Today in my III/IV/V combined class I wanted to do a freewrite with my class because I needed to get a little feedback about what people needed to work on, but instead of going right into it, I gave them 10 minutes of free voluntary reading time as a way of getting their brains into the language naturally before we did some writing.
Then right before the freewrite, I decided to give it a different wrinkle. I usually let them use whatever vocab they have written in their composition books, but I let them keep whatever book they were reading for the FVR with them during the freewrite. The result was spectacular. Several students, including those who had struggled with freewrites in the past used words that they had just gleaned from their readings and wove them into their stories.
I get that we are supposed to help them write what they already know and not become reliant on outside sources such as dictionaries, but I saw this as an exercise in adopting vocabulary that was used by a conversation partner as a guide to forming an utterance–which is one of the Intermediate language learning strategies according to the ACTFL proficiency system. In this case, though, the conversation partner was a book rather than a live person.
This worked very well and easy for the students today and I saw some great gains in comfort and writing proficiency. One student who was reading “The Little Mermaid” for FVR gave me a 112 word (in 8 minutes of writing time) first-person narration of her life as Ariel that was detailed, highly descriptive and compelling. Last week she struggled to give me 50 words in 5 minutes that were pretty choppy and basically just a combination of previously known set phrases. In other words, she jumped from the Novice level of the ACTFL proficency scale to the Intermediate level in one week with the only difference being the scaffolding of the book.
Was this a straight summative assessment of what they know? I don’t think so. But was this a formative assessment that helped them apply learning and develop language development strategies? By all means. I’m going to make this a regular part of the rotation.