Category Archives: Teaching Methodology and Research

ACTFL Core Practices

Do you ever find yourself in a conversation where you tell someone that you are a foreign language teacher and the response is something like this, “I had 4 years of Spanish in high school, but I can’t speak a word now.”  Clearly this traditional methodology has not been very effective.  What can we do about this to make sure that 20 years from now our students are not saying the same thing?

ACTFL provides us with Core Practices that guide teachers toward teaching language proficiency rather than simply teaching about the target language.  It comes down to providing students with opportunities to do something with the language and not just demonstrate what they know about the language. Take a look at the 6 ACTFL Core Practices below.

ACTFL Core Practices (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com     ACTFL Core Practices (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com ACTFL Core Practices (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com ACTFL Core Practices (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com ACTFL Core Practices (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com ACTFL Core Practices (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com ACTFL Core Practices (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Move Student Speaking and Writing from Novice to Intermediate

At the novice level, students are speaking and writing with single words and lists initially, then move on to chunked phrases.  Her are some examples:

Novice Low/Mid:

  • green
  • apple, banana, orange
  • Josué
  • soccer, football
  • movies, restaurant

Novice High:

  • My favorite color is green
  • I like apples, bananas and oranges
  • My name is Josué
  • I play soccer and football
  • On the weekend I like to go to the movies and to a restaurant

Move Student Speaking and Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comAs students move up to the intermediate proficiency level they begin to create discrete sentences on their own that move beyond chunked phrases.  This tends to be the most challenging for students as they begin to create with language and are not relying on memorized phrases to chunk together.  Rather than changing the detail after a memorized phrase such as “my favorite ______ is _______” and “I like __________” they are moving on to changing subjects, using various propositions and varying their verb forms and tenses.  Teachers can help scaffold this process for students by assisting them in creating sentences.  Students are often challenged by how to add details to a sentence to make it their own, particularly when writing.

I have found that using question words with students is a simple and effective way to have students add details to their sentences that move from memorized, chunked phrases to discrete sentences that are created by the student.  The more they do this the more they will grow in confidence and begin to do it on their own when writing.

A simple reminder of question words as students  write about a topic will guide them toward writing discrete sentences that they create on their own and and will move solidly on to the intermediate low proficiency level. For example, if a student writes ” I like to swim.” suggest a few question words to help make the sentence a bit longer and more detailed.  With whom?  When?  Where?

This will move the sentence from “I like to swim” to “I like to swim with my friend Julie on Saturday at the community pool.”  The more students get accustomed to adding details this way the more they will do it on their own when speaking and writing.

Here are a few posts I’ve written that have some suggestions and resources for guiding students through this process of moving their speaking and writing from novice to intermediate.  Click on the images to see the posts.

Spanish & French Verb Tense and Sentence Writing Powerpoint Activities

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Students rise in proficiency, but what about language accuracy?

It’s the question on everyone’s mind.  What is the role of accuracy in foreign language as students grow in proficiency?  Do we tend to accuracy?  Do we just focus on proficiency and assume that the language will become more accurate with time and practice?

Students are rising in proficiency, but what about language accuracy? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

The ACTFL performance descriptors are an effective tool to determine precisely what students can do at each proficiency level (and sub level).  The descriptors go on to state what the language output of students looks like at each level.  Take a look:

Students are rising in proficiency, but what about language accuracy? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

While these are very useful, we are often met with the issue of inaccuracy in language.  To be clear, proficiency is about communicating a message and is not so focused on polished and accurate language forms.  Essentially the language structures need to be accurate enough for the message to be understood.  It is generally understood in second language acquisition research that continued exposure (input) to language structures in context will lead to internalization and acquisition of the native-like language structures.

The issue here is that it is often challenging to focus specifically on a particular language element or structure when providing students with contextualized input.  Is there are a way to provide this focused input to students?  Is there a way for students to be actively engaged in the content, which will peak their interest?

I have been faced with this challenge of students moving up to the intermediate proficiency level and speaking and writing in complete, discrete sentences, but the verb forms are often not correct.  Students communicate their message, but I want to provide contextualized input of a particular structure so that students  move toward more accurate language as well.  I’m assuming you have been here?

In an effort to make input compelling and interesting to students I try to have them create the content as much as possible.  The more they choose the topic the more they will be interested and will pay attention to the themes and language structure being highlighted. Combining student-generated content and a focus on a particular language structure I developed these activities.

