Category Archives: ACTFL

PDL, part 2

It turns out that I wrote most of what I would put here in a comment on day 1, so I’m going to just link to that comment from this post as soon as I can get back in to edit. 

Here’s another link to some more information on PDL. I woke up today all excited about going to school, forgetting that we don’t have the advanced class today. Darn! Still, when I got here, my beginners were eager to contribute an idea about who I’d be “talking to” in the imaginary circle part of the warmup, PDL level 1 style. I’m not sure I explained that. The group stands in a circle, and the teacher talks to a being of some sort in the middle of the circle. Kids whispered suggestions to me, and I chose a dog to talk to. The kids have to mimic words and gestures. Then they get to ask about anything they’d heard that they wanted to understand. I got two meaning questions and two grammar questions out of that group. Weird what they wanted to ask about…they say that as long as they get to ask, it’s okay that they don’t understand everything. They like trying to figure out whom I am talking with! I’m not sure that the gestures make sense, especially since I’m not a native speaker, but it helps for me to see in my peripheral vision who’s with me.



ACTFL Conference part 1: class outcome

I went to the ACTFL Conference in Orlando, Florida, this weekend. Needless to say (I hope), I’m a bit wiped out, even though I attended only four sessions. (The rest of the time I was having a blast teaching Russian.)

I can’t remember the exact title of the session I’d like to talk about, but I think it was something like “Student-Led Language Classes.” We got examples of lessons from two levels of courses taught in the PDL method. They were strange enough that many people actually walked out of the session. Still, I was fascinated, especially by the sample exercise for a level 2 class. I was pretty sure that I had not retained anything out of the level 1 class.

When I woke up this morning spouting some German phrases that I understood, I had to share the experience with my kids. I told them the setup would be unusual. We did the warm-ups I’d seen from the level 1 class, and then set up for a role play. I put out three chairs as our presenter had done, and the students suggested situations. Their voting led to our using “couple therapy.” Our St. Petersburg couple (the only couple) sat down next to each other and another student offered to be the counselor.

The presenter had told us that first he would ask general questions of the players in the drama: how old they were, where they lived, and so on. I asked the “counselor” how long she had been working in the clinic, and where the clinic was. She explained she’d been working there two years, and that the clinic was in a small house in a park. Then I asked the other two students questions.

The rest of the class was divided into support groups for the students in the role play. They sat behind the person they were supporting. If I asked a question that the players couldn’t answer or couldn’t think of an answer to give, the support groups helped. These kids, raised on a diet of TPRS, were ready to play the game, and it developed at about the same rate as a story and pretty much in the same way, except that the individuals in the game had to keep thinking and listening so as to adapt their own answers. (At one point, two of the support members literally ran across the room to grab books in which they’d seen useful retorts. I might have to outlaw that practice to make them use words they have acquired.)

We ran out of time before the counselor could ask more than one question. She came up afterward and said that she didn’t know many questions that she could ask. We agreed that the questions she’d like to be able to ask are questions that friends also often ask one another, and that they would be helpful for real connections with Russians. I started to see how this method is student-driven.

I wrote up a report of the situation to date for the class to read tomorrow. I think that’s what the presenter said they do. He had also said something about keeping a list of the vocabulary for students.

The next phase, once we play out the questions just a little more, is to turn the three groups into strategy sessions. The students are to plan out more what they will say (and how to say it). I am supposed to wander around the groups and help them as needed. Then I will write the whole thing up again for them to read.

I wish there was more information on the website than the brief examples that they give. As a program, PDL level 2 seems to be heavily based on output, but my advanced class had a lot of fun with my understanding of it today. I did do a lot of supporting during my questioning time, and I did some reporting back to the class as well as rephrasing. The time flew by, because all the kids were completely engaged in the developing story.

If anyone out there knows more about PDL, or has sites that explain it (for free!), I’d love to have the information.

Martina on using Authentic Resources

Martina Bex is one of the reasons I’m lucky to live in Anchorage. At yesterday’s First Friday TPRS/CI monthly meeting, she practiced the presentation she will make at ACTFL in just a couple of weeks. We were glued to her for over an hour, and would have been for any amount of time because her ideas about how to use authentic resources were creative, while she nailed down the teaching practices that we all need to remember.

Here are two:

-If it’s worth using, it’s worth talking about.

