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“Songs can get to your brain and heart faster than any other language interaction,” stated @DiegoOjeda66 last Thursday night. His comment got right to the heart of many teachers’ perspectives about using music in the world language classroom.

Music is a universal element of culture, and one of the eight learning intelligences discussed by Howard Gardner in his multiple intelligences theory. It is no wonder then, that #langchat participants were so excited to share their ideas about why music is so effective and how to tie it into world language learning.

Why Music?

There are a lot of reasons that music is a great teaching tool in the world language classroom. Not only is it fun and engaging for students, but there is a lot of subconscious knowledge that is being transferred when teachers include authentic music activities.

Cultural Rhythms. Many teachers spoke of the cultural elements embedded into authentic songs. @cadamsf1 said, “I use songs to link with culture and politics- then we talk about comparisons to American songs. I also do the song lines in order.” @karacjacobs said, “I love using songs in class! Big reason: Songs are the cultural products that describe cultural perspectives and practices.”

Motivational Music. Another key reason that many world language teachers use music is that students just love to participate with it. @dr_dmd said, “It is a great motivator for my students, or a reward at end of week.” Many expressed the motivation that music offered them when they were first learning their language. @yeager85 said, “Music sparked my interest in Spanish and is why I’m fluent. My HS teacher introduced me to it and the rest is history. Music is powerful!”

Outside Practice. @ProfaBaros said, “How do we get “free” comprehensible input outside of class? Get a song stuck in student’s heads!” Many teachers agreed that songs stuck with students outside of class much more often that simple poems or repetitive activities. @jennahacker said, “They listen AND sing outside of class. I love when I hear them singing the chorus in the hallway. They’re practicing w/o knowing!”

Pronunciation Patterns. Some #langchat teachers mentioned that using songs within the world language classroom can improve students’ pronunciation. @alisonkis said, “I teach Mandarin and use lyrics to help students with pronunciation.” @tmsengel said, “Started year with children’s song video. Used instead of alpha to learn special Italian pronunciation. Best pronunciation this yr.”

Fast-Track Proficiency. Finally, a key element of using songs to teach is that students in early learning stages can quickly understand and identify key vocabulary and concepts in songs. This gives them a sense of ownership in their language acquisition and can help them feel more proficient. @tmsaue1 said, “Song could be a great strategy to get kids feeling successful in early stages of language learning.” @dr_dmd responded, “This was my experience – really boosted by confidence and enjoyment of learning English.”

7 Best Practices for Using Music in World Language Classrooms

  1. Rap, and repeat.
  2. Repetition is one of the reasons why music is so effective when other ways of teaching concepts are not. Music is naturally repetitive, so it allows much more inherent practice than other forms of learning. @CalicoTeach said, “Repetitive, simple lyrics are great for novices. Making the music comprehensible is what brings value.”

  3. Dance It Out.
  4. Other teachers mentioned that students love dancing along as well, which makes for a positive learning experience within the world language classroom. @senoralopez said, “The best part is dancing! Learning must be fun.” @jennahacker said, “I love incorporating songs that go with movements. Muscle memory helps the learning!” @CalicoTeach said, “Use music and specific actions to teach action verbs (turn each action into a dance) is an effective, fun strategy for elementary students.”

  5. Pick Music You Like!
  6. @DiegoOjeda66 reminded us that, since teachers spend a lot of time with the music they choose, it is vital to choose likeable music. @suarez712002 said, “Oh yes, we can work with songs we don’t like but the effect is not comparable when you work with the ones you like.” Plus, when teachers like the music that is being played in class, it becomes more authentic in the students’ minds. @jennahacker said, “I have music on during group work, etc. The kids see me singing along. Lets them know it’s real! Not just 4 show.”

  7. Be the Weird You Want to See
  8. Many teachers expressed concerns that students won’t feel comfortable enough to sing or dance along with authentic world language music. @dr_dmd suggested, “Make it SAFE to perform, be goofy, teacher should model this!” @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Even if you are a good singer, sing in your worst fashion so they won’t feel the pressure to sing perfectly.” @jennahacker went even further: “I make sure I look like the biggest fool in the room. Sing and dance dramatically so they can be comfortable.”

  9. Have Non-Threatening Alternatives
  10. Although there are usually always some students who love to sing and dance at the front of the class, there are others who won’t. That is why it is important to have low-stress alternatives to participation. @jennahacker said, “I don’t force students to sing, but I do highly encourage it. We all laugh together. They at least have to stand and do gestures.” A number of teachers also suggested group singing and listening activities for non-performing students. @CarolGaab said, “I always give student the option of lip syncing. That way, those who are tone deaf are not “exposed.”” @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Recite songs as poems, in a very dramatic way. For those who rather not sing.”

  11. Pre-Teach
  12. Since many popular songs include slang and advanced vocabulary such as idiomatic expressions, it is wise to pre-teach a song before it is shared with the class. @natadel76 said, “Songs often use conversational lang or slang too. Sometimes I have to look it up myself! Thanks for WordReference! #langchat” @CarolGaab commented, “So many authentic songs have a ‘story’. Easier to pre-teach more common vocabulary to tell the story, THEN delve into lyrics.”

  13. Tell a Story.

There are so many great songs out there, it can be difficult to choose one that is catchy, interesting and supportive of other world language benchmarks. Some teachers suggested choosing songs with stories in order to help students grasp the meaning of song lyrics.

