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BB7 TL use flower-887443_1280

More TL in class is tough. Let’s do it anyway. (BlackBox)

flower-887443_1280When I tell you that the topic of this episode of the Musicuentos Black Box videocast is an article entitled “Overcoming Resistance to 90% Target Language Use” you probably think what I thought, that it was about getting your students on board with everyone speaking more TL in the classroom.  You’ll learn something about that here as well, but the main point isn’t helping the students feel better about TL use, it’s about helping us, the teachers, overcome the objections and obstacles we have to using more target language in the classroom.

Except fatigue.  If you find an answer to that one, Albert, please let me know.

Click the video below to watch Albert Fernandez walk you through this article and help you figure out where use of the L1 creeps into our classrooms, and how to kick it back out when needed.

BB7 TL use

The Musicuentos Black Box is a collection of media resources intended to bridge the gap between Second Language Acquisition research and teacher practice in the classroom.  For more information about the project, including information on how you can help keep this resource freely available to teachers everywhere, visit the Black Box page.

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October 3, 2015 0 Comments

A conference in sound bytes: 6 quotes from KWLA ’15

One of the best parts of KWLA: I got to sit down and chat for a few minutes or for an hour with some of the wisest people in our profession.

(E.g.: ACTFL president Jacque VanHouten, ACTFL TOY Nicole Naditz, NNELL president Nadine Jacobsen-MacLean, Learning Shifts guru Thomas Sauer, TFLTA incoming president Julie Golden, KY-AATSP TOY Jennifer Larson, as well as other leaders like Susann Davis and Randy Barrette and rockstar teachers in the trenches like Lucas Gravitt, Katie Aebersold, María Mas-Effler, so many more.)

Worst part of KWLA: I spent so much time chatting with amazing people that I didn’t get to attend sessions by other amazing people.  Confession: I was only able to attend one other regular session (the one on MovieTalk by Sarah Moran and Donna Tatum-Johns, also very influential master teachers on my personal practice).

So, I will share six quotes I don’t want to forget from KWLA.  Well, don’t take them all as exact quotes.  But here’s the gist.

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Thanks for the learning – and the coffee – everyone.

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September 29, 2015 0 Comments

The Best Laid Plans (KWLA ’15)

Given how long Thomas Sauer and I have been colleagues and friends, I can’t believe we haven’t presented together before.  Well, we fixed that on Saturday and presented a 3-hour workshop on effective lesson planning.

Two things:

1. Three hours was not enough.

2. I learned at least as much from Thomas as anyone there learned from me, I can tell you that!

Before I give you the SlideShare from the presentation, I’ll tell you it’s very basic and was intended the way good slides are – to be a guide for us as the presenters and a starting point for discussions for the participants.  You’ll find more questions than answers in it.  What you really want to see is this Google Drive document, where we’ve linked to our favorite lesson planning resources and given participants – and you – a place to share your most effective lesson plans.  Caveat: we didn’t have more than 10-15 minutes at the end for participants to work on part 3 of their lesson plans, which is the meaty part – the “this is what I’m going to say and do” part.  So we’re hopeful that they’ll finish their plans and add them, and that you’ll contribute some too.

And one more note – you will not want to miss this at Central States in Ohio next spring. But don’t take just my word for it.

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September 28, 2015 0 Comments

Cultura y Comunicación con Comerciales (KWLA ’15)

¿Cómo y por qué usamos comerciales en la clase de español?  Porque ofrecen cultura, una fuente auténtica para practicar la comprensión auditiva, estructuras útiles para mejorar el dominio del idioma y no son muy largos para agotar a los estudiantes con mucho contenido incomprensible.  Aquí les doy las diapositivas de mi presentación para KWLA 2015.

Se refieren a este documento, donde se encuentran los guiones e ideas para muchos comerciales.

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September 25, 2015 2 Comments

Novice description with a deep cultural AP twist

Who are the most beautiful of the beautiful?

Where is your student in the 2014 cover?

Let’s take a basic novice skill that we all have in all our curricula:

I can describe someone using common adjectives.

