Along the path to proficiency, we encounter many things in our classroom, in our department, and in the field. In this series, we would like to share some notes from the field from educators who have made an impact and have learned something impactful along their journey. Here they will share their notes from the field with us and how their learning has helped shape them, as well as its impact, as they help their students along the path to proficiency.

Proficiency – this is something that I’ve known about since my college days, where I breathed, ate, and slept on my training for the OPI and WPT. While I’ve tried to incorporate proficiency in my short four years as a teacher, it wasn’t until this year that I made a real switch to proficiency-based practices in the classroom.

There was a point last year, probably in conjunction with hearing Thomas Sauer speak at the Central States Conference, that I realized that I understood proficiency, but my students did not. Sure, I had mentioned it at the beginning of the year, we’d talked about crepes and movies in proficiency-style, and my kids could maaaaaaaybe tell you what it meant to be a novice. But as I was using performance-based assessments and making the tentative first steps into IPAs, I realized there was a huge disconnect in how I graded and how my students understood my grading practices.

Thomas always talks about transparency for students, and that’s the point where it hit me that my students might not be realizing why we were doing what we were doing. They, despite my efforts, continued to compare scores and ask why they got a different grade for writing “as much” as another student. That, in my opinion, is a big problem.

So this year, I’ve begun to focus on proficiency levels and performance expectations for my students and reminding them of their goals. We started off this year with our normal proficiency talks, but we do check-ins about once a month to see how we’ve grown. Since my schools are 1:1, it’s really easy for me to have students submit an assignment online – either typed or recorded and then find and listen to it two months later to see the progress that we’ve made. It’s hard to see the fruits of our proficiency labors, but when my students are smiling about what they can say now compared to say, October, you know that they’ve bought into what proficiency is all about.

Another great thing this year is with our mini progress checks and goal updates, a lot of students are really honing in on the skills they need to make the jump to the next level. Before, I could tell my students to use a full sentence and it felt fruitless. Now, I can say, “does a ‘oui’ response help you reach your goals?” “Is responding to a question with ‘rouge’ acceptable at this point in the year?” and students take that feedback and push themselves to do better.

So, if you want to incorporate more transparent, proficiency-based practices, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Take a day to really make sure your students understand the concept of proficiency. There are a lot of pre-made activities out there for you to use when explaining these concepts to your students.
  2. Try to take time for students to reflect on the progress that they’ve made over the past month, quarter, or semester. You can use online assignments for this, or you can take hard copies and copy/scan them for later use.
  3. The next time you give a PBA, ask students what level their performance should be. Have them write what they expect (or what you expect, if you’ve been explicit about levels) at the top to remind them what they should do. It doesn’t hurt to have a rubric attached – some of my students like checking off things they think that they have done.
  4. Gently remind students what kinds of language they should be using. Sometimes a nice reminder of “can you make that phrase a sentence” “don’t forget what your end-of-year goal is,” or “what else could you add” can remind students of their level without feeling chastised!
  5. Give students a rubric and ask them to assess a sample of their own, giving evidence for why they thought so. Even if they’re a little bit off, it really gives them time to think about the whys and hows of a particular level.

Don’t be afraid to sacrifice some time in the TL to have students think about, reflect on, or evaluate their progress. If we’re striving for 90%, understanding proficiency is definitely worth the 10% of L1 (or more!) that we’re allowed.

Wendy Farabaugh is a fourth-year French teacher in Northeast Ohio, with degrees in French and Education from Miami University. She is the face behind the twitter account @MmeFarab, the blog, and has been a part of the moderating team for #langchat for over a year. She is committed to growing and learning for her students, profession, and her life.