Thoughts on the STAMP 4s Assessment

So, I recently had the opportunity to administer the STAMP 4s proficiency test to a small group of my students across levels 2-AP (which is level five). I’ve always wanted to administer a proficiency assessment to my students but wasn’t sure if/when I’d get the chance, until my colleague and I got into a rather, ahem – shall we say spirited discussion of proficiency levels and what students could do at each (and that a French 1 student is probably not a reliable Intermediate Low). Our curriculum coordinator gave us permission to test 5 random (key word – random) students in levels 2, 3, 4 and AP. Because we wanted our data before our district-wide meeting that’s taking place tomorrow (March 15), we decided not to test French 1 until the end of the year. I’m not teaching French 1 this year, so that was fine by me.

Our district provided the funding for us to test our students – our ISD subsidizes some of the cost so it was only $10/student and our curriculum department took care of that.

The Test

The STAMP assessment has two sections – Reading & Writing and Listening & Speaking. You have to complete either reading or listening to do the output sections; it’s not an option to just do writing and speaking. The test is adaptive, so the reading and listening samples get harder the better a student performs. Their results on the interpretive section of the test also determine what kind of prompts they receive for the writing and speaking (three prompts each).

The Setup

The test is administered via computer. I have a laptop cart in my room for 1:1 use, so I had our tech specialist re-image and update the computers to make sure they met the tech specs for the test. Our department also has 30 headphone/microphone combo sets, so I made sure to have those on hand for the listening and speaking portions of the test.

Prior to administering the test, I used the index cards I have for cold-calling on students to randomly select 5 students per level. I offered them an extra-credit incentive to take the test (plus, they were excused from that day’s classwork).

Giving the test

On the website, it says that the interpretive sections of the test should take about 40-45 minutes, and the speaking and writing sections about 20-25 minutes each. So I planned to do two days of testing one week, and two days of testing a second week. The assessment can be stopped and resumed at any point – even in the middle of a section.

I have a large classroom, so I set up my test takers on one side and administered class normally on the other. It seemed to work just fine that way. We experienced a few technological issues, but nothing that switching a set of headphones or getting a new laptop couldn’t fix.

I planned the administration of the test around our Charity Week, which was the first full week in February; nothing big gets done that week in terms of instruction because there are so many interruptions, so I figured it was ample time to get the test done and over with before our March 15th deadline.

Reflections on testing

You guys. This test took FOR. EV. ER.

As in, I started in the first full week of February and I STILL have some students who haven’t finished. It is THAT MUCH of a time suck. I finally had to let it go – what’s done is done and their results are their results on whatever parts of the test they took. Seriously, the students taking the test were starting to miss so much class material that it became frustrating for me and them. I guess because of the adaptive nature of the test, it just naturally becomes more long but after 180 minutes of testing, the software quits recording exactly how much time was spent on it and just says “180+ minutes.” Time does not factor into their score, and neither the speaker nor writing portions are timed, so a student can very easily plan what they are going to write/say in response to the prompt. Recordings can also be re-done if students are not satisfied with their first attempt. In that way, I would say that it is much less of a proficiency assessment and far more of a performance assessment due to the processing time allowed and the lack of interpersonal interaction/negotiation of meaning.

The Results

Despite the enormous time commitment of the assessment, I have been so far very pleased with the results. Across all levels, students performed very well in reading, with an average score of 6 (Intermediate High) even in level 2; the highest score for reading was an 8 (Advanced Mid) by one of my AP students. Listening tended to vary wildly across the board, with some students earning scores as high as a 7 (Advanced Low) in AP and as low as a 2 (Novice Mid) in French 3.

