Category Archives: Writing

Grading for Proficiency and Competency

There is momentum in the move toward competency-based or proficiency-based grading and assessment.  The foundation of these assessments is to provide feedback about what students are able to do with the target language.  There will certainly be formative assessments of vocabulary of or perhaps some language structures, but ultimately we want students to be able to communicate with the vocabulary and structures.

If we are assessing the language that students can interpret and produce then the majority of students’ grades should rightfully reflect that.  With the understanding that there are other factors that come into play, here is the grading percentage breakdown that I use.

Let’s break down one of the categories to see what a competency/proficiency-based grade looks like.  For this example I will use my Presentational Writing assessment process.

I begin with the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Presentational Writing:

The main takeaway for me is the Text Type, as this the language that students are producing and there are clear indicators of what student output should be at each proficiency level.

I began with the idea of a single-point rubric from Jennifer Golzales at the Cult of Pedagogy and combined it with John Hattie’s notion of Medals and Missions. 

I modified the idea of the single-point rubric and developed a 4-point rubric with a “3” being the goal/objective, which is a B+.  This allows for feedback below or approaching the objective and output that goes above.  Here are examples of Novice High, Intermediate Low and Intermediate Low/Mid rubrics.  You will notice the text-types and language control are aligned with the ACTFL Performance Descriptors.

I then took that 4-point scale and aligned it with letter grades, which is how grades are reported in my school.  When it comes time to average out the grades, I take the average grade of each mode (on the 4-point scale) and average them together with the formative grade using this scale.

Here is an example of how a term or semester grade would be determined using this process of assessment for competency and proficiency in the target language.

As we move in the direction of assessing what students can do with the target language, and not just what they know about it, we will need to find ways to bridge traditional grading with competency assessment.  The above process is working well for me and my students, but I will continue to modify and reassess how I’m doing it, and look forward to feedback from others as I continue to work out the details and efficacy.

Scaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate

I wrote a post  on conjunctions and transition words that students can use to add details to their writing and level up.  Now I’m going to show you how I scaffold the writing practice so that students can clearly see what their writing looks like at various proficiency levels from Novice Low to Intermediate Low/Mid.

The ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Presentational Writing are specific regarding the language students produce at each proficiency level.

Scaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

©ACTFL (actflt.org)

There are a lot of details in the grid, but all we need to be concerned with right now is the text type that students produce.

Scaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

©ACTFL (actflt.org)

This is the exercise that my students do so that they clearly see how they are working toward leveling up their writing.

Novice Low/Mid/High

French Example:
Scaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

English ExampleScaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

Novice Low/mid/high, Intermediate Low

French Example:Scaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

English ExampleScaffold Student Writing from Novice to Intermediate (French, Spanish)

Students will soon understand the expectations at each proficiency level.  When you indicate to them what the writing expectation is they will know what the text type should be.  Gone are the days of asking if they need to write in complete sentences.  Once they ask for clarification of the proficiency level that they should aim for, you’ll know they have arrived.

Level Up Students’ Writing (& Speaking)

The 3 communication modes are becoming more commonplace in our language classrooms.

  • Presentational communication is one-way speaking or writing that does not allow for real time clarification of meaning.
  • Interpretive communication is one-way listening or reading that also does not allow for real time clarification of meaning.
  • Interpersonal communication is two-way speaking that allows for clarification of the message in real time.

Let’s look specifically at Presentational Writing.  There are some characteristics that differ from the other modes.  In particular, there are opportunities to focus more on accuracy since the communication is not done in real time. More specifically, Presentational Writing is …

  • practiced, rehearsed, polished and edited
  • organized
  • improved with dictionary and spell-check tools

The ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Presentational Writing are specific regarding the language produced at each proficiency level.

Level Up Students' Writing (& Speaking); French, Spanish

You can see the full Performance Descriptors Here.

The challenge for me has often been the jump from Novice High to Intermediate Low/Mid.  Students are typically able to begin forming their own sentences with memorized phrases and then creating on their own.  The struggle comes in constructing sentences that move beyond single clauses, and certainly connecting multiple sentences.

To support students in this process, I put together a reference grid.

Level Up Students' Writing (& Speaking); French, Spanish

The first column is the base words that students can use to add details to their single clause sentences.  The second column, with the gradually rising arrow, contains conjunctions and connecting words that students can use to create sentences with two clauses.  The third column, with the arrow going straight up, has additional conjunctions and connecting words that students can use to connect sentences and ideas.  There are also words under the grid that students can use to write about events chronologically.  All of these words scaffold the process of leveling up language from Novice to Intermediate.

I put together a template of this for teachers to use with their students.

Level Up Students' Writing (& Speaking); French, SpanishLevel Up Students' Writing (& Speaking); French, Spanish

It is a Word Doc on Google Drive.  Download it as a Word Doc or make a copy right in your Google Drive and edit from there.  Just add in the words in the target language that you teach.

You will soon see your students leveling up their writing, and they will transfer this skill to their speaking.

Take look at this blog post as well.  It focuses on an activity that I do with students that helps them to see concretely what their language looks like at different proficiency levels.

