ODE Around the State, January 2012

Ryan Wertz and Paula Sondej, ODE World Language Consultants 

OFLA_ryan_wertzPaula Sondej - PhotoAdapting your Classroom to Ohio’s New Learning Standards for K-12 World Languages and the New Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES)

The Ohio Department of Education has proudly unveiled Ohio’s New Learning Standards for K-12 World Languages, and the initial reception has been overwhelmingly positive. The new learning standards continue to embrace a shift from traditional, grammar-oriented methodologies to a communicative and proficiency-based approach to teaching and learning a world language.  At the same time, the state has implemented a new system of teacher evaluation which will provide educators with a richer and more detailed view of their performance, with a focus on specific strengths and opportunities for improvement. The new system relies on two key evaluation components, each weighted at 50 percent: a rating of teacher performance (based on classroom observations and other factors), and a rating of student academic growth.

The new Communication learning standard continues to be organized around the three modes of communication:  Interpretive, Interpersonal and Presentational.  These modes, purposefully appearing in this order, correspond to the way in which language learners process new information. Students engage in reading or listening activities based on authentic sources of new information. Next they engage in interpersonal activities; they discuss the new information, they ask and answer questions and exchange viewpoints. Finally they learn to present their expanded understanding of the initial authentic information to others in a variety of ways.

With its focus on building learners’ oracy and literacy skills, the new Communication learning standard is in alignment with the Common Core ELA (English Language Arts) standards. During the development of this world language standard, considerable attention was given to the demands of the literacy standards contained in the Common Core ELA standards. The Communication standard has elements of the Common Core literacy standards embedded within the interpretive, interpersonal and presentational competencies as well as the process and content statements that underpin them. In essence, this learning standard sets parallel expectations for students in terms of their second language reading and writing outcomes.

The new Cultures learning standard continues to use the familiar organizers of products, practices and perspectives, but in this new document they are much more integrated. Most significantly, this standard requires students to not only gain cultural knowledge but to also communicate in culturally appropriate ways.  It’s no longer enough for them just to know about the target culture; now they must DO something with their knowledge. When used in an integrated fashion with the Communications learning standard, the Cultures standard has great potential for significantly increasing students’ intercultural competence.

Although Connections, Comparisons and Communities are no longer visible as stand-alone standards, be assured they are still very much present and accounted for in the new learning standards! They have been carefully integrated into the Communication and Cultures standards and provide much of the foundation for both. Continue to do all of the great activities you have always done which connect your learners to other disciplines, allow them to make linguistic and cultural comparisons and put them in direct contact with target language communities.

Not only do the new learning standards embrace a shift in methodology, but they also require a shift in assessment. Communicative teaching methods must be coupled with communicative assessment methods. Paper and pencil grammar tests no longer constitute an adequate measure of students’ language proficiency. Integrated performance assessments, or IPAs as they are commonly called, are a type of language assessment that is well-suited for use in communicative classrooms where Ohio’s new world language standards are being implemented. They measure what learners know and can do across all modes and skills in real-life communicative contexts.

To ensure that students are actually able to communicate proficiently in their target languages in culturally appropriate ways, we recommend implementing the following action plan:

1. Become familiar with the updated 2012 ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines.

http://actflproficiencyguidelines2012.org/. For many years, educators struggled with the concept of “fluency” and what it meant.  We were at a loss to adequately describe the continuum of language development. For educators who don’t know what the different stages of language development look like, it is very difficult for them to guide their students’ proficiency growth. These stages of language development have now been described in detail by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) and recently underwent further revision. They give language educators the ability to monitor and describe their students’ language proficiency development as they progress through the novice and intermediate stages of proficiency into the advanced levels and beyond. There are a several ways to accomplish this goal.  We recommend carefully studying the guidelines and examples online, and/or attending an OPI familiarization workshop.

2. Become familiar with the LinguaFolio student self-assessment portfolio tool.

http://www.ncssfl.org/. LinguaFolio is a portfolio assessment instrument designed to support individuals in setting and achieving their goals for learning languages. It includes three components:

  • Biography, where information about a student’s language background and intercultural activities are documented and where the learner self-assessment checklists are located;
  • Dossier, where samples of a student’s work document progress over time; and
  • Passport, where formal qualifications, certificates or diplomas, and achievements are recorded along with a summary of self-assessments that describe competency with different languages.

This three-fold approach, based on the European Language Portfolio, enables language learners of all ages and levels to document their language learning as they move along the continuum towards greater proficiency.