In terms of writing and speaking, the majority of my students performed exactly as I thought they would, if a bit lower in some cases. For example, I have a student in French 2 who performs very well on in-class assignments and assessments who scored a 2 on writing (Novice Mid) and a 3 on speaking (Novice High), and a French 3 student who I thought for sure would be well into Intermediate got a 3 (Novice High) on speaking. That being said, the VAST majority of my students were in Intermediate range, with many scores of 4 (Intermediate Low) and 5 (Intermediate Mid) on speaking and writing across levels 2-AP. I had a smattering of 6s (Intermediate High) in speaking/writing for my AP students (and even one French 4 student). No one scored higher than a 6 (Intermediate High) on the speaking portion, which to me proves the point that an immersive study abroad experience really is required to get students over that hump into the Advanced proficiency range.

 

 

 

Micro-unit: Les partis politiques français

 

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In an effort to expose my students to as many cultural topics as possible before the AP test, I did a very quick, brief overview of the French presidential elections and the political parties in France. And I mean very quick. I could (and should) have done a lot more with this concept but I’m feeling a little panicky about the amount of material I have to get through in the next eight weeks so we did a very brief micro-unit so they are at least familiar with the system and the candidates, should anything crop up this year’s test (given that it’s an election year).

I slapped together a brief dossier (this does not include an article I found on 1jour1actu) for this micro-unit; there’s not much in it, it’s more of a guide to help me and keep my students organized.

Day 1: Look at the graphic on the front page of the dossier and brainstorm the major values of French politics; are they similar to or different from our values? How so? Examine the logos on page 2 and try to guess where the parties fall on the left-right spectrum. Watch this video from 1jour1actu: Ca veut dire quoi, droit et gauche en politique? The students then used their devices to go on I Side With and filled out the survey to find out which French politicians/political parties best fit their perspectives on a variety of issues. We culled vocabulary related to politics and political stances during this activity as well.

Day 2: We explored some of the articles from the presidentielle 2012 dossier on 1jour1actu, bearing in mind that the candidates are not currently relevant but the practices and concepts are basically the same. I also cut up the pieces of a document shared by a fellow teacher on the French Teachers in the US Facebook page (thanks, Debbie McCorkle!) that broke down the viewpoints of 13 major French political parties on issues such as the economy, the European Union, immigration, terrorism and the army, and the environment. I put students into pairs and assigned them a political party to be the “expert” on, then they had to share out to their classmates, giving only the essential information before moving on.

Day 3: I did a quick direct lesson (in the TL, of course) on how the French president is elected (le suffrage universel direct), how many elections there are (le premier tour, le deuxième tour) and how long a President is in office in France (5 years). We looked at some of the survey results from Le Figaro regarding current candidate popularity, and then did a Venn Diagram of all of our findings thus far regarding similarities/differences in French and American political parties and processes (days 1-3) I then assigned everyone the identity of a French politician for an in-class “primary” debate.

Day 4: Students researched their candidates’ viewpoints on major political issues (immigration, economy, etc) as well as the viewpoints of 1-2 opposing candidates to prepare for our debate.

Day 5: In-class whole-group role play with me as the moderator. I asked questions about various issues and called on “candidates” at random to express their views and challenge the viewpoints of their “opponents.” We also did a quick AP-style reading from a textbook on the voting process in France.

There you have it! Fast, a little shallow, but still relevant and engaging for my students, particularly since it’s been a year full of politics in the United States.

 

La Manie Musicale de Mars 2017

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It’s that time again: March Madness! For the college basketball fan, March is a huge deal of non-stop games that culminate in the college basketball championship at the end of the month. For the world language teacher, it’s a great opportunity to work more authentic music into any and all levels!

This will be my 3rd round of Musical March Madness, and it is my students’ favorite time of year – and that is no exaggeration. We listen to music pretty regularly regardless, but this is a special occasion that everyone looks forward to during the school year. And, to be completely honest? It also gives me a little bit of a break on having to craft 4 different levels of 50-minute lesson plans during one of the hardest months of the year (for me, anyway). I can take the same activities and use them in every level!

Typically I do a 16-song bracket, but as we have testing in March this year, and I will be absent a couple of days this month for various personal-life things, I’ve reduced it to 12 songs. I picked based on titles and artists that my students have enjoyed listening to over the years – however, the majority are not songs that they’ve heard before.

