more than a simple statement.  In this example, a better main idea might be “to present a group of students’ responses when interviewed about how they wake up, why they get up at a certain time, and how their morning habits reflect their goals for the future.”  Clearly, my students need more direction in identifying a main idea in order to demonstrate Accomplished Comprehension in this section.  I think a simple change to the directions might improve their performance here. Here’s my suggestion:

  • Main Idea(s). “Using information from the article, provide the main idea(s) of the article in English” (ACTFL wording) and provide a few details from the text to support the main idea.

An issue that I’ve had in assessing the students’ main ideas is that the descriptors require the teacher to have a clear, specific main idea in mind in order to assess how many “key parts” of the main idea the students have identified.  In my practice I have found that interpreting a text’s main idea is quite subjective.  I have found that students often identify an accurate main idea that may differ considerably from the one I had envisioned.  Therefore, I would suggest the following descriptors for this task.  The information in parenthesis suggest what a main idea might look like for the sample text.

  • Accomplished: Identifies the main idea of text and provides a few pertinent details/examples to support this main idea. (“The main idea is to present a group of students’ responses when interviewed about how they wake up, why they get up at a certain time, and how their morning habits reflect their goals for the future.”)
  • Strong: Identifies the main idea and provides at least one pertinent detail/example to support the main idea. (The main idea is that a group of kids are telling when they get up in the morning and why.”)
  • Minimal: Provides a relevant main idea but does not support it with any pertinent details or examples. (It’s about why these kids have to get up in the morning.”)
  • Limited: May provide details from the text but is unable to determine a main idea. (“It’s about what these kids like to do.” or “It’s about what these kids want to be when they grow up.”)

Supporting Details. In my opinion, this is section is the meat of an interpretive assessment.  This is where I actually find out how much the students understood about the text.  As a result, I usually include more items here than ACTFL’s suggested five, with three distractors. While I like the general format of this task on the template, I quickly discovered when implementing it that I needed to make some slight changes. Namely, I had to eliminate the directive that the students identify where each supporting detail was located in the text and write the letter of the detail next to the corresponding information. In the real world, when I am grading 50+ IPA’s at a time, checking this task was entirely too cumbersome.  I photocopy the texts separately from the assessment, so that the students are not required to constantly flip through a packet to complete the IPA.  Therefore, if I were to assess this task, I would have to lay each student’s two packets next to each other and refer back and forth to their assessment and text to locate each letter.  I would then have to evaluate whether each letter was indeed placed close enough to the corresponding detail to indicate true comprehension.  I found this to be an extremely time-consuming, as well as subjective task, which did not provide the information I needed to determine how well the student comprehended the details in the text.  As a result, I quickly eliminated this requirement in this section.  I have, however, retained the requirement that students check each detail to indicate whether it was included in the text.  This provides the student who “knows it’s right there” but “doesn’t know what it says” to demonstrate his limited comprehension.  The most important aspect of this section, however, is that the students provide information to support the details they have checked.  Because this is the only section of the template that actually requires the student to demonstrate literal, sentence-level comprehension of the text, I think it’s important to evaluate it very carefully.  In my opinion, the descriptors in the ACTFL rubric do not allow the teacher to adequately assess this section. Consider this description for Minimal Comprehension, “Identifies some supporting details in the text and may provide limited information from the text to explain these details. Or identifies the majority of supporting details but is unable to provide information from the text to explain these details.”  In my opinion, this descriptor creates a false dichotomy between a student’s ability to identify the existence/location of relevant information and his ability to actually comprehend the text.  According to this rubric, a student who is unable to provide any actual information from the text would be considered as meeting expectations. In a real-life example, if a language learner knows that the driver’s manual tells which side of the street to drive on, but does not know whether she is to drive on the left or the right, I would not say she has met expectations for a minimal comprehension of the manual.  Rather than reinforce this dichotomy, I would prefer to delineate the levels of comprehension as:

  • Accomplished: Identifies all supporting details in the text and accurately provides information from the text to explain these details. (same as ACTFL)
  • Strong: Identifies most of the supporting details and provides pertinent information from the text to explain these details.
  • Minimal: Identifies most of the supporting details and provides pertinent information from the text to explain many of them.
  • Limited: Identifies most of the supporting details and provides pertinent information from the text to explain some of them.