Other Great Ideas for Using Music in the World Language Classroom

  • @dr_dmd said, “Very fun to create our own songs, if we have some level of ability!”
  • @dr_dmd said, “There is the ever popular Cloze text approach – helps students listen for missing words – easy and fun”
  • @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Competitions among students to see who can read the songs the fastest without mistakes.”
  • @WLteachmeh said, “Novices can listen for words they recognize or how many times they hear something specific.”
  • @natadel76 said, “If song is comprehensible to students, cut lines and have the kids restore the lyrics as they listen.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “I like to embed YouTube videos on a wiki page, then create a Google form to embed below it with some questions/activities – Fun!”
  • @natadel76 said, “Can also write summaries of stanzas in comprehensible lang and have sts match w authentic lyrics.”
  • @natadel76 said, “Use songs as #authres to reinforce/illustrate a theme in intermed/advanced (environment, war, etc). Springboards to conversations!”
  • @dr_dmd said, “Anyone on #langchat tried having students write their own songs? They love to rap! Wrap it up in Rap!”
  • @jennahacker said, “For novice, I do a quick “what did you hear?” and have them circle words or short phrases.”
  • @alisonkis said, “You can also put on Voicethread and have students talk about their ideas and opinions about the song.”
  • @SenoraMcLellan said, “I agree, I like to play clips, short, sweet and recognizable.”
  • @yeager85 said, “Use wordle!!! I got the idea here. Put song lyrics on one and have students highlight lyrics. Pairs with SMARTboard perfectly!”
  • @MonsieurMiami11 said, “I do a song of the week with a lyric sheet and missing words. It serves as a rare extra credit opportunity.”
  • @alisonkis said, “Students can also learn the song and demonstrate their understanding by making music videos via animation!”
  • @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Always start working with syllabic division. Make them feel comfortable with pronunciation.”
  • @DiegoOjeda66 said, “Use www.grooveshark to find any song and create class lists for free.”
  • @SECottrell said, “Another tip: Use 2 songs to ask for comparisons. Pushing for comparisons pushes for higher level thinking.”
  • @SECottrell said, “A few tips – keep your own Pandora, Spotify going regularly; jot down title to research when pattern/theme strikes you.”

Thank You!

Thank you so much for your participation in this amazing #langchat! There were so many great comments and suggestions that we didn’t even get half of them down. Make sure you check the #langchat transcript for a complete version of this amazing chat!

Again, thank you to our wonderful moderators, @dr_dmd and @CalicoTeach who shared such great ideas and resources with us. We are glad to have a place to talk about what is working (or not working) in the world language classroom.

If you have a specific topic you would like to see discussed this Thursday at 8pm EST, please share it with us!

Additional Resources

A Few Singers and Songs

Edith Piaff
No Me Ames by JLo Marc.
Celine Dion
La Reina del Pop by La Oreja de Van Gogh

Other Links

book shelf by seo_gun, on Flickr
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Among #langchat participants on Thursday night, it proved to be difficult to come to a consensus on which texts best help students meet communication proficiency goals. Each teacher had their own way of looking at texts, although using authentic resources, leveled reading and communication reading activities seemed to be common themes in many world language classrooms.

Are Authentic Materials the Best Texts for Comprehension?

Many #langchat teachers highly praised the use of authentic materials to help students read for communication proficiency. The problem is deciding what resources are truly authentic. It seemed that each participant had their own interpretation of exactly what is meant by the phrase ‘authentic resources.’ @jennahacker said, “Authentic texts – stories, news articles, tweets, product labels, recipes, traffic signs, store flyers, etc. things they can use.”

Some participants held the idea that authentic resources are only truly authentic if they have not been modified in any way. @dr_dmd said, “Good text should be authentic resources – written in target language for a target language audience – REAL language not tailored for L2 learners, but real life communication.”0 @textivate said, “Personally I can’t see the point in authentic resources if all it’s about is simplifying a comprehension task….”

Other Ideas About Using Authentic Resources

Choose Authentic Resources with Purpose. If you are using authentic resources, make sure that you have a specific goal in mind. @SraHoopes said, “Authentic texts are written at all levels. They can work if selected with purpose.” Some teachers spoke of choosing authentic resources at lower levels to peak interest, while others spoke of using authentic resources to help students learn to glean information from context.

Texts Designed for Second Language Learners. A number of participants spoke about the value of using texts specifically designed for students learning a second language. @placido said, “Texts geared to second language learners can bridge the gap to higher level literature, while providing high-interest reading at a low frustration level.”

Focus On Comprehension. Some teachers mentioned the idea that authentic resources may not provide the most communication for students, as they often incorporate language that students are not ready for. @placido said, “Authentic resources are cool, but have very shallow levels of comprehension. I use them but don’t spend tons of time on them.”

Use Authentic Resources Wisely. On the other hand, some teachers felt that authentic resources can be excellent ways to spark student comprehension through engagement, regardless of what level they are at. @jennahacker said, “I think you can make a text work for any level. Change the task, not the text.” @MmeNero said, “Students feel that they have ownership over their learning when they can read authentic documents. They are so proud!”

Interesting is the Same in Every Language

@SraHoopes shared, “Authentic text or not, all that matters is whether it’s comprehensible to students and whether they find it interesting.”

This idea was supported by many of the langchat teachers: as long as students think it is interesting, they are willing to read it. @placido said, “Krashen told me that the higher the interest in the text, the more ambiguity the reader can tolerate. I find it to be true!” @dr_dmd expressed his disinterest in textbook-only reading:  “SO dead and dry! Only meant to teach a structure. We can find LOTS of text online that can be accessible, fiction and non-fiction, poems, songs, Karaoke, manga, comics – choices!”

