Jennifer Pike, Oak Hills High School
¡Hola a todos! I am so excited to join the AATSP team as Vice-President for the 2014-2016 term! I teach at Oak Hills High School, in a suburb of Cincinnati, and am gearing up for my 5th year in the classroom. Before I began teaching, I was actually in the design field (architecture and interior design), but knew that being a world language educator was my true calling (and surprisingly enough, I use my design training daily within my classroom instruction!). Besides teaching Spanish, I also volunteer as an ESL/EFL teacher in a variety of settings and spend part of my summers working at the University of Antioquia in Medellín, Colombia. I am currently finishing up my master’s in Applied Linguistics and hope to continue to the doctoral level next year. After attending ACTFL’s Proficiency Assessments Summer Institute at BYU this summer, I’m also actively working towards tester certification in both Spanish and English. I look forward to meeting and collaborating with Spanish teachers throughout the state and seeing how we can work together to help our students become proficient in Spanish!
This summer I combined professional development with vacation by attending ACTFL’s Proficiency Assessments Summer Institute in scenic Provo, Utah. This was the inaugural summer for the institute and I found the collaborative efforts of ACTFL and Brigham Young University astounding. The training was held June 17-20th, and each of the four days was flawlessly structured to take us from having a ‘novice’ to ‘superior’ understanding of ACTFL’s Proficiency Guidelines and how they are used to determine a language learner’s functional language ability through the administration of an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI). Although the OPI uses a highly standardized structure in order to elicit sufficient evidence from the test takers, each OPI is completely unique as it revolves around their unique interests and abilities. What makes this assessment stand out even further from other standardized language tests is what it assesses. Functional language ability is what a person can actually do in the language. Rather than evaluate their grammatical accuracy, vocabulary retention or cultural knowledge, it seeks to find out how the interviewee can communicate in the language, whether it be conveying basic personal informational, talking about simple situations or those with a complication, or hypothesizing and discussing abstract ideas at length. This is one assessment where teaching to the test is actually a good thing!
If you have previously read the 2012 Proficiency Guidelines and still find yourself struggling to understand the differences between some of the levels, I cannot recommend this training enough. Once you observe an OPI, the differences become much more obvious. Having a better grasp on these subtleties (especially between the sublevels) will improve your classroom instruction significantly by: (1) enabling you to better identify students’ current proficiency levels; (2) target their individual areas of strength and weakness in order to tailor your instruction to meet student growth targets while (3) simultaneously increasing their ability to functionally communicate in the language of study; and (4) help you provide students, parents, and administrators with a more accurate depiction of what it means to be proficient in a language. Many universities throughout the country are beginning to accept the OPI as an alternative to AP scores in terms of granting credit and placing students in upper-level courses. If you choose to pursue tester certification after the training, you could offer advisory OPIs (which could then be validated as official ratings) to your upper-level students and begin laying the foundations for a proficiency-based program at your school. Even if you don’t think you’ll be able to make it to the institute next summer, I recommend that everyone go to actflproficiencyguidelines2012.org and read through each level of the guidelines of the language you teach. Listen to all of the audio samples and refer back to the guidelines constantly in order to better grasp what the guidelines sound like in context. It should help you develop a better understanding of their subtle differences. ACTFL also offers Webinars that discuss instructional methods and activities to help push students to the next proficiency level. Check them out at actfl.org, then select Assessment & PD and then Archived Webinars from the drop down menu.