Category Archives: Uncategorized

What Are Our Goals?

Many teachers say that they feel a “lack of structure” in a communicative language teaching context.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all be ok. I wish we had never heard of textbooks that take the language and spread it out like a cadaver on a table to be dissected and discussed. I wish I could make everyone feel comfortable with the FLOW. I don’t know how to do it.

But it is a question of perspective.  It is a question of what are our goals?

Are your kids really “drowning in vocabulary” or could you shift your perspective to “marinating in rich language”? I get so angry at the bill of goods the snake-oil textbook companies have sold us, that language is to “cover” and not “uncover”.  We provide rich, understandable, interesting experiences in the language, and then we step back and think, “What did they get?”  “What stuck?”  “What did they learn?”  The problem in questions of that nature is that every learner in the room will have “gotten” different elements of the language.  If we provided language data that they understood, and that accomplished a real communicative purpose, then we have done our jobs.  We just need to shift our thinking about our goals and objectives.  We need to lighten up on the idea that our daily goals are to “cover” or convey certain pieces of the language.

What if our daily objective were to learn about each other, or create something together, and understand the main ideas of paragraph-length speech (Intermediate performance)? Not “learn colors” or “learn the past tenses?”

Our national standards, and most of our state and local standards, too, do not specify certain words, language, or grammar to cover.  I blame the textbook companies for perpetuating the belief that our students should “be at a certain place at a certain time” which leads to impatience in our classrooms, wanting students to master the unpredictable and uncontrollable process of language acquisition piece by piece.

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Rubrics to Assess Typical Proficiency and Performance Levels in Years One through Three

I just wrote this, the first time I have formalized the “system” I had inside my head to assign grades to portfolio assessments.

We use an ACTFL-Aligned Rubric (provided at the end of this Manual) to provide feedback to the students on their level of performance on the task. Generally, first-year students score an Intermediate High or Advanced Low on reading and listening performance tasks. This is because they are able to derive “substantial meaning” from narration in paragraph-length discourse with which they have personal experience and some developed background knowledge. In the lower levels of proficiency, the students are able to “derive partial” meaning from sentence-length discourse. Clearly, the students are able to handle longer discourse than sentence-level discourse, because they have heard and read full sentences and paragraph-length discourse since their first day of school.

See this research publication from CASLS at the University of Oregon: https://casls.uoregon.edu/…/tenqu…/TBQProficiencyResults.pdf

Excerpted from the study:

Question: What level of foreign language proficiency does the typical student achieve in a high school program?

Answer: The majority of students studying a foreign language in a traditional high school program reach benchmark level 3 or 4 by end of the fourth year of study, regardless of the language studied. These levels are similar to the ACTFL levels Novice-High and Intermediate-Low.

I get back to my own writing here:

Because students who receive high doses of comprehensible messages in the language and opportunities to interact in L2 generally meet or exceed the expected perfoemance/proficiency targets, either these research findings or the district/state expectations, most students make As on the summative assessment. I set a “moving, achievable target” for an A. For example, Portland Public Schools expects students at the end of the first year of language study to demonstrate a Novice High to Intermediate Low proficiency level in Group One languages (cognate-rich languages such as Spanish, French, and German) and Novice Mid to N0vice High in less-closely-related languages sich as Mandarin Chinese and Arabic. Therefore, I backwards plan my grading from that expectation by the end of Assessment Cycle Six, and set my grades at the following levels throughout the year. Note that at first, the level is based on performance and later it is based on proficiency (facility with an unfamiliar text). You can choose to make the Proficiency Tasks Optional or Required, depending on your students’ social-emotional needs.

Most students will score As and Bs on these summative assessments. This can raise eyebrows in some school populations. This is why it is important to keep portfolios and align our assessment to the standards, using an ACTFL-aligned rubric (such as the one provided in this Manual). In my opinion, we should be celebrating the well-informed educator who can, through using best practices that align to the national standards, guide almost all of their students to achieve the performance/proficiency targets. A mark of truly effective teaching is the educator’s ability to guide all students to achieve the standards of their subject matter.

The chart below is based upon the expectation that by the end of the first year, students will have a proficiency level in the range of Novice High to Intermediate Low (PPS’ expectation) and may need to be modified to fit your individual situation.

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Year Two

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Year Three

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Lesson Planning Tips

These lesson planning tips are for teachers wanting to make a change in how class is going, or for folks who are starting a new approach, beginning to introduce more of a focus on using the language in class to communicate.

You might well want to meet your students in the hall at the beginning of the mini-unit and tell them that you need to change up the routines for this “Listening Comprehension” unit.  Maybe new seats or even a new room arrangement.  

