It was the last day of this current school year with students. Mid-morning, I scanned final grades to insure that there would be no surprises for parents or students. One of my sweet 6th-grade boys’ over all semester percentage showed him to be one point under a B.
Completing our last marking period with a grade of C+ reflected his ability, relative to the others in the class. For sure, but……. I’m not sold on these kinds of number or letter grades for evaluating a skill such as a second language. People’s skills develop at different rates. Any parent can attest to that fact, if he recalls his own toddlers’ first steps. Or when and how his children’s first language emerged.
Coaches of sports teams, experienced musicians and artists who work, teach, guide others use a similar paradigm to evaluate and encourage those they are shaping.
So it is with second language acquisition teachers.
Back to my student. I had walked out of school the preceding day and chatted with the boy and his mom. Mom gushed and beamed bright, sharing with me how much her son had enjoyed French class this year. He had finished the previous full week on a high note. That last Friday, he had proudly announced to the class how good he had felt while working through the final homework assignment.
My conscious pinged me. How could I allow a grade report to arrive with a C+ for the second semester? Why not offer him one more occasion to show me what he could do with French, a final summative proficiency assessment? So I found him on our last full day of classes and invited him to come see me later that afternoon.
Here’s what we did. I let him know upfront that I wanted to offer him the opportunity to show me what he could do in French. The activity I had in mind would demonstrate to me and to him how much he had acquired in our first year together. After all, hadn’t he chosen French in order to understand and speak the language?
I wrote on the board in French, ‘Anne est une fille qui…..’ (Anne is a girl who….). I then set him to write in French either an invented story about a girl named Anne or to write part of the narrative from a beginning French novel we enjoyed our last month of class. Link to order book
I gave him a pencil and a piece of notebook paper and informed him that I would not answer any questions. He was to use the French he knew. I set my phone timer to 10 minutes and let him write. When the bing sounded, I collected his paper, but did not look at it.
“Now tell me your story in French,” and I prompted him by saying, ‘Anne est une fille qui….’ . Slowly, with thought, he launched into revealing just what he COULD do with the language. I didn’t leave him to himself. We dialogued and when he needed a French word, I offered it. I asked him questions about Anne, in French. He clarified and continued on. At the end of 5 minutes, I thanked him for coming to see me and showing me what he could do. I wished him well over the summer and left him knowing how much I was looking forward to continuing on the adventure in August.
This experience/interview left me knowing the following:
- his comprehension was excellent. He understood all my reframing in French and my questions
- his language production was limited, relative to the others from his class. He had at his disposal fewer phrases and words
- Second language acquisition occurs at different rates for different students. Just what research shows and just what my experience as a mom and now a grandma has revealed
- I can boost his acquisition rate and grow his ready pool of usable language by dedicating more one-on-one time with him next year
How do I feel, during our teacher workweek as I reflect on this 25th consecutive year teaching French?
- Motivated to work on my skills as a French teacher next year
- Brimming with thoughts and ideas for next year
- Thankful for this different close of a school year. Instead of being drained, I am brimming with ideas for next year
Assessing this ‘summative’ activity at a 7/10 and added in with all his grades, brought his final semester grade up to an 80%. I feel like I served him well.