Fresh Eyes: Seeing Work Through the Lens of Proficiency

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Through my posts on this blog, I’m tracking my experiences, as both a novice teacher (in regards to proficiency) and as a more veteran teacher, with ten years of public high school teaching in my past.  This first two months of being back in the classroom, after five years outside of public schools, have been the most engaging and tiring of my career.  I finally have a spare minute to write this post.

I’ve been looking at student work through the lens of communication, and this new perspective has significantly improved my classroom.  I’m seeing student work with fresh eyes – and I’m uplifted and inspired by what students can do.

At the beginning of the year, I spent the first class establishing French as a the language of communication.  I also began the process of engaging students through comprehensible input and an authentic resource. For example, in level 2, I used an excellent video from 1jour1actu about rock music.  Leading with input was incredibly fun, and the video provided ideal subject matter for reviewing functions from level 1, including expressing preferences, describing family, and asking and responding to questions.  As an added benefit, the content was interesting to students, and also helped me learn more about the individuals within my classroom.

My “AHA!” moment happened during the second class of the year.  I asked students to produce a quick write, discussing their preferences.  When I looked at their work, I felt invigorated and impressed by what they were able to produce.  Looking at their writing through the lens of communication helped me to focus on what they were able to express.  Before I learned about teaching for proficiency, I would have seen their writing, and only thought about the grammatical errors.  In the past, I thought accuracy reflected language skills. I now realize that language control is just one part of communication.  I also believe that accuracy will increase with proficiency levels; I see errors as a reflection of where students fall on the proficiency scale.

New room, new robot, new views and perspectives

Changes I’ve made that I like:

  • I’ve been focusing on providing comprehensible input. I now see this as a critical piece of communication.  Every class, I try to engage students with input that is meaningful.  Grammar and vocabulary is introduced in context or in relation to specific student work or performance goals.  If students are struggling with production in a certain unit, I think about what additional input students need to be successful.
  • I’m looking at student work in terms of communication and not perfection.  As a starting point, I’m using rubrics that contain elements of the ACTFL rubrics from the book about Implementing Integrated Performance Assessments(Access those rubrics here.)
  • I track student performance in my grade book using the three modes of communication.  My labels include “interpersonal tasks,” “interpretive tasks,” and “presentational tasks.  It’s been really powerful for students to be able to see their performance across categories, to get a sense of their strengths and areas for improvement.
  • I’m focusing on the “tree and its branches” instead of its “leaves.” Instead of seeing the vocabulary list as integral, as in the past, I see the language functions as the branches, and the vocabulary as the leaves.  The branches are more important to the tree; the leaves provide students with the ability to personalize what they’re saying or writing.
  • I’ve been dabbling with storytelling and movie talks. I’ve used them to introduce and review key concepts in context, and I’ve found them be very useful.  My level 1 students are producing more in November than any of my students in the past.

What I don’t know:

  • I’ve been struggling to give students a sense that they are learning. I need to do more of a focus on the Can-Do Statements and to show progress over time. I’m going to dive into the new version of this document soon.
  • I need to find a system for getting students to use more of the target language in class. I’m speaking a lot of French, and I’ve been very pleased that students are doing more spontaneous production for me than in prior years. However, I want students to use more of the target language.  I’ve been thinking about using a class participation rubric, whole class rewards, or individual conferencing.  This is a work in progress.

 What I’ve been thinking about:

  • How do I push students to the next level? What does individualized feedback look like?
  • How do I help students who missed a class or multiple classes in a row? It’s hard to recreate all of the input for students who were absent.  What does meaningful make-up work look like?  Valerie Shull has a post about this topic.
  • What type of homework would be beneficial in a proficiency-focused classroom? Connected to this, how do I get students to engage with the target language, outside of class, with topics of interest?

In my next post, I hope to focus on one specific topic, and truly desire to be able to write again within the next month or so.  If you are new to proficiency-based teaching as well, I would love to know how your experiences compare to mine.  Or if you are a veteran, please share any advice that may be useful!

And one last thing:  Here is a list of my favorite resources in the past two months:

  • I truly enjoyed Alyssa Villareal’s keynote presentation at the fall conference for the Connecticut Council of Language Teachers. Click here to view her page on the Path2Proficiency blog.
  • The new NCSSFL / ACTFL Can-Do Statements.
  • The fall conference of the Connecticut Council of Language Teachers was fantastic. Here is a link to some of the conference presentations.
  • I learned about this interpersonal activity from Amy Leonard called “The Blitz” that is great for practicing spontaneous speaking and elaboration. Kathy Turner, from the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association, shared this idea during her presentation at the fall conference.
  • Martina Bex’s stories have provided inspiration for a couple of my own. My favorites have been “The Impossible Girlfriend” and one that is in progress now, about a dinner date that goes awry.
  • Interested in TPRS, and new to it, like me? Check out my own list of resources that I’ve tagged with “TPRS.

One of my jobs for TPRS

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Fresh Eyes: Seeing Work Through the Len…

by Amanda Robustelli-Price time to read: 4 min
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