Those of us who are truly striving to be practitioners of proficiency based instruction try to be careful to avoid making our focus "just getting things done." There are so many things we think about that influence what we do from one day to the next. Lesson planning for this type of instruction is not always easy because I can't make weeks of plans in advance, run my copies and then just arrive and teach. I have to constantly monitor the language my students are producing like a chef would keep his eye on a dish he is preparing. This careful watch is vital because the primary indicator for what next focus point is should be students' language production. So, when I plan lessons, I usually plan for a week, but I leave myself lots and lots of wiggle room for adjustments. I am not just teaching a list of necessary content to push students into our doors and out again. There is a set of very specific outcomes I am aiming for and not all of them come at the same time. Add to that, each students' proficiency develops at a different rate, so I have lots of little pots to get to boil and all the temperatures vary! YIKES!
So, how do I keep all the things that matter in mind? I have some questions that I ask myself when I am assessing my students, both informally and formally. They are based on the ACTFL Performance Indicators and Proficiency Guidelines and they help me think about the type of language my students are producing and what I need to incorporate into the practice I design to help push their proficiency rather than just cover content.
- What kind of text are they producing? Word, phrase, sentences, strings of sentences or paragraphs?
- What do their sentences look like? Does their structure vary or are they cookie cutter?
- Are they connecting sentences together? How and with what?
- How well are they connecting with the context I am teaching?
- Are they personalizing it in anyway?
- Are they asking questions?
- What kinds of questions are they asking?
- Are they listening to each other?
- Which verbs are they using? Are they using a variety or are they sticking to one or two?
- Is what they are saying revealing who they are or what their personality is like?
- Are they speaking / writing in ways that mimic how they would in their first language?
- What vocabulary are they using?
- Do they use a variety of the words we are currently working on or are they focused on a few basic words?
- What other vocabulary group(s) are they incorporating into this production?
- What's missing from the language they are producing right now?
- Are the mistakes they are making based on their taking risks or their having gaps in their knowledge?
- When they find they have reached the limits to their ability to communicate what do they do? Shut down or use circumlocution?
These are just some of the questions that I value and that I use to help guide what I include in the practices I create for my students. While I am teaching only level 1 right now, I have to constantly be mindful of more than Novice level production. I have to continually look at the Intermediate and Advanced level performance descriptors to help me set goals for where my students are going as a whole group, but also where I should direct my students to go next in their own proficiency development. These questions help me tremendously with the kind of feedback I provide students. Sometimes I choose one or two of these questions to be the foundation for the practice for that particular day. In fact, questions like these are the basis for some of the best practices you can design for your students.
What I have learned from being in a district whose entire program is highly developed and improving all the time is that the content we teach is only related to contexts, not necessarily to hard core proficiency goals. The contexts we provide our students do extend the opportunities students have for communicating, but the true focus is on the type of language we want them to produce. Language type (text type) does not develop by teaching a certain set of verbs that all do a certain thing (ie: stem changing verbs or reflexive verbs), but through our students' abilities to take smaller chunks of language and connect them to create longer, more personalized thoughts they share with others. THIS is the job we have that lurks behind the textbook, novels and curriculum, and it is probably the most important of all if we truly want the results we claim to.
Happy Coaching, friends!