No Prep Group Speaking or Writing Activity

Do you have a deck of regular playing cards?  Yes? Well, you’re all done and the activity is ready to go.

This is a no prep activity that you can pull out at any time, on any topic, for any language at any proficiency level.

No Prep Group Speaking or Writing Activity (French, Spanish)

I call this activity Special Card (La Carte Spéciale, La Tarjeta Especial).

Here’s how it works:

  • Choose one card from the deck before beginning and write it down on a piece of paper.  Don’t show it to students. Keep the card in the deck
  • Put students into groups of 3 or 4.
  • Groups will need a piece of paper or small white board if you are focusing on writing.  No need if focusing on speaking.
  • Tell students that they will get a question and will either respond orally or in writing.  If responses are spoken each group will need individual questions each round.  If it is in writing all groups can get the same question for the round.
  • I make up the prompt on the spot based on the topic.  You can do this in advance, but I like to keep it “no prep.”  It can be novice level questions with single words answers all the way to higher levels with questions about a reading or video.
  • If the response is correct, hand the group a playing card.  Their points for the round are the value of the card.

No Prep Group Speaking or Writing Activity (French, Spanish)

  • Ace is 1 point, number cards (2-10) are their face value, a Jack is 13, a Queen is 11 and a king is 12.  [The Jack, Queen & King values are arbitrary.  You can make them what you would like.]
  • Once all cards are earned, and the deck is depleted, groups add up their points. The final move is to reveal the Special Card, which is worth 25 or 30 additional points.  The group with that card earns the additional points.
  • The group with the highest points wins the round.
  • Collect cards back.  If there is time to play another round groups can continue with their points from the previous game or start fresh.
  • If you’re playing additional games, be sure to choose new special cards each time.

The topics and proficiency levels are open depending on what you are doing in your class.  Here are some prompt ideas

Novice Low-Mid:

  • What are three colors, animals, days, months, seasons, articles of clothing, activities, etc.
  • Questions about concrete vocabulary themes that require a 1-2 word spoken or written response.

Novice High:

  • Where do you …?
  • When do you …?
  • What are your opinions about…?
  • Questions about concrete vocabulary themes that require a sentence of chunked spoken or written language as a response.

Intermediate Low:

  • Describe….
  • Sentence level questions about details in a story
  • Questions about personal or story details that require a complete spoken or written sentence response created by the group.

Intermediate Mid:

  • Explain…
  • Tell me about…
  • Why…
  • What is…
  • When did
  • When will…
  • Questions on themes covered in the current unit that require 2-3 spoken or written sentences that are connected by transition words.

Intermediate High:

After groups read a passage together on their own…

  • Specific or general questions to demonstrate understanding
  • Questions on themes covered in the reading that require 3-4 spoken or written sentences that are connected by transition words and may require speaking or writing in various time-frames.

I also talk about this activity on episode 25 of the World Language Classroom Podcast.

Differentiation in the Language Classroom

Every teacher knows that in any classroom there are many student needs.  A “one size fits all” approach to learning and teaching is just not effective.  The word we use, and often hear about, is differentiation.

We know that we should be doing it, but what do understand what it is, particularly regarding teaching language?

Take look at these graphics from ASCD:

Now that you have a solid idea of what differentiated instruction is and isn’t, let’s turn our attention to doing this effectively in the language classroom.

First we’ll consider how we differentiate.  There are two ways to break this down.  One is focused on the teacher (instruction) and the other is focused on the student (learning).

Teacher

  • Content: What is learned
  • Process: How it’s learned
  • Product: What is produced

Student

  • Readiness
  • Interest
  • Learning Profile

Here are a few articles that go into more details with these possibilities.

Another useful concept for employing differentiation in the language classroom:

Here are some resources for using these approaches when teaching in the language classroom:

As with any teaching suggestions…there is a lot to consider and take in.  I wouldn’t try to do it all at once.  Pick a focus area, work on it, modify as needed, try it  again, and move on to another suggestion when you’re satisfied with the results.

Digital French & Spanish Task Cards with Google Slides™

Task Cards are individual cards that offer students opportunities to engage with a particular topic in various forms.  There are different challenge or proficiency levels.  Task cards are useful because they provide opportunities for  easy differentiation.You may have used the paper versions of these in the classroom.  I created digital versions with Google Slides™.  They can easily be shared with students through platforms such as Google Classroom™.

There are 5 categories of prompts in each vocabulary task card set.  

Picture with choice of 4 words

Word with choice of 3 pictures

Fill in missing letters 

2 pictures, student writes words

Picture, student writes a sentence

There are 6 categories of prompts in the verb form task card sets.

1 Subject Pronoun, 4 Infinitives, student writes verb forms 

1 Infinitive, 4 Subject Pronouns, student writes verb forms

4 Verb Forms, student writes infinitive 

Sentence with Verb Missing, students chooses verb and writes form 

Subject Pronouns and Conjugated Verb, student completes sentence  Infinitive, student writes sentence

Are We Speaking Our Students’ Language?

