La Question du Jour

The Question of the Day, or maybe more like the Question of the Decade or even of the Century, is put in succinct fashion below by Emeka:

Hi Ben,

Just share with your that our district (Kalamazoo Public Schools in Kalamazoo, Michigan) just bought the whole world languages department The Big CI Book. We got them yesterday. I’m glad the culture in our district is slowing shifting. However, we still are tied to common final assessments, which are largely based on the textbook and add a lot of stress when teachers are trying to use CI in the classroom. Still a lot to do and a long road ahead. I’m trying to envision what might be the best common assessment. Do you have any suggestions for what an “ideal” common assessment might have, especially if I would like to do more NT teaching?

Thanks for all you do!

Emeka

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19 thoughts on “La Question du Jour”

  1. We may have had more discussion on this question over the past year than perhaps on any other topic. There is a lot of hemming and hawing and the image that pops into my mind is one of growing numbers of people looking at an oppressor (the common assessment) and wondering if they can kill it. Common Assessments don’t play well with CI instruction that is non-targeted. One has to die.

    NTCI is not going to die, however, because it fully aligns with the research and the standards – if people were to actually read them – so what has to die is the common assessment concept and, indeed, the entire way that we assess kids in foreign language classes in our country. We must dump the memorization piece and move to free and open communication, Communication being the standard and Non-targeted being the best end conclusion of all the research.

    So here we are standing looking at the oppressor. What will we do? Chicken out? What do we do? I have no idea but it seems to me that if a district is going to buy books like The Big CI Book then THEY, not the teachers but the district, has some work to do in the data collection and assessment wings of their district offices. If they are going to buy books like mine, then they and NOT TEACHERS better be the ones to change in the area of assessment.

    One thing we can do, if the district offices are not going to change how they assess, is to simply wait until the numbers of people looking at the oppressor reaches a point of critical mass and then insist that the districts kill the beast. That would help us keep our jobs for now.

    And how do we prepare our kids for the common assessments until reinforcements arrive? I suggest that we do all input activities (Big CI Book and a lot of stuff that a lot of us here in the PLC are inventing every day) and then teach the common assessment material in the last two months of the year. CI trained kids pick up on grammar FAST, if anyone hasn’t noticed. Fudging grades on behalf of what is best for children is not a crime.

    1. NT is not going to die in my class. I’ve seen just a glimpse at where it’s going to take my teaching. I really owe a lot to those who have posted videos online. I just filed a donors choose to get a tablet so I can record myself next year! I don’t want to chicken out. The part right now I’m trying to decide is whether I am going to do the speaking exams as they were designed (one on one, teacher interviewing the student). I’m trying to imagine how I can do these in small groups, since I believe it is more fair to all involved. I love this “Fudging grades on behalf of what is best for children is not a crime.” But I don’t think what I want to do is fudging, it’s making the communication more authentic instead of memorized answers students tend to do.

      1. …I’m trying to imagine how I can do these in small groups, since I believe it is more fair to all involved….

        IMHO it’s impossible. Not just the group testing of speaking but individual testing. If they don’t WANT to say it then it’s not authentic. If it’s not authentic then it has no value as an assessment. It if has no value as an assessment then it is the same as memorization. Just my opinion. As you probably know in Denver Public Schools they dumped the first year of speaking testing and maybe the second. Not sure on that. It was a merciful solution to a comical, even farcical attempt to make it look like school. Why? For the same reason that we don’t rate ten month old children on how they speak.

        1. It is impossible. The speaking assessment at levels 1 and 2 is a waste of time, but I’m thinking groups to waste less time and save my voice 🙂 I am inspired to advocate the dropping of our speaking exams…but it is going to take some convincing I believe.

      2. Emeka. I am continuing round 1 from awhile back of one on one interviews in French 1. All i do is ask them the star of the week questions as the extroverts have been interviewed more than once. We then read as a class then i put the interviews written in 1st and 2nd person, in the fvr folder. Amazing results. All i am doing is meeting the needs of the students, going slow and using these questions as a base then asking further questions. I have a note oad and give then the translations… like a private lesson.

