Category Archives: Teaching Methodology and Research

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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What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels?

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comThe ACTFL Proficiency Levels and Performance Descriptors provide a very useful tool for seeing exactly what learners are able to communicate and produce at the various proficiency levels.  I put together a graphic to visualize the output a bit more concretely.

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com

The question always comes up about how students can move up in their proficiency level.  The ACTFL Text Types show the specific types of language that novice, intermediate and advanced learners produce.

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comReferencing the types of language that learners produce along with the descriptors of what learners are able to communicate we can provide a few suggestion for moving up sub-levels (low-mid-high) and levels (novice, intermediate, advanced).

To move up sub-levels in the novice proficiency range:

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comTo move up sub-levels in the intermediate proficiency range:

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comTo move up sub-levels in the advanced proficiency range:

What Does Language Look Like at the Various Proficiency Levels? (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comDownload the full graphic of all these details HERE.

Foreign Language Assessment Rubrics (Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentaional)

The ACTFL Proficiency Levels and Performance Descriptors provide a useful way of creating prompts and assessing student communication in the classroom.

Foreign Language Assessment Rubrics (Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentaional) (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com)Teachers are becoming more familiar with these proficiency levels and the text types associated with them.

Foreign Language Assessment Rubrics (Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentaional) (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.com)

The Performance Descriptors break proficiency down into several categories: Language Control, Vocabulary and Strategies.  Depending on the task a cultural assessment may also be a part of this.  Quite often the challenge is  finding a way to concretely assess students in these categories.

When creating an assessment, the teacher should begin by going over exactly what language looks like at each proficiency level.  By knowing the current proficiency level of students the teacher can create prompts that require speaking, listening, writing and reading that is possible for students to accomplish without going too far above or below their proficiency level. If you need a refresher on assessing proficiency levels and communication strategies take a look at these posts:

Begin planning each task with these questions:

  • What is the current text type of students (proficiency level)?
  • What are the language structures to be assessed?
  • What is the vocabulary theme?
  • What communication strategies are needed?

Then, based on this information, write a prompt that will allow students to speak, read, listen, write and communicate at a proficiency level that is appropriate to them. It’s important to follow this order so that the prompt is appropriate to the proficiency level.

You can download detailed rubrics that assess interpersonal, interpretive and presentational communication HERE.  They include text type, language control, vocabulary and communication strategies and can be used on any topic or proficiency level.

Teaching Skills of Cultural Competency in the World Language Classroom

Skills in cultural competence are in high demand as we all become more interconnected around the globe.  These skills, which are essentially behaviors and attitudes that enable us to work effectively cross-culturally, are a central part of my classroom teaching.  And, it starts early on.  Here are a few ways that I provide opportunities for some of my youngest student to start honing their skills of cultural competence early on.

Teaching Skills of Cultural Competency in the World Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.com

Teaching Skills of Cultural Competency in the World Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.comThe French speaking world is so much larger than France and Canada, and I strive to expose my students to the many countries and cultures around the world that use the French language. Beyond European countries such as Belgium and Switzerland, French is used in many African countries including Senegal, Benin, Guinea, Cameroon, Chad and Rwanda just to name a few. Additionally there are francophone areas in the Caribbean (Haiti, Martinique) and the south Pacific (French Polynesia and New Caledonia).  In an effort to engage students in the language and culture of these countries, my French students have been corresponding with students from around the francophone world.

Teaching Skills of Cultural Competency in the World Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.comThree years ago my fourth grade class connected with the Fontamara School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  The partnership was made through a connection I have with the Power of Education Foundation, which started the Fontamara School following the earthquake in 2010.  My students wrote autobiographies in French to talk about their homes, families, likes and dislikes, and their school.  The students at Fontamara also wrote to our fourth graders following their lead of topics which made it rather easy for my students to understand the French.

Teaching Skills of Cultural Competency in the World Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.comTwo years ago one of my classes was paired with a Peace Corps volunteer teaching in a school in Senegal. Our Peace Corps partner, Samantha, kept a blog of her experience, and the my class was able to follow her adventure in addition to corresponding with her students in French.  They even got to see pictures that Samantha posted on her blog of students in Senegal writing to us.

Teaching Skills of Cultural Competency in the World Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.comThis year we were able to take advantage of my school’s partnership with the APAPEC School in Rwanda.  Each year a teacher from each school spends two weeks in this sister school. One of our first grade teachers recently traveled to Rwanda and prior to her departure my students wrote personal letters that she presented to the APAPEC students. Many of the classes in the school are taught in French and upon her return she brought letters in French from the students in Rwanda.  I put them on display on bulletin board outside of my classroom with QR codes so that community members can scan and listen to our French students reading their letters.

Teaching Skills of Cultural Competency in the World Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.comThese connections between my students and students in Haiti, Senegal and Rwanda have been a truly authentic way of engaging the skills of cultural competence.  Students are often quick to point out what we all have in common, but we as educators need to push students to look for what is different as well.  This is where we have to put our cultural competency skills to work.  It is easy and somewhat effortless to respect, honor and understand that which we share in common.  The learning and strengthening of skills of cultural competency come from respecting, honoring and understanding that which is different.