A roadmap for a proficiency-based unit: My go-to activities

Five months ago a teacher I am continuously inspired by named Rebecca Blouwolff asked for our top-ten go-tos in a proficiency-based lesson. I am finally ready to answer on behalf of me and my colleagues, Jess Levasseur and Heather Pineault. Here are our favorite activities that we use in our thematic units. For me, this is a timely post because I have been asked by a couple first-year teachers who are starting next week what exactly happens in a proficiency-based classroom.

You can find all of the resources in this folder as well as linked below. As Rebecca asked for in her post and subsequent Twitter challenge, these activities give students repetition without the activities being repetitive, get them moving, and push them to use language motivated by a strong intent.

  1. We usually start the unit with a hook video. With this video we are asking students to activate prior knowledge on a topic and to get excited about the theme. For all of my examples, I am going to use the theme of the environment. This video is the trailer for a movie called Demain. I first saw the video on the site TV5 Monde.
  2. The next activity we got from Rebecca and we call it Partner Vocabulary Definitions. Students memorize their word or definition, and leave it at their seat.
    green grass field under white clouds
    Photo by Scott Webb on Pexels.com

    They then look for the partner who has the corresponding word or definition by discussing theirs with their classmates. I am happy for another activity that gets students moving and interacting.

  3. I use a multi-column chart to have students think about the vocabulary and sort it. Have the students brainstorm anything they can in French to fit into the categories.
    This is one of many chances to interact with the terms of the unit. Another way to use a chart is when reading an article in order to pull out vocabulary on the theme, like this one here that works this article.
  4. The bulk of the input happens through authentic documents. Students read infographics and articles, watch videos, read picture books and listen to songs. Students do a comprehension guide for these, like the one I made for the song. (The infographic I linked leads to the interview interpersonal activity in number five.) I feel like we are creating a great collection of accessible readings and videos for our students and can post them to our school management system so students can take a second look outside of class.
  5. Students are asked to do interpersonal activities using the input from the authentic documents. I always rely on Lisa Shepard’s blog for interpersonal activities. This time I made two my own based on her work. One is an interview and the other is a graphic organizer to compare partners’ habits. We are always trying to get students to communicate with a purpose.
  6. We first learned Question – Question – Exchange from Creative Language Class and ever since it has been a pillar of our units as it is the moment where my students get the most chances to speak from their own point of view.
  7. I have my colleague Jess Levasseur to thank for the game Spoons. Students sit facing each other with a Spoon between them. If the teacher reads a statement that is true, the students compete to be the first to grab the spoon and win a point.
  8. And I am equally appreciative to my colleague Heather Pineault who has us playing Circonlocution every unit. In this game students use circonlocution and gestures to get the group to guess the list of words.
  9. This next one goes under repetition without being repetitive. In every unit we play a Kahoot game, which really just takes ten minutes. It is yet another way to see the material again.
  10. And I will finish with yet another way to spiral back on the material a final time, a Jeopardy game made on the Factile site.

I leave you with my top-ten go-to activities.

