Assessment, French, French First Year, French Fourth Year, French Second Year, French Third Year

Making the students work: Study Proof

As a constructivist, and a very early adopter of the Integrated Performance Assessments (IPA), I found that assigning most homework was an exercise in futility. The students who needed the work didn’t do it; I was stuck grading a bunch, assigning zeros, and calling in kids to get their work done on my time; and most students were stuck doing busy work.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t assign homework. I do assign homework, but I make the students come up with what they’re working on.

Studying, a lost art

If you’ve been teaching for a fair number of years, you’ve seen students lose the ability to study effectively on their own. In my own experience, the only challenging class in high school was French and I didn’t really study for it…so I was happy with my C. It wasn’t until college that I found I needed to up my game and actually study the material actively.

I introduce the idea of studying as a lifelong pursuit in the early days of the semester. I let students know that they’ll be submitting proof each month for these points. This is part of my class procedure to have them work through the welcome unit on Canvas. They see this page and read it.

Study Proof

Photo credit Didi - Highlights

Students go through a lesson about studying practices with examples. You can see the lesson here. They’re introduced to the idea that they will be submitting their work online through our learning management system. You can see the assignment details here, scroll down to view the rubric I use to grade their proof.

A word to the wise – if you decide to do this, it is important that you have students submit digitally. This is a way for you to check month to month when your spidey-sense goes off that something isn’t right or you’ve seen this before. You can always go back to their previous work and check it out. I’ve had to do this only a handful of times.

I let students use Duolingo as a way to study and prove they’ve studied. Duolingo has a wonderful (and free) school option for teachers, where you can assign lessons. I don’t do much of that, since my courses diverge from their lessons, but my most successful students have used Duolingo to acquire a massive amount of vocabulary to land them in intermediate!

How do they submit it?

Most students take images of their work and place them into a google doc. I give feedback each month on how to make their work more active, less passive, and target an area of improvement.

Some record themselves with their phone/chromebook listening/repeating, quizzing themselves, etc.

Some record conversations they have with other francophones.

Many take videos of notecards they’ve created, or labels they’ve made around the house.

Student Feedback

When students complain about this, it’s usually that they don’t know how to document it because they’re studying passively.

Students have reported that they’ve seen improvements in other courses because I’m asking them to use study techniques.

This isn’t really student feedback, but I’ve seen that this goes hand-in-hand with extra input and letting students get to the highest proficiency that they can. Before, students were held back by the work I was handing out. Now, a second year student can be working on passé composé, l’imparfait, le futur proche, le futur simple, and le présent while their peers are just working on mastering the past or the vocabulary.

Image Source: Study from

Assessment, French Fourth Year, French Third Year, Instructional Design, Interpretive, IPA - Integrated Performance Assessment

History, Symbols & People of France

I didn’t get a chance to update you all on my progress for my Intermediate Low/Mid unit on France. I built it in Canvas (our LMS – learning management system) for two of my grad classes.

Some take-aways

Something that you’ll notice is that the directions are explicit – I don’t give the students anything that is vague.

I designed this with the thought that my third and fourth year (mixed course) could practice their structures using the vocabulary and cultural information presented throughout the unit. Doing this meant that I did some backwards design to make it happen.

I’ve found some other resources to make the Regional lessons a bit easier to learn about through readings. I’ll be updating that shortly.

View the Unit on Canvas

To view the unit in its entirety, you can see it on my Canvas page. The course is public and you can use the content, I ask that you give me credit on anything you use. My resources I’ve used are noted in the course content.

I’ll post an update with the newer unit information soon!


Assessment, Instructional Design, Interpretive, IPA - Integrated Performance Assessment

Assessing Interpretive Mode

One of the struggles I’ve had is coming up with an easy way to assess Interpretive Reading and Interpretive Listening. Through my masters and my work as an online teacher, I’ve taken courses to become a Quality Matters Reviewer for online and blended courses. One of the stresses of Quality Matters is that the activities, objectives in lesson and course objectives are all aligned.