How many times have we done our best to come up with scenarios and role plays that may or may not be applicable to the everyday lives of our students?  Where are they reading, writing, speaking and communicating?  Social media is certainly one place.  I put together a template for Instagram™ photos and stories and students write their own descriptions of photos and comment on their classmates’ posts.  I even added on opportunities to “post” Instagram™ Story videos.

I can’t actually use social media platforms with my students, so I created Google Slides™ where they insert photos and videos with descriptions into a template.

This link will make a copy in your Google Drive™ of the template that I created. 

This digital activity that works well if teaching in school or remotely.

French & Spanish Learn, Practice, Apply Activities

I have written about lesson planning using the “Learn, Practice, Apply” sequence that I learned about from the teachers that I work with in Nicaragua.  I have found this simple framework very useful when planning lessons and activities in my language classroom.  I created Tab Books on a number of French and Spanish vocabulary and grammar topics that follow this sequence.  They are interactive and students enjoy assembling them and working through the process.

French & Spanish Learn, Practice Apply Activities

I reformatted the Tab Books into a no-prep, 3-page activity.  They begin with scaffolded notes so that students get familiar with the new material. Then they practice the material, and finally students apply the material in the last section. The “apply” stage is often left out when teaching new material. These activities assure that  students get to this stage in the learning process.

French & Spanish Learn, Practice Apply ActivitiesFrench & Spanish Learn, Practice Apply Activities

Lots of topics available from time, weather date, possessive and demonstrative adjectives to present and past tense verb forms, as well as conditional and subjunctive.

Foreign Language Vocabulary Review and Practice with Google Slides™

I am enjoying figuring out everything that you can do with Google Slides™.  I’m a big fan of digital task cards (like Boom Cards) and I use them often with students, but I wanted to find a way for students to do similar activities with vocabulary, but that are available without needing to log into a Website…activities that students can access and use to review right from their Google™ account.

Foreign Language (French, Spanish) Vocabulary Review and Practice with Google Slides™

These Google Slides™ activities give students opportunities to identify words, phrases or pictures, then to identify and read words, and then to practice spelling. I particularly like that there is absolutely no prep needed.  You just share with students. Easily used for distance, hybrid, blended or in school learning and teaching.

Here are examples of these interactive vocabulary activities using Google Slides™.

Spanish

French

The slides/activities:

  • Vocabulary review or reference slide
  • Students identify words from 4 answer choices
  • Students match words/pictures
  • Magic Squares
  • Students write words

Take a look at these versions of the activity that you can copy right to your Google Drive ™ and share with students.

Lots of topics:

  • Greetings and Introductions
  • Numbers 1-100
  • ColorsDays, Months & the Date
  • Seasons and Weather
  • Time
  • Classroom objects
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Food & Drinks
  • Clothing
  • Rooms & Furniture

Digital Google Slides™ Activities to Focus on Foreign Language Verb Accuracy

This activity is an effective follow up and extension to comprehensible input activities.  Once students have seen (in writing) and heard verb forms in context the next step is to begin the process of producing language.  I like to use activities that show students various possibilities and have them choose the accurate form based on their interaction with the language forms.If you are moving away from direct instruction of verb conjugations try this out with students.  If they have had sufficient contextualized exposure to the verb forms and meanings you will likely see that students can choose the correct form based on what “sounds right.”  When this happens we know that they are progressing in their proficiency and moving toward accurate language output.

French & Spanish Digital Google Slides Activities French & Spanish Digital Google Slides Activities

Here is another way that includes the infinitive of the verb.French & Spanish Digital Google Slides ActivitiesFrench & Spanish Digital Google Slides Activities

I then take it a step further and have students write a sentence that show that they understand the meaning along with the form.  They have some question words to support the process.

French & Spanish Digital Google Slides Activities French & Spanish Digital Google Slides Activities

This activity is also useful when working with students in a PACE lesson, particularly in the co-construction and extension parts of the process.  Keep in mind that this is best used with students when they are detecting patterns with forms in an inductive (implicit) lesson, rather than deductive (explicit) lesson.

Deductive instruction is a “top-down” approach, meaning that the teacher starts with a grammar rule with specific examples, and the rule is learned through practice.

Inductive instruction is a “bottom-up” approach, meaning that the teacher provides examples of the structure in context and students make observations, detect patterns, formulate hypothesis, and draw conclusions

The inductive (implicit) approach focuses on meaning along with the forms  communicatively.  The deductive approach focused more (or maybe even only) on the forms. Brown (2007) reminds us that “While it might be appropriate to articulate a rule and then proceed to instances, most of the evidence in communicative second language teaching points to the superiority of an inductive approach to rules and generalizations.”

I have done these activities with Powerpoints with the entire class. You can take a look at some examples in the post.

I am also using digital activities more with students and now have them do this activity using Google Slides™ that can be shared directly through Google Classroom™ and students get their own copy. Ideal for distance learning, homework, in-person classes or blended, hybrid model.

Brown (2007).  Principles of Language Learning and Teaching.  Pearson Longman