Note the variety in what’s “beautiful” on the 2015 cover.

We’ve all seen and done a million activities to get students practicing description.  Today, let me offer another alternative, one that offers a deep, critical-thinking aspect to this Can Do statement and brings an AP theme (Beauty and Aesthetics) down to your Spanish 1 class.

People Magazine annually dares to don the right to define who are the most beautiful people in the world, and we breathlessly offer them that right as we eagerly sacrifice our self-esteem on the altar of “if only.”

As your students practice using physically descriptive adjectives, what if you asked them to take a look at the “most beautiful of the most beautiful” – the 24 people who have been elected to People’s list of Latino/a beauties five or more times?  What if you asked them to make a list of possible adjectives and check off the ones that describe each “beauty”?  Where would the check marks fall?

  • Blonde? Dyed? (You betcha.)
  • Indigenous? (Not one.)
  • Black? (No way.)
  • What about by gender? The darkest by far are male: Luis Fonsi and Shalim Ortiz are as dark as the most beautiful are allowed to come.
  • Eye color?
  • White, relatively? (Of course.)
  • Thin? (You know the answer to that one.)

2010 cover. I am not making this up.

Asking for the description is the easy part.  Asking why and then what to do about it – now there’s the real question. But at the end of such an exercise, students will certainly have a better idea about what Latina girls and Latino boys are being told is beautiful.  And then? What about comparing the rankings with the U.S. English versions?  With what Lupita Nyong’o has to say about her journey to the top?

Asking tough questions in low novice classes – that’s a challenge.  But here’s one that fits and is worth the asking.

And then Thomas Sauer comes along and asks me a question that gets me thinking:

I wonder if the problem is the original learning target. What if the question was embedded there?

In that light, I wonder if we could embed cultural, critical thinking in all our Can Do statements, even the Novice ones:

I can list characteristics of a person People en Español would consider the most beautiful and of a person I would consider the most beautiful.

How’s that for turning a Novice Can Do on its head?

Seriously. Do they have a *template* they’re using? (TC Candler)

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September 23, 2015 4 Comments

See you this year? Conferences & Camp Musicuentos 2016

Meeting many of you during school visits, conferences, and workshops is one of my favorite aspects of what I do!  Will I see you at any of these events this year? If not – or if so! – will I meet you at Camp Musicuentos next summer? Read on!

KWLA ’15 – September 25-26, Louisville, KY

It’s always a privilege and a pleasure to participate in my home conference, the fall conference of the Kentucky World Language Association.  This year we’re welcoming the conference back to Louisville.  Honestly, I have greatly enjoyed the Lexington venue for the past several years, and I’m not sure how I’ll like the switch back to my hometown.  I always enjoy a conference more if I stay with attendees at the conference hotel, but I can’t exactly justify a hotel expense in my own city, right?  On the other hand, the last time KWLA’s fall conference was in Louisville it was my first year here and my first year with KWLA and it was a momentous weekend that turned my teaching journey in a much more positive direction- the cuentos part of Musicuentos.  And I made friends I look forward to seeing again every year when I go back.  Here’s my presentation lineup for this conference, which is (gulp) next week!

Cultura y Comunicación con Comerciales

This presentation is my first time presenting in the target language (why didn’t I think of that before?).  I chose a topic that made sense to present in the target language, as the majority of material offered in this presentation isn’t particularly useful to teachers of languages other than Spanish.  This project was born almost four years ago when I started putting commercial scripts online and asked for other teachers to help me find them, script them, and brainstorm cultural awareness and critical thinking activities to go along with them.  I’ll be talking through how to find and choose an appropriate commercial and get kids communicating with accompanying activities.  I also hope to be enlisting more teachers to join and expand the project.  And I’ll be giving lots of shout-outs to Kara Jacobs and the great work she’s put into using commercials.

Though, if you teach another language, you really should start a collaborative project of teachers of your language curating and brainstorming through authentic commercials you could use in your classrooms! Let me know about it and I’ll spread the word.

