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One of the common ways teachers involve students in the world language classroom experience is by allowing them choice in the kinds of assignments, projects and assessments they do. During last Thursday’s #langchat discussion, participants talked about the benefits of using choice, the important things to remember when creating choice activities and some great ideas for choice-based projects for the world language classroom.

The Benefits of Offering Students Choices

Most of the #langchat participants value the way that offering choices increases student motivation. @dr_dmd said, “Voice and Choice are essential ingredients to Project-based learning – always looking for ways to offer choice. Engages students.” @SECottrell said, “Motivation is the greatest factor in student success, and letting students direct their learning and practice is motivating!”
Not only is offering students choices a huge motivator, but there are a number of great learning outcomes that are related to offering alternative ways to assess or teach the same information.

Higher Levels of Creativity and Thinking – Students who have unique choices to share their knowledge engage more of their creative side and learn to think abstractly. Offering choices also allows you to activate higher orders of thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Instead of just having students recall or summarize concepts, they can synthesize, adapt and evaluate their information.

Differentiation – By offering students choice, you are allowing them to show their learning in the way that is best for their learning style. Students who are musical learners, for example, can show their understanding of the concept by creating a song and performing it. This also works as a good tool for differentiating proficiency levels. While one student might choose to create a project that incorporates many in-depth vocabulary words, a lower-level student might be able to communicate the same information in a more basic way.

21st Century Skill-Building – A great by-product on using choice assignments with students is by teaching them valuable skills regarding technology, collaboration and innovation. @tiesamgraf also reminded us that “offering choice is also a great way to learn about new tech applications – students often have a lot to teach me :-)”

How to Assess Student Choice Activities

Since the projects and products of a single choice assignment activity can vary so much, the big question was how to grade all of them in a fair and uncomplicated way. There were a couple of different ideas that were presented as viable solutions.

Assess Proficiency, Not Task: When you focus on the proficiency shown in the task, rather than whether the presentation, project or paper includes certain things, grading become much easier and more authentic. @KrisClimer said, “It’s about proficiency, rather than specific vocab/structure, etc. They naturally use new struc/vocab/exp.”

Function, Not Form: @dr_dmd said, “One way to make this work is to focus on function not form – ie, language for communication, keeping in mind that accuracy IS important.” In this perspective, as long as students are able to sufficiently communicate the things they have learned, they are succeeding. By assessing proficiency first, you put the emphasis on real-world communication skills rather than vocabulary and language structures. @dr_dmd said, “When the prof assessments are done, they are aligned to I can statements – language functions, cultural contexts – open ended.” Some teachers didn’t agree with limiting the assessment to language function, though. @SraSpanglish said, “I guess I think objective should go beyond “communication,” especially for 21st century.”

Provide Clear Rubrics and Expectations: By using clearly defined proficiency-based rubrics, your students can see exactly what they need to demonstrate to succeed. @trescolumnae explained it: “Rubric focuses on the standards of lang/culture; students design products that will demonstrate what they know.” @CalicoTeach said, “Provide TL expectations that work regardless of task. Require some writing, speaking, and interpretive tasks that you evaluate.”

Other Things to Remember When Creating Choice Activities:

  • @trescolumnae said, “Design task around demonstrating proficiency and offer lots of possibilities/suggestions about how students might do that, and encourage them to develop others.”
  • @SraSpanglish encouraged teachers to have “students narrow down the problem THEY want to solve.”
  • @KrisClimer said, “I keep all writing tasks are open ended. I never say ‘You must include …’”
  • @trescolumnae said, “With choice boards, key is to decide in advance what you want students to demonstrate, then develop the choices around that.”
  • @SECottrell said, “Sometimes the choice can be in the little things and so doesn’t have to be part of the assessment.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “The key I’m finding at the novice level is scaffolding the inquiry like crazy, otherwise choice is almost a burden #langchat” @trescolumnae agreed saying, “Scaffolding is especially important if students aren’t used to having much voice and choice.”
  • @tiesamgraf said, “Assessment and assignment choices need clear expectations and clarity of objective for students. It’s interesting to consider presentation choice, topic choice and assignment choices – but objective needs to be consistent.”

The Battle of the Wrinkled Paper

If communication is the most important part of choice activities, how important is presentation? This was a comment that sparked a huge discussion, with many people sharing disparate opinions. While many teachers agreed that communication is the most important part of the world language classroom, many #langchat participants felt that it was unfair to overlook poor presentation.

