Walter! by Listen Up!, on Flickr
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Welcome back to #langchat! Last Thursday, whether Langchatters were already done with Fall term or will have to wait to wrap up the term until the new year, they all arrived eager to chat. This time, participants discussed how to handle students who are at risk of failing. The end of the hour snuck up on everyone, with @alenord exclaiming, “OMG it is 8:01! #langchat is done… unless you are ready for the afterparty!”

Thank you to all of our participants and to our moderators, Amy (@alenord), Don, (@dr_dmd), and Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), for leading the final #langchat of 2014!

Question 1: What causes students to fail in the first place?

Participants began by reflecting on what causes students to fail. They agreed that a number of factors play into student performance. @dr_dmd said, “Lots of reasons come to mind: motivation, little support at home, lack of organization, failure to plan and follow through…” Some instructors pointed to apathy as the main cause. @alenord wrote, “My experience is [that] mainly apathy causes failure,” and @SenorGrayNVD agreed, noting, “[Students] fail for a variety of reasons, but the biggest is lack of effort.” Other instructors felt that students fail when they feel that the material has no relevance for their lives (@Luzgriselda) or when there is adisconnect between instructors and students (@Profe_Taylor). @dr_dmd pointed out the importance of fostering creative engagement: “So much depends on the teacher providing [opportunities] for creative engagement! Are we boring them to failure?” In addition to capturing student interest, @virgilalligator added that instructors should communicate clear expectations and show students concrete ways to meet them. Finally, several instructors highlighted the role of student image and confidence in success. @Sralandes said, “I think [students] are scared to try because they are worried they will fail or look uncool to their peers.” @CatherineKU72 echoed this sentiment, observing that “[students] start language [classes] usually at 14, [which is a] tough time to speak up, feel confident, [and] experiment [with] identity.” Nevertheless, she noted that “[language] learning requires [risk-taking]!” @carmenscoggins agreed that high school years are difficult: “I agree! What an awkward time in life to have to stand up in front of your peers and feel vulnerable!” Given possible aversion to risk-taking, which is inherent to successful language learning, some instructors encouraged more feedback and fewer grades. For example, @AndyCrawfordTX said, “[When] we attach grades to everything we kill risk-taking,” and @alenord wrote, “I think sometimes how we grade demotivates kids. [I wrote] about ‘perfection’ and how it kills kids here:”

Question 2: How do we support students who are at risk of failing?

To begin with, @sonrisadelcampo encouraged instructors not to be too hard on themselves: “[There’s lots] of pressure [for teachers] to ‘motivate’ [students]. Too many [teachers are] too hard on themselves [when it comes to] this [difficult and] multifaceted task.” Participants suggested different ways to support students who risk failing. Several Langchatters underscored the importance of redefining “success” and “failure.” @tmsaue1 noted, “I think it’s a definition issue. [In] my world students don’t fail, they have not mastered a skill yet.” He explained that “if we want to help students and change their motivation we have to change our language around learning.” For example, @tmsaue once saw a poster defining FAIL as “First Attempt In Learning.” In @dr_dmd’s class, he does not assign F grades: “In my class, no F’s – only ‘not yet’.” Further, @carmenscoggins pointed out the importance of tracking individual students’ progress without comparing them to other students: “I try to see each learner as an individual progressing at his/her own rate instead of where he/she fits in with the class.” Other participants discussed the value of highlighting student successes and focusing on the positive. @alenord encouraged instructors to “give [students] the opportunity to really SEE their success [through] feedback.” @SenorGrayNVD prompted teachers to also “accentuate the positive. Focus on CAN statements, on what [students] can do and have already learned.” Finally, @dr_dmd recognized the importance of belief: “So often the issue is BELIEF! [Students] need to know that WE BELIEVE they can, then support them so they do.”

Question 3: Should students failing a class continue taking it or repeat it?