As you can see, I expect the student to identify all or most of the supporting details at all levels of comprehension.  Since my students are identifying details by checking a blank, and 70-80% of the blanks will be checked (20%-30% are distractors), a student could randomly check all of the blanks and meet the descriptor for “identifying most of the details.”  Therefore, this part of the descriptor is less relevant than the amount of pertinent information from the text that is provided to explain the details.

Organization Feature: As I mentioned in a previous post about designing IPA’s, I understand the role that an understanding of a text’s organization has in a student’s comprehension.  However, in practice I often omit this section. The organization of the texts that I use are so evident that asking the students to identify them does not provide significant information about their comprehension.  If, however, I were to use a text that presented an unexpected organizational structure, I think this task would become relevant and I would include it and use the ACTFL rubric to assess the students.

Guessing Meaning from Context.  I love this section!  I think that a student’s responses here could tell me more about their comprehension than any other section of the interpretive task.  However, in practice this is not always the case.  In general, my students tend to perform below my expectations in this section. It may be that I am selecting passages that are above their level of comprehension or it may be that my students don’t take the time to locate the actual sentence in the article.  As a result, the less motivated students simply fill in a cognate, rather than a word that might make sense in the sentence.  Regardless, I think the ACTFL rubric works well here.  I do, however, usually include about five items here, rather than the suggested three.  This allows my students a greater possibility of success as they can score a “Minimal Comprehension” for inferring a plausible meaning for at least three (“most”) items.

Inference. I have found that this section also provides important information about my students’ overall comprehension of the text.  The greatest challenge is encouraging them to include enough textual support from the text to support their inferences.  A slight change I would suggest to the rubric would be to change the wording, which currently assessing students according to how many correct or plausible inferences they make.  Since the template suggests only two questions, it seems illogical that a student who makes a “few plausible inferences” would be assessed as having “Minimal Comprehension.”  In actual practice, I have assessed students more on how well they support their inferences than the number of inferences they have made.  If I were designing a rubric for this section, I would suggest the following descriptors here:

  • Accomplished Comprehension: “Infers and interprets the text’s meaning in a highly plausible manner” (ACTFL wording) and supports these inferences with detailed, pertinent information from the text.
  • Strong Comprehension: “Infers and interprets the text’s meaning in a partially complete and/or partially plausible manner” (ACTFL wording) and adequately supports these inferences with pertinent information from the text.
  • Minimal Comprehension: Makes a plausible inference regarding the text’s meaning but provides inadequate  information from the text to support this inference.
  • Limited Comprehension: Makes a plausible inference regarding the text’s meaning but does not support the inference with pertinent information from the text.

Author’s Perspective. Although not all text types lend themselves to this task, I include it whenever possible.  I do, however, deviate somewhat from the suggested perspectives provided by ACTFL.  Rather than general perspectives, such as scientific, moral, factual, etc., I have the students choose between three rather specific possible perspectives.  As with identifying inferences, I believe the most important aspect of the students’ responses on this task is the textual evidence that the students provide to support their choice.  In my opinion, the ACTFL rubric for this section provides good descriptors for determining a student’s comprehension based on the textual support they provide.

Comparing Cultural Perspectives. Although I find these items difficult to write, I think this section is imperative.  One of the most important reasons for using authentic resources is for the cultural information that they contain.  This task allows us to direct the students’ attention to the cultural information provided by the text, as well as to assess how well they are able to interpret this information to acquire new understandings of the target culture.  The first challenge in writing these items is that the teacher must phrase the question in a way that enables the student to connect the cultural product/practice to a cultural perspective.  This is especially difficult for novice learners who made have very little background knowledge about the target culture(s).  Because identifying a cultural perspective is such a sophisticated task, I think it’s important to provide a fair amount of guidance in these items. While the ACTFL template provides some sample questions, it’s important to realize that some of these questions do not allow the students to adequately identify a cultural perspective. In addition, many of the suggested questions assume that the students share a common culture and background knowledge.  I have made many mistaken assumptions when asking my students to compare a French practice to an American one.  Many of my students have not traveled outside of our community, have not had many cultural experiences, and lack basic knowledge about American history.  Therefore, they do not have the background knowledge about U.S. culture to make adequate comparisons. Furthermore, a significant percentage of my students were born outside of the U.S., so any question requiring them to demonstrate knowledge of American culture is unfair.  In the future, when writing a comparison question I will invite my students to compare the French practice to “a practice in a culture they are familiar with.”

