30 December 2016

Make Your Own Objectives! