The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines are a very helpful tool in the Foreign/World Language Classroom. They provide teachers and students with clear guidelines and descriptions to assess proficiency levels. They are also an effective tool for students and teachers to set achievable and concrete goals.
The ACTFL Can Do Statements provide detailed examples of what students could/should be able to do at each proficiency level. The challenge I have personally had with the Can Do Statements is using them for various age and developmental levels. There are some Can Do statements that address such things as making reservations and asking questions about particular academic subjects. While these are very applicable to older students, they are not developmentally appropriate for younger students. For this reason I have developed, with the help of a few colleagues, Student-Friendly Can Do Statements. These statements honor the text type (individual words and phrases, discrete sentences, connected sentences, paragraphs) of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, but are more applicable to elementary, middle school and high school students.
Language teachers know the importance of target language use in the classroom. Regular exposure and interaction with the language leads to acquisition and a higher proficiency level. In order to promote, expect and respect the use of the target language in the classroom teachers should support students by creating a classroom community that makes students feel safe taking risks with the language and teach the tools needed to communicate. Students should also know their proficiency level and be personally accountable for their commitment to using the target language and striving to raise their proficiency level.
In my classroom I have a 20 point rubric that I use to assess students each week on four focus areas: Community, Commitment, Proficiency, and Preparation.
Each category is based a five point scale. Students are aware of these criteria and they are posted in the classroom so that they can be references regularly. I typically grade each student myself for the first few weeks of the school year and then students self-assess, but I of course reserve the right to modify the self-assessment grade if necessary. The grade is given holistically for the entire week. Here is the breakdown of each category:
- 5 Choices and interactions enhance the classroom community.
- 4 Choices and interactions almost always enhance the classroom community.
- 3 Choices and interactions sometimes enhance the classroom community.
- 2 Choices and interactions often hinder the classroom community.
- 1 Choices and interactions regularly hinder the classroom community.
For recommendations on classroom community building see my post on Building a Community of Confidence.
- 5 Always speaks target language and circumlocutes.
- 4 Always speaks target language with some effort to circumlocute.
- 3 Makes an effort to speak target language, but need to circumlocute more.
- 2 Resorts to native language; no circumlocution.
- 1 Little use of target language.
For tools and strategies for students to remain in the target language see my posts on circumlocution, functional chunks and language ladders.
- 5 Regularly speaks at expected proficiency level and strives to speak above level.
- 4 Regularly speaks at expected proficiency level.
- 3 Usually speaks at expected proficiency level and below level at times.
- 2 Regularly speaks below proficiency level.
- 1 Always speaks below proficiency level.
See my post on Foreign Language Goal Setting Using ACTFL Proficiency Levels to learn about assessing students’ proficiency levels.
- 5 Punctual, has all materials, assignments complete.
- 4 Punctual, has most materials, assignments complete.
- 3 Punctual, has all materials, assignments incomplete.
- 2 Late or missing materials.
- 1 Late or missing materials, assignments incomplete.
Try out this rubric system and modify to fit the needs and of your individual classroom. I’m sure you will see an increase in student accountability for using the target language and you will feel confident that you are supporting your student in their language proficiency growth.
How do we get to 90%+ target language use in the foreign language classroom? We need to rethink how we have been teaching over the past few decades and be willing to leave some of it behind. Traditional teaching practices were not designed to promote a high percentage of target language use.
If you want to get to 90%+ target language use in the classroom reflect on your teaching through the lens of these four questions and recommendations. Take some time to contemplate how you can move your teaching in a direction that is more proficiency-based and promotes regular and confident use of the target language in your classroom.
- Q1: Are prompts and tasks at the appropriate proficiency level?
- R1: Assess the proficiency level of students to make sure that prompts are not above students’ proficiency level.
- Q3. Are students held accountable for using the target language?
- R3: Include goal setting, consistency, commitment and proficiency in grade.
- Q4. Are all the students actively engaged and interested?
- R4: Provide choice and opportunity for personal interest, investment and active engagement.
I’m always looking for ways to get students up and moving in the classroom while they are practicing their foreign language speaking and writing skills. This is an activity that I call “Hide and Speak (or write)” that accomplishes this goal and students enjoy it and often ask to play. I’m happy to oblige because they speak (or write) so much during this activity.
- Begin by hiding 20-30 prompt cards. These can be index cards with vocabulary words, an image, a question about a reading, or proficiency-based questions aligned with ACTFL standards. The possibilities are endless for prompts based on the material that is being covered in class. Memory Cards or Task Cards work very well for this this activity.
- Pairs of students set out to find the prompts and when they do they return to the teacher with the card and perform the task: identify the image in the target language, use the word or verb in a sentence, answer a proficiency-based question or complete a Task Card. Lots of possibilities. This can all be through speaking or writing. When writing I give pairs a small white board and marker.
- If the pair responds correctly they can get a point for their team or the teacher can make it a point for the entire class with the goal being to get a certain number of points collectively in a specified amount of time. The teacher keeps the prompt card and the pair sets back out.
- Be sure to tell pairs that they need to wait in line to check in with the teacher so that that they don’t call crowd in.