Teachers like @tiesamgraf touted the importance of the activity and proficiency, not the look of the final product. She said, “Why does wrinkled paper matter? It’s like deducting points from a student if they don’t have a pencil or book. It’s not a competition for the prettiest project, is it?” Several teachers supported this concept, citing instances where low-income students can’t afford high-quality materials or don’t have ready access to computers. @KrisClimer said, “I’ve seen good French on wrinkled paper and crummy minimum on bells and whistles multimedia presentation.”

On the other hand, some participants felt that communication is based on presentation in many circumstances. @CalicoTeach said, “I will argue that part of effective communication is respect for audience with quality product for presentation.” @SrtaTeresa said, “Effort and presentation need to be included in our rubrics. I mean “effort” that is measurable and linked to professional presentation of product.” @SraSpanglish said, “Authentic tasks w/ authentic audiences require a measure of respect communicated through presentation, no?” @JanKittok said, “I think we serve the student when we say ‘this quality isn’t acceptable.’ We are teaching/modeling high quality and pride in work well done.”

Although there was not a clear consensus, a number of solutions were provided that would allow students to have high presentation expectations without losing focus on proficiency standards.

  • @dr_dmd said, “I am teaching in a PBL context – we have school wide standards of professional quality. Not assessed, just expected.”
  • @CatherineKU72 said, “Consideration to quality of product might be good tool for future career/ed. Allow students a rough draft that can be improved.”
  • @CalicoTeach said, “Add a column to rubric for presentation quality apart from language quality.”
  • @JanKittok said, “Setting expectations – you can set up a list of “non-negotiables” that every student must meet before project is evaluated.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “I have a 10% work ethic grade, separate from the PBL-aligned project/product. 30% projects, 50% assessments.”

14 Examples of Student Choice Activities for World Language Classrooms

1. @KrisClimer said, “My French students do a family tree project. They choose who to include and what to say.”

2. @SrtaTeresa said, “They can have choice within parameters of any given assignment. For example, in a skit they can decide theme, number of characters and plot.”

3. @crwmsteach said, “I offer 30 choices of reading project which I use in all levels, from children’s books to novels.”

4. @SraSpanglish said, “I had students break into groups based on what PART of the problem they wanted to solve–great results so far.”

5. @dr_dmd said, “Let students choose the product they want to create – make a rubric of the Language and Culture items to include.”

6. @tiesamgraf said, “Homework choice is fun – I’ve learned a lot from @SECottrell @sraslb via @karacjacobs.”

7. @SECottrell said, “If the task is to talk about planning a trip together, the student chooses where, what activities, etc.”

8. @trescolumnae said, “Everyone reads a story and makes an interpretive product.”

9. @crwmsteach said, “An example of limit and choice using house vocab: Choose a real French manor chateau or apt to label. Who lives there? What do they do?”

10. @Bzbeth78 said, “I think I’ve posted this before, but my favorite is RAFT. Role Audience Format Topic. I choose topic, they give ideas for the others.”

11. @dr_dmd said, “In #PBL, students not only get to choose product but also other pieces of the unit – what matters is proficiency and inquiry.”

12. @trescolumnae said, “For our last BIG interpretive task, diagram required with a choice of character.”

13. @Bzbeth78 said, “A German colleague read the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but had students write alternate endings.”

14. @KrisClimer said, “Open-ended writing, student generated dialogue, projects are what I do with novice.”

Thank You

We’d like to thank our moderators, @dr_dmd, @SECottrell and @CalicoTeach, for guiding our lively discussion about the benefits of student choice assignments and how we assess them. There were a lot of great ideas and suggestions that we didn’t include in this summary. If you’d like to see the whole conversation visit our online archive.

What questions do you have about teaching world language? We love to find out how our PLN can serve you better. If you have any ideas for future #langchats, share your ideas online! Your question might be the answer to someone else’s problem.

Additional Resources

Choice in homework
PALS: Performance Assessment for Language Students
Tarea Semanal
6+1 Trait® Definitions
Interpersonal communication by choice
What Is PBL?
Critical Thinking Rubric for PBL
Creativity & Innovation Rubric for PBL – Middle & High School (CCSS Aligned)
ACTFL Performance Descriptors For Language Learners
Project-Based Learning

 “Collaboration is THE 21st-century skill. Real collaboration is NOT cheating.”

This wonderful quote from @SECottrell at last Thursday’s #langchat summed up the value that most world language teachers feel is inherent in collaboration activities. While some teachers believe that collaboration can put undue pressure on the few who may do a majority of work, #langchat teachers overwhelmingly believe what @KrisClimer said: “Collaboration is sharing. Communication is sharing. Period.”

Even though world language teachers agree that collaboration is a vital part of their teaching process, they also agree that it is important to continually find new ways to engage students with activities that are level-appropriate and supportive of growth in the target language.

