From Theory into Practice: A Novice-level IPA on food and mealtimes.

bonappetitSo, we all know about best laid plans, right?  I had a very detailed (and lengthily) French Food/Mealtime unit all planned out.  Then it snowed, and got really cold, and snowed again, and I ended up losing three days of school. Then, the administration moved up the date that our interim progress reports were due.  As a result of these changes, my students weren’t going to have any major grades (IPA scores are 80% of my students’ overall grades) on their progress reports if I completed the entire unit as planned.  So, I punted and wrote an IPA based on the parts of the unit that we had covered.  Since we didn’t get to any of the restaurant activities, the IPA does not incorporate that context, but rather mealtimes in general.

Here’s the IPA Food Unit IPA and a few comments about how IPA’s work in my class.

Interpretive Listening: Although many IPA resources suggest using either an interpretive listening or an interpretive reading, I think it’s important to have both. The challenge for me is that it is difficult to find a written and recorded source that are specifically integrated, especially for Novice learners.  For this reason, I am satisfied to find videos that are related to the theme of the unit and comprehensible to these students.  On this IPA I included two videos about Trotro l’ane.  I use a lot of cartoons with my Novices, because of the support provided by the visuals.  I think of all of the cartoons I use, Trotro is probably one of the easiest.  The videos are short and the vocabulary and syntax are pretty simple.  (Note: These videos seem to come and go a lot, probably because of copyright issues.  If the link doesn’t work, try typing in the name of the cartoon in the Youtube search box, you might find the same cartoon from another user.)

As I mentioned in a previous post, the ACTFL guide doesn’t give a lot of direction when I comes to assessing listening on an IPA.  While they suggest using the same tasks as for reading, this doesn’t work well in my classroom, where I have to rotate 28 students through the 8 computers in my room.  That means that I must limit the amount of time required to complete the listening tasks. Therefore, on this IPA I’ve limited my tasks to several English comprehension questions for each video, as well as a few “Guessing meaning from context” items. I simply cannot give the students enough time on the computers to demonstrate their use of top-down processes such as identifying organization features, author’s perspective, and inferences.

Grading: Because the Interpretive Listening ACTFL Can Do benchmark for Novice Mid students is, “I can recognize some familiar words and phrases when I hear them spoken,” I am quite liberal when assigning a score to this section of the IPA.  I do not expect that the students will be able to correctly answer each of the questions that I have included, although I find value in providing items that will allow me to assess my students along a continuum of performance. Therefore, I assigned one point for each correct answer on this section, and then used the following scale to convert these points to a grade in my gradebook. (Note: Each assessment I give is based on a maximum score of 10.) Scale: 15 + = 11, 14 = 10, 12/13 = 9, 10/11 = 8, 8/9 = 7, 5/6 = 6, 4/below = 5 (I don’t give scores of less than 50%).

Interpretive Reading:  For this IPA I chose an article about a study on French adolescent eating habits.  I liked the cultural content of this article and felt that it would be comprehensible to my students because it incorporated so much of the vocabulary that we had used throughout the unit.  When designing the tasks, I incorporated all but the Organizational Features and Personal Reaction portions of the ACTFL template.  I omitted Organizational Features, because of the straightforward nature of the article.  I did not feel that the way it was organized contributed significantly to any lack of comprehension the students might have.  I do not include Personal Reactions, which are written in the target language, as they do not assess the students’ reading comprehension.

Grading: While I have relied heavily on the terminology used in the ACTFL Interpretive Rubric, I have modified the format in order to make it more user-friendly for my classroom.  In order to end up with a final score on this section of the IPA, I have assigned a number to each of the descriptors on the ACTFL rubric.  (I also added a 5th descriptor for each section.)  I also placed the descriptors in each section, rather than in a rubric at the end, for ease in grading.  This way, I can check the appropriate box as I grade each section, rather than flipping pages to find the rubric, or going back and rereading each section when filling out a rubric at the end.  When tabulating a final score for this section, I rely on the terminology in the ACTFL Rubric.  In my opinion, “Strong Comprehension” deserves an “A.” Because I assign a 4 to the descriptors in this category, an 80% overall would be an “A” on this assignment.  Therefore, I graded this portion of my IPA according to the following scale: 32+ = 11, 30/31 = 10, 28/29 = 9, 24-27 = 8, 21-23 = 7, 18-20 = 6, 17/below = 5.

Interpersonal Communication: For this part of the IPA, I called the students up to my desk in pairs, while the class as a whole was working on the interpretive portions of the IPA.  The students were given three minutes to talk about their eating habits.  I included a few suggested questions in English, to guide their discussion, but I did not expect them to ask or answer those questions exactly.  In fact, few of the students would have been able to ask all of those questions correctly.  Nevertheless, the majority of the students were able to continue their conversation for the entire three minutes.  Although I had given them some time to practice with a partner the day before, I randomly choose their partner for the IPA when I call them up, so that no pair is able to memorize a dialogue.

Grading: I do not find the ACTFL Interpersonal rubric to be well-suited to interpersonal tasks in my classroom.  The wording seems much more suitable to an assessment of general proficiency, rather than a performance-based assessment over a specific unit.  As a result, I have developed my own interpersonal rubric that I use for my IPA’s.

Presentational Communication: In this portion of the IPA, the students wrote to their hypothetical future exchange student and described their eating habits.  Although I usually assign a rough draft and provide feedback, I didn’t have time to do so before this IPA.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well they did without this support.

Grading: As with the Interpersonal task, the ACTFL rubric does not seem well-suited to a performance-based assessment, so I’ve developed my own.

There is no doubt that my ideas about developing and grading IPA’s will evolve as I continue to use them, so I’ll continue to post as my understanding increases.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear about how you use IPA’s in your classroom!

Resources: When I refer to the ACTFL guide and rubrics, I’m talking about the one you can buy here: .  You can also see the template and rubrics here:



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