Spa Week!

Keep up th good work, kids..pngOK people! It’s finally here! Spa week! Otherwise known as Week Six in the Cycles of Instruction and Assessment. Assessment Week.

You can watch videos on how I organize my year into these six-week cycles here.

We CI teachers are “on” a lot. I used to teach Language Arts and Social Studies as well as French and in those classes I wasn’t always so “on”. These Assessment Weeks get us off the creating-stories train and onto the sitting-and-watching-the-kids-work train. A much more laid-back ride.

The assessments I use are aligned completely to the instruction they received in the first five weeks of the cycle. They assess listening, reading, and writing. In the first-year classes, the writing isn’t actually assessed yet. We’re putting down a baseline and we will compare it to the writing the kids produce at the end of the next cycle. When we assess reading and listening, they will read and listen to stories that we have created in class. This means that the assessment is in line with the instruction. It uses the content of the preceding classes as the basis for assessment.

In graduate teacher school, they told us that the best assessments are also assessments forlearning and not just assessments of learning. This means that the assessment should still be educative. These assessments provide more CI so they are still an opportunity to take in meaningful messages in the language. So, they are assessments for learning as well.

Today we will set up our portfolios. (I also need to change the seating and I owe them a No-Potty Party since no one used the hall pass in September, so today is already jam-packed and so we will only have time to get new seats, set up and briefly talk about the new October calendar, and make our portfolios). Then on each day of the week, we will then add in a different assessment. Listening on Tuesday, reading Wednesday, and writing Thursday. On Friday we will play the Word Chunk Team Game. I like a nice long WCTG sesh after all that hard work (hard work for the kids, easy work for me!)

The listening assessment is simply me retelling them a class story. Now, in some classes we haven’t yet told actual full-blown stories so mostly at this point in the year it’s a description of a character we did as a One Word Image. First I share the L1 Retell Rubric with them. It asks them to retell in English and say who, what, where, when, describe the setting, and infer why the character is feeling the way they do.

They have a blank paper divided into four parts and I retell the story (or, in this case, describe the character) in four parts. As I describe the character, I add in a date, weather, setting, and a tiny little plot. This is new information for them but uses familiar language. I am not much of a planner so I generally go with my gut on what to add, but some folks will want to pre-plan these extra details. (Note: even if you write out the details, it’s best not to read to them but rather to talk spontaneously using the sheet as reference.)

I tell each part twice. The first time is in a normal instructional pace, pointing to the artists’ work as I speak. They listen with pencils down. The second time, I speak slowly with good ten-second pauses between sentences to allow them to write what they understood. They write in L1 (English). They can write full sentences or use bullet points and phrases. I don’t worry if the two versions are slightly different. It’s good for them to get slightly varied input.

If a student can listen to discourse of connected paragraphs on a familiar topic and get out the main ideas and most of the details (as most of the students are able to by this point), that’s Advanced Low on the ACTFL scale. Just for contrast, PPS expects Intermediate High after two years of middle-school language. My comprehension-taught kids are rocking it.

Reading is similar to writing. I make typed copies of a class story or character’s description. I usually use a different character for this assessment. As I wrote, I add a few details. I even embed a few new words in there, nestled among the familiar facts. I number the story into four parts.

I review the L1 Retell Rubric and hand out the copies and read the story aloud to them. I read in an expressive voice, and I read the entire story. I require them to follow along on their papers with their eyes. I’m super-strict about this. I won’t start or continue till they’re all reading along.

After the reading, they retain the story and write their understandings of each part, using sentences or bullet points.

Again, most of my students are already Advanced Low on Reading. What a thrill!

Later in the year I start using non-familiar stories as more of a challenge. It’s also easier on me as I only have to write one text per level.

For writing, it’s just a baseline assessment in Year One. In second year, it’s an actual assessment. I first explain the rules of freewrites and give them some tips on writing. It’s too long to type so I’ll post a video here later of what I do on Thursday in first year and in second year, my experienced writers.

This is a video of what I did in first year.

Then after they brainstormed their first sentences, I “warmed them up” with a quick story in Spanish or French. Here’s a video of that.

They brainstorm their first sentences with a partner, draw a line under the sentence (cause it doesn’t count for their word count) and then write for ten minutes. I don’t give them a topic nor reference materials.

At the end, we share with partners, count our words, abiding by the Two Muys and Two Names Rule, and write at least two sentences in our Writers’ Diaries to describe the experience and set goals. Sometimes, if there’s time, we do Author’s Chair, where a volunteer reads their work to the class.

I assess writing only on the ACTFL scale. I made a Story Rubric that assesses the actual content of the story (does it contain dialogue, setting, inner thinking, and a problem) but it’s only for the end of Year Two, once they have confidence and the ability to think like a writer whilst also composing in L2.

Most of the first-year writers are already Intermediate Lows. This means they can produce original sentences. They’re actually more like Internediate Mid, producing connected paragraph-length discourse, but ACTFL expects them to use multiple timeframes (past, present, or future), so they’re not usually quite there yet.

Spa Week, or Assessment Week, is a time of rest and celebrating. They are already so strong! CI is so powerful. It’s like a mini-miracle each year. Our brains are truly miraculous in their ability to effortlessly and happily acquire Language Proficiency, when given the necessary ingredients of understandable interesting messages, delivered in a calm, low-stress environment, over enough time.

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