The Best Laid Plans

I’m privileged to facilitate this three-hour workshop on effective lesson planning with Thomas Sauer, a longtime friend and mentor.  We’ll discuss developing a lesson plan template that works for you, transitions, administrivia, effective targets, choosing the right activities, and the burning desire of every teacher in every classroom: streamlining and speeding up the lesson planning process.

TFLA ’15 – October 15-17, Houston, TX

This will be my first time as a guest presenter at the fall conference of the Texas Foreign Language Association.   I can’t wait to reconnect with my good friends Amy Lenord and the Creative Language Class bloggers – also from Louisville, though Kara has deserted us- Kara Parker and Megan Johnson-Smith.  I’ve got a full schedule in Houston!

Twitter 101 for World Language Teachers

Amy Lenord and John Cadena are joining me to talk about #langchat and how Twitter can be the PLN every teacher has always wanted: the one that’s there whenever you need it, and that you can turn off when you just don’t have the time!

Textbook as an AID: Adapt, Incorporate, Ditch

A prevailing message I hear “progressive” world language pedagogy these days is that all content in all textbooks is bad, and if you’re not creative enough to go it without one, your students will not succeed.  It’s true that a great percentage of the organization and practice in textbooks is artificial and out-of-date, but it isn’t practical and it’s a defeating message to tell teachers that they must ditch it or else face the no-proficiency consequences.  In this three-hour workshop want to encourage teachers to take a more balanced view, a three-pronged approach I call AID: look at the content, evaluate it by sound principles, and decide whether to incorporate it as-is, adapt it to something more proficiency-boosting, or ditch it, if it’s simply hopeless.

Mejor Comunicación con el Cuento Muy Cool

This will be a Spanish-language session (presented twice at the conference) on how any teacher can use simple cartooning, patterning of targets, and student interests to use storytelling to powerfully engage students with comprehensible input.

Goldilocks and the Three Authentic Resources

Should we incorporate more authentic resources? Yes.  Even from the beginning? Yes. But not all authentic resources are created equal. To maximize their benefit for language acquisition, they need to be comprehensible and targeted.  I’ll be discussing how to find and evaluate an authentic resource to determine if it is too hard, too boring, or just right.

ACTFL 2015 – November 20-22, San Diego, CA

The national conference was a blast last year and I’m thrilled to be returning this year, and even more so because it will be my first visit to California.  I’m collaborating on three presentations this year, including the presentation on #langchat and these two others:

Goldilocks and the Three Authentic Resources

Meriwynn Mansori and Heather Witten, two colleagues on the project I work on with VIF International, will be working with me to bring this session to San Diego to help teachers find and choose authentic resources that are not too hard, not too boring, but just right.

Linguacafé: We need to talk…

Quick background: In the Mecca of world langauge teaching that I didn’t know Louisville was, once upon a time Nadine Jacobsen-McLean taught over 600 students every week at a JCPS elementary school.  When my school dropped me into elementary school when all my training was in secondary, I knew I needed help, and Thomas Sauer connected me with Nadine to observe her for an afternoon.  I can’t describe how much that one visit did for my elementary teaching experience.  One idea that has continued to foster communicative skills in my early language learners was Linguacafé, a short period of time in every class when students mingle around the room practicing the conversations they know in Spanish.  We have the worst time slot ever at ACTFL, 11:15 on Sunday, but I’m thankful Nadine’s letting me join her on this presentation to add my experiences with her amazing idea, and I hope you’ll stick around the conference for it.  You won’t regret it.


Hooray for the Central States Conference coming back closer to me!  This is one of my favorites.  I’ve been to four of the last six CSCTFL conferences and I’ll be back in Columbus this year, and very, very busy.

Arming Students for a World of Incomprehensible Input

This is an AllStar session from CSCTFL ’15 that I will be repeating.  It offers research-based suggestions to teach students from even early levels to use circumlocution as a critical strategy to make incomprehensible input comprehensible.

The Best Laid Plans

Thomas Sauer and I will be repeating this session on lesson planning at CSCTFL.