-If the Authentic Resource is for pushing acquisition, the teacher must talk about it in the TL and make the whole process comprehensible. (If the teacher is using the AR for assessment, the questions should be in English to stop false positives and to make sure that the kids understand the assignment.)

Martina shared five different ways to approach Authentic Resources with five different ways to do pre- and post-planning. I was thinking that was plenty to assure staying out of ruts. When Martina demonstrated creating a parallel story, we all came alive. She reminded me why those work in our classrooms. And, just like my kids, I was surprised when her parallel story matched the song that she moved into.

Martina’s handout is up on our AFLA 2013 conference page.

Anyone who wasn’t there…well, sorry. We had great food for our brains AND our stomachs: two kinds of Chinese noodles, halibut chowder, raspberry bread…

I shared a couple of brain break games from a site that I found because of Ben Slavic’s blog. You have to scroll through the entries that sell the book, but there are still plenty of activities. 

ACTFL 2012/research request

I attended a very interesting research session led by Richard Donato and the amazing Judith Liskin-Gasparro yesterday with a number of other TPRS folks here at ACTFL. I’ll tell you more later, but the gist of it was that ACTFL wants to research “high-leverage practices” that can be taught to student teachers to improve our world language classrooms.

The exciting part was that they are looking for practices similar to what TPRS/CI teachers strive to do. Here’s a link to Richard Donato’s Startalk powerpoint about what we need to be doing in our classrooms. I think you’ll find that TPRS teachers are in tune with him!

Return to ACTFL guidelines

I spent about an hour last night looking at the new ACTFL proficiency page as I contemplated how to write rubrics for my kids that would measure where they were falling in speaking and writing.

In the middle of the night, I remembered that Nathan and I had collaborated on some documents, and I just now found them, in the December 21 and 22, 2010, posts here. The first does a quick overview of what the proficiency levels mean. I am pretty sure that the recent ACTFL changes don’t affect that overview, since we made it only up to Advanced Low.

The second document compares each level with how TPRS methods can help students reach to the next one.

It’s important to remember that students must be able to do what the document says in at least five different thematic areas; talking, reading, or writing, for instance, about families, school, daily routines, their town, and their hobbies. Up until Intermediate High, the topics are largely self-centered.

So now I want to go back to seeing whether I can create some rubrics with which I will be able to mark at which level they are operating. As we discussed earlier here, it’s likely they won’t be moving more than one level in a year, and it might take two years, so I don’t really want to have students stressing over whether they’re moving up levels on the rubric.

Hmm…maybe it’s better to go back to the ones I’ve created (and that show up here from other people) in the past. I think I put things like “speaking is at appropriate level for instruction.”

It was enlightening to go to “Categories” on the right sidebar and choose “Assessments.” We’ve shared enough different rubrics here that I shouldn’t need any more. On the other hand, I can get better and more streamlined. With up to four levels in one class period, I do need to be able to show the kids that I’m differentiating.

Chewing on the ACTFL modes

Just back from a camping trip (the canoe didn’t capsize with three kids on board–success!) and I’m using this space today to work through a couple thoughts I had in between swatting mosquitoes.

There’s been a fair amount of discussion recently on Ben’s blog about the need to develop solid rubrics for evaluating language, but in moving away from the four modalities (reading, writing, speaking, listening) towards the three modes of communication (interpersonal, interpretive and presentational) as espoused by ACTFL.  I admit that I am not really as familiar with these as I ought, so I looked up what the ACTFL website said about them in its FAQ section (  and found the following:

3. What is meant by the headings Interpersonal, Interpretive and Presentational?

They are the Communication Modes that are a direct tie to Standards. They provide a redefining organizing principle, and an enriched view of language that reflects real communication. The Interpersonal Mode is characterized by the active negotiation of meaning among individuals. Participants observe and monitor one another to see how their meanings and intentions are being communicated. Adjustments and clarifications can be made accordingly. The Interpretive Mode focuses on the appropriate cultural interpretation of meanings that occur in written and spoken form where there is no recourse to the active negotiation of meaning with the writer or the speaker. The Presentational Mode refers to the creation of oral and written messages in a manner that facilitates interpretation by members of the other culture where no direct opportunity for the active negotiation of meaning between members of the two cultures exists.

For myself, I’m trying to map out situations where each of these come into play.  What’s the point of having a rubric when I don’t know when to use it?

