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by Erica Fischer on Mar 23, 2016

Finding the “Pot of Proficiency” at the End of the WL Program “Rainbow”

Last week, #langchatters convened on Saint Patrick’s Day to figure out what the non-negotiable components are in world language programs that consistently produce the “gold” that all teachers are working towards in their WL classes – proficient students! Participants discussed necessary core beliefs, helpful tools and resources, and the ways to use all of those things to create lessons that will help support and build a proficiency-based program.

Thank you Wendy (@MmeFarab) and Colleen (@CoLeeSensei) for leading our Thursday chat, as well as Diego (@DiegoOjeda) and Laura (@SraSpanglish) for moderatings the #SaturdaySequel. And thanks to everyone who contributed to (either/or) both great hours of #langchat!

Question 1: What are core beliefs to abide by and how do they drive a proficiency-based program?

Having core beliefs clearly defined and lined out for language programs is hugely important for teachers because knowing the driving force behind what your program expects you to teach your students, will help you figure out how best to teach them those things while still holding true to your own core beliefs about how to build a proficiency-based program.

Core beliefs are personal in nature but many chatters commented on the fact that so many contributors shared beliefs with similar and/or the same sentiments. Listed below are the core beliefs that #Langhchatters shared/retweeted variations of the most:

  • We teach language not about the language.
  • The focus of each lesson and assessment needs to be on communication
  • Our purpose is to help students communicate. With themselves, as much as the world around them.
  • Building respect and rapport with students is foundational to learner success.
  • Proficiency does not require perfect grammar or an endless vocabulary, you need to get your point across.
  • Assessing modes of communication will help create well-rounded language learners/speakers.
  • Language learning is being able to get one’s point across in the target language with increased accuracy based on exposure/previous experience.
  • Anyone and everyone can learn a new language! Learning takes place over a lifetime and we are never “done” learning a language.
  • Using language to connect with others, to learn about them and their point of view of the world in order to change your own.
  • Students have got to understand what proficiency is in order to use structures that will bump them to the next level.
  • We are similar people separated by language and culture but can learn to communicate and understand each other.

@IndwellingLange really summed up the overall feeling and response to the question of what core beliefs are important for proficiency-based programs when they said, “I LOVE how much emphasis I am seeing that says (a) All [students] can acquire languages and (b) Language exists for communication!”

Question 2: What tools help teachers, districts, & fledgling programs & how do they build proficiency-based language programs?

#Langchatters had a lot of great suggestions for tools to help the world language community build proficiency-based programs that ranged from hands-on approaches to technology usage. @MmeFarab said that for her, “…having a curriculum to build off of was key! I based my own off of SCS and JCPS curricula!” Similarly, @K_Griffith suggested tools such as, “Conferences, TPRS, incorporating music, speaking TL 90% of the time, and, of course, #langchat!” Other suggestions included things like having students check off their own can-dos, using comprehensible input and authentic resources, as well as performance assessments to really be able to see what your students are absorbing over time.

Many chatters agreed that tangible things like conferences, professional development, mentors (who teach a language), and a network of likeminded teachers are essential “tools” for teachers and fledgling programs who are working towards being proficiency-based. You have to start somewhere and taking notes from more experienced teachers/programs is the key to doing it successfully.

As @profepj3 so simply put it, anyone working towards a proficiency-based program needs, “A network of like-minded teachers—in your building, district, state or even #langchat—to collaborate [and] leverage your strengths.” There’s no need to go-it alone so don’t!

Question 3: What common resources should teachers have access to & how can they contribute to a proficiency-based program?

Common resources abound for world language teachers in today’s technological age and #langchatters were quick to share their favorites! Suggestions included rubrics, the Tell Project, performance assessment prompts, the ACTFL Keys Books, AAPPL technology, level-appropriate readers and authentic resources, YouTube, blogs, forums, Pinterest, music resources, audio/video interactive technology, and much more. Contributors pointed out over and over again that sources of compelling content in the target language are hugely important to build a proficiency-based program, as getting students to be able to communicate and understand real-world usage of the TL is really what it’s all about.

Mentoring came up again (several times) as a great tool for teachers and @SraDentlinger shared a popular idea when she suggested that she, “…would love to see more Teacher Field Trips, so [that] we can see those [programs who are] already successful!” Many chatters agreed that learning from example is a great way to be inspired, and it also makes it easier to bring back tools that you know will be effective to your program.

Question 4: How do we use beliefs, tools & resources to create unit/lesson planning in a proficiency focused language program?

Creating units and lesson plans that align with the goals of a proficiency focused language program is KEY to making sure that you are actually focusing your efforts on building student’s proficiency. @MundodePepita said it best when she suggested that teachers, “Start from what you want kids to be able to do at end of unit/theme… [and] then, create a road map to get there.” Similarly, @lottesensei put this tactic in simple terms when she said to, “’Backward design with the end in mind!’”

There are lots of ways to do that but several chatters shared concrete steps like looking at the unit theme, figuring out what content you want to cover/use, and then considering student’s interest as good places to start planning. @bjillmoore shared a popular thought when she suggested teachers use, “Pictures and simple news articles to provide students with link to real world topics. Make connections across curriculum.”

Focusing on real-world skills and improving student’s communication skills should always be the main goal for any lesson, so gathering your resources to create relevant assessments and units to help them do that is most important. @SrtaGlynn put it well when she said teachers really need to, “Think about the big picture. [Ask] how are students going to use this in real life?” Then pick what resources best support that [outcome].”

Takeaways

Last week, Langchatters discussed the ins and outs of building and improving proficiency focused language programs in order to really produce proficient students. Participants felt that it’s essential to remember that being “proficiency based” is a marathon, not a sprint, so don’t get discouraged and don’t expect it to happen overnight. There’s always room to improve and things to learn from other teachers/programs (especially those who have been doing it longer than you), so always be willing to keep your eyes open and ask for help. And finally, while chatters agreed that getting a fledgling program off the ground is a lot of work, they concurred that it’s absolutely worth it!

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined in #langchat and shared their thoughts on ways to build a proficiency-based world language program. We hope that you continue to join #langchat whenever you are able – if the regular chat time on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET doesn’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday at 10 a.m. ET instead!

Due to space limitations, this summary focuses on the main themes and takeaways from this week’s conversation, and many tweets had to be omitted. To read the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

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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