Bootcamp Takeaway 1: ACTFL Proficiency Scales


Greetings from Portland!  This week, I am fortunate enough to be attending an OWL bootcamp in Portland, Oregon.  Thank you St. Mary’s.  Today we had a workshop run by ACTFL trainer, Arnold Bielcher.  The goal of the training was to familiarize the group with the various ACTFL proficiency levels (in multiple languages!) and then discuss how we move our students through the levels.  Here are my top three takeaways:


When questioning students always base your questions around what they have put on the table.  For instance, if a student states he lives with his grandparents, don’t ask about his parents.  If a student mentions she went to the movies with a friend, don’t ask about the boyfriend. This seems simple, but it is easy to let curiosity get the best of us.  This also keeps the student at ease, allowing for better language production.


In order to move students across levels you must ask questions at the next level.  This means novice students must be given situations or questions that force them to describe, compare or ask questions. Intermediates must be asked to narrate and advanced must be ask to problem solve and discuss abstract situations.  However, the questions cannot not stay at the more advanced level. There should be a continual raising and then lowering and then raising of question level.  We don’t want to stress them out and cause break down!


When assessing proficiency level:

1.  Look at Function.  Read or listen to the student work and ask yourself,  “Did the student answer the question?”.  Could they effectively list, describe, compare, ask questions, give opinion, narrate or analyze?  Could they do what they were asked to do?

2.  Look at the Context. How rich or varied was the vocabulary?  To what extent could they talk or write about the question or did they stray from the topic?

3.  Look at FORM.  Did the student respond in lists of words, chunks of language, phrases,  sentences or paragraph?  Were the sentences original or were they memorized?

4.  Finally, look for Accuracy / Comprehensibility.

Traditionally, language teachers want to evaluate accuracy first.  For example, is there correct verb usage or adjective noun agreement?   Yet, with proficiency grading, this comes last. We must believe that correct grammar will come with time.  Whether the question is answered and how is more important than the accuracy.







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