Social Media: The PLN You Always Wanted

My fellow #langchat moderators Amy Lenord and Laura Sexton will be helping me present the benefits of social media and #langchat in particular as a professional networking tool.

Effective Storytelling with Cartooning, Consistency, and Cool Content

I can’t wait to team up with Wendy Farabaugh, Camp Musicuentos alum and blogger extraordinaire, for this session, offering examples in Spanish and French.

Camp Musicuentos

Camp Musicuentos 1Camp Musicuentos is an intensive curriculum-planning workshop I run personally.  Participation is limited to 20 participants per day at each site and has filled up quickly both years.  I designed the workshop to try to help you get as much planning done as possible in one or two days so you feel more ready for the school year than ever.

Louisville: We’ll be back at the Hyatt Place Louisville East for the Louisville workshop next year. The dates are June 16 and 17, 2016. The price remains the same this year: $139.00 for one day and $259.00 for both days.  This price includes snack, drinks, and lunch.  Participants will also receive a reduced rate at the hotel if booked enough in advance.  Thursday, June 16 will be most helpful for teachers of novices and Friday, June 17 will be helpful for teachers of intermediate or pre-advanced students.

Northeast: The one-day Northeast workshop will be at the Hilton Garden Inn in Warwick again on Friday, July 29, 2016.  The cost for this workshop is $139.00 for the day and includes snacks, drinks, and lunch.  Participants will also receive a reduced rate at the hotel if booked enough in advance.

North Carolina: Will Camp Musicuentos end up in North Carolina next year? I’m currently evaluating a third site for the workshop, in North or South Carolina.

Interested? If you would like to be notified when registration for a Camp Musicuentos workshop opens before that information is released on the blog, please fill out this form.

Where should Camp Musicuentos go next? I have a goal to run this workshop four times per year and so I have one more location left to choose.  I’m considering for 2017 adding Tucson, Phoenix, Denver, or Oakland.  Sound off in the comments.

School workshops

I’ve enjoyed working already this year (twice) with the great teachers at the Bullis School in Potomac, Maryland, and I’m looking forward to a remote review with the teachers in the New Castle County (DE) Vocational Technical School District in February.  Perhaps I’ll show up soon at a school or conference near you!  If your school, district, or conference is interested in hosting me for curriculum development or review, workshops, or presentations, let me know through the contact form.  To maintain my family priorities I don’t participate in more than four conferences per year and commit to travel no more than once a month, so I have limited availability for the 2015-2016 school year, but feel free to contact me about next year.  I hope to meet you soon.

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September 16, 2015 4 Comments

The taco/sushi talk – visualized!

taco talk iyaIf you’ve enjoyed using – or considered using – the taco talk to help novices and intermediates (and their parents) understand what it means to learn for proficiency, you’ll love this resource.

Many thanks to Iya Nemastil, a Japanese teacher in Ohio, for taking this idea and putting it in a beautifully visualized form. I’m betting you, your students, and parents will love it. Worth printing poster size and posting on the wall?  You bet.

Download the documents on Iya’s website here.

ありがとう, Iya!

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September 7, 2015 0 Comments

These are a few of my favorite things

What items are really perking up the start of your school year?

After a year’s hiatus from being in a classroom with students I can’t tell you how excited I’ve been to explore how to make this new situation (small classes of homeschooled students -ages 6 to 14- meeting with me once a week) work as well as it can for all involved.  Most interestingly, the space where I teach is great but it’s not mine and I have to leave it the way I found it, every week.  So, I asked my amazing colleagues on Twitter for advice and then I hit Target and Office Depot with an exploratory agenda and came away with a lot of ideas to try.  In no particular order, here are the things that I’m loving now three weeks into the school year.

White board tape


Oh, yes, this is a thing, and thank you Scotch.  I about fainted in the aisle at Target.  And speaking of targets, I can write a target of the day on the table. I can write on the table. And leave it in front of them the whole class.  And erase it.  And put something different there next week.  And remove it.  And replace it.


Like I said, I have to leave my room the way I found it every week. This is some thick display board I used to make a question-word display. I put dry-erase tape down the middle and violá, I can change the target question for every lesson. Olé.