The best ways of keeping students interested? Humor, memes and teacher-produced stories that are specific to the classroom. @sonrisadelcampo said, “Authentic resources are great, but don’t forget your own creativity to write texts; You can personalize it 2 your class.” Through writing vocabulary-rich stories personalized for your classroom, students become more engaged and active in the learning process.

Best Practices for Reading World Language Texts

A number of other best practices were shared in the #langchat forum:

Modeling. Students will become more involved in reading if they see their teacher enjoying it as well. @mme_henderson said, “I really think the teacher should show a love of learning and reading. I want them to love reading too!” @sraoconnor said, “I agree.  If I am reading, my kids seem to take the time more seriously and read more intently.”

Images. Incorporating images into reading is not only good for visual learners, but can provide vital context clues and spark interest in the reading selection. @SraStephanie said, “I like lots of pictures and/or captions for novice texts! Kids feel like they are getting away with something ;).” @jennahacker said, “Infographics are great too! Fun, useful info about all different topics. Authentic, but easier to decipher for novice.” Other great image web sites mentioned were Google Images, Pinterest and Flickr.

Variety. @placido said, “When choosing or creating texts, I try to balance silly and serious, high interest and high value.” Keeping reading selections varied increases students’ motivation to participate. Teachers shared many different types of readings that students can participate in such as songs, recipes, menus, ads, news articles, tweets and instruction manuals.

Pre-Teaching. Especially when using authentic resources, it is vital to pre-teach important concepts, cultural elements and vocabulary so that students don’t become frustrated. @MmeNero said, “Use authentic texts, but it is so important that students are prepped. Cognates and familiar word searches to then answer questions.” @dr_dmd said, “Agreed – frontloading text with comprehensible input is essential – stories are more meaningful with oral language input and comprehension checks.”

Leveled Reading. A number of teachers spoke highly about using leveled readers, both for second language learners and those designed for native early language learners. @CarolGaab said, “I think it helps accelerate acquisition if you add comprehensive input through level-appropriate texts that provide repetitions of target language structures.” One highly recommended leveled system was the embedded text system that was shared by @sonrisadelcampo.

Daily Reading Practice. Regardless of what type of text a world language teacher chooses, it is imperative that reading is done on a daily basis. Just a little reading in the target language each day can have long-term value. @mme_henderson shared her daily routine:  “I do a short daily reading segment daily with tweets, Facebook articles, proverbs, etc. I teach a word of the day in context also. They are so proud to be able to read the latest news stories by themselves at level I.”

Thinking Outside of the Text Box

The most effective component of making world language reading communicative and engaging is by being creative in lesson planning. Students are more likely to want to read if they know that their reading time is going to be fun, varied and innovative. Here were some of the most interesting reading ideas of the evening:

  • @SrtaTeresa said, “I like having them scan newspapers for headlines. There are typically plenty of cognates which help with comprehension.”
  • @abbrugiati said, “Last week I made a scavenger hunt using QR codes. All the clues where in target language.”
  • @SenoraDunkin said, “I’ve seen teachers that have students black out the words they don’t know/can’t guess the meaning of and then use what remains.”
  • @SrtaTeresa said, “The @ZJonesSpanish Twiccionario exercises are great for Spanish teachers. The students love analyzing real tweets. Fun and culture-filled.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “I use RSS feeds and subscribe to magazines and newspapers – they come to me.”
  • @placido said, “Tweeting and blogging have really helped me build a network of teachers that I go to for ideas!”
  • @tbcaudill said, “Current movie summaries on theater websites. Can also talk about movie poster, movie times, show trailers… All in one place!”
  • @suarez712002 said, “our 5th graders are “shopping” in Chile using H & M website”
  • @abbrugiati said, “Sometimes I use teenager website that are talking about famous people in target language. One direction:)”
  • @suarez712002 said, “I use e-mails text message from native speakers. Students love them!”

Thank You!

Thank you so much for your participation in this amazing #langchat! We love hearing your opinions on our weekly topics. If you have a specific topic you would like to see discussed this Thursday at 8pm EST, please share it with us!

Again, thank you to our wonderful moderators, @placido and @CoLeeSensei. We are glad to a place to talk about what is working (or not working) in the world language classroom. There are always so many great ideas, we don’t have room to write them all. For a complete transcript of this session, please visit our online archive.

Additional Resources
@ZJonesSpanish menus from target culture
Spanish TV Series El Internado
Newspapers for Spanish PRENSA ESCRITA
Google+ FL Teachers group:
texts – comics in Español:
Project Based Learning on-line

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The #langchat twitter feed was explosive on Thursday night as teachers from around the country shared their feelings on the effects that standardized grading has had on their classrooms. Even though many teachers realized that removing grading from world language classrooms is unlikely, many were passionately advocating for a serious change away from emphasis of current grading practices.

ACTFL Proficiencies and Language Learning Levels

The evening’s conversation started out as a discussion about how the ACTFL proficiency standards correlated with individual learning levels. Many teachers shared their frustration with the leveling system, especially as it is perceived by students. Many world language students believe that they should be at a higher level, even as first year students. @jas347 said, “They know from state testing jargon that novice is a no-no…so I tried explaining that for experience, you’re a distinguished novice!”

Other teachers expressed frustration with the whole leveling system. In one of the more retweeted comments of the night, @tmsaue1 said, “Just going to go ahead and say it: would love to see us getting rid of levels all together.” Many teachers agreed with this statement, and offered some interesting solutions. @dr_dmd said, “I would like to see levels go away! I would love to advance students forward as they achieve proficiencies.” @Vines_TOY10 said, “Me too! What if they were placed by the proficiency guidelines?!”

