As language teachers we should ask our students to perform at their proficiency level and provide opportunities for them to progress in their proficiency by prompting them to perform slightly beyond their current level (i+1). This seems simple and obvious, however, what often happens is that we jump to much higher levels too quickly and this causes a sort of linguistic paralysis or a realization that they don’t have the language proficiency to perform the task.
This is typically when students resort to looking up lots of words in a dictionary (that doesn’t make for an engaging conversation) or resorting to a translator when writing. If it takes the teacher longer to provide feedback (on a writing prompt for example) than it took for the student to write it, the level of the prompt was too high.
This can be a tricky task for the teacher. We want our students to feel confident, which might lead to keeping them in the comfort zone of the their current proficiency level. But, we also want them to progress. Language teachers (and learners) can approach this more effectively by having a clear understanding of the current proficiency level and providing prompts that are one level above (i+1). The ACTFL Can-Do Statements are very helpful in this area. It is also important to be aware of the functions and text types that we are asking students to use. The ACTFL criteria for assessing language level can be used with the can-do statements to have a clear understanding of the types of prompts that are appropriate to help the student progress.
Asking a novice level learner to narrate and describe events in paragraph form (text type refers to speaking as well as writing) skips the intermediate proficiency level. A solid understanding of the text types can be very helpful in figuring out what types of prompts and questions are appropriate to determine the current level of proficiency as well what types of questions will help a learner progress to the next proficiency level.
I owe a debt of gratitude to Darcy Rogers and Organic World Language (OWL) for making this so clear for me.