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Different Ways to Collaborate

When @CoLeeSensei started the discussion about collaborative activities, it became clear right away that everyone is dealing with different skill sets, backgrounds and aptitudes in their classes. @katchiringa said, “Differences: multiple grade levels, backgrounds (WL and other), interest, proficiency… the list goes on.”

Despite this vast list of differences that teachers see in their world language classrooms, the major schisms break down into grade level and proficiency level. Many #langchat teachers have multiple grades that they teach during one period, so they have to account for differences in learning styles and cognitive ability (especially at the lower grade levels). Teachers with older students may find that cognitive abilities are more closely related, but that proficiency levels vary dramatically. @trescolumnae said, “Even when students are ‘theoretically’ on the same level, proficiency differences can be vast!”

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Encouraging Inter-Proficiency Interaction

@CoLeeSensei asked #langchat teachers, “Does anyone find that they have to ‘teach’ kids how to work with those less proficient? And if so – how?”

There were a number of responses, but most teachers felt that students generally tended toward collaboration, even with less proficient students. @katchiringa said, “Luckily, most of my students are conscientious of lower levels, with some notable exceptions.”

@KrisClimer shared a keen insight: “Lots of strong [students] just don’t like to collaborate at first.” In order to get students collaborating, it is vital to overcome prior collaborative experiences that may have been negative. @trescolumnae said, “True, especially if ‘collaboration’ in the past meant ‘you do all the work but somebody else gets the credit.’ So much depends on the students’ prior experiences! It’s harder for students who got ‘made to help’ without enough support.”

In order to overcome these obstacles, a number of suggestions were made, with @lclarcq giving a great list in order of importance. @lclarcq encouraged teachers to do “…lots of modeling first, reduce the competitive atmosphere second, and create opportunities to highlight other strengths third.”

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Keeping Collaboration in the Target Language

The other key question was about keeping student interaction in the target language. Teachers mentioned ideas like collaboration grades, motivational points given or participation points taken away for English use. @KrisClimer made an important point: “Large classes require target language use buy-in because you’re WAY outnumbered.”

Specific Ideas to Keep Them in the Target Language:

1. Rubrics. @CoLeeSensei said, “One of the items on my rubrics is always “didn’t use any English” – kids really key on that as a positive!
2. Use a Timer. @katchiringa said, “sometimes timing target language-only use helps reduce stress for students. Then, add more time as days go on…”
3. Establish Target Language Use Early. @SrtaTeresa said, “It’s important from the start to emphasize the importance of only using TL so that students buy into it.”
4. Provide Consequences. @alenord said, “Keeping groups in target language is easy with conversation strips. Strips of paper with points from 0-100 in tens. Hear English? Clip pts off!”
5. Provide Rewards. @alenord said, “Also, I have a Powerpoint with points on it. Take points off the whole group or add back. Very motivating!”

15 Great Collaborative Activities for World Language Classes

1. Mentoring

Having advanced students prepare lessons for less proficient students is a great way to get them collaborating across proficiency levels. @trescolumnae said, “One thing that works well is for more-proficient [students] to create ‘stuff’ (stories/videos/whatever) for less-proficient classmates.” @jas347 said, “Intermediates ask questions and novices answer them. It allows novices to feel like they’re really communicating!”

2. Centers

Creating “centers” or “stations” for students to rotate through allows them to interact more fully with each other and learn the content in different ways. By setting up stations that teach a concept using differentiated instruction (audible, physical and visual), students learn the material multiple times, and it provides lots of opportunities for collaboration and discussion.

3. Skits/Videos

@katchiringa said, “It’s old-school, but skits/videos allow for all diff types to work together well (if it goes right).” @SECottrell said, “I also love it when students do videos, assigning each other roles, etc.” @KrisClimer said, “My Level 1’s performed their RAP for video cam and in front of class today. Collaboration was effusive applause for one and all.”

4. Embedded Readings

In embedded reading, more advanced readers can progress farther and then create appropriate reading selections for lower levels. Not only do these types of readings allow for each reader to understand at their own proficiency level, it provides interaction between the levels. @CoLeeSensei said, “It’s a great way for uppers to learn how to communicate with those not so proficient – good communication skills needed!”

5. Interpersonal Games

Games are a fun way to easily get students to collaborate. @KrisClimer said, “Play helps with collaboration. I like games where info has to be shared, etc.” @ldpricha said, “Most of my activities don’t have a product. We use games and I teach them phrases and let them “mix it up” with their own vocabulary.”

Some Fun Games to Try Are:
Verb Relay Race
White Board Pictionary
Row Races
Scavenger Hunts
More Ideas…

6. Interviews

@SrtaTeresa said, “I think that short interviews can be useful, especially when the students have to find common ground despite differing abilities.” Not only that, but interviews can connect students to their family and larger communities.