Next, Langchatters discussed a provocative question, sharing their views on whether or not failing students should repeat language courses. Some participants favored having students repeat a level for a variety of reasons. For example, @SenoraWienhold wrote, “I think [students] need to repeat. If they try that hard to fail, I do not want them to disrupt [class and] bring down all [students].” @MlleSulewski provided another justification for holding students back: “Without a solid foundation, they will not have the input that will allow them to be successful in future tasks.” @SraKuonen agreed that “[language] learning is cumulative [and students] should master skills before moving ahead.” Others wrote that decisions about repeating a course should be made on a case-by-case basis. @Luzgriselda wrote, “Look at the [student’s] situation individually. [Do] they have the skills to perform at the next level? [If] so, let’s go.” She noted that “repeating the course might lead to a sense of continuous fail,” adding that instructors “need to be careful who repeats it.” @alenord agreed: “Wise words! Be very discriminating with those who repeat. Only for right reasons!” @dr_dmd felt that it is more valuable to have students keep moving ahead: “I see more value in pressing on. I have had many [students] get it and then benefit from moving forward.”

Finally, @tmsaue1 questioned the system of numbered language levels altogether: “[You] asked for provocative, so here is my try. [What] if we didn’t have levels 1, 2, 3? After all they don’t mean anything.” @SraCasey built on this idea, writing that instructors could “[try] a rotating every-other year curriculum. [For example,] Spanish 1 [and] Spanish 1B [where students] take 1B if they struggled the year before.”

Question 4: What steps can we take to help students move forward successfully when they remain in our classes?

Participants suggested ways to help struggling students advance. Some recommended presenting the class with a mixture of new content and repeated familiar material. @crwmsteach wrote that instructors should “keep going [and] bring concepts for use in again [and] again in various themes for [a combination] of variety [and] familiar [content].” @SraCasey echoed this point: “Recycle, reintroduce, reinforce. [Use] different approaches, new activities.” Alternatively, some Langchatters favored pair work, with more advanced students assisting those who are falling behind. @MadameKurtz said, “Pair [a struggling student with a] successful student [or make a small] group with other strugglers.” @SenoraSherrow also highlighted the benefit of choice: “Provide all levels with opportunities to show what they can do in different ways.” Additionally, instructors reflected on the benefit of communication between students and the instructor. @alenord said, “We have to have [a] heart to heart with [students] to figure out what is going on and help them [develop a] plan of attack.” @SenoraDiamond55 agreed: “YES! Everyone loves a clear, specific plan of attack: teachers, students, parents…”

Question 5: How do we help students gain a growth mindset?

@tmsaue1 pointed out that a growth mindset is beneficial for students and teachers alike: “[My] friendly amendment for [Question 6] would be: “[How do] we help students and teachers gain a growth mindset?” @dr_dmd noted that #langchat helps instructors develop a growth mindset, and participants weighed in on how to help students gain one. @crwmsteach wrote that the “biggest challenge [is to] teach [students] that mistakes [can lead to] growth,” acknowledging that it is “hard [for teachers and students] in [our] culture of [right answers and] testing.” Other instructors agreed that teaching students to accept their mistakes is important. @SrtaJohnsonEBHS said, “I encourage making good mistakes! Certain types of mistakes show learning progress!” @SraCastle likes to “show [students] that even with low proficiency, they CAN communicate. You work [out] the errors as you progress!” @AndyCrawfordTX added that less focus on grades can encourage a growth mindset, and @jennabrookeharv concurred that more feedback and fewer grades can encourage student progress. @ShaneBraverman reminded instructors to “help [students] see that growth is real, possible, and achievable.”


Participants discussed ways to handle students who risk failing the first semester of class. They began by considering what causes students to fail or underperform, and they then suggested ways to support at risk students. Langchatters discussed the provocative question of whether or not failing students should be held back, and they shared ideas about how to help students who remain in classes to make progress. Finally, participants reflected on how students and instructors alike can develop a growth mindset, and they noted that mistakes should be embraced as part of growth.

Thank You!