Post-it notes


I went Post-It crazy. I got long ones. Regular ones. Tiny ones.  They’re super sticky and they are my #1 low-prep way to get kids out of their chairs.  Write vocab (like an opinion) on the Post-It and put it somewhere in the room and get kids moving to which one is their favorite, which one they agree with, which one is most like them, etc.

Craft sticks

This isn’t my photo, but it’s exactly what I did. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, but I had never tried it.  I always used the Fruit Chooser but honestly, sometimes a little trick like this trumps the digital tool. The kids are loving it.  My younger ones are liking it for a reason I had not thought of – it keeps my bilingual 6-year-old who is in the class from jumping in with all the answers!  I love it because the kids never know who’s coming up next and they can’t think they’re being left out on purpose.

The shower-curtain word wall


Get this – I have never had a word wall.  I had verbs up on the wall several years ago with images and I loved them, but the idea of a word wall has been something I’ve wanted to try for a long time.  So I asked on Twitter, how can I pull off a word wall when I have to leave the room the way I found it?  I got several great suggestions and tried most of them.  I got a display board and hot-glued clothespins to it.  (The words weren’t big enough to be helpful.)  But someone suggested, of all things, a cheap shower curtain.  Bingo!  With the added problem that nothing with any weight will stick to the walls in my room, the shower curtain + sticky tack makes it happen!  I bought a $2 shower curtain from Target and I cut off the magnets and holes for hooks.  Then I cut the curtain in 4 pieces.  I’ve made categories of sorts and we’re adding them as we go along.  It’s working and I love it!

The Speak/Wait sign


This is an idea I got from Carol Gaab a long, long time ago and I don’t know why it took me this long to try it.  She suggested it as a way to allow all learners to process so that the fast-processors weren’t jumping in with the answer before the slower-processors could get what was going on.  And I use it that way with my younger class.  But guess what my older class does with it?  They decided they wanted it for themselves to tell me to wait for them to catch up with me in the story drawing before I kept going (my students write and draw everything I write and draw while storytelling).  All I did here was print out a blank octagon outline on red and green cardstock, glued them on one craft stick, and wrote the Spanish words for “WAIT” and “SPEAK” on them.

The last teacher bag I’ll ever buy


Warning, this one’s pricey.  I’ve loved the Artifact Bag Company since I bought my husband’s awesome lunch tote there.   Ever since the Field Bag No. 705 came out it’s been on my Amazon wishlist and I’ve been saving and wishing.  Months.  It takes a lot of thought and tension for me to spend this much money on a bag, but Artifact’s bags are worth every penny (and more).  This summer my husband surprised me with the Field Bag for my birthday and I’ve been proudly shouldering it ever since.  Every time I heft it up I think, “Some guy in Omaha made this thing by hand and”

Pumpkin Spice Latte

“Starbucks’ most popular seasonal beverage of all time.”

Nothing says back-to-school like bringing your teacher pumpkin pie in a cup. Enough said.

Happy back-to-school, happy September, happy almost-fall, happy teaching, everyone!

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August 31, 2015 4 Comments

ANNOUNCING: The 2015 updated performance assessment rubric

This might be my most important resource release this year.

First, you can read here about all the things that frustrated me about that snazzy 2011 rubric that I used to use (and that got downloaded from this site a lot). Some of them probably frustrated those of you who used it, too. So I decided to do a total overhaul. No starting from the original document allowed. A blank page. (Well, really I started with a yellow legal pad and about 12 Chrome tabs open.)

Unpacking it

From talking to lots and lots of teachers about it, I hope I can anticipate a lot of questions you might have about the document. Several teachers helped me realize that simply posting it out here isn’t enough. You need some explanation on it. And so I may do a screencast and I may do a PDF but at least, here are explanations of the sections along with some screen shots.