7. Blogging

Blogging can be very collaborative, as long as you maintain interaction on your blog. @KrisClimer suggests having a requirement for posting in order for collaboration to be counted: “For me to assign grade, have to see one, then two, then three comments on someone else’s comment.”

8. Small Group Sharing

Small group and pair sharing seems to be the #langchat teachers’ favorite collaboration tool of all. Teachers love having students discuss weekend plans, global questions and internalize classroom activities with their small groups. @CoLeeSensei said, “I use partners a lot too! They seem to risk/help more when they work with another! @SECottrell said, “Whenever we do stations activities, students always work in partners. It’s more fun and more scaffolding.”

9. Jigsaw

In a Jigsaw activity, students are put into main groups (home groups) of no more than 4. Then, each member goes to a secondary group (specialty group). After they work with their specialty group, they come back to their home group and teach their information. Finally, the whole group presents their findings in a project, live presentation or report.

10. Peer Feedback

@alenord said, “Peer assessment and feedback is always good for collaboration!” @trescolumnae said, “Yes, definitely. Peer feedback really changes the feeling in the class – not just ‘for the teacher’ anymore.”

11. Witness a News Event

@SECottrell said, “This is an activity I love to do with the news: ‘witness’ a news event.” In this activity, students in small groups become familiar with a news story in the target language, including past events and key details. Then, they switch group in Jigsaw style and become interviewers/interviewees for a videotaped ‘News Report.’”

12. Philosophical Chairs

@LauraJaneBarber shared one of her favorite activities that encourage discussion in the target language. She explained, “Basically, you pose a statement. Students outline arguments for and against the statement and then pick a side–brainstorm w/ partner. Then they sit on different sides of the room and each side takes turns posing arguments. If they hear a good argument, they can change to other side. At the end, they process the whole activity including the number of times people changed sides, the final position, what good arguments were heard, etc. Doing it in the target language is a plus, but it’s also great for debating cultural topics like Columbus Day/DDLR.”

13. 6 Thinking Hats

@jennifer_spain suggested using the “6 thinking hats” concept as a way of approaching group collaboration. In this collaboration form, there are 6 main ways of thinking about a problem: Information, Emotions, Discernment, Optimistic Response, Creativity, and Process Management. Each student would then choose one of these ways to think about a problem (maybe in small groups of 2-4), then the class would come together to work out the best solution incorporating each different element.

14. Group Storytelling

Reflecting and retelling as a class can be much less stressful than doing individual summaries of target language reading. @jackimorris23 said, “With big #s I also do group retells of stories to teacher – they practice together and I can give a little feedback to each person.”

15. Collaborate on Collaboration

Let your students be involved in the process of defining what good collaboration is and how it should be graded. @LauraJaneBarber said, “The first week of school we collaborated about what collaboration is and created norms.” This hands-on approach to the concept of collaboration is much more likely to encourage buy-in from the students and participation in collaboration activities throughout the year.

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Thank You

We’d like to thank @CoLeeSensei for keeping our conversation collaborative and informative. #Langchat relies on a committed group of volunteer moderators. Read more about the #langchat team and weekly chat on the official #langchat wiki. There you will also find links to complete archives of all our chats.

Do you have questions or suggestions for our next #langchat topic? We want to hear what you think about our professional learning network and what you’d like to learn from it. Give us your suggestions for future #langchat discussions and help us all become better teachers!

Additional Resources

3 Quick and Easy Google Doc Collaborative Activities
Embedded Reading Resources
Online Collaborative Activities in French
Assessment Rubric for Blogs, Conversations
Conversation Circles – 45 Minutes in Target Language (@CoLeeSensei)
Collaborative Kinesthetic Matching
The Power of the Pair (@CoLeeSensei)
Collaborative Jigsaw Reading

Tech tools are everywhere and they’re a dime a dozen.  Which ones are the best for world language classes? In last Thursday’s #langchat, @snesbitt1972 said

[The] focus shouldn’t be on the device. It’s just a tool. The bigger question is, how will devices help make life easier and connect learning to the real world?

Although we spent a lot of time sharing ideas and tools for incorporating technology into the world language classroom, the focus was on how these different technologies actually helped teachers and students do better work and build up language learning skills.

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Bring your own

What are the Most Common Devices?

Most of the teachers on #langchat have access to computer labs, but many of them have additional support with iPads in the classrooms. As the concept of a 1:1 technology ratio catches fire in many parts of the country, more world language teachers are able to use new forms of teaching their material.

