Second & Third Departmental Meetings
Second Departmental Meeting
Defining the Problems of the Current World Languages Program
Joan: Welcome, everyone. Let’s get started with your reactions to the Proficiency Guidelines.
Ramon: Marta and I have already had a few discussions about the Guidelines. We are eager to hear what the rest of you have to say.
Roger: During lunch today Giselle and I had a few minutes to look over the descriptors for the Novice and Intermediate proficiency levels. We are already trying to think how we can incorporate the Guidelines into our program.
Joan: Carol, you look as if you have the world on your shoulders. What’s up?
Carol: It is the beginning of the school year and I am ready behind. I have a mound of papers to grade and record on the computer.
Roger: I, too, am feeling overwhelmed. I want to have my students do more speaking assessments, but they are already resisting.
Ramon: I have three sections of Spanish II and half the kids haven’t learned the material from last year. I am already spending most of the class periods reviewing. At this rate I won’t even be introducing new material until November.
Marta: Even my upper level students need to review material from previous years. Maybe the summer vacation is just too long. The kids seem to forget even the basics. Of course I always have a few students who excelled in their class last year and they come in ready to go. After a week of review they are bored as we go over last year’s material. I feel as if I’m caught in the middle between trying to get half the kids up to speed and trying to introduce new material to the kids who are ready to move on.
Joan: Look, I can see the rest of you nodding in agreement with Marta and Ramon. Let me try and summarize what I hear all of you saying. I think we have three problems we need to address. First, kids are moving from level to level, but many of them are not prepared to do the work. This means we have to spend too much time reviewing. Second, because a lot of kids are moving to the next level not prepared to do the work, they continue to do low-level work even though we are doing a lot of reviewing. A lot of these students are not successful and, therefore, after two years they drop out of the program. Third, even students who complete three or even four years of the language are not as communicative as we think they should be. Now, I think we have an opportunity to try and to address these issues as we revise our curriculum. What are your reactions to the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines?
Carol: I think they give a realistic description of what kids should be able to do in the language. Our textbooks give us the content of the course, but they don’t give us many guidelines as to how well our students should be performing at the different levels of instruction.
Ramon: The problem I see is that our courses are designed for years of instruction; for example, level I is first year; level II is the second year, and so on. The Proficiency Guidelines are not based on years of study but on how well a student is able to communicate in the language, regardless of the time spent in learning the language. If we organize our curriculum using the Proficiency Guidelines, I am wondering what happens when students need to stay at the novice level for more than one year? How would our program accommodate students who need more time in order to be proficient and move to the next level?
Carol: Well, what if we design our curriculum based on proficiency levels rather than on a specific amount of time a student spends in a classroom? How do you think that would work?
Marta: What if we could change our course titles? For example, instead of “Level I” we identify the class as “Novice-Mid.”
Joan: I see each of you brought a copy of the Guidelines. Let’s look at the Novice Levels and see what would work. First of all there are three sub-levels: Novice-Low, Novice-Mid, and Novice-High. Let’s assume that students who begin a language are Novice-Low. The Guidelines describe a Novice-Low speaker as one who has no real functional ability in the language. They may be able to give a few greetings, give their name, and name a few items in the immediate environment. Novice-Mid speakers can communicate with a few isolated words and a few memorized patterns and Novice-High speakers communicate using memorized words and phrases. They can speak in sentences using their memorized phrases and vocabulary.
Roger: I think I can see how these descriptors of student performance could become the basis of our program. First, we would need to decide, based on the length of our program, how high our students could go on the proficiency scale. Since most of our students start a language in seventh grade, I think it might be realistic to say they could reach a level of Novice-High by the end of eighth grade. At this point, I think we need to include our middle school teachers in this discussion. I am sure they will have insights into how well their students could perform by the time they complete eighth grade.
Joan: We often hear the middle school teachers tell us that their students are pretty motivated. Plus, the students would have two years to reach the Novice-High level by the time they finish eighth grade.
Marta: I am thinking about students who begin a language at the high school and are expected to reach a Novice-High level at the end of one year. What happens to those students who are not able to demonstrate a level of Novice-High after one year? Will they move on? Will they get one credit for the course even though they are not proficient at the Novice-High level? I know if I have these concerns, certainly our administrators, parents, and students will want answers to these questions.
Joan: At this point does everyone agree to continue the discussion on writing a curriculum based on proficiency?
Marta: I definitely want to continue this discussion. However, I want us to be realistic when it comes to how we can implement a curriculum which is very different from the one we currently have. I think we need to anticipate questions that others will have as we move forward.