Although a proficiency-based leveling system seemed to be the fantasy of many #langchat teachers, it is difficult to implement. @alenord said, “I think that frustration is why we have to continually teach just above their comfort level so they will stretch to higher level.”

World Language Learning: A Fading Value?

One of the key concepts discussed was a perceived inability for students to understand the value of learning of its own accord. Many world language teachers made the point that students have been so inundated with standardized tests that they have begun to see world language courses as just another hoop that must be jumped in order to get to graduation. @km_york said, “My Ss are motivated (mostly) by credit, not by proficiency. Trying to change!”

The answer? Teaching students the value of learning without the pressure of assessment or embarrassment. @sonrisadelcampo said, “I think we can change that. Educate them in what real learning looks like. No ‘cram and drop’ allowed in my classes.” Other world language teachers mentioned leveling students individually in order to take the pressure off the grade and put the emphasis on personal understanding. @alenord said, “Keep it real – kids don’t care about assessments. Kids care about gaining fluency.”

Teaching to the Test

But, world language teachers aren’t the only propitiators of this type of grade-focused learning. #langchat participants discusses some of the social structures that are creating this emphasis on grades in world language classes. @hawleylaterza said, “Actually, I think students are OBSESSED with grades. We have done that to them with standardized tests.” @SECottrell responded, “Students aren’t obsessed with grades by nature – parents and admins are. They transfer it.”

@km_york said, “I think it’s just ingrained in our culture. My 4-yr has lots of games that give her “grades” already.” Other teachers agreed that the “hyper-competitive” nature of many schools, as well as society in general has increased students’ focus on an external mark of accomplishment rather than an internal understanding of concepts. @alenord said, “We have to address the fact that students aren’t concerned with LEARNING anymore. Just fill in blanks, turn in work.” @Vines_TOY10 responded, “So true…proficiency takes work not a worksheet…”

Many world language teachers shared their dreams of having a classroom in which there were no grades at all. @jklopp shared an appreciated perspective: “I am visualizing my world language class with no grades whatsoever. ‘Oh, I don’t give grades. We just communicate.’ Our creativity is smothered by grading.” @sonrisadelcampo agreed: “I start each semester by telling kids that if their goal is a grade then their goal and mine clash.”

@cforchini said, “I would love to see grades taken off the table, students hate them and I hate giving them.” @jklopp said, “I don’t want to have to even think about grades when I’m teaching – and don’t want students to, either.”

Turning the Grading Tide

@mweelin asked, “How do you make the shift in a grade-driven school culture (both ss and tchrs)?” This brought up a very hot-button issue among the world language teachers: how can we create communication-based language experiences in a school system where grades are of paramount importance? @jennahacker said, “We are in the process of applying standards-based grading to a system that still requires a grade. I am curious to see how it will work.”

A number of ideas were shared that would help school districts turn away from a grading focus and implement proficiency-based progression in the world language classroom:

Change the Way You Teach. Students know when you are stressed out about their grades, so it is vital you make communication your number one goal. @sonrisadelcampo made a bold statement that many teachers agreed with: “Students sense when teachers themselves are zeroed in on grades; [so we should] step back and enjoy conversing w/ them in the target language.”

Incentivize the Learning Process. Although grades are an incentive for students to attain knowledge, they are not necessarily an incentive for learning and growth. Some teachers suggested that there should be a local or national incentive for schools that move from grade-based leveling systems to more proficiency-based systems.

Become a Linguist, Not an Editor. #langchat participants agreed that focusing on communication is key, and that teachers shouldn’t get caught up in the “details” of world language learning. A focus on finding mistakes in grammar, spelling or accent can de-motivate students and rob them of communication experiences. @alenord said, “The real evil is the teacher who is looking for those mistakes!”

The AP Test is Not The Goal. A number of teachers spoke about the need for the world language community to stop emphasizing the AP exam as the end result of a language education program. @mosspike said, “A 5 on the AP doesn’t always correlate with comprehension. I worry that too many students view the AP exam as the end goal and don’t want to continue language study later.”

Focusing on Can-Do. Utilizing the Linguafolio “I Can” statements can go a long way to promoting positive learning experiences that are communication based. They can be incorporated into assessments, syllabi and individual lesson plans. @Vines_TOY10 puts the “I Can” statement at the top of assessments to maintain accountability. She also cautions world language teachers that the statements need to be used for communication goals. “’I can’ statements need to be communication based….not I can use the verb ‘to be’ in four separate tenses.”

Real World Instruction. Students want to be able to learn world language that they will be able to use immediately, which is why so many are frustrated in the lower levels. Many teachers suggest making sure that even low level courses give students the ability to communicate in small ways. @alenord said, “Kids need to leave class w/something they can apply immediately to real world. They look for opportunities.” @crwmsteach said, “We must remember that student motivation is a factor of proficiency. Setting personal goals and periodic self evaluation is a must.”

Thank You!

Thank you so much for your participation in this amazing #langchat! There were so many great ideas, we couldn’t write them all down. For a complete transcript of this world language chat session, please visit our online archive.

Again, thank you to our wonderful moderators who let us go off on an important tangent. We are glad to have this forum to be able to share our thoughts about world language teaching. If you have a specific topic you would like to see discussed this Thursday at 8pm EST, please share it with us!

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‘Honestly, how can we have ‘valid’ second language courses if we don’t also have ‘valid’ assessments?!’ asked @dr_dmd. This hypothetical question summed up the core discussion of last Thursday’s #langchat: What are valid assessments and how can teachers make time for them?