Even though it is clear that technology access is increasing, every teacher has a different setup. Some teachers have 4-5 desktop computers that their students share, while others are much more fortunate. @LauraJaneBarber said, “We have a digital drop down lab by Steven’s Learning in every WL classroom.” @KrisClimer said,

All our students have [a] tablet PC now but I see more portable BYO [Bring Your Own] devices [being] the next norm.”

Bring Your Own Device or Bring Your Own Distraction?

While the #langchat teachers agreed that a BYOD policy is probably the wave of the future, some teachers face reluctant administrators who resist the move towards more tech in the classroom. @SECottrell said,

This is a discouraging topic for me. This year all personal devices were banned from sight. No exceptions. If we see them, it’s demerits. Cell phone is not supposed to be on their person.

She also went on to explain that administrators express concern that, “…students will cheat and be off task.”

Although including devices can get students more engaged, it was clear that most #langchat teachers utilize specific times and procedures for them. @MmeNero said, “Students will sometimes abuse use. Asking students to BYOD to turn off phones in 1st 30 sec of class, BUT can turn on when needed.” Other teachers also suggested having students’ devices out on the desks, where they are quite visible. @CoLeeSensei said,

I am the same way too – “phones out and on the desk”…rather there than in their pockets!

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37 Tech Tools Your World Language Students Should Have

Then, #langchat contributors shared the best of the tech tools that are helping them be more effective and efficient.  What were they?

1. Parlons – Students follow along with the online web documents and complete games and workshops regarding the story.

2. Evernote – A great way for students to organize digital work, and can be used by teachers to organize lessons and share information with the entire class. @MmeNero said, “Our dept is doing great E-portfolios with Evernote. Students record sample conversations, take pictures of examples, reflect and see/hear progression.”

3. Google Voice – Can be used for students to do presentations from their own home, or can make presentational grading easier by allowing teacher to grade after class.

4. Word Reference – An online multilingual dictionary that provides translation from and to English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Arabic, Japanese, German, Polish, Russian, Greek, Chinese and more.

5. Quizlet – An incredible bank of study aids that have been created by other world language teachers. This resource also allows you to create study and lesson guides and share them as well.

6. Google Docs – This tool allows you to create online data forms and documents and then share them with students. Students can edit, comment and submit google docs for grading.

7. Poll Everywhere – You can create online polls that students can answer by texting and online messaging. Instant results are available, so students can see their responses immediately if you have a LCD projector attached to your computer. @mmebrady said, “We used polleverywhere this morning to share prior knowledge on a topic prior to analyzing a video text.”

8. Puppet Pals – This is an Ipad App that lets your students create unique animations and capture them to video. Have students record audio for their plays for a great presentational method of learning.

9. Book Creator – You or your students can create their own books for use in the classroom. Afterwards, you can submit them to the world book store!

10. Comic Life – Students get excited to create their own comic book characters with this exceptional tool.

11. Socrative – This is a Learning Management System (LMS) that allows teachers to create and share tests, quizzes and lessons to students’ smartphones, tablets and computers. @klafrench said, “I use Socrative for lots of quick feedback or practice activities. Easy to post a question for students to answer, no usernames.”

12. Voice Thread – Students can record conversations and post to the class. Unfortunately, this may have become a fee application.

13. YouTube – This online video sharing community is a great way for students to see authentic video and audio in the world language class. Some schools may have it blocked, though.  (Spanish teachers, check out La Voz Kids – A Spanish version of “The Voice – Kids.” This is a highly entertaining series that can be the springboard for interpretive, interpersonal and presentational learning activities.)

14. Juno – Another LMS, @natadel76 said, “Similar to Socrative – JunoEd: can add videos, audio, multiple question format.”

15. Edmodo – Possibly the most popular LMS on this list, Edmodo allows teachers to create lessons, connect with students safely, share apps and document student progress.

16. Audacity – This is the most widely used free online sound recorder and editor. This is great for having world language students record their voices and create polished files to share with others.

17. Wordle – @MmeNero said, “Students add to list of words they know; smaller words/exp=need practice, bigger=what most know.”

18. Infuse Learning – This site offers a comprehensive way to connect your world language lessons with any student on their phone, computer or tablet device.

19. Duolingo – Offers free online courses in Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and English. Some #langchat teachers like it, others said that the language was not as high quality as they would like.

20. Lingt – Another great LMS that allows world language teachers to incorporate assessments, video, audio and track student improvement.

21. Haiku – This is a cloud-based LMS that is standards-based and provides options for both mobile and desktop use.

22. Scan – This app allows you to read and create QR codes on a variety of devices.

23. WordFoto – Students can turn their personal photos into text for a very creative interpretive or presentational project. @MmeNero shared her student WordFoto projects here.

