Rich, Relevant, Rigorous….and completely redesigned

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.

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.

Some of the first documents to come from my journey towards truly proficiency-driven instruction and grading
Some of the first documents to come from my journey towards truly proficiency-driven instruction and grading


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!

5 thoughts on “Rich, Relevant, Rigorous….and completely redesigned

  1. Hello Nicole,

    I teach Spanish in northern Nevada and I met you at Snowbird for SWCOLT while we were waiting for the teacher candidate interviews. Congratulations on winning and I wish you the best of luck at ACTFL in November.

    I really enjoyed your post as it parallels my journey with grading and Can-do statements. In 2010, I changed my grading to reflect proficiency in specific skills as compared to traditional grading categories like homework and tests,. My grading categories, however, are weighted to reflect Webb’s depth of knowledge and are not weighted in equal percentages as yours are. I set up my grade book with the following categories (listed by increasingly higher percentages to reflect simple recall, strategic thinking etc):

    4% culture
    5% participation
    7% vocabulary
    8% structures
    12% reading comprehension
    12% listening comprehension
    16% writing
    21% speaking
    (The last 15% is a district requirement for final exam weighting)

    I am curious as to why you set up equal categories for each skill: listening,reading, writing and speaking? As well, I would love to hear how this set up goes for you this year. I will mention that I have found that by adding in a small percentage for participation, it gives me a ‘catch-all’ category for things like in-class guided practice or bell-work. These types of activities don’t always reflect skills that a student may demonstrate independently. A colleague of yours in the Sacramento area, Scott Benedict, taught me how to set up my grading to reflect Webb’s DOK. He is a fabulous nearby resource. If you are interested in the tie to Webb’s DOK, I would recommend you look him up.

    In 2012, I was called to be a member of our district’s committee to revise grading practices across Lyon county. I was gratified to find that my grade book set-up reflected many of Ken O’Connor’s beliefs. After I participated in the committee, I did change my mindset regarding zeros and make-up assignments and have since modified my grading to reflect my beliefs that students deserve many chances to show growth. Interestingly enough,(much to my chagrin) even after our district convened a committee to look at grading practices and suggest a plan of action to change grading, to date nothing has been changed nor mandated to be changed district wide). Our district still has a wide range of grading styles with many of my colleagues grading for student behaviors rather than ability to perform in their subject. Word has it that this year our district will begin the journey to revamp grading district-wide. This will be very interesting no doubt.

    Our district is heavily invested in Marzano’s iObservation and all about posted learning goals as tied to scales.The ACTFL Can-Do statements are handy for posting as learning goals. I use them daily. They help me keep my focus on the modes and the skills my students need (since I happily abandoned use of a traditional textbook over 20 years ago).

    I use the 4,3,2 1, 0 scale (4 exceeds my expectation and would reflect an A 95% in a traditional grade set-up; 3 meets my expectations and would reflect a B 85%; 2 approaches my expectation and would reflect a C 75%; a 1 is below my expectation and reflects a D 65% and a 0 is no proof/ no Spanish which would require another attempt).

    Thanks again for posting and blogging. I wear many hats in our school and I have never made time to blog. Maybe someday I will carve out some time. In the meanwhile, I will keep reading experts like you who keep me reflecting on my practice.


    1. Hello and thanks so much for your thoughtful comment and willingness to share your practices. I’m actually on the road right now (not the one driving) and I’m afraid I’ll forget to reply at all so I’m going to give at least a quick reply here.

      Regarding equal percentages: I made this choice years ago because all modes of communcation are equally important if a student is to become proficient. As for catch-all, I have a separate section if our online gradebook where I can record all practice activities and participation without it impacting their academic grade. So I am essentially just documenting whether it not they are completing the practice in case I need to have a conversation with students and families about the importance (and purposeful nature) of the practice I assign. As a result, the academic grade is strictly based in what try have demonstrated they can do. I also use a 4-3-2-1 scale and 0 is a resubmit. Any student can come in for tutoring and extra practice to reassess on any evaluation (they don’t have to have received a “low” grade).

      I do not use the breakdown you have because I’m also focusing on authentic assessments this year. Because of their nature, students will have to use targeted vocabulary, structures, and higher order skills effectively in order to demonstrate the targeted level of proficiency.

      So far, students and families have been very receptive. But we haven’t yet had our first grading period. By eliminating all practice from the academic grade, I will be interested to see the response since the gradebook has fewer grades in it now. On the other hand, I don’t assess unless I have formative data indicating that students are ready, so the average assessment “grades” tend to be quite high.

      Hopefully there were no typos caused by bumps in the road :-). Best,


  2. This is AWESOME!!! My department is also changing things this year. We are working on creating new assessments along with many other things. It’s a little overwhelming but I think it will be worth it. Would you have an editable version of your infographic you’d be willing to share? It’s great! Nice job!


    1. Hi Anne,

      I’m so glad you found the post useful. I created the infographic using but I can’t make my version collaborative. Unfortunately, it’s a great tool but not quite as easy to share as Google Docs. However, I barely tweaked an existing template in at all so you should be able to do something similar fairly easily on their site.

      I wish you all the best as you and your colleagues continue to redesign for proficiency.



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