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by Erica Fischer on Feb 16, 2013

Advocating for Proficiency-Based Language Methods

Performances and cultural events are only some of the ways teachers are advocating for proficiency-based language methods.

Love was in the air at Thursday’s Valentine’s #langchat, but not the romantic kind. Participants at the night’s chat seemed to be focused on finding ways to love their colleagues and administration more in order to help their students have access to proficiency-based language programs.

Although solutions and ideas were shared about how teachers can advocate for their programs, the bulk of the night’s conversation was geared towards how to work with students, peers and community leaders to create more proficient classrooms.

Engaging Students in Proficiency-Based Methods

@tmsaue1 started the night off with this gem: “Advocacy starts in the classroom. No better way to advocate for WL then having highly proficient students.” This opened a huge discussion on how to encourage students to recognize their proficiency and advocate for the program and teachers that help them succeed. @CoLeeSensei said, “Sometimes I overlook the role my students play in promoting – they love to tell parents/admin about the value of what they are learning!”

Setting Realistic Expectations

Some teachers mentioned the general barriers to complete success with relying wholly on students to advocate for proficiency-based language, mainly that they often don’t know their own abilities. @fravan said, “They are so insecure in there ability. [I] love the #actfl proficiency guidelines. Gives them realistic idea of what they should be able to do.”

Others agreed that helping students set realistic goals for proficiency is a great place to start, and gave specific examples of how to help students set appropriate goals and see their progress.

  • @tmsaue1 said, “Let’s replace the family tree with posters that say what an Intermediate CAN DO and the names of students who are intermediates.” @fravan agreed. “It is a very powerful moment when students have proof of their growth in the lang. We have to build them up.”
  • @trescolumnae said, “I love the ACTFL proficiency document because it SHOWS proficiency levels. Showing beats describing every time.”
  • @lclarcq said, “If we clearly state student goals and then show how student work reflects, it speaks volumes.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “I tell my students that world language studies show and gives real-life communication skills you can put on an application.”
  • @tmsaue1 shared his idea: “Our students explain proficiency in their words on day 1. Put them on posters around the room. (could be shared with admin.)”

Making Room for Student Success

@tmsaue1 brought up a point about getting students excited about learning languages as a way to advocate for better proficiency-based language programs. She said, “I think that’s our number one job as #wlteach. Get kids to WANT to learn a language. WANT to be an intermediate.”

One way teachers talked about getting kids excited was to highlight their successes. But some teachers felt at a loss for implementing this into their programs. @fravan summed up perfectly: “Success is the best way to win people over. How do I showcase success stories?”

From creating social events to presenting language programs around schools, the #langchat participants had some great ideas on how to show students, parents and administration that proficiency-based language studies are making their students successful.

  • @tmsaue1 encouraged participants to “showcase students using languages for real purposes in the school/local community.” He also said, “Many schools put up posters of students based on performance on state test. [I] would love to see WL Proficiency Posters in schools.”
  • @lclarcq agreed, stating, “Honoring people goes a long way. We honor, we share. When we honor our students’ work it isn’t self-serving or self-promoting.”
  • @pamwesely shared a “silly dream” of hers to present a proficiency bee at her school. Students would be given questions in a performance setting and would have to respond appropriately. Viewers would see simultaneous translations in English and the target language. It might also be able to include online chats about the contestants’ language accuracy.
  • @tmsaue1 suggested teachers, “Talk to your guidance counselors to figure out how external assessments (STAMP, AAPPL, AP) can be included on transcripts.”
  • @senoralopez introduced the idea of making proficiency levels more student-friendly. “Perhaps making student friendly proficiency levels be renaming intermediate level would make them realize their achievement.”
  • @AudreyMisiano said, “Another great way to advocate is how #aimlang does it. The kids learn a play and perform for their school/families/etc. entirely in TL.”

Introducing Proficiency-Based Language Methods to Parents and Administration

The discussion turned towards how to best involve parents and administration in creating solid and proficient language students. It was clear from #langchatters that they felt the pressure of getting parents and administration on board with changes towards more proficiency-based language learning.