Thank you again to everyone who contributed to Thursday’s #langchat and to our moderators, Amy (@alenord), Don, (@dr_dmd), and Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell). Join us again on January 8th for the first #langchat of the new year. In the meantime, happy holidays to all of our #langchat friends!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

Finals that are communicative?  How do you do that?
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-POPLast Thursday night, #langchat participants met to discuss some logistics of communicative summative assessment. In the middle of an action-packed hour, Twitter started to lag, and many instructors reported that their feed was no longer loading. Some Langchatters felt that Twitter just couldn’t keep up with our energetic participants. @srtakarigan exclaimed, “[We] broke [Twitter]!!” and @Mme Farab agreed, “We overpowered it.” Despite some technical hiccups, many Langchatters were able to stick with us until the end of the hour, contributing to a productive chat. @KrisClimer wrote, “Good night #langchat! Even with lag and interruptions, you still make my week!” In case your Twitter account became weary from all of the useful information circulating, your weekly #langchat summary is here!

Thank you to all of the participants who tuned in last week, and thank you to our moderators, Kris (@KrisClimer), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), and Amy (@alenord), who stuck with participants until the end despite technical difficulties.

Question 1: When and where do your communicative assessments take place?

While some instructors schedule assessment times, others let students complete assessments when they feel ready. For example, @Mr_Fernie said

I give [students] stamp sheets with [communicative] tasks and students complete them when they are ready, usually during [individual] reading time.

Langchatters also discussed where they conduct communicative assessments, including these suggested locations:

  • in a corner of the classroom
  • at the front of the classroom
  • with individual students in the hallway
  • language labs at the school

Are you fortunate to have a language lab at your school?

@alenord said, “I am really blessed to be in a district that has language labs in every classroom,” and @SenorGrayNVD wrote, “[We] have a language lab to be shared among all language classes (40-50 classes) so we have a rotating schedule.” Other Langchatters have students take communicative assessments online. @ShaneBraverman said,

They can record and post [responses to questions online]. I download [their recordings and] post feedback.

@AndreaSchueler added, “[I also] recorded with [Vocaroo] for AP interpersonal conversation.” While assessments online or in the language lab are fast (@profepj3: “This is why I like testing them all [at] once with Google Voice or [in the language] lab. We’re all done in 5 [minutes]”), this can make for time-consuming grading (@CadenaSensei: “The tough part is grading – [It’s] so nice to grade live and not have to do it later”).

Question 2: What format do you use for interpersonal assessments?

@KrisClimer summarized Langchatters’ general format preference for interpersonal assessments: “It sounds as if many do LARGE group interpersonal [assessments] and some do SMALL pull outs.” @SenoritaHersh suggested “[partner] and [small] group activities with [the instructor] cruising [with a] clipboard to give points.” Several instructors encouraged having students switch partners regularly. @tiesamgraf said that having students form “inside [and] outside circle [or form two lines to chat and rotate partners] is awesome. [It’s] so easy [for the instructor] to circulate, help and follow up quickly [and] in person.” @CoLeeSensei said,

I am huge on switching partners – lots of [chances for students] to do [things] over [and] over [without] noticing they are!

Participants highlighted other advantages of interpersonal student-to-student assessments, namely, immediate grading and immediate feedback. One Langchatter said, “OH so fast to score! #Ihategrading.” @tiesamgraf added, “[The] immediate feedback is golden and they like the ‘safety’ of it [and] can switch partners often to optimize practice.”

Question 3: What activities do other students do while you are working with one or two students?


Engaging reading can help students learn while waiting their turn for assessment.

Langchatters shared activities to keep other students occupied during assessments. @katchiringa suggested “whatever [students] can do independently or with a partner.”  Here’s a run-down of other ideas that were shared.

  •  @CoLeeSensei: Students waiting to be assessed could “[prepare] themselves or [work on] a puzzle or some other kind of busy work.”
  • @AndreaSchueler: “[independent] reading, working on ongoing projects, etc.”; “I often pull small groups [of students] for discussions [with the classroom] across hall.”
  • @tiesamgraf: “[Other students] can do [an] interpretive task that could have an interactive [follow-up] based on the same theme.”
  • @MlleSulewski: “[Students can] work on Choice Board tasks, or read in the [target language].”
  • @mme_turner: “I set up stations which students rotate through. One station is with me [for the assessment]. [The station] after me is [self-assessment] and goal setting.”