What is “Valid Assessment”?

The first thought that moderator @dr_dmd presented was that many teachers think of something different when they think of a “valid” assessment. ‘I think we need to first define what we mean by “valid assessment”.’

There was some confusion with this topic. The terms “authentic” and “valid” seemed to have slightly different meanings in the world language forum. Some teachers didn’t seem to see any distinction between the two at all. @yeager85 said, ‘I think we have more of a semantic issue than a pedagogical one. What is “valid”? Good? Authentic? Consistent? Performance-based?’

As a result of the conversation, a few specific terms were defined for #langchat purposes:

Valid Assessment: A valid assessment is an assessment that accurately depicts or describes a student’s skill. This is usually done by creating solid, student-centered rubrics that help to identify students’ abilities. @tmsaue1 added: ‘For an assessment to be valid multiple teachers should be able to rate the student performance the same.’ @hawleylaterza added, ‘I think of validity as measuring what it is intended to. Authentic is the really the key in my opinion.’

Authentic Assessment: An authentic assessment is an assessment that incorporates authentic situations and knowledge that a world language student would need to have in order to communicate with someone in the target language. @KGallsEduSvcs defined it as, ‘…real situations, real responses, real communication. Conversations during class. Jokes and stories! Read read read!’ @tmsaue1 said, ‘In the new version of TELL Project, the assessment domain was replaced with “Performance and Feedback.” A powerful message in my opinion.’

An Authentic, Valid Assessment: For the purposes of the #langchat, @dr_dmd proposed that they agree on a definition that included both elements of validity and authenticity. ‘The most ‘valid’ assessment is authentic, ie, it has a communicative purpose.’ A number of teachers shared that this is the best type of assessment. @SenoraMcLellan said, ‘[It should assess] how well they can communicate with what they have newly acquired.’

A Moving Target

Many teachers shared that the concept of validity seems to be constantly shifting. @km_york shared that sometimes inexperienced teachers see a valid assessment differently than more experienced teachers. She said, ‘I assess much more performance than grammar details than I did when I started #langchat, but it’s harder!’

Other teachers mentioned that the target for valid assessment changed as new teaching skills and professional development is acquired. @SrtaLisa said, ‘I feel like ‘valid’ changes after every really good conversation or conference.’ @hawleylaterza also added that classroom size has also influenced how teachers view a valid assessment. ‘It has also shifted over time because of classroom size. My current school uses all multiple choice tests and grade cams to score.’

Other Ideas About Creating Valid Assessments:

Have Reasonable Expectations. @tmsaue1 said, ‘it will surprise no one if I remind us that assessments should be based on the three modes of communication.’ While accuracy in these modes is important, @soccermom2013 also reminded us that, ‘…Assessment should also give students feedback on where to go from where they currently are on standards.’@SrtaLisa said, ‘We can model accuracy and hope for clear communication, but for many early learners the bar for perfection is too high.’ @dr_dmd responded, ‘Yes agreed – therefore we do not expect perfection, but comprehension.’

Integrate Assessments. While some teachers advocated for assessments that targeted skills like reading and writing, others thought a more integrated approach was better. @kvisconti said, ‘Assessments should be well integrated into class time. Students don’t need to know they are being assessed.’ @CoLeeSensei said, ‘Like the reminder of the #actfl modes of communication – and that the 4 skills are embedded in those.’ @kvisconti responded: ‘Then there is no need for “extra” assessments. Performing in class is your assessment.’

Use Student-Centered Rubrics. Almost all of the #langchat teachers said that student-centered rubrics were the biggest time saver on both summative and formative valid assessments. @Spanish231 shared the DELF/DALF rubrics, saying, ‘…they are adaptable to almost anything I’m doing.’ @soccermom2013 has a clipboard system where a rubric is at hand. She said, ‘I can quickly document formative assessments that way.’

Set Communication Goals. @tiesamgraf said, ‘Set communicative goals for assessment – proficiency guidelines give us a common language to work with.’ @dr_dmd said, ‘The materials we have leaned on have all too often been about L2 accuracy only, not communicative purposes! I think for too long we have been content with, or had to use, materials which were aimed at L2 learning, not acquisition.’

Summative or Formative?

@soccermom2013 said, ‘Yes, performance is an assessment BUT when do you call them summative and formative and how do you grade them?’ @tiesamgraf responded with Robert Stake’s definition of summative and formative assessment: ‘When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative: When the guests taste the soup, that’s summative.’ While teachers know that both are necessary for students to gain proficiency in the second language, it is hard to find time to do both on a regular basis.

Valid Assessments – Summative
When many #langchat teachers think of assessments, many of them think of summative tests that are done after large chunks of new information is presented. These types of valid assessments can be a large burden on teachers’ time and still may not test the authenticity of student language acquisition. @tiesamgraf said, ‘I think summative assessments are over valued and used – we are addicted to traditional quizzes and tests.’

Time seems to be the biggest reason for this over-reliance on traditional assessments. @hawleylaterza lamented, ‘I am sad to say we use multiple choice exams. The department does it so I follow suit. Grade cams score scantrons. Grades in 5 mins.’ Some teachers, like @soccermom2013, have to sacrifice in order to make time for summative assessment. She said, ‘Currently, I only find time by cutting out my personal time and that is not fair to me or my family.’

But this does not need to be the case. #langchat participants came up with some best practices for doing valid summative assessments that take less time.