Conveniently, another valid use of this tool is the measurement of students’ overall language proficiency growth. New Student Growth Measures (SGMs) which can measure the growth in students’ overall language proficiency across all modes of communication and skills are required now for the purposes of the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). ODE recommends the use of the learner self-assessment checklists in the tool’s Biography section as one of multiple Student Growth Measures (SGMs). These checklists come in the form of comprehensive sets of “I can” statements across modes and skills which are aligned closely to each of the proficiency levels described in the ACTFL guidelines. Students work under the supervision of their teachers to check off skills as they become able to consistently use them as described by LinguaFolio. Then they upload digital evidence in the Dossier section to corroborate what they tell us they can do in their checklists. As an example of how LinguaFolio can demonstrate student growth, at the beginning of a language course a learner may have marked “I can say hello to a person I do not know.” At the end of the course, that same student might be able to mark (and substantiate with digitally uploaded evidence) the statement “I can introduce myself and others using basic culturally appropriate greetings.” Given that the second “I can statement” requires greater knowledge and skill to complete successfully, this demonstrates quantifiable student growth along the proficiency continuum. National, regional and local LinguaFolio workshops are offered periodically, and online training modules are available to familiarize teachers with LinguaFolio and to assist with its implementation.

3. Use authentic materials in the classroom.

Educators today have ready access to resources from all over the world.  Authentic resources provide the students with the opportunity to comprehend and practice real language examples.  Authentic materials also contain imbedded cultural perspectives that are not present in materials created by English speakers.  If our goal is to produce students who can communicate in the real world, then it is necessary to provide them with opportunities to process authentic materials and then communicate that information to others.  The new Model Curriculum (which is currently under development) will point teachers toward high-quality print and non-print authentic materials in its Instructional Resources section along with a filter tool for educators to use in screening other authentic materials they find for possible use in their classrooms. Organizations like OFLA, ACTFL, NNELL, and others also have lists of instructional resources posted online.

4. Become familiar with and use Integrated Performance Assessments (IPAs) to measure student language proficiency.

Integrated Performance Assessments (IPAs) are comprehensive measures of student language use.  They are the new assessment tools for both AP and IB language programs, and they are ideal for determining student proficiency.  During an IPA, students first are given an interpretive task based on an authentic written or oral text. After building initial understanding through the interpretive task, the students then complete an interpersonal task (e.g., discussion, question and answer session) in the target language to expand their understanding.  Finally, students are asked to complete a presentational task in which they share their prior learning with others via a written or oral presentation. IPAs can be used for both formative and summative purposes and are a valuable part of any language teacher’s assessment repertoire.

5. Use the target language 90% of the time in the classroom.

ACTFL cites this level of language use as providing the amount of comprehensible input that promotes optimal growth in students’ overall language proficiency.  However, for some of us this is a goal that might have to be accomplished gradually.  The teacher must explain his/her rationale for target language usage to students and parents alike.  The teacher must also become proficient with making content comprehensible by using a variety of techniques including the use of visuals, circumlocution, gestures, etc.  Recent ACTFL webinars from the spring of 2012 might provide the best source of professional development training around staying in the target language and ensuring that the input being provided to learners is comprehensible.

6. Write your Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) so that students’ overall language proficiency growth is measured, not vocabulary, grammar and syntax knowledge.

The most frequently asked question among Ohio teachers has to be:  How do I write my SLOs as required by the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES)?  Currently, ODE is rolling out guidelines, conducting training workshops and putting high-quality examples online to help Ohio educators with this work.  Because Ohio’s educational system is characterized by its “local control” nature, ODE can only provide guidance to teachers, administrators and districts on the process.  It is up to educators in local district to write their own SLOs which align with local curricula.  Typing in “student growth measures” in the Search box on the ODE Website will produce a link to many helpful documents and a template for writing high-quality SLOs.  By the time this edition of The Cardinal is released, we are hopeful that an example of a high-quality SLO for world languages will be posted on the ODE Website.

We at the ODE are grateful that the OFLA Board is taking the lead in conducting workshops on the writing of SLOs and identifying high-quality Student Growth Measures (SGMs) for the World Language classroom.  Seriously consider joining presenter Martha Pero at one of her regional workshops for guidance in developing SLOs and measuring student growth according to the best practices endorsed by ODE.

In order to produce students with the language skills necessary to thrive in the global workforce, it is not just advisable that we implement these steps; it is absolutely essential.  Students will be competing for jobs and resources with students who began learning their second (and third!) languages as elementary school youngsters and have the ability to proficiently use these languages to compete in the workplace and to enhance the quality of their lives outside of work.  Our students must be equally prepared and able to use their world language and intercultural skills to confront the challenges of the modern global society – including those challenges that we can’t yet even begin to imagine.

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