My concern with the ACTFL rubric for this section is that a student is assessed mostly on his ability to connect the product or practice to a perspective.  While I think this high-level thinking skill is important, I have not found it to be closely related to the students’ comprehension of the text.  I have students who may wholly comprehend the text, but lack the cognitive sophistication to use what the read to make a connection to perspectives, placing them in the Limited Comprehension category.  In addition, many valuables texts simple don’t include the types of information needed to make these connections. Perhaps the following descriptors might be more realistic?

  • Accomplished Comprehension: Accurately identifies cultural products or practices from the text and uses them to infer a plausible cultural perspective.
  • Strong Comprehension: Accurately identifies at least one product or practice from the text and uses it to infer a plausible cultural perspective.
  • Minimal Comprehension: Accurately identifies at least one product or practice from the text but does not infer a plausible cultural perspective.
  • Limited Comprehension: May identify a superficial product or practice that is not directly related to the text but is unable to infer a plausible cultural perspective.

Please let me know if you’re using the ACTFL template and rubrics to assess Interpretive Communication and how it’s working for you.  I have lots to learn!

 

It’s all about the feedback: Checklists to accompany Ohio’s Scoring Guidelines for World Languages

feedback The arrival of the new Ohio Scoring Guides for World Languages, as well as an excellent post by Amy Lenord served as an important reminder that I need to improve the feedback that I give my students.  Although I have used a checklist for feedback in the past, I haven’t been completely consistent in using it as of late.  Furthermore, my previous checklist was not aligned to these new scoring guidelines.  It was definitely time to do some updating!

Fortunately, the Ohio Scoring Guides for Performance Evaluation provide a great framework for meaningful feedback.  Each of the rubrics includes an additional page that lists the criteria, as well as blank spaces for self or teacher feedback. Unfortunately, I know that my written comments do not always meet the students’ needs, especially on speaking assessments. The notes that I do jot down while listening to their production are most likely incomprehensible to my students.  My hurried handwriting is illegible, and it is difficult for my students to see the connection between my comments and their success on the performance. In order to address these issues, I prepared a series of checklists that I will incorporate when providing feedback using these rubrics.  For each set of criteria on the ODE rubrics I have added specific comments to target the student’s strengths, as well as a list of comments to identify suggestions for improvement.  By providing these specific comments, I hope to provide legible, focused feedback to my students on both formative and summative performance tasks.  In addition, I envision having the students do their own goal-setting by highlighting specific areas of the rubric that they would like to focus their attention on.

When developing my comments, I considered both the criteria, and the comments that I find myself using over and over again.  As a French teacher, I specifically addressed common errors made by English speakers, especially in terms of pronunciation and common structures.  In addition, I have included an “Other” line, for strengths/errors that are not specifically addressed on the checklist.  It was important to me that my checklist fit on one sheet of paper for ease of use, so I tried to include only those errors that are the most often made by my students.

It is my hope that these checklists will help my students identify both their strengths and areas for improvement and streamline their progress toward higher levels of proficiency. Here are the checklists, let me know what you think! Feedback checklists

Paris: A Novice Unit and IPA

paris  Based on social media posts from my virtual colleagues, it seems that many of us are ending the year with a unit on Paris for our French 1 students.  In my case, I found that this unit was a great way to bring in some vocabulary for places in a city and transportation.  In addition, the students are gaining important knowledge about a city that many of them will have an opportunity to visit at one time in their lives.