24. Memrise – Uses memorization tricks to teach a variety of subjects. There are many classes to choose from, and world language teachers can create their own lessons if they don’t find exactly what they’re looking for.

25. Student Blogs – These are easy to set up through free services like Blogger and Edublogs.org (which provide a little more security for students). Some helpful tips: @KrisClimer said, “For student blogs, give clear expectations for peer review,” and @DiegoOjeda66 shared the Stout Blog Rubric.

26. DiLL – This LMS incorporates headsets, microphones and laptops to create a no-hassle language learning lab.

27. Grooveshark – Much like Pandora or Spotify, this website lets students listen to authentic audio samples for great interpretive projects or interactive class discussions.

28. Educreations – You can browse lessons for your computer lab or Ipad that have been created by other world language teachers, or you can easily create your own.

29. Spotify – This music app provides both free and paid options. Students can listen to authentic resources and you can create playlists to share as a class.

30. Songza – This music application is 100% free and has no listening limits. It is different than some other music apps in that the music is chosen by experts in the language and music of the cultures the music represent.

31. Skype – This is a free live video calling application that can allow students to interact with native speakers all over the world. Be sure to check with your Information Technology Specialist (ITS) before using in the classroom. @natadel76 said, “Skype is a security threat too, according to my ITS.”

32. Wikispaces – Many teachers are still using Wikispaces as their dominant LMS. This tool allows you to create assignments, comment on work and upload and share images and video.

33. Google Hangout – Possibly a more secure alternative to Skype, Google Hangouts also allow you to do video calling with up to 10 different computers.

34. Schoology – Voted the best 2013 LMS for students in grades K-12 by the CoDIE Awards (Software and Information Industry Association). It’s advanced integration system works with many outside applications like Moodle, TurnItIn and BlackBoard.

35. Mentor Mob – This is a search tool that clarifies world language searches and creates “learning playlists” for your students. You can also rate search results for relevance, use others’ playlists and create unique playlists for your students to use.

36. Moodle – A free LMS that provides teachers access to instruction of large groups of students, as well as assessments and interactive wikis, discussion boards and assessments.

37. Twitter – This instant messaging forum is a great way for students to interact with you and each other in the target language. You can change trending items to Spanish-speaking country lists, do live chats with your students in the target language, or participate in #langchat and get some great professional development!

Eager for more? For an update on this list, check out a couple of blogposts from longtime #langchat contributors.  In February 2015, Maris Hawkins posted her Top 5 Tech Tools, and then Laura Sexton posted her Top 10 Tech Tools from 2016.

Thank You

We’d like to thank our moderators, for keeping us on task and giving us some great ideas for using technology in our world language classrooms. As usual, there were many great ideas that didn’t get included in the summary. If you want to see what you missed, check out the full transcript of the chat in our online archive.

What comments, questions or concerns do you have about teaching world language? We’d love to hear more about you and what is important for your teaching journey. Give us your suggestions for future #langchat discussions and get involved in your professional learning community!

Additional Resources

Looking for more fun and games with learning power to put on those devices? Check out our fantastic free games as well as our engaging Spanish learning videos.  Sing along and learn together!

iPads for Spanish
Pourquoi pas les e-portfolios?
Twitter Rubric
iOS Apps for World Language education
Wiki Rubric


Testing a bridge in Hood River by OregonDOT, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  OregonDOT 

Could this be an effective standards-based assessment for the world language classroom?
One of the most difficult things to do as a language teacher is to maintain a reasonable standard for grading. Because each of us is so different, it is vital that we adhere to a set of general standards when it comes to evaluating student work. While the specific details of standards may vary from school to school, at #langchat, we tried to come up with some basic standards for grading student work that were the same across all participants.

What we found was that there may be a difference between standards-based grading and proficiency-based grading, and every teacher seems to meet this goals in a unique way.

What is Standards-Based Grading?

@MartinaBex said, “[Standards-based grading] means student’s grade is determined based on the degree to which they have proven their ability to do something as opposed to how well they have performed on assessment types, like tests, quizzes, homework, etc.” Basically, a standards-based curriculum focuses on the students’ abilities to demonstrate mastery of a skill, rather than scores on assessments. @emilybakerhanes further clarified standards-based grading for world language teachers. She said, “The standards are based on proficiency targets appropriate for their level.” As @natadel76 pointed out, the ACTFL national standards are the basic benchmarks that standards-based grading rely upon.

@CalicoTeach brought up an interesting distinction. She asked, “So would you say that standards-based grading is similar to proficiency-based grading, or are they the same thing?”

There were two schools of thought about this. Some teachers thought they were synonymous terms, while others felt that proficiency standards are more about structure than content.