1.  Have an opening routine.

Some teachers need to get their pencils on paper right away.  In that case, you will want to institute a routine of their coming in and getting started with some writing right away.  Maybe give them a weekly packet so they have something to get going on.  It should be something very easy.  Choosing the words that match up with a selection of pictures for instance.  If they do not enter the classroom like you want them to and get to work and work with focus, then I might re-teach and re-do till they execute the opening routine as you want it to be done.  It is a little awkward to do this because there might be one kid that is messing it up for everyone, but you want the kids’ peers to be helping you to motivate the kid, by their frustration.  Eventually they will do what you want them to do, and then you probably will not have to re-do it again and again the net day (except that with some classes, you DO, ha ha)

Myself, I have the opening routine of letting them settle in and talk in English for a minute or so (sometimes more) and then having a clear signal to begin class.  I go over what we are going to do that day and the grades that they will get, and the objectives in student-friendly terms, for example:  We will have a class discussion in French about TV shows we like and do not like and then we will take a listening assessment about what we discussed.  At the end of class, we will turn these in for a grade.  We will also practice speaking in pairs.  Then I set them up (usually in English) with the materials they need and then I have a kid give a signal to start the French portion of class.  I let each class choose the signal.  For instance, some classes say a “catch phrase” and others sing a song etc.  Then we start the French portion and during that time I ruthlessly enforce the “no talking over” rule.  I literally STOP EVERYTHING every single time anyone interrupts me as I am talking.

2.  Provide input in small doses mixed with writing and speaking.

That means going super-slow in your speech and also taking breaks.

Many of your administrators want to see more student-to-student interaction.  It is easy to put that into the lesson.

All you have to do is, after a few minutes of providing input, maybe 5-6, have them jot down some things that they heard.  You can even do this together.  Then have them turn and talk and give them a sentence stem to use.  Give the instruction in English and the sentence stem two times in the target language.  It sounds like this:  “Turn and tell a partner a detail about X.  Say, “Aujourd’hui il fait…/Hoy hace…” “Aujourd’hui fait…” OK!”  

Then you can follow up with some whole-class questioning.  

Then I would suggest reviewing what was discussed so far, just simply repeating it while referring to a visual aid, such as pausing and pointing to the H-chart we talked about, with “Likes” “Does Not Like” and “Hates” at the top, and then giving them a written Quick Quiz on five questions.  I repeat the question three times during the Quick Quiz.  I generally tell the kids they can write in English or French.  But if your admin wants to see more output, I would tell them to try their hand at writing the answer in a French sentence.  (I mean, I would NEVER grade the sentences for accuracy so it is fine to ask them to give that a try, no harm no foul there!)

3.  Then give more input (about the same topic or a different topic) and repeat the whole process I gave above in #2.

You might put up a picture or two of a related topic, such as pictures of people watching a movie or pictures of movie ads in the culture or an infographic about TV/movie viewing habits or such.  Talk and discuss it for 5-6 min, and then do the turn and talk and quick quiz on five questions.

Then repeat the whole process again if time permits:  short 506 min of discussion/input, and then turn and talk and a quick quiz.

4.  At the end some closure is good.

Write and Discuss is like the BEST closure.  You can have them copy.  Even if all you do is write two or three sentences to summarize what you talked about, and they copy into their notebooks/packets, they have a feeling of closure.

Write and Discuss from my French class last year:

Write and Discuss with a Paragraph Frame from my Sheltered Social Studies class this year (starts about 34 min. in):

Or you can end with a final Quick Quiz.

Lockdown at Madison High School

I am a teacher. I truly love instructional films, and books, and kids, and construction paper, and scissors, and glue, and markers, and pens, and imagination and fun and learning and games and creativity and words and growing stronger people. I’m a lover, not a fighter.

And when I decided, age 5, in 1981, that I wanted to do what my kindergarten teachers were doing, make a world where kids could be happy and creative and play, school shootings were not a Thing.

I never practiced a lockdown drill as a child. So it is not like I ever thought, “Despite the danger, I want to work in a school building.” I never, ever considered that being a schoolmarm could be more dangerous than, maybe, getting ink from the overhead projector pens up and down my wrist and arm.

Things have changed since then.

Now, pretty much every day that I walk into the schoolhouse, I think about how this could be the place I die by murder. I spent the tense hours of the Reynolds High School shooting in 2014 getting texts from my best friend who was locked down with her Graphics class three miles down the street from my school where I was in class with a student of mine who was the child of a teacher who was wounded. And then yesterday it got a lot more real.