        1. So cool! I was actually really surprised yesterday because one of my level 2 classes complained that we “never do Star of the Day” anymore. Here I was thinking I was mixing it up with other CI strategies, and they just want the personalized, authentic conversations. Looks like we will be bringing back l’étoile du jour to end the year! Do you write up the interviews or is that a classroom job?

          1. Emeka asked:

            …do you write up the interviews or is that a classroom job?….

            My general answer is that we can write up any content that we created together in class. The pattern is that we communicate in a non-targeted and free way (Star of the Day is just one way to do that) and, in my own practice, I always have a superstar taking notes on everything in English so that I can then write up anything I want. The DNA of this work is we talk and then we read about what we talked about later. It’s about input and their listening to me in class and then reading what they heard is the pattern. No output except when they want as happens naturally. I do try to get them reading a lot of what they discussed with me. It only makes sense to do that since reading is the high road to language acquisition.

  2. Hi Emeka,

    I wanted to answer before reading Ben’s response but I apologize if it is redundant.

    you said,”However, we still are tied to common final assessments, which are largely based on the textbook and add a lot of stress when teachers are trying to use CI in the classroom. ”

    A text book with a common final will naturally be stressful with CI. They do not align.

    “I’m trying to envision what might be the best common assessment. Do you have any suggestions for what an “ideal” common assessment might have, especially if I would like to do more NT teaching?”

    My answer to this can go two ways in your district.

    1) Proficiency based evaluation (not testing) in which students who do not make the cut simply stay in “novice-low”, “novice-mid” classes etc… Not kid friendly because of shame but they simply get more CI and develop on their own clock if they still want to. In my district these are called benchmarks and are used in other subject areas using quantitative data. Examples include Fluency write word count, portfolios that document output or other specific data, personal interviews where students can get it right or wrong etc…

    2) Pure comprehension based assessments. This is an ideal scenario in which the process of instruction aligns with the assessment including summatives (or finals). I got this from Claire.
    Here the student is demonstrating what they know holistically. Here qualitative data is more important. Examples include: Portfolios documenting spontaneous output or drawing a scene to a new story they never read, complexity of fluency writes, pointing and showing images, playing simon says without assistance etc… All of these are valid and demonstrate that learning is happening and acquisition is on its way.

    For it to be common in your department or district, you will have to experiment first with NT and consider factors such as: engagement, management, student population, age etc… Then come together to discuss what you observe as a true community and build a common final on what you see. In my department, I have pushed the fluency write (for a formative assessment for reflection) but my colleagues want to give the students more than 10 minutes. So it isn’t “common”

    I hope this helps.

    1. Thanks, Steven. I love the idea of portfolios. This is my ideal. AND it would be better for students. However, my district wants us all to be able to enter data into a system so we can see trends and basically judge teachers. These sorts of “tests” do not work with world languages!

    2. Steven said:

      …for it to be common in your department or district, you will have to experiment first with NT and consider factors such as: engagement, management, student population, age etc… Then come together to discuss what you observe as a true community and build a common final on what you see….

      Spoken by a leader who gets it. This is the kind of thing that district language coordinators of the future will be saying a hundred years from now. But there won’t be any pushback. They’ll do it. Because life will be different then. Less competitive. All the rough edges of this time in our country’s history will be smoothed over. We will have paid our dues. The work we are doing now will have paid off. This is not just a prayer but a firm belief.

      1. In another comment five days ago Steven said this:

        …there should always be comprehension at the forefront of assessments and they should be in various modalities like drawing, moving, using non-verbal cues so as to give students the best encouragement that acquisition is possible….

        We see here that Steven sees language as a thing that exists in three dimensions and is not just about mentally reconstructing information for the teacher. This is what the future of language testing will be.