I thought I had aligned my objectives with the course and activities when I moved to doing Integrated Performance Assessments (IPA), but after actually reviewing and working through the rubric, as well as working through my master classes on instructional design, I discovered I wasn’t quite explicit enough.

So I’ve been focusing on helping my students learn about the different components of the ACTFL Interpretive Rubric. I’ve used Madame Shepard’s blog and using her examples and Ohio’s template for Interpretive Tasks.

But I’ve had some problems…

Problem 1: Feedback

I’ve had trouble making the Interpretive Tasks manageable to grade.

Those template assessments are long. They take time to make. Then you have all those long-answer sections. It just takes time to get the feedback to the students (and it’s frustrating to juggle this with managing feedback for the presentational mode!).

To make it more manageable, I started doing most of the assessments in Canvas (the LMS our school uses) and using the rubric to grade the “quiz” after the fact. It auto-graded the items for me and it’s quicker to scroll through a screen with legible fonts than it is to decipher what a kid may have written down but scribbled through three times with pen and then crossed it all out and wrote something illegible in maybe franglais.


How do you want to assess versus grade? We’re trying to give students quicker more detailed feedback. (At my face-to-face school we’re currently discussing the merits of grades versus standards-based grading. But that’s for another post!)

You can:

  • use the rubric component(s) that you’re focusing on to grade with. This takes time, but hopefully it’ll give you an idea of where your students are.
  • take the raw quiz grade. This leaves the option of a very poor score going into the gradebook. In Canvas, I cannot make answers worth different point values (best answer 4, mostly good answer 3, kinda good answer 2, clearly a poor answer 1) so the quiz is either you got it or you didn’t. If you do this, I recommend making the IPA worth more points to be their big performance, so it doesn’t hurt their grade too much along the way.
  • take a participation grade. Did they really attempt to complete the task? If these are designed as stepping stones toward a better performance on the final IPA, then these are learning experiences. A completion grade can be given without guilt!
  • take no grade at all. GASP! I know. I do this a lot. And kids kinda hate it at first. But the science backs me up on this. You can use this as a self-evaluative tool. They need to reflect on their learning (constructivist style) and identify what they need to do better to improve (or identify what they didn’t identify!)

Problem 2: More practice

Students need more practice, focus, and feedback on all the different parts of the rubric. For some, this is really their first explicit exposure to these ideas. My course, unit and interpretive lesson objectives all share the same objectives:

  • identify key words, main ideas, supporting details and organizational features in a given text/video/audio
  • infer the meaning of words based on context, the author’s perspective/purpose, and the cultural products/practices/perspectives in a given text/video/audio.
  • make inferences in a given text/video/audio.

But I don’t have to do all of these with each interpretive task. I’ve broken them down into one or two focal points and made quizzes in Canvas. I’ve been focusing on giving specific feedback on the different answers to multiple choice questions.

Problem 3: Writing multiple choice questions that don’t…suck

How do you write a good multiple choice question? Test questions are hard to write. I am not a test writer. I have not taken a dedicated course on assessment or test creation. Someday maybe?

Instead, I’ve looked to places that also are teaching and assessing these skills: the lower grades. Standardized tests are looking at these same skills for reading comprehension.

Anecdotal Evidence

I’ve tried this in all of my courses for one unit, and I have to say I’m pleased with the improvement. Students did improve on identifying the organizational features, inferring the author’s perspective/purpose, identifying and inferring cultural products/practices/perspectives, and identifying main ideas.

The more explicit I was with my “feedback” on the questions’ correct and wrong answers, the better their understanding was. They’ve been able to apply what they’ve learned in other tasks.

Examples Please!

I’ll post some examples of the Interpretive mode for you soon!


French Third Year

WWII – More Resources

In my previous post, WWII Unit for Intermediate-Low Students,  I stated that I use the  sources from Le Bout de Gomme for WWII history lectures.

I don’t take too long on the lectures, but I have students take notes on the blank copy. I’ve created PowerPoints that go along with the packet and give a lecture about every week.

