Have you ever had an entire class of students perfectly content to sit there and not say a word? You know what I’m talking about. You spent all this time creating the most engaging lesson, a lesson with the things you just know your students love, only to have them sit there with empty expressions on their faces with each attempt you make to connect with them.
I had that class last year. Ugh, I hate even thinking about that fourth grade class. My three other sections of fourth grade would be so much fun to teach. Walk into those classes on any given day and you could find students excitedly participating or conversing with friends. But this class was like pulling teeth to get them to say anything at all.
Out of desperation I decided to do something I had never done before. I planned an entire lesson in English (gasp! I know!) to explain to them the ACTFL proficiency scale.
After describing each of the levels, I explained to them, using the most fourth-grade-friendly language possible, how “scientists have actually studied this! And the only way to move from one level to the next is with practice! You need to practice hearing, reading and even speaking Spanish in order to improve.” Then I asked them to reflect on their own language use and to write down which level they would be in based on their classroom performance. Underneath that, they had to write down which level they thought they needed to show in class in order to “meet expectations” on their report cards.
The results really surprised me for two reasons
- Students were very honest rating themselves. Most knew exactly where they were on the proficiency scale based on their classroom participation.
- Students had no idea what my expectations were. And rightfully so, considering I never outright explained it to them in this way before.
It’s not that it never occurred to me to share what proficiency level I expected my students to have, it’s just that I am I big proponent of 90%+ target language use and couldn’t imagine how to explain this philosophy in a student-friendly way. Finally, having hit a wall with this one fourth grade class and having nothing to lose, we spent the entire day speaking English on this one topic.
The conversation was rich and extremely valuable.
At the end of class, I introduced the students to a new tool we would be using. The language performance ice cream cone!
A quick and easy way for me to track the students’ language performance throughout the week, the performance ice cream cone quickly became a staple in my classroom. Each time a student gave an answer, I simply moved the clothes pin with that student’s name to match their performance. Within a week, my class of reluctant students were now eager to participate. When a student would see me move their name to yellow (I said a phrase), s/he would quickly change their answer, often times adding more detail, so their clip land on green. Before I knew it, my dull class became one of my most exciting ones. Students were more engaged in the lessons and their language was certainly improving!
It was a no brainer to roll this out with my other classes. Now all my students grades 1-5 know about ACTFL’s proficiency scale and what my expectations are.
Since initially introducing the ice cream cone in my one fourth grade class two years ago, I have made a few changes:
- Descriptions of each level are now written in the target language.
- I changed the language a bit. The scoops now say “I used a sentence”, for example, rather than “I said a sentence” so that students can get credit for written language as well.
- Students are expected to keep track of their daily performance in a log kept in their Spanish class folder, which makes it a lot easier for me to keep track of their participation grade!
- I added a cherry on the top for when students add detail to their sentences or use a series of sequential sentenced.
- For days that conversation is happening quickly or students are working in pairs/groups, I hand the students a PostIt note that corresponds to their ice cream level. That allows us to continue the conversation naturally without stopping to move clips. At the end of class they can move their own clip based on the color they received.
- Each month one student is assigned the job of resetting everyone’s clip back to the bottom after each class ends.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you have a method for tracing performance/proficiency in your classroom? How would you build upon, adapt or modify my idea? Let me know in the comments below!