We had a real honest-to-God shooter-on-campus lockdown yesterday at school for like 30 minutes of real soul-searching, sitting-in-the-dark-on-the-floor-with-17-scared-teenagers, It Just Got Really, Really Real realness. At first, I was sitting there, facing my kids, and whispering to them, “This is really real, I know it. I know it because the principal sent out an email this morning saying that we were having a fire drill on Friday, and never in any school ever have I seen two drills in one month, much less one week.”

So, it got really, really real, really fast. I felt like hugging them all. And I realized how little I know them, really, and yet how much I love them, and how teachers take strangers, year after year, and make them family, and fast. Because I realized that I would literally die for them, and I knew it viscerally, and it only took like 30 seconds for that to sink in. And I knew deep down that I would die trying to save them, if it came to that. I just knew it. I felt it. Like some primal thing.

I thought about how some of them have seen so much trauma already. Almost every single one of my students is from another country. Or, in a few cases, their parents are. And many of their families came here to be SAFER and to have a better life. And I thought about my life, and how sheltered it has been, and how this was literally the closest to looking death in the eye I had ever come. I hope it is the closest I ever, ever come. But I do work in a school building in the United States of America, and I do plan to go back to work, so one never knows if it is the last time. Not nowadays.

After sitting there like looking at the kids for a few minutes, it occurred to me that looking at the kids was not going to be much help if someone really did bust through the classroom door with the intent to harm us. A training we had in Gresham from two police officers came to mind: First option, flee. Second-best option: fight. Fleeing from a second-floor classroom with teensy-tinsey windows did not look like much of an option. So, fight.

So, I turned around and sort of crouched in a Ready to Spring Up position, and watched the door like a hunter. But I felt like the hunted. And then, I began to think, what can I do, with my bare hands? If someone puts an assault weapon through the glass of the door, and a hand comes in to turn the doorknob, what could I do? And then I began to look around the schoolroom. It was a sobering moment, looking around the schoolroom through the lens of What Can I Use in the Way of School Supplies to Defend Myself and My Students?

That’s NOT why I love school supplies. I love them cause they are fun. But it’s school, and what we have around us is school supplies. School supplies and people. That’s pretty much what school is made of. School supplies, people, time, and love.

I silently extracted a pair of scissors from the cup they live in. A student caught my eye. He reached for a stapler. You would not think that in a moment like that, we would find anything funny. But it was so very pathetic, so laughable, that we sort of cracked up a little bit, him with his stapler open and ready to fire, and me with my plastic-handled Wal-Mart scissors. I passed him a pair of scissors. I figured they were slightly more lethal in a fight than a stapler.

We sat and sat, and I breathed deeply and thought, if it my time to go, if it is our time to go, then thank you for this opportunity to have been alive. I had the absurd thought, “At least they died doing what they loved — learning English.” Absurd because (a) why joke about my own potential murder and (b) most of them actually do not like English class.

At least now I know that you can be terrified and your mind will still do its best to amuse you. That is a small comfort.

What also surprised me was how we were not getting any updates. I managed to text my best friend, the one who survived the Reynolds High School shooting, and asked her to look into it for me. She called District Office. No one was there to answer her call. I would have thought that there was a red phone down there, some kind of Information Central to send teachers updates as we cower with our students, wondering if the sirens we hear are coming to our school. (They were.)

After the lockdown lifted, we spent a few minutes just sitting. Processing. I was afraid to talk to the class. I did not know what to say. I wanted to say, “I love you all, so much.” I wanted to say, “I am sorry that the adults have not fixed this problem of you not feeling safe.” I wanted to say to them, “I know life feels a little fake most of the time, and I know that there is not a lot in school that feels real, and meaningful, and true, and important. But we are here, and we are here for a reason, and let’s find that reason, not in worksheets and video clips and books, but in each other’s faces, in our hearts and in what is possible in a group that knows that they are together for a reason.” I wanted to say a bunch of things. But I knew I would cry too much. So, I just said, “I was so scared, you guys. Weren’t you? Let’s take a few, to calm back down.” And then after a few minutes, mostly spent staring into their phones, I told them that I had once heard that the best thing to do after a shakeup was to get back to business, so we just picked up our reading on Bob Marley and kept on keepin’ on.

Then, after school, I went home and I cried for a couple hours. I wondered, as I blew and re-blew my nose, as the waves of tears came and went, I wondered if any of the students were also processing their fear and their feelings at their homes.