French Fourth Year, Instructional Design

Le Petit Prince

I wanted to share my resource I created for teaching Le Petit Prince. Rather than giving out the novelpetit_princes, I want students to annotate and interact with the text.

I created a digital version of Le Petit Prince. I have three versions:

I use the interpersonal workbook created by Madame Shepard so students can really delve deeply into the text (I’ve modified her version to add a focus on “noticing” grammar).

In addition, I provide the audio book to my students so they can listen to the book while they read. Here’s a link to my Dropbox folder with the chapter audio files.

Happy reading and teaching!

De Gaulle le 14 juin 44 à Isigny, place du marché
Conversations & Interpersonal Communication, French Third Year, Instructional Design

WWII Unit for Intermediate-Low Students

Soldiers walking down both sides of street. Background; pool/billiards; Louvre sign; church.
A Villedieu les Poêles (Manche), rue Gambetta, photo prise le 2 août, les GI’s se dirigent vers le Sud-ouest. Libération le 2 août par la 4th US ID.

Students are very interested in the French perspective of history. As a social studies teacher too, we just don’t have time to cover WWII in depth any more. At least in the schools I’ve taught 😦

Certainly, students don’t understand why France capitulated so “quickly”, who Charles de Gaulle was (nor his importance), what collaboration was like, and what happened to French citizens who were Jews.

So I’ve found resources and created a unit studying WWII through the French lens.

To introduce the unit, I’ve asked students to do a KWL (or SVA en français) with a PowerPoint in French.

I lecture about Hitler’s ambitions:

(Eventually, I’d like to build in more lectures and have plans for doing so…but they’re not ready yet!)

Students watch “Pourquoi a-t-il eu la seconde guerre mondial” from 1 jour 1 question:

  • Transcript
  • Students take the video and the lecture to make a timeline of what happened leading up to WWII.

Students read “Journal d’un enfant pendant la seconde guerre mondiale” I found this in France and enjoyed that it has historic break-outs and a story line narrative in the first person. I’ve made a digital copy of this book here. (I’m looking for native speakers who would be able to record an audio book chapter by chapter!)

To work through the book interpersonally, I created a a workbook that goes along with the book chapter by chapter. It was modeled after Madame Shepard’s communicative approach to Le Petit Prince. It has:

  • “Before you read” discussions
  • key vocabulary (mostly in French) with discussion questions
  • true/false discussion
  • deeper discussions about what happened in the text
  • role plays
  • key quotes
  • grammar notes

Here’s a copy of the workbook for you to use with the reading. (I’m working on finishing the final few pages of the book, pages 52-59)

While students work through the book, on Mondays I show Les grandes Grandes Vacances by Les Armateurs (Kirikou, Triplettes de Belleville, T’choupi) in French with French subtitles. I play it on my region-free DVD player. You can find it on Netflix now, but it doesn’t have French subtitles. It’s utterly charming, easy to understand, and absolutely sucks you into their story. It’s a perfect companion to the book.

Here’s the Bande-annonce:


Giving feedback

One of the struggles with instruction is giving rich and timely feedback without it bogging you down. If you’d like to review and/or learn more about effective feedback, I recommend this article, as it does a great job of breaking down what feedback is.

For my online instruction, I’ve created documents for most assignments which have a “master list” of common feedback or comments.

If you’re lucky enough to have access to, you can use their lists and build custom comments. You can embed html into it so you can create clickable links to help your students get more information.

Using these principles, I designed a way to give quick and richer feedback to my French language students. I went through the ACTFL rubrics and pulled different indicators that lead to more complex language.

The key is that feedback is timely and specific. To make it more specific and less hard on my wrists, I created this half-page key that they can tape into their composition notebooks right next to their compositions. I print these on the back of their composition prompts, which students tape into their composition notebooks.

I highlight the things students are doing in their compositions or speaking. I highlight and use the mark-up notes to write notes within their composition itself. You can take this a step farther and have students track their errors on this chart.