        The most important thing about this topic is about us finding ways to figure out ways to see if kids have (Steven’s phrase) “made meaning in their heads”. This is very often going to be somatic in nature and, most importantly, assess what the kids have UNDERSTOOD vs. what they have memorized, which will be different for each kid and only in some of them can it be measured by what they can DO, because so many kids after even two or in not-so-rare cases three years still can’t DO much, but there is a lot of soup in the kitchen, on simmer, waiting for the alphabet noodles to spell the words out. Our problem is that we want to eat the soup before the words make sense. And then we fault the kids for not being able to do what they aren’t able to do. Typical.

    3. Another thing Steven said that glows:

      …targeting is a stepping stone towards inequity and causes a divide between those who are good at school and those who for multiple reasons cannot perform or demonstrate proficiency….

  3. …but my colleagues want to give the students more than 10 minutes….

    The reason we cut it off at ten minutes, in my view, is that it is harder to write from the sounds bouncing around in your brain longer than that. The whole idea of free writes is that the kids write by dipping their ladles into the unconscious soup of CI that they heard all week and write from that in a right brain/whole brain kind of way with no left brain analysis, with zero concerns about Spelling because the standard is not spelling but Communication.

    By wanting to make that writing period longer than ten minutes, your colleagues miss the entire point about production. They want to allow the kids more time to think about what they are writing. That brings with it the Monitor and soon the kids are trying to think their way to a written text and that allows the bleeding in of their L1 language rules onto their attempts to write in L2.

    Thus what should be a purely L2 creative process for students who rarely hear the language in class becomes an L1/L2 mix of thinking only and the whole purpose of the exercise is lost. Your colleagues are wrong.

    1. The reason they want it longer is that they want to cover a mandate and relax for a whole day. Theese guys know how to chill.

    1. This is interesting:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_proficiency

      Apparently, in some frameworks native speakers can be fluent but not proficient speakers!

      Here it refers that ACTFL makes the distinction between proficiency and performance. In both, according to the wiki, there is a combination all “skills” or domains of writing, speaking, reading, listening and understanding. For us, it is useless to attempt to evaluate a student’s true output which is making meaning in your own head and communicating it. At a 9-12 program, there should always be comprehension at the forefront of assessments and they should be in various modalities like drawing, moving, using non-verbal cues so as to give students the best encouragement that acquisition is possible (see: the affective filter) etc…

      It seems really odd to align with ACTFL’s performance descriptors or measures as it certainly does not align with SLA and nor is it realistic given the amount of time we have. However, it gives us all the more reason to use SL to provide that steady flow.

    2. Yes, I like this too. I’m not sure how it would fly with some other teachers who are not yet on the NT train. I like being on the train though and am thankful for your input.

  4. Here’s what we did for the common assessment, which are called ‘Cornerstones’ in my district.
    We first made a quick n dirty list of verb-containing chunks that were the minimum to comprehend for that period of time – and we agreed upon them among the 3 elem teachers. A very minimal list! So like for the first graders it was some of the Super 7 plus like ‘eats’ and ‘sleeps,’ maybe ‘runs.’ The subsequent grades had the previous grades’ mini list plus a few more. Then we teachers created a story together that used some of the agreed upon common chunks from the quick list. A shorter one mid year, a longer one recycling some of the mid year ones for the end-of-year.
    The ‘tool'(ouch!) looks 100% kosher and it mimics the growing foundation in our classroom. The actual assessment varies up the grades – for the youngest, we read some statements and they circle A or B – a corresponding picture. By 3rd grade they listen to the story and circle the English answers to the English comprehension Qs about the story. The stories for us are pretty short – 5-7 sentences.
    Though unfamiliar they are similar in form to classic ‘quest’ T/CI stories.

    I completely agree that this measuring and weighing is ridiculous and a waste of time, and we don’t learn new info to inform our instruction from the results. But creating a tool that doesn’t take a lot of time to make or proctor, and that’s consistent with our practice is important and defensible.

  5. A formativeasire that can actually influence instruction is whether the students found the story to be interesting.

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