Ready-made IPAs

Novice and Intermediate French IPAs from Lisa Shepard, Cécile Lainé and Rebecca Blouwolff
As you create your own IPAs, it is helpful to take a look at examples on the web. Let me walk you through three sources. You may want to use some of these examples as they are or you may want to learn from them to write your own. All three authors, who are teachers too, have different strengths and will benefit your practice in different ways.
Context
Begin with Lisa Shepard’s site as she has paved the way for how to use IPA assessments with beginning students on themes such as Ce que j’aime, La Famille and Le Petit Déjeuner. Her work is ambitious but not only because she can write IPAs for beginning students. What can be learned from her goes deeper. Shepard is striving to move away from giving an over-riding theme to the IPA to creating a context for the IPA, i.e. a real-world reason for language students to engage in the task. In Shepard’s Intermediate IPA on the environment, where the reading and the video is about what French students are doing for the environment, Shepard managed to enter her language students into the context by giving them the role of an exchange student going to the school where the initial students were interviewed. As a result of reading Shepard’s examples, when I write an IPA I am more intentional about context.
Integration
Continue with Cécile Lainé’s site, looking at her IPAs on free time, immigration, food, activities, family and school. And for more by Lainé and her colleagues, refer to the Ohio Foreign Language Association Site, especially the sample found here on Neighborhood. Lainé was my original go-to person as there is a huge lesson to be learned from both how she integrates the three components of an IPA as well as how she encourages truly spontaneous speech in the Interpersonal Tasks. 12823378_10153455706573786_7128171800067206099_oWhen I write my own, I look at her language to guide me. Regarding integration, Lainé uses one task to inform the next, for example, in the Le temps libre IPA students learn about the free time activities that young French people prefer by reading the results of a survey, then use the same vocabulary to talk about their own leisure activities. It doesn’t stop there. Next the students use what they read about and what they discussed as material to do a presentation on leisure activities, comparing leisure for French and American young people. Regarding spontaneous speech, in her Interpersonal Tasks Lainé always has the students talking about themselves in relation to what they read about French young people. Even though comparing is a difficult skill, with such strong scaffolding, novice students can work towards making comparisons.
Feedback
And finish up your tour of IPAs that are available on the web with Rebecca Blouwolff’s site where you will find IPAs on la ville, la maison, les vêtements, les loisirs and la nourriture. Of note here is that Rebecca Blouwolff has an effective system for teaching students how to prepare for interpersonal tasks and for giving students feedback on interpersonal tasks. I wrote about how she sets up an interpersonal task in an earlier post; the point I want to make here is how she expertly incorporates a system using the TALK rubric, originally from The Keys to Planning for Learning by Clementi and Terrill. In this handout she explains her approach to the students and gives them pointers on how to prepare for evaluations. I commend her for the scaffolding she is building for students. She is showing them how to study for and approach these speaking assessments. This explanation really gets at what a successful speaker needs to do.
It is my hope that by drawing your attention to these three sources, you will have new IPAs to use in your instruction as well as greater ease in employing context, integration and feedback. Please share IPAs as you create them as they benefit us all.
Photo by Alexandra Lecomte

Classroom Mechanics of an Interpersonal Assessment

I am slowly building towards making Interpersonal assessments work well in my classroom. The reason why I have kept at it in spite of it being a struggle is because the Interpersonal mode is central to learning to speak a language. When I attended French class with Karen Girondel at Lexington High School in Lexington, MA in the 1980s, Gigi (as we called our teacher) made it look so easy. She would get us talking about what interested us and we wouldn’t even notice we were working! Seeing that I don’t have the same natural skill as Gigi, I have had to work at it. Back in the day my students did skits at the front of the room for a grade. More recently my students have had real world spontaneous dialogues that were recorded and I would take home to laboriously evaluate.

Interpersonal assessments build on information leaned in Interpretive assessments and the information students gleam from each other during Interpersonal assessments can be used in Presentational assessments. In this way assessments are truly integrated around a theme. I give Interpersonal tasks as a chance to explore culture from the learners’ point of view. Middle School students like to talk about themselves and the world around them. Taking about their own culture, my novice students gain the tools to later talk about cultural comparisons. An Interpersonal task is the chance for the student to use the new vocabulary and structures to talk about his or her practices and products, i.e. culture. I see speaking about perspectives, which is the third component of culture, as a later skill for intermediate and advanced speakers.

group chat

Image :University of Maryland School of Psychology

On Thursday, October 29, 2015, at the annual convention for the Massachusetts Foreign Language Association I attended a session given by Dawn Carney and Rebecca Blouwolff and it was there that I got an idea to bring me a little closer to meeting my goal. Rebecca has a classroom management strategy that is genius. Break the class into thirds, have one do the Interpersonal assessment with the teacher, one do a reading and one do what she calls a fluency count. A fluency count is to have the students challenge themselves to write as many sentences as they can in 10 minutes. Rebecca’s management works better that what I have tried in the past because both of my solutions, recording pairs or taking turns two by two at the front of the room, were time consuming. The station idea is also better because a small group is a true conversation, not a back and forth dialogue. Conversations permit students to think while others are speaking. They offer a natural asking of questions and building of ideas, not a tennis match of expressing the same or opposing opinions back and forth. We will be building on what we already know, but in a more open-ended format.

To get each student to speak, Rebecca gives each one five jewels and puts the jewel container in the center of the table. As the individual speaks in a full sentences he or she ads a jewel to the pile. The teacher evaluates the contribution to the conversation real-time based on a rubric that promotes speaking in complex sentences, accuracy, listening carefully and helping move the conversation along by asking questions. There isn’t one way to do an Interpersonal assessment, but today I learned a very good way that corresponds to how I teach. I am getting there.