Last semester, I grappled with fostering an increase in my students’ interpersonal communication skills, creating new routines, activities, and assessments. As my classroom is immersive, it’s a space where I speak French 90% of the time, so it often involves a lot of song and dance, images, videos, humor, and non-verbal communication cues to convey meaning. Some days it’s more song and dance for students to understand main ideas only, while others are guided by focused, detail-oriented activities. These strategies provide great comfort to a teacher who has already familiarized herself with immersion techniques. Regular comprehension checks help me adjust along the way, and the materials guide us towards a common understanding. The next step, however, has always been tricky : once my students grab on to wisps of ideas and experiment with the language, how can I effectively provide targeted feedback that makes sense to them and allows them to set personalized goals moving forward?
This semester, I have tried tons of new ideas in both classes, and now is the time to see what sticks. One of these trials involved assessment in my French 1 classes. These students have been studying family structures and famous French families while reviewing descriptive language from last semester. In an attempt to give students more control over their grade and their assessment, I opened up all formative assessments from the unit for their choosing. Students chose to be assessed (in Jumprope) on one of the 2-3 options for each communication standard assessed : presentational speaking & writing, interpersonal speaking & writing, and interpretive reading & listening. This array of options felt exciting for us all in the beginning, but then it sort of lost steam over the course of the semester. Chalk it up to pre-Spring Break fatigue, to the similarity of activities, or to the overwhelming confusion of the organization required on my end. Whatever the cause, here are my takeaways :
- Tackle the logistics first. All of my charts, spreadsheets, and calendars should be created ahead of time after consulting with colleagues who really thrive on logistics. I ended up having lists and post-its everywhere, and organization felt a little loose and stressful. Once a single student turned something in late everything felt that it blended together; both students and myself were wondering who needed to do what if they got behind.
- Assign student group leaders. Logistics and directions are confusing when 26 students are working at the same time on three different tasks, especially when someone walks in late. Giving up some of my authority and designating team leaders for each task would help alleviate the need for me to be in multiple places at once.
- Build routines around assessment. One of my strengths as a teacher is creating strong routines and structures that students grow used to, rely on, and often naturally take over when I am at a conference or ill. It was a bit naïve to assume everyone would adapt easily to a completely new assessment structure thrown at them in March. Moving forward, I will reflect on what I liked about this idea and what useful formative assessment could possibly look like in my French class. Once I have clearer ideas around these two questions, I can set goals and build my assessment routines around them.
In my dream world, my class doesn’t have grades, we work together to set personalized goals, conference to track student proficiency over time, develop meaningful assessment together, and out daily class unfolds like an engaging conversation. I guess my job now is to work towards this… albeit slowly.
Our classrooms should be small, micro-communities guided by their members. Students should have voice in how things are done, why, when, and by whom. An ideal towards which we crawl ever so slowly. At times, I find it easier in my 10th and 11th grade classes to turn over the reins of our morning routine, to collectively create our seating charts by determining our members’ needs, and to decide on units of study together. I want to create with my students rather than for them, and I hope to do this at all levels of instruction. So lucky we are to teach at or to attend a school Essex Street Academy, one where we have freedom in our curricula and where curiosity abounds both on staff and amongst the students. Leaning into this freedom, what are the possibilities for a school like ours to have truly democratic classrooms, completely immersive language courses with individualized feedback and relevant tasks?