The presentational mode is perhaps the easiest to recognize because it is the most traditional.  This crops up where students might be giving a report on what the class mascot did over the weekend, telling a picture story their group came up with, marching through a PowerPoint they created on a three day tour of Germany.  These types of interactions happen for me much more frequently in my upper level classes than my lower levels, obviously, but even story retells could qualify as presentational.

Interpretive (moving backwards through the list) then crop up more in a situation such as reading a novel or watching a film.  The key phrase from the blurb here seems to be in figuring out “the appropriate cultural interpretation” of a given text.  So here students are supposed to not only comprehend a text, but interpret it according to the cultural strands embedded in it.

One aspect of TPRS is that I find myself focused often upon the developed “classroom culture” of my students more than the target culture (in my case of Germany, Switzerland or Austria). I work to intermingle these, of course, but I’m personally not committed to making the relative target cultural appropriateness the horse that pulls this given buggy in my classroom. The texts we use and generate often arise out of the classroom culture rather than the target culture, at least up until we get into my German III/IV class, so I think this cultural aspect would need some flexibility.

So when would this crop up?  After we watch a film or read a text, primarily, “where there is no recourse to the active negotiation of meaning with the writer or the speaker.”   So my rubric then would need to capture how well they not only comprehend a given text, but how well they can pick out the cultural strands that comprise it?

The problem is, I want my students to actively renegotiate a given text I give them, not just interpret it.  I want parallel stories.  I want students to rework the characters and rewrite endings.  I want to riff on what a given text gives us.  Yes, we aren’t talking directly to the writer or speaker, but for me the bulk of the time what would fall under interpretation is a launching pad more than the destination.

But isn’t an alternate interpretation a form of interpretation?  Can’t I demonstrate how my students understand a story through the ways in which they alter it, recognize what is essential and what is discardable?  How in the world would I write a rubric to capture that?

I get what the original ACTFL standard is poking at here: they want me to dissect a story and lay its organs out on a clean white sheet for classification.  I don’t teach that type of class, though.  To extend the metaphor a bit, I’m much less of a med school doctor than I am a Dr. Frankenstein who prefers to replace and reanimate the component parts of a given story to give it some additional kick.  Don’t mad scientists get rubrics too?

Hmm.  Chewing on this some more.  I’ll get to intercultural down the road a bit.

Where they are

After my student’s question yesterday about whether conversation is what we usually do with the AP group, I realize that it really would be good to sit down with the kids in level 2 and up and discuss where I see them on the ACTFL scale. At the last AEIN discussion, Nathan said that he does that with each kid above level 1 a couple times a year. I can suddenly see that it would be a really good idea. That would give us a one-on-one talk and be a motivating factor in where they’re headed. I did an overall look with the whole class at the beginning of the year, and now I think that was the wrong way to do it. I can’t believe we’re already almost at the end of our year, but now I plan to do this individually with the kids.

Here are those ACTFL scale documents: No. 1, and No. 2.

Recognizing ACTFL levels

This is the second of the two documents Nathan and I worked on. I’m posting the .doc form so that you can edit with your target language’s complex sentence conjunctions. This is about as brief as it gets, so refer to the official ACTFL proficiency guidelines if you’re interested. I wanted an easy resource to figure out where kids were and to then remember what we are doing in TPRS to help them reach to the next level. What I understood from doing this was that the reason TPRS works so well for mixed classes is that we are generally offering students at any level the means to reach up, within any TPRS story.

Just so you know, while I took the class that inspired the creating of these tables, Nathan Black organized and reworded them to make sense, and Ben Rifkin corrected my blatant errors.

Recognizing ACTFL Proficiency Levels–revised(2) (click on this link and it will download to your computer)

Overview of ACTFL proficiency guidelines

Last summer, Nathan and I worked on two documents that we thought would be helpful for language teachers. This is the first of the two. I like it because it helps keep me realistic. The descriptions apply to students as they discuss four or five different topic areas–not necessarily ones that they have chosen, but those that they have mentioned as they answer introductory questions of an OPI interviewer.

Having taken the class with Ben Rifkin that inspired these notes, I realized how helpful it would be to keep learning more about the ACTFL standards and the requirements for the OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview). I’m curious to know whether this document is helpful for others.

ACTFL Proficiency Level Overview–revised (click on this link and it will download to your computer)

Freewrites and FVR

From Nathan:

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.