Sometimes it is hard to determine where the students truly are in terms of proficiency. I am currently implementing a change in my curriculum from a traditional textbook-based one to a communicative one based on high frequency vocabulary and grammar forms. I use storytelling in class and I ask students lots of questions and they generally understand all the things that I’m saying.
For assessments, I have the students do several different types of things. for example, I have students write their own stories, rewrite stories they have heard in class, retell stories in English and Spanish (depending on confidence level), and draw comic strips of the stories that we have heard or read in class. Upon reflection, most of these assessments are very good at showing how well the students comprehend the language we use in class, but I’m not so convinced that they have great control over the language to use it on their own. Their stories are based on stories we have done in class, so it’s safe to say that they are just copying some of the forms and story structures and rewriting them. In other words, if they didn’t have the old stories to fall back on, I’m not convinced they could come up with the stories on their own. This is a challenge that I am going to face in the second trimester (which started yesterday) and I will keep you updated as I go.
Proof of Ability (in other words, Assessment)
In my search for authentic assessments that show students’ true levels of confidence and control of the language, I have been able to find one that is pretty accurate: Hallway Conversations. All I do is talk to the kids in Spanish outside of the classroom setting. It seems simple, but the way I see it, if the students are able to interact with me in Spanish outside the classroom, then I must be doing a pretty good job. And it works for all levels, K-8!
In my experience over the last few years, when I have spoken to students in Spanish outside the classroom, I got a range of reactions that went from blank stare to deep concentration while trying to remember how to respond to “hola” or “buenos días.”
Currently, though, things have improved. Students can generally answer when I say something to them in Spanish. Some of the more confident ones will even say things like hola, buenos días, or cómo estás to me without prompting. CI has built the students’ confidence outside the classroom. If that’s not a gleaming endorsement for teachers to use CI instead of (or along with, I won’t discriminate) grammar-based methods, I don’t know what is.
Building Student Rapport
Hallway Conversations have another, even more important benefit. Sure, they let me know (informally) who is feeling confident in using Spanish, but they also help to build rapport. The students feel confidence because they are able to communicate in Spanish. They feel a self-esteem boost because they have a teacher who is willing to meet them half way in their language. I never correct or tell them they are doing it wrong. That’s not the purpose of the activity. I just want to know how they are doing.
Only the Beginning
This promising development is one of hopefully many more that I will be able to implement that will show where they truly are in their ability to use Spanish in real world situations. I will be implementing speaking and writing rubrics that are much more formal and proficiency-based than I have ever used before. I will be drowning in data about the students’ proficiency (in a good way!). I don’t currently know definitely where each student is in their proficiency journey. I have a general idea about each one, but there is no direct evidence.
Now that the kids are starting to feel confident, it’s time to get more formalized with my assessments; it’s time to help them to branch out and reach the next level.