Break Up Assessments. @SrtaLisa shared her school’s idea of breaking up large summative assessments into smaller, more manageable parts. She said, ‘Our department shifted to shorter, more frequent common assessments. Sometimes a good summative can be accomplished in 5 minutes.’

Change Your Timeline. @CoLeeSensei shared the idea that summative tests should be done on the students’ timeline, not the teachers. She said, ‘For summatives I’m moving more to a ‘date range’ of when they are ready and not a specific ‘date’ for when I am.’

Be Creative with Valid Assessments. @CatherineKU72 said, ‘Not a short or quick assessment, but have you seen the I-imagine project? Storytelling can be a great way to meet all 3 communication modes.’ @AudreyMisiano said, ‘@tiesamgraf #langchat I used Socrative for summative for my SLOs. No one else had to grade my exams. The computer did all the work!’

Valid Assessments – Formative
Formative valid assessments, on the other hand, can be done in less time as they are usually incorporated into the class period. @ColleeSensei asked, ‘How do you find time in class for your valid authentic, not always summative, assessment?’@CatherineKU72 responded, ‘I try to remind students that every minute in class is assessment. Partner work, activities and personal time. Does that seem fair?’

These smaller, formative assessments can easily be done in a few minutes and are able to give an accurate depiction of student learning over time. While these will not entirely replace the large-scale summative assessments that most districts require, #langchat participants came up with some great ideas on how to use daily formative assessments to create a body of assessment data for students.

Use a clipboard. @dr_dmd, @soccermom2013 and @SenoraMcLellan all said that a clipboard is an easy way to do formative assessments on the run. @soccermom2013 suggests putting a rubric for performance on the clipboard and checking it off as teacher’s watch their students interact in class and with each other in the target language.

Ticket out the door. This is a short writing assessment that is great for immediately finding out what students have learned during the day. @hawleylaterza shared, ‘[My students did a] 3 min quick write today assessing present progressive tense as [an] exit ticket. Took me 20 mins to give feedback on all 44 students.’ @tiesamgraf said, ‘recently using Socrative for formative and exit tickets – I like the data collection feature.’

Incorporate Technology. A number of quick and creative speaking assessments were shared, along with some great ways to use technology. @SrtaLisa shared Fotobabble for speaking and InfuseLearning to test comprehension through pictures. @CoLeeSensei shared a fantastic idea: have students get in pairs and discuss for five minutes in the target language while recording on their cell phones. She said, ‘They discuss a topic in pairs and email me the file. I prefer it to just talking to me individually. [I would] rather hear them talk to another.’

Paying for Valid Assessments?

A few teachers discussed the pros and cons of going outside of the school or district to purchase outside assessments. @tiesamgraf said, ‘I advocate for departments/districts to move towards external assessments for validation of movement toward proficiency. Some teachers agreed with this idea, but cited problems with cost and accuracy.

Among the tests mentioned were the AP exam, SAT2, AAPPL, Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI), National Exams and HSK 4 Chinese. Although each teacher had their own perspective, @TerryWaltz_TPRS made an excellent point: ‘I like really outside tests of proficiency. The examples I have seen and tried are a great step towards a better assessment tool.’

Making the Most of the Moment

Finally, @dr_dmd helped to clarify the most important elements of the night through a series of “wrap-up” tweets. #langchat teachers decided that performance is the most authentic and valid way of assessing students, but that it was important for teachers to focus more on communication goals than grades.

@SrtaTeresa gave a great definition of a valid assessment: ‘A valid assessment engages students on some level. As a result, they are able to connect and perform.’ In addition, @kvisconti reminded participants that we don’t need to spend all our time on assessing: ‘Too much assessment puts too much focus on doing work for grades.’

Thank you!

Thank you again to our moderators @dr_dmd and @CoLeeSensei for allowing for some great discussion and clarification on the topic of valid assessment. Also, thanks to everyone who came out and actively participated. It is great to share struggles and successes with you!

Please help us be a better professional learning community by sharing with us what you would like to chat about during #langchat. Visit us online to share you topic ideas for upcoming chats. You can also find a complete transcript of last Thursday’s chat in our archives.

Valid Assessment Ideas and Resources:

  • @CatherineKU72 said, ‘My first year assessment: students draw unusual animals based on my description. Label body parts and verbs on their own. Quick to look over.’
  • @km_york said, ‘All students have computers this year. I share a presentation on drive and send them to record a screencast for oral assessment.’
  • @RonieWebster said, ‘My language lab allows me to assess often and give feedback Love it!’
  • @CatherineKU72 said, ‘Read a tweet today that said the more assessment is linked to a “grade” the more learning equals a number and not true progress.’
  • For All Rubrics
  • French Apps for Kids (@sylviaduckworth)
  • French ABCs (@AudreyMisiano)
  • CAPS Rubrics – Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey

Voice Recording Resources

  • @hawleylaterza said, ‘ You just push button to begin recording, then a url is automatically generated.’
  • @CatherineKU72 said, ‘Here are some apps for iOS that allow sharing/e-mail/etc.’
  • @dr_dmd said, ‘I love using Today’s Meet to do a class chat, and save a transcript – easy to check!’
  • @SrtaLisa said, ‘An easy app is Say it Mail it Lite. Very easy for students and teachers.’
  • @CatherineKU72 and @dr_dmd encouraged using Evernote to allow students to share a recording together. @CatherineKU72 said, ‘Here is a very basic example of Evernote and assessment. I sent students out for 20minuts with a mission. Find Spring.’
  • @SenoraMcLellan said, ‘I use QuickVoice app on iPads to have them answer a question or give an opinion.’
  • @Spanish231 said, ‘I have a Google Voice phone number set up for class. Students call and leave me a message, it goes to my email box. All they need is a phone.’
  • @CatherineKU72 said, ‘The Voice Memos app on iPods/phones (not pad) is easily read by most programs. iTunes/QuickTime/WMP.’
  • @dr_dmd said, ‘If you use Edmodo students can upload a file or link to turn in the recorded conversation a great way to get them all in one place.’
  • @SunnyEarth1 said, ‘Change your language on iPad to check apps language availability.’
  • @profesorM said, ‘Vocaroo is another great online recording device that comes with a URL.’
  • @km_york said, ‘@TerryWaltz_TPRS Love your STARTALK talk on vimeo btw.’
  • @CatherineKU72 said, ‘Here is our 4th year SoundCloud page. We are dabbling, but it is fun/easy/engaging.’
I (heart) balancing rocks by James Jordan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  James Jordan 
#langchat teachers discuss the delicate balance of teaching students a love for world language in addition to the required skills and modes of learning that makes them proficient and AP-bound


Balancing Proficiency Skills and Activities

World language teachers have traditionally organized their classes around the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. In recent years, ACTFL reorganized the proficiency guidelines by embedding these 4 skills into three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive and presentational. On Thursday, #langchat participants discussed ideas for balancing these skills and modes to ensure students develop a well-rounded world language proficiency.

Systems for Balance

@SECottrell asked, ‘Do you have a systematic way you make sure students are practicing each mode of communication?’ She mentioned that her system includes choosing a proficiency topic for each day of the week. ‘In AP I actually plan a theme for each day. Tuesday, usually interpersonal. Friday, presentational.’ @km_york shared that, in the past, she has included one question for each proficiency mode on each unit exam.

Other teachers thought that having a set system for balance would be difficult, due to students’ differences in proficiency. @senormattm said, ‘I imagine having a system maybe a challenge due to students’ continual growth in the language. More listening in the beginning,etc.’

Getting World Language Teachers on the Same Page of Guidelines

One of the major confusions that arose was: which system of proficiency are we trying to balance? According to the old ACTFL guidelines, the skills that were to be covered by world language classes were speaking, reading, writing and listening. @CalicoTeach asked the key question: ‘Do you plan based on new modes (interpersonal, presentational, interpretive) or old modes (speak, read, write, listen)?’ It was clear from the responses that some teachers are still using the old skills or modes to plan their classrooms.

A number of different visualizations of the skills and modes of world language learning came out as a result of the discussion about the various forms of guidelines available to world language teachers.

Old ACTFL Guidelines: These guidelines focused on skills that should be learned by students. Specifically, the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. The ACTFL just recently changed from this format of standardization, but many teachers continue to include these basic skills in their lesson planning. Many established world language teachers still make these guidelines the basis for their classes.

New ACTFL Guidelines: In the new ACTFL guidelines, the emphasis on skills has decreased and been replaced with a focus on communication methods. @sraoconnor explained her drive to help colleagues move towards the new style. ‘I have been pushing my department toward the interpersonal, interpretive, presentational and IPAs.’

Updated AP Guidelines: Some teachers, like @SECottrell, discussed using the recently updated Advanced Placement (AP) world language guidelines as general benchmarks. @SECottrell explained that there are five categories: ‘The 5 are explore/interpersonal/novel/interpretive/presentational.’ A number of teachers had not heard about including exploration and novels in the modes of learning, and the impression was that it served the AP classrooms specifically. @km_york said she was still using the old modes for this reason. ‘Old modes here – no AP program to push me out of the box.’

Hybrid Style: @senoraCMT shared her view on the different skills and modes:  ‘I have a hybrid new old mode style. [I try to] keep all in mind and try to plan units that include some of all! ! think using the modes old and new to design units helps me bring in lots of great #authres as I try to hit all of them!’ @cadamsf1 also shared that she tries to keep both the old skill levels and new modes in mind while preparing their lessons for world language classrooms. @cadamsf1 said, ‘I keep all in mind but I try to focus on interpersonal because I think at levels two and three we miss lots of opportunities.’ @SECottrell also agreed: ‘It is a mistake to think of whatever categories discretely. Involve students in them all!!’

AP: To Theme or Not to Theme?

Some teachers shared that their structure of teaching in each of the modes (or skills when applicable) is through teaching thematic world language units. @SECottrell said, ‘I can’t imagine how we’d explore our themes without using each mode regularly. Anyone teaching purely thematically?’ Teachers like @senoraCMT, @abbrugiati and @madamebaker all shared that they were using themes to teach in all of the modes.

@madamebaker brought up an interesting idea: using AP themes to teach lower-level world language classes. @SenorG asked, ‘Are all levels doing the same themes with variation being [the] depth of coverage or different themes for each level?’ @madamebaker responded, ‘That’s the idea.’ There were two schools of thought on this idea: that it is a great way to prepare students for long-term world language learning, or it is too advanced for lower-level students and they will become frustrated.

Benefits of Using AP Themes: The benefit of using AP themes to teach lower-levels is that they are more prepared for AP exams and more likely to move into AP classes. Students are able to tackle important questions regarding global issues at an earlier stage in their world language journey, which makes for a more engaging learning experience. @madamebaker said, ‘That way by the time the students are in AP it won’t be so difficult… The 6 AP language and culture themes.’ In response to the idea that global issues were out of reach for most novice learners, @madamebaker said, ‘…But couldn’t topics as “simple” as weather, hunger be “global issues”?’