2015 rubric page 1

Just looking at the front you can see some major changes. In the old rubric, there was an incredible amount of information that required very small type. The center sections were the target proficiency levels and they were colored in, which visually communicated, in my opinion, that half the rubric was irrelevant. So to begin, since by the time I’m doing performance assessments Novice Low is not a target at any point, I removed it. And since the majority of our students do not achieve intermediate mid in our classes, I kicked off IM and IH as well. But some do. And so I have promised Bethanie Carlson-Drew that I will develop a version ranging from NH to IM.

You’ll also notice the title is Performance toward Proficiency. This is because most of us are not qualified to say, and it is not our intention on assessments to say, “You achieve X proficiency.” Rather, our message is this: “On this particular performance, you are using language characteristic of X proficiency.”

Another major change was the column on the far right: it is a place you can simply check if either the section is not applicable or there is insufficient evidence to assess the category.  For example, the comprehension section is not applicable in a presentational writing assessment.

Page 1:

There are now four major sections on the front page and each is divided into a few subsections.

  • Message Type: What language do I use?
    The first section is called Message Type and communicates to students what kind of language they are using. The ingredients and how they come together, if you will.
    The first sublevel here is structure. What pieces of language are the students using: just words and a few phrases? Phrases and some sentences? All sentences when appropriate? How much does the structure reflect their native language (“Yo gusta deliciouso taco”)? I have to give you a major caveat here: for some unknown reason and in a very confusing turn of phrase, ACTFL says that Intermediate Low pronunciation, structure, etc. are strongly influenced by the first language, and that those features in Novice High may be strongly influenced by the first language. I promise. Check it out. This seems completely backwards to me and so I made a judgement call to switch them.
    The second sublevel is depth of vocabulary. I’ve always loved this phrase. It’s what happens when students throw out “I adore it” instead of “I like it” and “many people perished” instead of “many people died.” Is the student just using very common words he’s memorized? Can she begin to personalize words by, for example, adding -ísimo to adjectives?
    The third sublevel is context. This is a positive section helping students realize what situations they can handle. Is it very common situations they have practiced? Good job. More contexts that are still familiar, everyday situations? What about throwing a bit of complication in there? Great work! More contexts for you!
    QUESTION about this context section: a teacher friend asked me a very good question: if we’re dictating the context in the scenario, is it fair to judge this part? In other words, should this section be eliminated, or is it needed to tell students what kind of contexts they’re handling and let them know if they’re going beyond or behind their demonstrated proficiency here, compared to other areas? Let me know your thoughts.
  • Message Depth: How do I support my communication?
    The second section is called Message Depth and communicates to students how well they are supporting section 1; that is, how does the language they choose to use flesh out their message?
    The first sublevel here is content support. This is one place I desperately needed on a rubric that simply didn’t exist on the JCPS rubric, and I noticed the need for it from scoring AP essay after AP essay. I needed a place to tell students how well they were using prior knowledge to support their message. Could they include references to what they’d learned from authentic resources in the unit? This is what ACTFL calls “talking about something I have learned.” In this section I can tell students how well they provide examples from interpretive sources and elaborate on them.
    The second sublevel is communication strategies. How do students sustain communication? Lower-level novices have a lot of difficulty keeping up a conversation and they often switch to English or just stay silent. Or use  and no in ways that don’t make a lot of sense, right? But as they improve, they can ask some questions and even use minimal circumlocution to keep talking when they don’t know a word for something.
  • Message Interaction: How do we understand each other?
    RUBbox3InteractionThe third section is Message Interaction and is probably the most straightforward of the group. Simply, can the learner interact with someone in the language? Are they comprehensible and how much do they need things repeated in order to comprehend something themselves?
    This section has to do with the ever-present question of errors. I get asked at almost every workshop: “How do you assess errors? How much do you correct them?” I have two answers, depending on the student’s goals: for the College Board, patterns of error are what you’re looking for and trying to help students eradicate. For example, I had students who consistently wrote verbs with no attempt to change the endings at all. That’s a pattern. On the other hand, ACTFL’s guidelines are more about comprehensibility. When the error causes a breakdown in comprehension, in that the student made an error that means I can’t understand their intention, this is a problem.
    Also, the proficiency level sometimes has to do with who can’t understand the learner. I can understand many things that someone who doesn’t speak English, or isn’t used to dealing with language learners, wouldn’t understand. As students improve their proficiency, they begin to be more and more comprehensible to native speakers who are not “sympathetic” – that is, they don’t know how or aren’t willing to work harder to understand someone who is a language learner.
    This aspect was on the back page of the previous rubric under “Minor focus.” In scoring assessments, it never felt like a minor focus to me when an error made a learner incomprehensible. So it’s on the front now, on equal footing.
  • Cultural awareness: How do I show what I know about other cultures?
    RUBbox4 culture
    This was a glaring omission on the previous rubric and really it was the AP exam that made me want to add it, followed by the new ACTFL performance indicators which include a section for cultural awareness (the language here is a mixing of the language from that document). I didn’t have a place to tell students how well they were incorporating cultural knowledge into their production, something absolutely essential for the AP. So if a student can do that, I want to let them know.
    To see a much deeper explanation of this aspect including some production examples, please, please read this post.