Please bear in mind that I also teach mostly levels 3, 4 and AP and therefore I feel comfortable choosing songs that have more mature themes. Know your clientele and make the choices that are right for you (and them!).

La Manie Musicale de Mars 2017

Soprano – Barman vs Willy William feat Keen’V – On s’endort

Vianney – Je m’en vais vs Fréro Délavega – Mon petit pays

LEJ – Seine Saint Denis Style vs Coeur de Pirate – Ensemble

Louane – Jeune vs Margaux Avril – Lunatique

Christophe Maé – La Parisienne vs Claudio Capeo – Un homme debout

Black M – Je suis chez moi vs Maitre Gims – Ma beauté

I’m excited to see who the winner is!

January: What I Read

When I was younger, I used to read for pleasure all the time. I had, literally, hundreds of books (still do, probably). I’m not sure why, but I got out of the habit of reading for pleasure while I was in college and didn’t really pick it back up again once I hit the workforce. I realized last year that it kind of bummed me out that I wasn’t reading more, since I think it’s a big part of self-care, so I did the 2016 Popsugar reading challenge and read about 20 books on the list of 40. While I didn’t get all the way through the challenge, I really enjoyed having a goal to meet and categories of books to read (like “a book with a blue cover” or “a book that’s 100 years old”) rather than “Read this exact title” because I could tailor the challenge to my tastes. So in December I decided to do the 2017 Popsugar Reading Challenge and I’d really like to make my total more than 50% this time!

Here’s what I read in January, and how I’m counting it for the challenge.

1. 97 Orchard:97orchardcover.jpg An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman

Challenge category: A book with a subtitle

I’m a big history person (particularly social history, or anything that has to do with real people) and I happened to visit the tenement at 97 Orchard street this summer when I went to New York. I saw this while I was in the gift shop but didn’t buy it, so I decided to pick it up when I saw it at my local library. The book focused less on the actual families than I would have liked (and as it was advertised) and more on the food trends of the demographics to which they belonged. Still, it was interesting to see how people lived (and ate) in turn-of-the-century New York, and how culinary traditions from the “home country” ultimately became our culinary traditions (or have been totally lost since then).

 

2. The Pearlpearl.jpg That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

Challenge category: A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you / A story within a story

This book came highly recommended from a friend of mine and has generally favorable reviews on Goodreads but I was decidedly not a fan. I found it poorly written, poorly edited, and had such little connection to the characters or setting that it could have been a book about anyone, anywhere – not the situation of Muslim women in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Likewise, for all the fuss they made about Rashima being the descendant of a woman who supposedly played a huge role in the King’s palace, she was there for all of about four chapters and didn’t actually accomplish anything or play any kind of significant role at all. Nevertheless, I finished the book and like I said – it seems many of the people who reviewed it on Goodreads enjoyed it, so you can come to your own conclusions!

veldhiv3. Je vous écris du Vel d’Hiv: Les lettres retrouvées by Karen Taieb (preface by Tatiana DeRosnay)

Challenge category: A book of letters

As I mentioned above, I am a HUGE history buff (in fact, it’s my minor) and one of my areas of specialization during my undergrad was France at war in the 20th century. I was fascinated by the story of La Rafle, and how little there was in terms of documentation – almost nothing was left behind, save for a photograph of a buses full of people parked outside of the former Velodrome d’Hiver in Paris. So that Taieb was able to track down 18 letters, written from inside the Vel d’Hiv, and put together the stories of the people who wrote them is, I think, remarkable. Hard to read, but important and so, so necessary. I think there is an English translation available to any non-Francophones who are interested in reading it.

Read anything good lately?

Password

I’m not sure where I originally saw the link, but over the summer I came across a post about class passwords by Bryce Hedstrom and immediately thought to myself, I’ve got to try this! I am quite happy to say that it has been going swimmingly in my 4/AP split. I picked that particular class as a means of introducing and reinforcing more idiomatic language, but it’s definitely something I would consider implementing in my other levels!