Finally, while you might be working to keep the room as quiet and possible during assessments, @tiesamgraf pointed out that silence isn’t always ideal: “[It’s] nice if the room isn’t too quiet so the [student] being assessed is more comfortable.” @CoLeeSensei strongly agreed: “This is KEY.”

Question 4: How long (time) are your interpersonal assessments?

Langchatters shared the time that they spend on communicative assessments. Most participants agreed that interpersonal assessments should not have a strict time limit. @tiesamgraf said that assessments should last “until [students] are done!,” adding “… but really for [interpersonal assessments] push [students] to just beyond [their] comfort zone.” @rinaldivlgr observed that an assessment will take longer for some students than others: “I have 5-6 [questions] loaded [and students] respond to them. [It takes] longer for some [than for] others.”

@AndreaSchueler agreed that time will vary depending on students, sharing her specific format and general timing:

[I use four] discussion circles [with] groups of 5-7 [students and give them] one prompt. [They will talk for] 5-9 minutes based on how much [the] group says and how much time I need to assess [them].

@hewalleser shared her timing for pair assessments: “[I pair students and assess them over two] days of 42 [minute] class periods; each pair takes 3-5 [minutes] if in front of me, but [their conversations] can all be done in 10 [minutes] if [I have them] record [them].” No matter how much time you allocate for assessments, @alenord reminds her students “that quality is better than quantity.”

Question 5: How much do you pre-load or pre-teach questions to be expected during assessment?

In case you aren’t familiar with the concept of pre-teaching, check out a recent #langchat summary. Many instructors strongly resist pre-teaching assessment questions:

  • @alenord “NO PRE-LOADING! Just say no!”
  • @KrisClimer said, “I agree. Otherwise, it’s not proficiency, it’s chorus singing.”
  • @profepj3 offered a justification for a lack of pre-loading: “I always tell my kids that life is not rehearsed.”

That said, @rinaldivlgr takes level into consideration when deciding how much to pre-teach: “[It] depends on the level. [In level] 1 we practice a lot. Pre-loading goes down with higher levels.”

Whether you choose to pre-teach assessment questions or not, participants overwhelmingly agreed that it is important to communicate clear objectives. Most instructors also generally agreed that, while they don’t like to feed test questions to students ahead of time, practice is beneficial. @tiesamgraf said,

[Objectives and] essential questions should be transparent. [Students] don’t know [the] exact questions – but there should never be surprises.

Participants offered some ways to help students practice and prepare. @magisterb480 wrote,

I give [students] a study guide with vocab [and] grammar points [and] tell them to review readings so they have an idea of what to expect.

 Best kind of frontloading: "You can do this!"

Best kind of frontloading: “You can do this!”

Alternatively, @ShaneBraverman suggested that “[students] can create their own assessments for each other, practicing the skills [with] less pre-loading.” @rinaldivlgr added that preparation should not be confused with feeding students test questions ahead of time: “[Of] course I wouldn’t call what we do ‘pre-loading’ either. We practice a lot before-hand but the assessment is never same.” Finally, @ProfeCochran pre-loads words of motivation:

The only pre-loading I do is encouragement: ‘You guys are so smart, you’re gonna blow this assessment away!’

Question 6: What strategies help you make the most of the time you have to grade communicative assessments?

@tiesamgraf likely spoke for all Langchatters when she wrote, “[Teachers], especially [foreign language] teachers, don’t get enough sleep 🙂 [When] assessing [there’s] no easy answer!” She recommended caffeine as a start! In order to reduce the amount of time spent grading, Langchatters overwhelmingly favor grading interpersonal assessments on the spot. @Mr_Fernie wrote,

[Have your] rubric in hand and grade while listening to [or] speaking with students. [Then you] only have to record grades into grade book.

@ProfeCochran agreed: “Anything I can grade on the spot helps. Well-planned rubrics or focal points make a happy teacher/clean desk.” @CoLeeSensei noted that “having a well-constructed rubric [I] use again and again helps me grade more quickly. Also [this] helps [students] know what’s expected.” @steph_dominguez added that instant grading is also beneficial for students in providing them with instant feedback.