On to the back page!

2015 rubric page 2

Page 2

The back page is a back-and-forth between me and the learner. They fill out some of this at the beginning of the unit, and some of it after they get my feedback.

  • Proficiency Goals
    The student actually fills out what proficiency I’m expecting to be shown on this performance.
  • The Staircase
    On my old rubric, I simply put a smiley face in the box for “approaching expectations” or “meeting expectations,” etc. But what if a student showed novice high proficiency in two areas and novice mid in two? What then? Well, I put the smiley face at “approaching expectations” for novice mid, but farther up in the box, toward “meeting expectations” (novice high). Yes, really. Like any student ever noticed that.
    I think it was Greg Duncan and Megan Johnson-Smith who first got me mulling over sublevels to the sublevels. What if there were a way I could tell a student, “Great job! You’re performing novice mid in several areas, but look at these two! Novice high!” What was that? Well, it’s Novice Mid +.
    I fill out this section. The plus signs and minus signs are my way to communicate how many of the categories they’re holding at a certain proficiency. I love, love this part.
  • The grade
    Yes. I’ve given in, and there’s a grading scale.
    For more information on how I’ve always assigned grades to a proficiency rubric (there’s no change here), see this post.
    So, I’m trying to put ownership of the learning in the student’s hands, and my thinking here is that the student looks at the proficiency I’ve marked and circles the expectation box herself. Then you can put the grade in if you want to (I think I still won’t). And you have a nice feedback box here on the proficiency part.
    My students aren’t allowed to score below “approaching expectations.” If this happens they must set a date to re-try. Depending on my class size, I also allow students who score “approaching” to re-try if they want to (and I have had several take me up on this offer to improve).
  • My language tasks
    The one part of the old rubric that absolutely had to go was the “task completion” section. As it turns out, in three years of scoring assessments I misunderstood this from the JCPS rubric and what I considered “task completion” was on the front in language use. But the back “task completion” section said “I completed (part, almost, all of) what I was asked to do.” And I was scoring AP assessments a lot. On the AP, students are told to incorporate all three of the authentic sources they’ve seen into their presentational essay. If they didn’t, their score would suffer significantly. So it wasn’t a “minor focus” for us like it said on the rubric. It was a big deal. And my old rubric didn’t give me a place to say that.
    For an analysis of task completion and this issue being the one that inspired me to overhaul the rubric this year, read this post.
    In this section, the student writes (at the beginning of the unit) what language tasks they will be asked to perform in the assessment. Will they need to show they can disagree? Incorporate information from an infographic you discussed in class? Mention some opinions of another person in class? Here’s where they record that. Then, you check whether they’ve shown strong, weak, or no evidence of this skill.
    This section is not a place for students to write “I can use 7 verbs in the preterite tense.” If you have them write that sort of thing here, you might as well tear up the rubric because what you are doing is not a proficiency-based performance assessment, it’s a grammar test masquerading as a performance assessment. If you’ve determined that’s what you’re looking for, stop reading now and close this tab. Please.
  • Teacher feedback
    This is pretty straightforward.
  • Student reflection
    This is perhaps one of the most important sections in the rubric and you owe it to Colleen Lee-Hayes and Natalia Delaat (ありがとう y спасибо colegas).  We’re putting the ownership in their hands!