I don’t have any particular rhyme or reason to selecting a password; sometimes it has something to do with our current topic of study, but more often than not it doesn’t. Sometimes it’s just a particular quote I found interesting, or a funny proverb.

This year’s passwords so far: I typically make the students use the password in a complete sentence/in context if applicable.

tant pis! (too bad)

quand même (anyways, all the same)

mieux vaut tard que jamais (better late than never)

ça vaut la peine (it’s worth it)

avoir un poil dans la main (literally: to have a hair in one’s hand; idiom for: to be lazy)

à quoi bon…? (what good is…?)

à partir de ce jour (from this day forward)

de plus en plus (more and more)

plus on est de fou, plus on rit (the more, the merrier)

de l’autre côté (on the other hand)

Un sourire coûte moins cher que l’électricité, mais donne autant de lumière. – Abbé Pierre (A smile costs less than electricity, but gives as much light)

la soupe au pistou (vegetable soup; this was borne out of a weird dream I had in which I made this the weekly password and the kids thought it was so funny that they actually wanted to have it as the password for the week. I am NOTORIOUS for having school-related nightmares, so it’s a bit of an in-joke with us)

Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame/Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments distingués (a formal e-mail closing; they’re required to memorize a few for the AP exam, might as well make it a password!)

il n’y a pas de mot de passe (there is no password – I forgot to come up with one, so this became the password)

il s’agit de (it’s about/it concerns – introduced as a way to correct students saying il parle de to relay information from another source)

365 nouvelles journées, 365 nouvelles opportunités (365 new days, 365 new opportunities; this was the password the week we came back from winter break!)

I really like the password not only as a linguistic function, but also as a relationship builder – it gives me and the students something to talk about as they enter the classroom and, as Bryce said in his post, kind of gauge where they are mood wise that day and I can check in with anyone I need to check in with. It’s also fun to hear a student use an old password in a real-life context; like when someone arrives to class tardy, there is always a chorus of “mieux vaut tard que jamais, Mademoiselle!” Or when I grill them a little bit for whining about something silly, “Oui, mais quand même, Mademoiselle!”

I’m always taking suggestions for more passwords, so feel free to share!

 

Professional Development in Vichy, France

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I mentioned briefly in my #authres August: version française post that I had just returned from a 2-week internship at CAVILAM in Vichy, France. I was lucky enough to be one of the 20 teachers nationwide who benefitted from a scholarship to attend this specialized training for French teachers. We were not the only teachers to attend, however – there were hundreds more from all over the world, not to mention the students who come for language learning, DELF/DALF training and other opportunities (though we did not mix with non-teachers in our courses).

The French Embassy in the US offered the scholarship and here’s what they offered:

  • 2 weeks at CAVILAM (registration paid by the Embassy)
  • Lodging in a host family (breakfast and dinner included)
  • Train tickets (round-trip) from Paris to Vichy
  • An allowance of about 225 euros to cover the purchase of books, meals and other incidentals
  •  A $600 reimbursement for the purchase of an international plane ticket

Not a bad deal, am I right?

Each week we chose 2 courses to take, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There were no classes on Wednesday afternoons, as that time was reserved for a seminar featuring a guest speaker (one week we had Tunisian writer Yamen Manai as our guest). Friday mornings there was always a CAVILAM-sponsored breakfast to mingle with professors and other students.