There is no one right way to conduct interpersonal summative assessments. Langchat participants shared their assessment routines, reflecting on when, where, for how long, and in what format they prefer to assess students. They overwhelmingly agreed that, when it comes to communicative assessments, instant grading, rubric in hand, is ideal.

Thank You!

Thank you again to all those who joined us for last Thursday’s #langchat and to our moderators, Kris (@KrisClimer), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), and Amy (@alenord), for directing the conversation in the face of technical difficulties. Join us next week for the final #langchat of 2014!

Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

University Life 80 by francisco_osorio, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  francisco_osorio 

Last week, Langchatters met online to discuss strategies to help learners get the overall meaning of a text. Memories of ACTFL were still fresh in the heads of many, who now had faces to link to Twitter aliases. @SECottrell wrote, “Hey, great to ‘see’ you on #langchat after meeting you at #actfl14,” and @KrisClimer said, “I’m thrilled to read words and actually HEAR many of your voices in my head.” In an action-packed hour, participants reflected on four questions related to facilitating reading comprehension. In case you missed the conversation or your Internet browser crashed from tab overload, your #langchat summary has got you covered.

Question 1: What reading skills should we focus on for different proficiency levels?

Participants began by commenting on important skills for particular proficiency levels. They generally agreed with @placido, who wrote, “[At] all levels I strive for high levels of comprehension.” Most of the specific advice participants offered was relevant for the novice level. @espanolsrs encouraged instructors to focus on the gist: “I think that gisting is an important skill for novice learners.” @CoLeeSensei stated this in different terms, describing the gist in 5 basic questions: “With [level 1] students I focus on the 5 [questions]: Who? What? Where? When? Why? It helps them for communication too :).” @SenoraWienhold observed that having students follow along in the text with their finger as they read makes them slow down and process content. Other instructors pointed out the importance of teaching students to identify familiar vocabulary. @ShaneBraverman said, “[Students] being able to [identify] root words is super helpful. Since roots hold most meaning – they can get more from text.” @SenoritaBasom noted that students should become comfortable with high frequency words: “With lower levels, I like students to focus on identifying and understanding high frequency words so they can feel successful.”

Finally, participants offered suggestions for fellow instructors. @Marishawkins reminded instructors to ask level-appropriate questions about texts: “I think the questions can also frame the reading skills that help [students] to feel successful. More advanced levels have harder [questions].” @MmeMurphy suggested instructors “try to pre-teach key vocab through stories and other contextualized/comprehensible input.” For ideas on effective pre-teaching strategies, check out a previous #langchat summary. @SraKuonen recognized that texts can intimidate students, and she encourages them to dive in: “I’m always telling them to not give up before they try! They see a Spanish reading and assume they can’t read it.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS also noted that students are uncomfortable with the element of the unknown, but she added that it is common to all levels: “High ability students HATE IT but ambiguity is part of the process. How many words do WE not know in our [languages]?”

Question 2: What types of texts are accessible for students at different levels?

Some participants encouraged keeping texts simple with novice level students. For example, @magisterb480 uses simple texts for beginners, noting that “even in Latin there are some authentic texts (mainly inscriptions) that a first-year can read.” @MWfrancais also looks for simple texts from everyday life: “I love using food wrappers or shampoo bottle directions with beginners.” For intermediate levels, @SrtaJohnsonEBHS suggested “more [authentic resources], websites, newspaper articles, short stories (may need scaffolding).” Alternatively, other instructors observed that texts can work for multiple levels if activities and expectations are adapted. @tiesamgraf wrote, “[So] many texts can work for many different levels – the task/goal needs to change for each [level] (edit [the] task not [the] text).”

Participants then began to think outside the book. They suggested a variety of text types, which you might consider using in your classroom!