Joan: I see the rest of you nodding in agreement with Marta. For our next department meeting I propose that we all become very familiar with the Proficiency Guidelines. Today we have looked only at the Novice Levels for speaking. We need to be able to put in our own words the descriptors for listening, speaking, writing, and reading at the Novice and Intermediate Levels. At our next meeting I would like us to come to an agreement whether we move forward with designing a curriculum based on proficiency or continue with our existing program. Before our next meeting I will meet with our principal to let her know what we are considering.
Third Departmental Meeting
Using the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines
Joan: Since our last department meeting I have had on-going discussions with many of you about our curriculum revision. I have also met with our principal to bring her up-to-date with our revision process. I explained to her our concerns, especially the need for our students to meet certain performance standards before they continue to the next level. She has agreed to read through the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines. She is definitely interested in what we are trying to do, so that is encouraging. We need to keep her informed. She can be an advocate for us not only with parents but with the superintendent and the school board.
Ramon: Marta and I have been talking about trying to integrate our existing program into a program based on proficiency. We think with our current textbooks we have the “what” that our students need to know and now we can use the Guidelines to show our students the language skills they need to demonstrate to move from level to level.
Marta: We think the Guidelines really provide a clear understanding of how to measure student performance. For example, students who demonstrate a level of Novice-High in speaking can use memorized phrases and short sentences in the present tense. They are understood by sympathetic listeners.
Giselle: This discussion is beginning to make a lot of sense to me. If we can use the Guidelines to clarify student performance in speaking at Novice-High we can extend the process to include expected performances in listening, writing, and reading. Now we need to decide how far a student in our program can go. Based on what I have been reading in the literature, I think we could write a program which begins at Novice Mid and continues through Intermediate-High. Not every student who begins our program in seventh grade will achieve Intermediate-High, but I predict that at least 75% of our students could obtain an Intermediate-High level of proficiency by the time they graduate from high school.
Roger: I agree with Giselle. Once our students know the expectations, I think they will be motivated to perform. You know I coach the boys’ soccer team and I see it time and again in sports. The expectations for performance are crystal clear and the boys work hard to perform. Often the players are harder on each other than I am. Because they know what it takes to score, they are motivated to practice hard.
Marta: When my students ask me at the beginning of the school year what they are going to learn in my class, I usually tell them that we will complete seven or eight chapters in the textbook. I know this does not really satisfy them, but they accept my answer and the conversation ends. I always feel as though I have let them down a bit. Frankly it does not sound very exciting to me either. If we had a program based on proficiency, I could tell my students exactly what would be expected of them. I could even show them video clips of my former students who are speaking Spanish at the Novice-High level, so that they could see and hear what they will be doing by the end of the year. I am getting excited just thinking about it.
Carol: What about the State Standards? Don’t we have to write a curriculum based on our National and State Standards? How do we integrate the Proficiency Guidelines with the Standards?
Joan: The last time we revised our curriculum we incorporated the State Standards. I think we already have the Standards portion of the curriculum. Now we need to talk about organizing the curriculum based on proficiency levels rather than on grade levels or levels based on years of study. Currently our curriculum is organized according to years—the first year of study, Level One, the second year is Level Two, and so on. If we used the Proficiency Guidelines, we could rename the courses with the names of the proficiency levels. We could call our classes Novice-Low, Mid, and High, Intermediate-Low, Mid, and High. We then use the standards to provide the course content and the proficiency levels to describe language performance.
Marta: I think I am following the logic here. Our curriculum will specify the content students need to know plus how well they need to perform in the language to move on to the next level.
Ramon: I think we need to review the standards. I am still a bit hazy on the “five C’s.”
Carol: The “five C’s” stand for Communication, Culture, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities. I remember it was a bit overwhelming to try and integrate all the different components of the standards into our program. We had always focused on communication and culture, but having to include multidisciplinary connections, comparisons between English and the target language, and then to provide students with opportunities to use the language in the broader community proved to be daunting.
Joan: Since the publication of our national standards in world languages, I think the majority of world languages teachers are beginning to focus instruction on the three modes of communication: interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational. Our state standards, as well, emphasize the three modes of communication. I think we need to review our current standards and see if we need to make any revisions and then consider how we could integrate the standards with the proficiency levels.
Giselle: I would like to suggest that we concentrate on what a program would look like for the Novice-High level for our next meeting. Maybe before the next meeting each of us could jot down some ideas and give them to Joan.
Joan: That is a great idea. I can put your ideas together and give copies to each of you before our next meeting. I am feeling really excited about our direction. I know a couple of you like to play devil’s advocate, so keep coming up with questions to sharpen our thinking.