My courses:

I took four courses total from this list, which were:

  • Panorama de la société française en 2016
  • Améliorer les compétences orales et écrites avec TV5Monde et médias
  • Enseigner la langue et la culture dans une démarche culturelle
  • Lexique et grammaire en action

The Good:

  • TWO WEEKS in France on the French government’s dime! Doesn’t get much better than that.
  • An opportunity to collaborate with French teachers from all corners of the globe.
  • Living with a host family; my host family was truly the HIGHLIGHT of my two weeks in Vichy. They were wonderful!!
  • Access to numerous authentic resources – I seriously brought back a folder stuffed to the gills of ready-to-go resources and activities.
  • New teaching strategies! I got to see French teaching through the lense of native speakers, which brought new perspectives and approaches. In particular, I learned some really valuable writing techniques and new ideas for interacting with authentic resources. Exposure to the CECR framework (France’s measure of proficiency) was also really interesting.
  • Generally speaking, the professors didn’t spend a lot of time lecturing; there was a lot of hands-on practice of new ideas and concepts.
  • CAVILAM has a wide variety of cultural activities; every evening there was something going on, from movie nights to afternoon and weekend excursions (day trips to Lyon, Clermont-Ferrand, Rocamadour, wine tasting, sports, food nights, etc).

The Not-So-Good:

  • For being a 2-week intensive program, I had a LOT of free time. I would have appreciated maybe taking 3 courses a week instead of two; but then again, I really like school.
  • Similary to the above note, I felt a little at a disadvantage since the second week we were at CAVILAM also happened to be the week of Bastille Day, which meant a jour férié on that Thursday, so no school. So in addition to not having our afternoon course on Wednesday, we also did not have it on Thursday which meant we didn’t experience the full benefit of taking whatever class we selected and missed some material.
  • It seems that CAVILAM combines courses; the “Lexique et grammaire en action” course was also the “Atelier d’écriture” (or something similar) so both sections ended up getting content we didn’t sign up for, and less of the content we DID sign up for.
  • I encountered a snafu when attempting to get my allowance, which was not really the fault of Campus France but it still was a major inconvenience; I had arrived early to spend a few days in Paris and thus chose to get my allocation the day of my departure from Paris to Vichy, which also happened to be a Sunday. Campus France assured me that the Western Union in question had Sunday hours (a rarity in France) but when I arrived, it was inexplicably closed. This meant I went several days without my promised allocation, and when I did receive it, it was prorated. Boo.
  • CAVILAM has on online “plateforme” that we were expected to sign up for and we were promised that all materials from the courses would be uploaded to the plateforme; some of us experienced that, some of us did not.
  • The cultural activities (namely, the excursions) were sometimes expensive (mais ça vaut la peine).

Overall, would I recommend this opportunity? Absolutely! If you are a teacher who is new to the idea of teaching for proficiency, you will leave with a wealth of knowledge and new ideas for practice. If you aren’t new to the idea of teaching for proficiency, you’ll still get some new ideas and you’ll be able to spend two weeks immersed in the French language and culture with very minimal out-of-pocket expenses.

If the SPCD Vichy training is something you’d like to experience, check out the application requirements at the French Embassy’s website! Bonne chance!

 

 

The Hard Truths

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In 2015, I attended the Ohio Foreign Language Association’s annual conference. I don’t live in Ohio, I live in Michigan, but I really felt that my state’s conference wasn’t offering sessions that aligned to my professional interests. I mean, I’m sure there are some people that get excited by sessions like Strategies for teaching the gerund in French but those people are not me.

That year, Dave Burgess of Teach Like a Pirate fame was the keynote speaker. I thought it was a little weird – Dave doesn’t teach a World Language – but his message really resonated with me. If you’ve never seen Dave present, he is extremely high energy and passionate about hooking his students into the content he teaches. At one point in his message, Dave addressed the fact that people often tell him things like, “What you do is amazing! I could never do that, though – I’m just not that creative.” What Dave said next was like a punch in the gut (I’m paraphrasing here):

“I’m not creative” is a bad excuse and a cop-out to avoid change, because change is hard and uncomfortable.