Because I think it’s very important for the students to become familiar with various attractions in Paris, I began this unit with a series of learning stations designed to introduce the students to the tourist attractions they might visit on a trip to Paris.  Although these stations are based on authentic resources that I have accumulated over the years (and can’t realistically share here), I’ve included a quick explanation of each station.

Paris Monument Cards: The students read a series of cards, each of which had a photograph of the monument as well as historical information.  These cards were originally attached, forming a fan, but I separated them so that they could be read individually.  I bought the fan in Paris, but it may be available elsewhere.  If anyone else has this resource,  here are the questions I wrote: Paris Monument Fan (3/30/16: Here’s a link to purchase the fan from amazon.ca: https://www.amazon.ca/%C3%89VENTAIL-MONUMENTS-PARIS-COLLECTIF/dp/2842033965/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1459360983&sr=1-1&keywords=eventail+des+monuments+de+paris)

Paris Listening Station: The students watched two authentic videos and responded to questions in English.  Here’s the document I created with the links and comprehension questions: Listening Station

Paris Children’s Books: I have two children’s books that students could read at this station.  They worked with a partner on the comprehension activity, so that four students in the group were able to read a book in its original form, without relying on photocopies.

Paris ID Station: At this station students completed a series of teacher-created activities designed to help them learn to identify each monument visually.  I included a Go Fish game that I made with photographs of the monuments, a matching activity in which they had to identify unlabeled photographs by comparing them to Paris monument postcards, a lotto game in which they had to fill a board by drawing pictures of monuments from a pile , an activity in which they had to identify monuments based on photographs I had taken at unusual angles, etc.

Paris Brochures: Here, the students read brochures that I have brought back from various monuments and answered comprehension questions. These brochures were a great way to reinforce vocabulary for days of the week, months of the year, and telling time!

After the students had completed all 5 stations, we spent a few days reviewing the monuments using a Google Presentation ( https://docs.google.com/a/hilliardschools.org/presentation/d/1_3jd7FibPFNenBeXS8ujpSEERbnQ4cLU0c9ax_S3PFY/edit?usp=sharing) which I would project and ask questions about. To further reinforce this information, I had the students create Bingo boards on a sheet of paper.  For this very low-tech activity, they made a grid of 5 x 5 squares and wrote the name of an attraction on each one.  I would then give a clue (either a picture or a fact about the monument) and they placed a chip on the square with the appropriate monument.  Note: There are more than 25 attractions, so some students won’t have some of the monuments I describe, just as with regular Bingo.  Due to the simple nature of the language used, the students were able to understand my questions and clues for these activities with very little difficulty. As an additional resource, I created this Google Presentation with photographs only. (https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1THhX7NIaLmQoImP3RgGxYQUJm1apE9J5Lg3QxnchJ5g/edit?usp=sharing) .  Because I will eventually hold the students responsible for identifying the monuments visually, I wanted to provide an easy way to practice identification. (Note: There are currently a few extra attractions on this presentation. When time permits, I’ll update them so that they have the exact same attractions.) The students have access to both presentations, so that they can further review the facts and images from home.

After the students are able to identify the monuments and know some factual information about each one, they will begin preparing for their IPA.  This document contains a few structures and vocabulary items they’ll need to know and a couple of quick activities to practice the skills they will use on the IPA (Paris IPA Practice ) Namely, they will list activities they would like to do in Paris, practice discussing these activities with a partner, and then will create an itinerary for a trip.

After these practice activities, they should be ready for their IPA (French 1 Paris IPA ) which contains the following tasks.

Interpretive Listening: The students will watch a video about 10 Paris attractions and complete an interpretive task. Interpretive Reading: The students will read several pages paris 1paris 2paris 3paris 4paris 5paris 6paris 7paris )from a children’s book about Paris and complete comprehension activites. Interpersonal Communication: The students will discuss possible activities to do in Paris and co-create a simple itinerary. Presentational Writing: The students will write a letter to a family member in which they describe their itinerary and ask for a financial contribution for the trip.

This IPA, along with a simple assessment on Paris monuments, will be the final exam for these students.  I’m so proud of what these students have accomplished this year and looking forward to following their progress in the years to come!