Drawbacks of Using AP Themes: The drawback for using AP themes is that many students do not have the proficiency necessary to discuss these difficult topics, which can lead to frustration and attrition. @SECottrell said, ‘AP themes are all advanced except 1. It’s not realistic to ask a novice to address global challenges at any depth of coverage…Talking about the weather is a precursor to climate change; but you can’t call it a global challenge IMO.’ Another drawback is that the focus in world language classrooms is narrowed by too much adherence to AP themes. @CalicoTeach said, ‘Makes sense to build towards AP from early on, but also makes me sad if themes at all levels end up with narrow focus.’

AP Pressue in the World Language Classroom

Regardless of whether teachers were in favor of or against using AP themes to teach lower levels, it was clear that the pressure of the AP status is clearly felt. Some teachers, like @CalicoTeach and @sraoconnor seemed to feel that AP courses should not be the ultimate focus of world language classrooms. @sraoconnor said, ‘I am not convinced that AP should be the ultimate goal. I think it is kind of a racket.’ @CalicoTeach agreed: ‘Having students love language and develop proficiency should be our goal.’ @madamebaker said, ‘As we move away from verb charts and give students ways to actually communicate the attrition numbers should dwindle.’

@profefranklin made an excellent counterpoint, though. ‘I see what you all are saying but how do we reconcile what we teach and many universities seem to want from our students?’ The raised expectations for students entering colleges prove a powerful motivator for many world language students and their teachers.

Only one solution was provided: to change the way universities teach language by being good examples at the elementary and high school levels. @sraoconnor said, ‘Maybe we need to lead the way. What do students need and want?  Many university courses are dinosaurs.’

Assessing the Modes

Assessment was one area in which teachers had some ideas about balancing the different world language modes. Since assessment is a very concrete item, it can be more easily planned for. Some teachers, like @SECottrell and @csfadams1 have regular schedules for assessing each of the three major modes. For many teachers, creating the assessments this way helps to prepare units and individual classes by “backwards engineering” focused on the assessment. @natadel76 said, ‘I feel that if I don’t plan well to include all [of the modes], I fall short on instruction and therefore students are not ready for assessment. I feel that I need to prep them first with almost exact practice before assessing.’

At the same time, informal assessment of these three modes is also vitally important. Assessing some modes, like interpersonal skills, can be difficult for many world language teachers. @natadel76 shared that time played a huge role in her avoidance of interpersonal assessment, and @senoraCMT disliked focusing on presentational modes of teaching.  @senoraCMT said, ‘Presentational to me is not natural communication because it is prepared!’

Ways to Assess in the Three Modes:

  • @SignorSedita said, ‘For interpersonal I encourage discussions and conversations over interview format info gap works well but only a “quasi interview.’ Keep the conversation going even if [its] not “perfect.” I have small formative rubric for assessing informally.’
  • @crwmsteach said, ‘Spend more time with walking interviews related to a unit. [For example], do you prefer camping or staying in hotel? What’s your favorite vacation? ask/answer/move [Do a] presentational gen once a unit.’
  • @cadamsf1 said, ‘If I am assessing the interpersonal task (i.e. info gap activities as opposed to assessing the conversation within a group), I usually combine two of them over a two period- formally so we may do interpretive and then do a presentation or work and interpersonal. I try to have a presentational twice a week and interpretive about 3 and I’m not as set with interpersonal. In AP class we focus on one each day but it’s really a mix. So in writing that’s the focus and then share interpersonal.’
  • @CalicoTeach said, ‘Think-pair-share for lower levels makes it easy to do quick interpersonal assessment.’
  • @senormattm said, ‘I follow the sharing and greeting from Developmental Designs model, used in homerooms, for daily interpersonal assessment.’

A Balancing Act

Between all the different modes, skills and interpretations of what students should be learning, world language teachers must delicately balance each of their students’ needs with what benchmarks must be accomplished. But, @abbrugiati stated the most important element succinctly: ‘Love language first, and then develop proficiency. We are losing too many students.’

Although not many structures for doing this were shared during Thursday night’s #langchat, it became clear that the ultimate goal of participants was communication. Enriched course content, continuous positive experience with the language and backwards-engineered lessons can help to thoroughly prepare students for assessments that give them motivation to succeed with world language far beyond the classroom.

Other Ideas for Balancing Modes of Communication:

  • @SECottrell said, ‘Spanish 3 – we have an assessment in each mode for each unit. Make sure practice prepares for that.’
  • @cadamsf1 said, ‘I share ACTFL Proficiency guidelines so that sts have a more realistic idea of where they should be & they set goals.’
  • @crwmsteach said, ‘For balance I use a different modality for each intro activity; can extend as long as students are engaged.’

Thank You!

Thank you again to our moderators @CalicoTeach and @SECottrell for giving us some structure to this great chat. Also, thanks to everyone who came out and actively participated. We love to hear what is working in your world language classrooms.

Please help us be a better professional learning community by sharing with us what you would like to chat about during #langchat. Visit us online to share you topic ideas for upcoming chats. You can also find a complete transcript of last Thursday’s chat.

Additional Resources

ACTFL Performance Guidelines for the Three Modes of Communication (@CalicoTeach)
ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners (@CalicoTeach)
Performance Assessment Rubric: Whitefield Academy (@SECottrell)
Self-Guided Culture and Communities Studies Resource List (@SenorG)
60 Embedded Cultural Readings from Michael Miller (@SenorG)
AP Spanish Language and Culture Curriculum Framework (@SenorG)