Some have had success engaging parents in their language programs as a way to advocate for a more proficiency-based language classroom. @MartinaBex said, “My admin is supportive of me because there is a waitlist for my classes. Happy kids = happy parents = happy admin wants to expand program.”

This sparked conversation about how to encourage administrators away from traditional models for assessing language programs. @cadamsf1 asked a question: “What if what we value is not what the district values? I know how to get around it but many flounder at that point.” @mweelin also laments, “At my school we are just now starting to look at ACTFL proficiency levels, and change is hard. We’re behind the times.”

Some of the best ideas for involving parents and administration were:

1. Communicate with parents and admin. While some teachers like @pamwesely think it might be “useless to try to describe proficiency to non-specialists,” others believe that attempting to engage parents and admins is an important step forward. @cforchini said, “At least you are starting the conversation! That’s the hardest part.”

2. Educate them about proficiency. @CalicoTeach said, “Parents/Admin want to know what kids “can do” with lang.” She suggested using the “I can” statements from LinguaFolio to help this group of non-specialists learn to identify proficiency in their students.

3. Encourage observation and outside participation. @CoLeeSensei suggested inviting viewers to see proficiency-based language classrooms in action. She encouraged teachers to “show off their students” by “inviting in admin and colleagues to see purposeful language in action?” @fravan agreed: “Parents were pleased/impressed with seeing their students on video at open house.” @darcypippins also suggested introducing parents to new teaching methods through a parent-involved TPRS activity. She said, “Do a TPRS demo during open house every 30 minutes for parents to participate in. It’s not how they learned.”

4. Impress them with relevant data points. @cadamsf1 thinks “showcasing students with comprehensive national exams may help.” @CoLeeSensei said, “On report cards, I often include what communicative activities Ss have engaged in. It’s a way to report to parents what students can do!”

5. Create buzz around your world language program. Several teachers talked about how they are working hard to create feeder programs within the community that emphasize proficiency-based language and communication. @darcypippins explained, “I go to the local elementary twice a week to do TPR and TPRS with the kids. Parents, teachers, and admin love it!”

Motivating Other Teachers Towards Proficiency-Based Language Teaching

The most discussed concept of the night, however, was the apparent need to work with colleagues and pre-service teachers to create an atmosphere that is open to change.

Several teachers expressed concern with their own colleagues as the largest roadblocks to proficiency-based language teaching. @fravan said, “Meeting a lot of resistance from the worksheet crowd at my school.” Other teachers agreed that new strategies for language learning can often be a hard sell for everyone. @CoLeeSensei responded, “You raise a great point – we may be advocating in our dept. as well as our school!”

A House Divided….

This brought up an issue that many participants seemed familiar with: infighting amongst the language department. @tmsaue1 said, “I’m very concerned (disturbed) by how often I see WL department infighting over language enrollments.” @lclarcq responded, “Me too. Does not help anyone. But rampant in the profession. We must model honoring colleagues.”

Instead of fighting over who has the “best” language in the school or district, participants agreed that language teachers should be working to support each other in the difficult task of changing the way that language is taught, regardless of specialty. A number of constructive tips were given to help ease teachers into more proficiency-based language teaching habits.

  • @crwmsteach said, “Exchange proficiency ideas techniques respectfully w/ colleagues during ‘share’ meetings.”
  • @lclarcq said, “The most important step is first making sure that department sees and treats each other as people first, teachers second. Without personal connection, it is too easy to be competitors rather than colleagues.”
  • @pamwesely encouraged building language programs generally, not specifically one or two languages. She said, “We need to worry about making the pie bigger, not focusing on dividing the pie.”
  • @lclarcq said, “Sharing w/ a teacher you trust is very helpful. It does not need to be someone in same building.”
  • Create a standardized grading procedure for assessing proficiency. @mweelin suggest to have a standard grading throughout the school where each proficiency level equals a certain percentage on assessments. @trescolumnae chimed in, “Then “all” you have to do is agree: if Novice Mid is goal and S demonstrates Novice Mid, that’s a grade of X%.”