It’s a materials adoption year in my district and over the last two years, we’ve been talking a LOT about proficiency and what that means. It has not been an easy process. I am not trying to be egotistical at ALL when I say that awareness of proficiency standards (and proficiency-oriented teaching methods) is…limited amongst my colleagues (who are wonderful people and, like all of us, do the best they know how to do). It tends to move in a cycle that looks a little bit like this:

  1. We agree that we want to be a more proficiency-focused department.
  2. We examine the proficiency guidelines and discuss their implications.
  3. We come to a consensus that Novice Mid (or even High) is a reasonable outcome for French 1.
  4. We try to design a level 1 class, but it ends up being based entirely on grammatical targets and say – should we introduce the past tenses at the end of the first year, or very beginning of level 2? And how early should we train them for the AP exam? But the grammar!!
  5. Well, that’s not really the point of proficiency and is probably going to set us up for frustration…
  6. Argument, then repeat from step 1.

So you know what? Like Dave Burgess, I am going to deliver a few hard truths.

Not because I think I have all the answers, or because I want to shame anyone who doesn’t think this way, but because once believed all of these things below to be false until someone else took the time to help my viewpoint evolve.

1. Proficiency is a REAL THING.

Language proficiency is a real thing, even if you personally don’t “believe” in it. When I say that novice mid students (those that are often in level one) cannot reliably speak in complete sentences, that is a fact rooted in DECADES of research by trained professionals. This means that your level one students, if administered a true proficiency test, will MOST LIKELY not use perfect subject-verb agreement, with extra details, in a nicely complete sentence. In the instances that they do exhibit “perfect” grammar, it is likely because they memorized a particular language chunk. Creating with language and sentence-level discourse does not happen reliably until the intermediate stage.

2. If you build it, they will come.

Or, in language educator jargon, if you provide [comprehensible] input, the students will acquireThey will. Even Johnny Boy who never does his homework or brings his textbook to class, or Sally Girl who is afraid to verbally participate in class but who can rock a timed writing. Therefore, conversely, if you don’t provide comprehensible input, your students will not acquire and the age-old paradigm of only the strong (or 4%-ers) survive will probably begin to manifest.

3. You do not need a special aptitude to acquire a second language.

Everyone on earth has acquired a language. EVERY. PERSON. ON. EARTH. How did they acquire a language? Nothing but input from another source (usually mom and dad). So why do so few high school students acquire Spanish (or French, or German, or any other second language)?

Because we stop providing input and start providing “knowledge.” We provide verb endings, stem-changers, DR MRS VANDERTRAMPP and basically a calculus formula for the uses and formation of the subjunctive. The “good at traditional school” kids thrive, and everyone else crashes and burns and drops out after level 2 because it’s “too hard” and now they feel like they’re not good at Spanish (or French, or whatever). And then teachers say the phrase I loathe more than anything – “Well, little Bobby really shouldn’t have been in level two anyway.” To me, that is a Dave Burgess-level cop out. When I hear that, what I hear is I’m only going to accommodate you if you can learn within my comfortable, familiar teaching style and not What can I, the teacher and the content expert, do to make sure that ALL students are successful in my classroom? 

4. Yes, ALL students.

All students who go through your language program should exit with some degree of language proficiency (NOT necessarily explicit knowledge OF a language system). Yes – every student. Even that student who only makes it through level 2. Even the one who never did a single workbook page. Even the one who still insists on saying “J’ai allé” even after you “teach” them the right way to say it (he’s still demonstrating comprehension of the concept, right?). Your AP students should not be the only students who go on to remember and use their French.

5. It’s not about you.

Change is hard. Change is uncomfortable. Change is time consuming, and slow, and frustrating. Teaching is a deeply, deeply personal profession and confronting areas for improvement within ourselves is often an emotional and difficult journey. But at the end of the day, our jobs are not about us; they’re about the kids who rely on us every day. If we want to foster a growth mindset in the youngsters around us, we as teachers NEED to model that growth mindset by making purposeful, intentional attempts to try new things and expand our horizons.

The bottom line is, don’t close yourself off to something that at first seems unfamiliar and strange – embrace it. Use it as an opportunity to discover, to stretch your thinking. It’s the hard truths that make us better than we were before!