I thought, for the first time ever, that this culture of fear in schools, this epidemic of school shootings, has more victims than just the people – the far, far too many people – who are murdered or commit suicide in America’s schoolhouses, or survive active shooter situations. Kids all over, every single day I bet, all around us, go home after having had to hunker down with their class, as a precautionary measure, not knowing what was happening outside their locked classroom door, wondering how, with just school supplies and time and people and love to protect us, what would happen if that door opened. Straining their ears to hear: Is someone screaming down the hall? Are those sirens for us? Are they police…or ambulance?

I do not know what to do with all these feelings and new thoughts. But I do know now, in a much more real way than before, that it is deeply traumatizing to this entire generation to grow up experiencing lockdown drills, lockdowns, shootings, massacres, and this culture of fear, this pervasive feeling of threat. Not many grownups KNOW. But school employees do. Teachers know. So, what ARE we going to do about it, Grownups Who Know? Maybe the first step is telling our stories, and helping our kids tell theirs. Can you imagine seeing something as commonplace as a lockdown drill through the eyes of a five-year-old who does not speak English? Maybe that is the first step.

I am a teacher. I love books. I love writing and I love creating things. And I love kids. And I am not so naive as to think that we can write our way out of this mess. But I do believe that there is a healing power in writing, and that sharing our stories can change the world. In fact, stories might just be the only thing that do change the world.

Hang in there, everyone. And hold on tight to each other.

Making Card Talk Interesting

Sometimes teachers will be like, “Card Talk gets boring fast.”  First things first, if anything in a CI classroom feels boring, my advice is to stop doing it and move on to another activity.  Our job, from a purely language acquisition standpoint, is to simply provide comprehensible, interesting interactions in the language, so that students can take in contextualized linguistic data from which their brains construct, without any conscious effort on their part, a mental representation of the language.  This internal linguistic system is what then, in turn, drives their eventual ability to produce their own messages in the language.

So, Card Talk is not a requirement for this process to happen.  It is simply a “container” or a vehicle for delivering interesting messages.  And since the information that is being discussed is the information that the students provided themselves, the chances of the messages being somewhat interesting to that same group of students is higher than if we were, say, discussing the Periodic Table of the Elements (though to some kids, THAT is way more fascinating than learning about their classmates).

One way to make Card Talk more interesting is to involve more of the class in the discussion.  This not only makes it more about “Us As a Class” and less about “Kenya as a Person”, but it also quickly gives us a lot more information to discuss.

I quickly transition from one person to the whole class. After just basically stating that Felicia likes X and just acting generally sorta amazed at her awesomeness, I ask her to look at the class. I ask the class to raise their hand if they also like X. I tell her to look at the class with their hands raised.  I then ask them to raise their hand if they ADORE X and if they hate X. We can usually have fun with this for a while, especially if Felicia is an expressive student of good will who will look at the class with her emotions visible.  (I do not ASK student to express emotions, but some of them are naturally more expressive than others.  If so, it is fun to be like, “Class Felicia is happy!  Cheeseburgers are popular in our class!” or “Felicia is sad.  Five people hate cheeseburgers.”)

I tend to pre-pick cards (in my mind; I leave them on the floor till I “pretend” to notice the card that I PRE-SELECTED) that have to do with each other. Like two kids who like traveling. Or a kid who likes cats and one who likes dogs. Like, either the same or close to the same, or “opposites within a category” like coffee versus tea. This quickly leads to some good collections and comparisons. I don’t ask a ton of individual PQA type Qs generally such as “Felicia where do you eat cheeseburgers?” or “Felicia do you eat cheeseburgers on the moon or on Earth?”. It gets kinda boring unless the kid/topic is super-and-I’m-talking-abnormally-interesting interesting.

I save the Qs for Write n Discuss where I usually add a couple of details in.  I will just be writing the summary of the card talk, in which I try to include references to what the hands-raised poll of the class’s opinion was — for instance, “Felicia likes cheeseburgers and the majority of the class likes them too,” and I will then stop and ask Felicia, “Hey, what is your favorite restaurant?” or “Do you put mustard on them?” and add that detail into the writing.

WAFLT Sessions

Assessment:

Cycles of Instruction and Assessment Video Series

Listening Assessment French One Video

Speaking Assessment French One Video

Setting Up Writing Video French One

Reading Assessment Video French One

Rubrics

Assessment Chapter 

The Whole Book – $77

The Whole Book plus the Square Peg, Round Hole Book – $97

Content-Area Instruction:

GLAD Strategies

Five Foundational GLAD Strategies

Video of Input Chart with Tina

Video of Guided Oral Output with Tina

Video of Reading Strategies with Tina

Video of Writing Strategies with Tina