  • Advertisements: @SECottrell advocated for use of advertisements, which she values as “a good example of a type of text our students need: [one that is] highly contextualized.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS shared a link to “anuncios in Spanish for those of us doing shopping/presents 🙂”
  • Infografics: This was possibly the most popular text type suggested. @MmeFarab wrote, “I’ll be the first to say that infographics are my favorite at EVERY level,” and many others readily agreed. @CadenaSensei added, “[Infographics] are amazing. [They are] great for [teachers with] many preps.” @SECottrell collects infographics on Google (“‘TL word + ‘infografía’ is one of my most frequent Google searches!”), while @MmeFarab has more luck searching on Pinterest (“I find more on [Pinterest] than I usually do on [Google]. Strange, but I like it”).
  • Memes: @senoraCMT wrote, “[Memes] are great for all levels [because] they can teach awesome figurative language!!” @IndwellingLang agreed, adding, “Yep, memes! and other captioned images, cartoons, etc.”
  • Social Media: Many participants suggested social media as a source of texts. @IndwellingLang proposed using “Facebook and other social networking sites, with language (“Like,” “Add a picture,” etc.) set to [the] target language.” @espanolsrs, one of many participants who advocated for use of Twitter, wrote, “A Tweet of the day in the [target language] can be a motivating way to start class. I look for current events, vocab/structures in [target language], etc.” @carmenscoggins also regularly uses tweets in the classroom: “I use tweets all the time with my students. It’s a fast way to make a point to students that they can understand.” @SraSpanglish suggested that instructors can also ask students to make inferences, presenting them with a series of tweets and asking them to draw conclusions: “[In Spanish 2/3] I collected tweets on a current event, [and] had [students] figure out what was going on”
  • Student-Authored Stories: @MmeMurphy offered an alternative source of texts, students from other classes: “My students love reading the other classes’ stories…[This provides them with] more repetition of target structures [and increases] student interest!”

Question 3: What smaller skills help students identify the main idea of a text?

Participants next shared advice on small steps that can be taken to help students identify the main idea of a text. @CoLeeSensei highlighted the importance of teaching students to approach texts calmly: “I think ‘relaxing and breathing’ when they see something new [is important]!” @MmeLohse also underscored the value of patience, and @SrtaJohnsonEBHS wrote that she encourages students to “[start] with what [they] know (cognates, high frequency words) and then fill in the rest.” @espanolsrs added that students should be taught that they can take it slow: “[Teach students] that it’s OK to slow down when they read. It’s not [a] race to finish.” Additionally, @KrisClimer suggested “[reading] together [as I do] with my own kids” to work through a text as a class. When doing so, he encouraged “[stopping] and circling back, [checking] for comprehension, [and circling] back always around MAIN IDEAS.” Finally, @IndwellingLang pointed out that instructors can ask students to reflect, prompting them to “[identify] what is making a text tough–vocab? sentence length? style? assumed knowledge?”

Question 4: So a student can identify the main idea… now what?

Once students can point to the main idea, instructors offered lots of advice on what to do next. @CoLeeSensei shared some of the activities that she uses to make sure that students really ‘got it’: “ or”
@steveference, along with other participants, suggested having students “put [the main idea] in their own words or into practice (for example, drawing or role playing).” Other participants like to have students elaborate on story content, adding details (@KrisClimer), writing alternate story lines (@ShaneBraverman), or predicting what might happen next (@espanolsrs). @Indwelling also recommended debriefing with students, asking, “What did you like/dislike about text itself? What did you like/dislike about the reading process?”


#Langchat participants discussed strategies to help learners at any level get the main idea of a text. They reflected on level-appropriate reading skills, discussed level-appropriate text types, and shared a variety of fun and non-traditional text types to use in the classroom, encouraging instructors to think outside the book sometimes. Participants also suggested smaller steps to work towards student comprehension of texts, reminding instructors to help students feel calm when faced with the unknown. Finally, they suggested steps that can be taken once students have gotten the gist of a text.

Thank You!

Thank you again to all of the #langchat participants who contributed to last Thursday’s discussion and to Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Kris (@KrisClimer), and Laura (@SraSpanglish) for moderating a rapid-fire chat! Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive.

If you have a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!