Whew. If you care about using this kind of rubric, I hope you put up with all that explanation!

Two more issues to go.

Where’s interpretive mode?

Good question. Please know that if you do stand-alone interpretive tasks on integrated performance assessments and use an interpretive rubric or some sort of scoring system to grade them, you are in the majority and I am not. Honestly, I do not know another teacher who handles this the way I do. So don’t feel like I’m telling you that you need to do this.

Eliminating stand-alone interpretive assessments was something the College Board inspired me to do. In the AP essay, students are given sources on which to base their essay, but there are no comprehension questions on the source. Rather, the writer must use the information they understand from all three sources to inform their response.

To me, this is what we do with interpretive tasks in real life, and this question is always in my head: how can my class better reflect the way this plays out in real life? We watch a movie and we don’t fill out worksheets on it. We don’t draw pictures of it or answer multiple-choice questions about the plot line, which we may not accurately remember even though we understood it at the time. No, we use what we saw to tell our good friends what parts we loved, what we hated, why the actress was terrible, and how it compares to the first installment in the series.

That is what I ask students to do with integrated performance assessments. So the answer to your question (“Where’s interpretive mode?”) is that it’s in “Content support” and perhaps also in “My Language Tasks.”

If you’d like to see an example of how I do this, here’s one for novice.

I don’t think this heading will work.

Please tell me all your issues. I’ve been developing this rubric for six weeks and it’s been reviewed by dozens of teachers, but it can’t be a game-changer unless a whole lot more teachers “get their hands dirty” with it, using it on real production assessments and contacting me about how it’s working for you. I’ll continually change this post with updates.

So where is it?

Ready to get the file? If you put up with the rest of this post, you deserve it!

Download the PDF here. Contact me or comment below if you’d like access to a .docx file to edit. Please respect intellectual property rights. If you modify the document for your purposes, please leave the footnote at the bottom directing users to for credits. You may modify the footnote to include a reference such as “Based on the Musicuentos performance assessment rubric. For more information visit”


I didn’t write this rubric. I simply stole a lot of stuff and put it in one place. I can’t begin to effectively acknowledge how much the work of some very smart people helped inform this rubric in all its drafts. Thanks to Amy Lenord, Colleen Lee-Hayes, Bethanie Carlson-Drew, Martina Bex, and the Ohio language gurus, whose fingerprints can be seen in various sections here. The majority of the wording is taken from either the ACTFL performance descriptors, Can Do statements, and proficiency guidelines; the old Jefferson County (KY) performance assessment rubric; and the Ohio rubrics. Thanks to Natalia Delaat, Thomas Sauer, Sarah Bolaños, and Jacob Shively who took the time to give me honest, in-depth, extensive feedback that greatly improved the validity and user-friendliness of this document. I know your time is super valuable, and we’re all indebted to you for your generosity with it. And definitely, thanks to Melanie Stilson, who gave me the push I needed to get working on this project that had been on a back burner for a while.

Thanks to all the teachers at Camp Musicuentos who gave me some rocking suggestions for improvements. For one thing, you owe the staircase to them, and that might be the best part of the document.

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August 24, 2015 9 Comments

Let me tell you about tacos… I mean crêpes!

strawberries-395590_1280Many teachers have enjoyed using the taco talk to help beginning students and their parents (and administrators!) understand what a novice-level, proficiency-based class is all about.  This year I finally tweaked the document to be helpful to teachers of intermediate students.  And then a French teacher contacted me for permission to change the “taco” portion to be more relevant to French students.  Well, what a great idea!

Thanks to Marci Harris and Wendy Farabaugh for their help with the novice and intermediate versions of this document for French teachers.

Enjoy your crêpes!

Now, if we can just get it with pretzels, sushi, dumplings…

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August 19, 2015 3 Comments