Reflecting on my winding journey along the path to proficiency, I think my big accomplishment this year was to include my students in the process. We spent time defining proficiency levels in the fall, aiming right at our course's proficiency target all year long, and self-assessing writing samples against the levels at midyear and in the spring. Here were my major pitstops on this path:
1. Get a big bulletin board going. I devoted one long wall to the path and defined relevant proficiency targets in student-friendly language. To keep it fun and stay with the "path" metaphor, I put cheap, clunky cars at the lowest levels and fancy, speedy ones at the highest levels. Did anyone notice this but me? Hard to say.
2. Spend a whole class period working in English (which requires spending 9 others 100% in the TL, of course) to define the proficiency levels with students. I followed the Creative Language Class' lesson plan and used their handy cards (see below) for explaining the levels to kids.
Each group of 3 students got 1 card and described our school's beloved Turkey Promenade, writing in that proficiency level. Students enjoyed being told to make spelling errors and such.
Here are examples of student writing for Novice Low (left) and Novice High (below):
I had students read their posters aloud and then asked the rest of the class to assign them a spot on the proficiency path. This gave us a chance to delve into the definitions. As we visited each level in this manner, I asked students if they thought this was a level they'd already been at (and if so, I asked when - for Novice Low, they said September of last year, for example), were at now, or had not yet reached. If their estimations were too ambitious, I asked them if they could say the same thing in French as was written in English. That seemed to help them be more realistic. After class, I created a one-page summary of all their writing labeled by proficiency level, which they kept in their binders as a reference for the rest of the year. I also left up their English posters for a few months so that we could refer to them.
3. Ask students to assign their own work a proficiency level. We do 10-minute fluency counts ("free writes") monthly, and students keep them in a folder in my classroom. In December, I gave out this worksheet in which I described NM, NH, IL, and IM and asked them to check the one that best described their writing. Even then, I knew that my descriptions were far too detailed and sophisticated for students to really understand, much less read fully. Reviewing their assessments, I did not feel that they were basing their choices on my descriptors but rather what they wanted for themselves. What did work, though, was asking kids to look at the next level up and identify 3 changes they'd need to make to get there. I love this idea of having students self-identify what they need to work on, and having them really get specific about what they need to do.
4. Ask 'em again, but better. Last week I created a simpler worksheet again describing the 4 levels I see in my class. Students read through all of their fluency counts from the year and reflected on their progress and current capacities. This time I asked them to actually quote their writing as proof of the proficiency level they'd selected. While some were still off-target, most were quite accurate in their self-assessments. As I reviewed their folders and self-assessments, I was amazed to see how much their sentence complexity and flow improved this year. While most wrote just about as many sentences in 10 minutes in September as they did in June, the length and quality of those sentences were much better.
So that, folks, is one year's journey along the path to proficiency. Traveling along with my students lightened my burden because we shared the responsibility for reaching Intermediate Low together. I never intend to go it alone again.