Skills vs. Modes

Some teachers base their proficiencies on the skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking, while others are using the ACTFL modes of learning: interpersonal, presentational, and interpretive. @cadamsf1 clarified how these overlap, “The skills really are included within the modes. Interpersonal would include speaking and writing, interpretive might include listening and reading.” @emilybakerhanes said, “In my opinion, the modes are just the ways of using the communication I think. Good curriculum naturally includes the modes!”

Implementing Valid Standards-Based Grading

A number of the #langchat participants had some excellent advice about implementing standards-based grading in their classrooms.

1. Don’t be too specific. Adhering too closely to standard specifics can bog your teaching down and burn you out. @emilybakerhanes said, “I’ve found too much specificity is a problem…makes grading too time consuming!”

2. Base grades on national proficiency levels. A few teachers explained that they use this model when creating proficiency-based assessments. @MartinaBex said, “I decide what national proficiency level they should be able to achieve and base grade on that.”

3. Be careful when including non-proficiency items in grading. Although some teachers felt that it was necessary to include grades on items like responsibility or homework, many others felt that grades should only be attached to proficiency goals. @SraHass had a good compromise: “I have an accountability category, but it’s just info, not a grade. Grade=Spanish proficiency, not “organized” or “responsible.”“

4. Use clear proficiency-based rubrics. Using clear rubrics allows students to know exactly how they are meeting national benchmarks item for item. @Marishawkins said, “I used JCPS rubrics and felt like mostly gave full credit. It was easier to say a small point is wrong (vocab) vs sentence structure.”

5. Create a system that works for you. It was clear from our participants that there are as many good ways to create a standards-based system as there are world language teachers.

Keep the Focus on Proficiency

The discussion turned to the general grading procedures that the #langchat participants supported or didn’t feel were helpful for students. @garnet_hillman gave a partial list: “Behavioral grading, averages, extra credit, zeros…all grading malpractice.”

Why are these procedures so detrimental to world language students? A few world language teachers weighed in on why they didn’t do (or did do) some of these key teaching fall-back procedures.

Have Respect for Daily Work – Extra credit enforces the idea that the regular credit is not necessary and can be replaced with alternate work at the student’s leisure. @KrisClimer said, “Heard someone say once, “Kids who do Extra credit, don’t need it. It should be called Instead OF credit.”

Create a Mastery Classroom – Students who have a chance to improve their scores in a challenging environment build their confidence and learn determination in the face of failure. @SECottrell said, “Demanding redos creates a class where success is not only possible but probable.” @cadamsf1 brought up the key problem with this system, though: time. She said, “It is still difficult for me to manage the redo retake, makeup and move on, but I must admit it does give powerful incentives and students will try.” @emilybakerhanes suggested a regularly scheduled day of the week dedicated only to makeups, possibly after school or during lunch.

Assess When Ready – Giving arbitrary assessments can defeat your students and disconnect them from the learning process. @MartinaBex said, “The best way to handle it is to not give assessments until students are ready! Then fewer retakes are needed.”

Keep Formative Assessments Formative – @placido said, “We have to give 20% of grade as “formative assessment” which kind of negates the idea of formative, no?” @garnet_hillman responded, “Formative = for learning, shouldn’t be graded.” When students realize their learning process and mistakes are being graded, formative assessment becomes much less valid and authentic. @Ensenenme said, “90% of my homework is formative, no grade. But at some point, you have to ask them to demonstrate learning from feedback provided from the homework.”

Thank You

We’d like to thank our moderators, @Placido, @CalicoTeach and @SECottrell for guiding our interesting discussion on standards-based grading. As always, you had so many great comments that we couldn’t include them all. For a full transcript of this #langchat, check out our online archive.

What do you want to talk about on #langchat? Share your ideas with us!

Additional Resources

Creating Effective Rubrics for Various World Language Tasks
Writing Rubric
Proficiency Targets
Accurate Assessments
Using rubrics to move towards standards mastery
Share your policies/rubrics please
Making Standards Based Grading Work in the World Language Classroom
Grading for Proficiency
Proficiency Targets

creating effective rubrics for various world language tasksRubrics are assessment tools that specifically outline how to succeed at a certain task. Although many #langchat teachers know about rubrics, there is discussion about the best ways to create and implement them in the world language classroom.

On Thursday night, #langchat teachers from around the country gathered to discuss the benefits of rubrics and how to design them to assess certain tasks. Although participants had some great ideas about the best rubrics for interpersonal, interpretive and presentational activities, the real gem of the night was the idea of incorporating student decision-making in the rubric creative process.