Students are rising in proficiency, but what about language accuracy? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com Students are rising in proficiency, but what about language accuracy? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

Students begin by  writing the correct form of the verb when given the subject and the infinitive.  To reiterate  the correct form students them locate the subject, infinitive and verb form in the grid.  It works like a word search.  Until this point, it’s a very mechanical exercise that is devoid of context.  So, the next step is to write a sentence with each subject and verb form.  This is where the student-generated content comes in.  Some students choose to write personal sentences, other prefer to write about topics that interest them and some prefer to be humorous.  Regardless of the sentences, in the end the correct verb forms in a contextualized sentence provide very focused input for students.

I have seen a marked increase in accurate verb forms when students use this type of writing activity.  The word-search element provides an interesting way to focus on the correct verb form and the sentences that are student-generated highlight correct usage in context. You can take a it a step further and use the student sentences to create a task such as collating sentences into different categories and graphing results.  The important thing to keep in mind is that all the while students are seeing and using the sentences that contain the accurate verb forms in context.  Increased exposure to these language forms is what is needed to move toward acquisition.

If you would like to help your students  polish their language structures, take a look at these activities.  There are many topics in both French and Spanish.  Click on the links below to access these resources and watch the accuracy of your students’ language rise with their proficiency.

Spanish:

French:

ACTFL Modes of Communication (Presentational, Interpretive, Interpersonal)

Foreign Language Class Lesson Plan in 3 Easy Steps

How to Assess Proficiency and Give Number and Letter Grades

Most teachers are required to give number or letter grades in their foreign language classes.  Even though there is some level of autonomy regarding how this might be done, the reality is that at the end of the term, semester or year we have to provide one holistic grade.  This is often a challenge due to the sometimes ambiguous nature of communicative language teaching.  Our grading systems are based on a right/wrong approach to assessment.  It’s not easy to honor proficiency progress with a grading system that is set up this way.

How to include proficiency in a traditional grade. (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comIt’s a simple fact that does not seem to be evolving any time soon…schools require teachers to give a letter or number grade when assessing students.  Along with this reality we as teachers want to provide students with useful feedback on their progress.  Collectively, the hope is to provide this much-needed feedback and assessment while following the grading protocol in our schools.  Ultimately we would like to combine both what is useful to our students with what is required of us professionally in a sustainable way.  Does this even seem possible?

I’ve been there.  Several years back as I began researching and deepening my understanding of ACTFL proficiency levels and communicative language teaching.  It soon became clear that the fluidity of proficiency levels did not integrate well into a concrete grading system.  Essentially, like most teachers, my grades at the end of the term were more a reflection of what students knew about the language than what they could do with the language. As I wrestled with this reality I worked to create a grading program that concretely assessed student proficiency levels while honoring the grading requirements in my school.

As you grapple with this issue, I suggest that you begin by familiarizing yourself with the ACTFL proficiency levels and the text types that are associated with each level.  These text types are the output that students produce.  Knowing what the student output will be is the first step in creating tasks that will assess students.

How to include proficiency in a traditional grade. (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comOnce you know what the expected test type will be decide what thematic vocabulary you’d like to assess along with the anticipated language structures.  Once you know what the text type should be and you have a solid idea of what the anticipated vocabulary and structures are you can then create a prompt or task that students can complete and be assessed on.

How to include proficiency in a traditional grade. (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comThis sort of backwards planning is essential.  If you begin with the prompt without considering the text type output or the vocabulary and structures the prompt is not likely to have the intended outcome.

Once you have the task ready to go, you will need a proficiency-based rubric to assess what the student is able to do.  It is essential to include all the elements that that are part of language proficiency.  In particular, text type, language control, vocabulary and strategy use.

How to include proficiency in a traditional grade. (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comYou can download three types of rubrics HERE.  These rubrics include a lesson plan template and are applicable to any proficiency level.  In addition, you will find assessment rubrics for presentational, interpretive and interpersonal communication.

Once you use these rubrics you will quickly see how efficiently you can assess proficiency and easily integrate the grade into your overall grades in your class.  Without them you will likely find yourself where I was a few years back…ready to embrace communicative language teaching, but unable to assess in a productive and sustainable way.

Language Proficiency Levels and Leveling up

I recently wrote a post about what communication specifically looks like at the various proficiency levels along with some tips for leveling up.  I put all the details together in this one graphic.  Click on the image to enlarge or download the PDF.

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