Check out these task cards these task cards and memory cards that work well in this activity.
This a very effective go-to activity that requires very little prep and gets students moving and using the target language immediately. It’s also a great way to use a set of memory/concentration cards that you may have in your classroom. If you need cards you can find them here:
Set up desks or tables around room, spaced out enough for students to move around, and put several pictures on each table. Play music and kids move around (maybe dance if they are so inclined), then when the music stops students stand behind a table.
Choose a word card, say it out loud and student with that picture identified says they he/she has the corresponding picture card on his/her table (int he target language of course). He/she then uses the word in a sentence and puts a point up by his/her name on the board. Play the music again and continue the same process of stopping the music and students saying a sentence with the word if they had the picture match.
Students really enjoyed this activity, review lots of vocabulary, and speak a lot. You can also allow the winner of the round to be the one to start and stop the music the next time, choose a word card and say it to the class. Try this with verb forms as well, with the conjugations 0n the desks.
El Camino/Le Chemin is an engaging and interactive speaking activity that students can do in pairs or small groups. Very quick set-up with no prep needed. Just print out the two pages that make up the game board and students are ready to go. Students can do this activity in groups of 2 or 3. Each player needs a game piece to move around the board. They can use a bingo chip, a coin or any object of similar size. One die is also needed for the activity.
All players start at “Début” or “Comeinzo.” Taking turns, each player rolls the die and moves the number of spaces rolled. The object is to land on the numbered boxes in the correct order (1-12). They can move in any direction, but they can’t use the same box twice in a turn. They can share a box with another player. The winner is the first player to land on square #12. The game can be made longer by having players return to “Début” or “Comienzo”and work toward #12 a second time.
Each time a player rolls the die and moves closer to the next number, he/she must say the verb, number, time, category word, etc. of the square he/she lands on. They can also be required to say a complete sentences.
You can download these activities here:
This activity gives students a chance to express themselves confidently at their current proficiency level. It is easily adapted by simply prompting students as to how they should speak (text type).
Typically I have students work in pairs or in groups of 3. Begin by setting up a sheet with 12 categories on it that are number 1-12. Provide 2 dice along with this paper. Give each pair or group a small bag (not transparent) with small slips of colored paper along with a sheet that has a point value assigned to each color. For fun I also include a “Zut” or “Caramba” color which has no points assigned. You could also put slips of parer with point values in the bag, but I like to keep it more engaging and colorful. You can project the category sheet that the entire class can reference, but again I prefer to keep the activity centered in the group, so I provide an individual reference sheet. The plastic frames that can hold a sheet of paper have come in very handy for me with various activities.
Students begin by each individually rolling 1 or both dice and attend to the category of the number. If done correctly (group consensus), the student chooses a colored slip out of the bag and keeps a running total of points. He/She puts the slip back in the bag. After a predetermined amount of play time, the “winner” is the students with the highest points.
The teacher can easily adapt the speaking to the proficiency level of the students by using the tasks/functions and text types by ACTFL proficiency level. You can learn more about these asks/functions and text types on the ACTFL OPI website. Be sure to download the OPI Familiarization Manual.
If the students are at the novice level, they will give one word answers or short phrases, most likely giving an example of something in that category. If they are at the intermediate level they can speak using a series of sentences or be required to ask a question of another player about the topic. If students are at the advanced level they can speak at length in paragraph form. The categories at this level will need to be more complex in nature, perhaps pertaining to world events or characters and plot in a story.
The 100th day of school is a very important day in many elementary schools and there are lots of activities to celebrate, all based on the number 100. Each year, I challenge my 3rd graders to list 100 words and expressions that they know in the target language in 20 minutes. I give pairs of students a card with a category and they brainstorm words and expressions. It’s a great way for them to use category words in preparation for circumlocution.
We then write the list. I always hold off on using the words for numbers, unless they are needed to reach 100. We did not need to resort to them this year. It is all about the context. Rather than listing words for fruit, ask students to tell you which fruits are their favorite, or to describe the colors. Instead of asking for examples of verbs, have students tell you what they like to do on the weekends with their friends, and follow it up with when and where. Once they communicate in context the words and expressions keep coming.
Once you get a hang of the process, creating QR codes to access student recordings is fairly straight forward and students can quickly learn to do it themselves. There are mays ways to use QR codes in the foreign language classroom.
One thing I like to do is make the codes available to parents so that they can listen to their kids speaking the language. For example, I made this bulletin board interactive so that the students voices can be heard reading their writing assignment. All it takes is a QR reading app on a smartphone to quickly and instantly hear the student’s voice.
Here are the steps for recording audio and creating a QR Code. There are various apps for recording audio and a number of website to create QR codes. These are simply the ones that I use.
Record on Recording Lite or Voice Record apps (both available for free).
You can use Google drive to upload the audio files or Dropbox . These directions use Dropbox, but Google drive works the same way. Create a folder for the audio. Drag the audio files from email into the dropbox folder.
Click on an audio file in dropbox and select share.
Copy the URL.
Generate a QR link. Use http://www.qrstuff.com/
Paste the URL into the box and QR code will generate to the right. You can download the image or copy the image from the screen.