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Basic Elements of a Good Rubric

#langchat teachers all had different ideas about what should be included in the perfect set of rubrics. @profesorM suggested the use of benchmarks relating to Vocabulary, Form and Purpose. @SECottrell said,” I emphasize vocabulary, function, comprehensibility and comprehension. De-emphasize but still assess language control and task completion.” @crwmsteach said that she likes to encourage Risk-Taking as a rubric, since it can motivate students to take more chances in their language production. @profesorM cautioned teachers to keep rubric goals to a minimum: “I only use 3-4 dimensions usually, then I use them each year and tweak.”

A Time and a Place for Rubrics

Using rubrics is one of the best ways to clarify the goals of your task and help students to accomplish it. Still, they are most helpful in the world language classroom when working on certain types of activities. @trescolumnae said, “My students and I find rubrics helpful, especially for large tasks, and especially when the tasks are tightly focused on proficiency goals.” When asked what competencies we assess, @msfrenchteach replied, “It depends on the mode of communication, but for ex. language control, comprehension, and vocabulary.”@trescolumnae said, “I do a monthly 1-on-1 proficiency check with students, and proficiency-focused rubric makes all the difference.”

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Meshing School-Wide and ACTFL-Based Rubrics

One of the concerns discussed on Thursday’s chat was the incorporation of school-wide rubrics in addition to language-specific ones. @SraSpanglish shared a typical issue: “My school SUGGESTS rubrics so we can reinforce same goals, but hard to justify using them if I’m trying to focus on proficiency.”

While some teachers liked the idea of having a consistent rubric across the school or district, others thought it might be too constricting. In @crwmsteach’s school district, all world language teachers use “the same rubrics and same evaluations for pre and post-assessment.” @trescolumnae has the opposite. He said, “It would be nice to have some consistency, but no, they don’t. Schools and teachers are all over the place with assessment.”

@mrsbolanos had a great idea to combine proficiency-based rubrics with the consistency of school-wide or district-wide language stantards. She said, “[We hade no great rubrics] for WL so we made our own.” @trescolumnae responded, “I think happy medium is ideal – maybe a standard rubric that the teachers develop together??”

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The Problem with Grades

Since rubrics are so linked to grading, it is no wonder that the topic turned to grade-centered students and how they perceive rubrics. @MagistraHigley asked the vital question: “What do you do about students who do the minimum to earn a particular grade? Feedback is the most important part of educating, more than a number. Some kids only want bottom line.”

@profesorM suggested that if students are so focused on grades that they are no longer reaping language rewards, the student should become more involved in the project-creation process. He said, “In that case, the students should come up with their own project to avoid teacher expectations.”

Student-Centered, Student-Designed

This discussion led to one of the most important topics of the night: how student-centered and designed rubrics can improve language proficiency. @mrsbolanos said, “I let my students design how they want to show me what they’ve learned. It allows for more creativity and student interest.”

Not only does including students in the rubric-creation process give them more buy-in when they are completing projects, but it encourages a positive classroom climate and creativity. @crwmsteach said, “I use student input. They often come up with similar rubrics but also a creative component. Then there are never questions regarding evaluation.” @trescolumnae added, “If you design them (and the process) so that students are the primary customers of rubrics (assessing selves), that really helps.”

Still, student-driven rubrics require some management in order for them to be successful. @msfrenchteach said, “It seems to me that it takes skill to guide conversations re: rubrics, expectations, and so on.”@trescolumnae suggested to post previous student-created rubrics in case a particular class was having trouble helping define the rubrics. @SraSpanglish mentioned that students often have too high expectations and must be reminded to start small. She said, “The one thing I learned from seeking their input was start with AT standard, not ABOVE.”

@MagistraHigley summed up this important topic for the evening: “My take away is feeling a sense of community with students: great teachers wanting and doing great things with students!” @msfrenchteach agreed: “My takeaway: Involve students more in decisions about their learning!”

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Thank You

We’d like to thank our moderators, @msfrenchteach and @SECottrell for helping us share relevant resources and ideas for using rubrics in the world language classroom. Unfortunately, there were many comments that we could not include in our overview. If you’d like to see the full transcript of the night’s chat, check out our online archive.

Do you have an idea for a future #langchat topic? Share your ideas with us!

Additional Resources

Musicuentos Proficency Rubric
NYLOTE Rubrics
How and why I don’t use a rubric to grade regular free-topic writing. (@musicuentos)
Bill Heller’s class participation rubric
Glastonbury (CT) rubrics by mode and level
FLENJ CAPS Rubrics for World Language
Terrill/Theisen Rubrics
Jefferson County Public Schools Performance Rubric
2 Useful Tools to Create Rubrics for Your Class (@medkh9)
Tech Integration for Foreign (World) Language teachers