Teaching Teachers

A large number of participants discussed the need for professional development towards proficiency teaching behaviors, specifically in the form of video. @pamweselyI wailed about the “inaccessibility of the classrooms of successful teachers to others (preservice, inservice),” and was met with rousing agreement from the other participants. @CalicoTeach responded emphatically, “I think watching excellent teachers is one of the most powerful tools to gaining that same level of excellence.”

Many participants agreed that language teaching videos, like the Annenberg Language Teaching series are a great way to watch and learn from varying (but successful) styles of teaching. Others responded that poor teaching can also be a great learning tool. @tmsaue1 expressed this point of view: “I wouldn’t mind seeing failed approaches with teachers reflecting on why something didn’t work.” @DonaKimberly agreed, stating, “Seeing what NOT to do can be as powerful as what TO do.”

Proficiency-Based Language Assessments

Another key component for strong, proficiency-based language teaching and learning is appropriate assessments. @tmsaue1 said, “We communicate a lot through grading (to students, parents, admin, more), so it should be aligned with what we value.” This idea was supported by many teachers like @pamwesely and @trescolumnae, who discussed gearing assessments towards a tiered mastery system like in fine arts courses.

Even though the concept was accepted by most at the chat, the implementation was still confusing for others. @mweelin said, “My teachers are freaking out about how to convert a proficiency level to a grade. It’s a shift in thinking for us.” To help release some of the inherent stress of change, some participants encouraged the use of transitional assessment guides such as the LinguaFolio levels or I Can statements from ACTFL.

Creative Solutions for Advocating Proficiency-Based Learning

Although each group of people that #langchat teachers encounters need a different motivation to “buy-in” to the concept of proficiency-based language teaching, there are definitely ways to touch all of them. Participants in the chat were able to come up with some great, specific ways to encourage change across the board.

  • @CalicoTeach: “In the tiny school district where I grew up, I think cultural exchange programs were the most successful advocates of languages.” @crwmsteach agreed, saying, “Parents are amazed to see/hear communication in real life.”
  • @mweelin: “Another source for increasing advocacy is alumni who return with stories of going abroad or majoring/minoring in languages–very powerful.”
  • @AudreyMisiano: “I use cross-age teaching events to advocate. My 7th graders teach Kindergartners & we perform in events like Holiday Sing-a-longs.”
  • @mweelin: “Round them up for Nat’l For Lang Week in March to talk to current students!”
  • @tmsaue1: “Invite your local and state representatives into your class.”
  • @lclarcq: “May seem hard with so many new “requrements” but prof. connections will save us personally and professionally.”
  • @mweelin: “If you can produce something positive and show them, they´ll be supportive. Increase your profile in community.”
  • @tmsaue1: “Don’t forget about all the advocacy resources on the @ACTFL website.”
  • @lclarcq: “Sharing success stories of experiences outside of class also a big winner. “Tweet” a list of places students used language.”
  • @MartinaBex: “Our WL inservice this fall brought in such students. It was very encouraging for us and they shared at Board of Education meeting!”
  • @tmsaue1: “Great elementary advocacy: print weekly learning targets on index cards. kids take home & perform, parents sign.”
  • @pamwesely: “Also: schools must be creative about what to do with students who don’t become proficient – repeating classes is a dead end.”
  • @tmsaue1: “We often celebrate cultural events through school-wide assemblies. how about celebrating actual language use?”
  • @DonaKimberly: Use “progressive portfolios to document language learning.”
  • @tmsaue1: “I think #langchat itself is a great advocacy tool as it has often talked about ways to promote proficiency-focused WL classrooms.”
  • @tmsaue1: “We will be giving all of our students dog tags this year that indicates their proficiency levels and language. They will say: “I’m a Novice High” speaker of _____ (lang).” Great reward for proficiency!
  • @cadamsf1: “My students sent out e-cards for languages month for them to take ownership as well.”

Other Links and Resources

SchoolTube – French ABC Practice
Lingua Folio Self Assessment Rubric
World Language Advocacy Pinterest Board (Audrey Misiano)
ACTFL Scholarship Opportunities

Thank you to our moderators for the evening. Also, thanks to all of you that came and shared your ideas and opinions: it wouldn’t be #langchat without you!

Please come by our Wiki and share your topic ideas for upcoming #langchats. You can also find a complete transcript of this chat and past conversations online.

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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