I have always been passionate about providing a rich, relevant and rigorous education for all learners. In addition to always practice what I teach in my work with students in my French classes, I also try to help other teachers reshape their approaches to education through my blog and through my professional learning programs at conferences and institutes by reframing the traditional view of teaching to emphasize designing more for teaching than for “covering” and more for learning than for teaching.
Through extensive work with thematic instruction centered on authentic materials and equally authentic assessment, my students have made significant gains in proficiency compared to their performance in my tentative first years as a teacher, going back to when I began teaching in 1993.
But the past two years, I have noticed a lot of talk about “learning targets” throughout the education community. And a lot more talk about assessment and grading practices. And I finally started seeing the “Can-do” statements and “Integrated Performance Assessments” (“IPAs”) from the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and many other organizations devoted to world language education everywhere. It turns out they had been around for a while and I was just oblivious. I realized that while I was doing “well” by most measures, and had even started on the road to reforming my grading and assessment practices, I had fallen behind. I wasn’t using “can-do” statements to guide my instruction. Until last year, I had never even seen an “Integrated Performance Assessment”, let alone designed one (I did both last year).
Over the years, I have done a lot of “teaching” both in class and at conferences, but it was time for me to learn. I went to Pearson’s Assessment Training Institute in Oregon this past summer (see many of the notes shared by myself and others on Twitter). I bought many books on assessment and grading and began reading like a teacher about to start her first semester with her own rostered class. I sought and devoured information online about IPAs and Can-do statements.
So right at the end of summer, when my week-after-week of travel finally came to an end (fun as it was, I got very little done), I did it. I changed every thing. I changed my grading, assessment and lesson design to start with the Can-do statements, not with the first unit in my textbook. To be clear, my textbook helped me sequence (although I often changed their sequence to better suit my students’ learning needs) and it provides a fair amount of well-designed practice, but the book never taught my class. I designed EVERY lesson we learn; students are never told to “turn to page 54 and study the verb chart.” Or, “turn to page 122 and copy the vocab list.” Nevertheless, I came to the realization that I could do better for my students.
I made our online student information (and grading) system do my bidding to allow all grades to be proficiency-based on not on the traditional 0-100% scale. This allows my grading to match what I’ve always wanted to do with my rubrics, but couldn’t because a 1-2-3-4 rubric ends up skewed. Why? because, by the “traditional” math the traditional teaching scale (and online gradebook) understands, a 1 is an F, a 2 is an F, a 3 is a C and a 4 is an A. Here is the document I now give students with some basic info about the class (I call it the “Path to Success”) on the front page and the grading information on the back. I laid out year-end proficiency benchmarks for each mode of communication in each level of French and also identified the supporting Can-do statements we would develop along the way so the students achieve the benchmarks.
- French 2 Benchmarks and Can-do statements
- French 3 Benchmarks and Can-do statements
- French 4/AP Benchmarks and Can-do statements
Last week, I began designing my first units starting with the Can-do statements, including exactly which words and structures students will need and precisely how students’ proficiency would be assessed so that I could provide that information to students and parents before the units even begin. There is a LOT of work ahead for me in order to even come close to what other teachers around the country are doing, but a journey must start with its first steps, and this is one of mine.
I don’t have any French 1 this year, and I still have to do French 4/AP
For the first time in years, my instruction is rich, relevant, rigorous. And completely redesigned. It’s an exciting journey. I’m sure that at points, I will exit the main highway. The detours may be valuable, or I may just get lost along the way. Either way, I’ll post here so you can come along for the ride.
P.S., if you’d like to see some of the resources and great thinkers that are informing my journey, check out the links below:
- Interactive, online version of ACTFL-NCSSFL Global Benchmarks (and can-do statements)
- Ohio Foreign Language Association IPA resources
- Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning (TELL) Project resources
- Great thinkers in world language education: Tom Welch, Thomas Sauer, Linda Egnatz, Toni Theisen (search them on Google and on Twitter!)
- Great thinkers in assessment and grading (search form them–and their books–on Google and Twitter):
- Ken O’Connor (A Repair Kit for Grading: 15 Fixes for Broken Grades, Second Edition, 2011);
- Jan Chappuis (Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning, 2009, and Creating and Recognizing Quality Rubrics, with Judith A. Arter, 2006)
- Rick Stiggins (Revolutionize Assessment: Embpower Students, Inspire Learning, 2014)
- Tom Schimmer (Ten Things that Matter, From Assessment to Grading, 2014)
- Myron Dueck (Grade Smarter, Not Harder, 2014)
- Ken Mattingly doesn’t have a book yet, but he is a great teacher, great speaker, and said one thing that I now say to my students: “Today is a great day to make a mistake.” Because unless we’re administering an assessment, any day should be a safe day for students to make a mistake. Find him on Twitter!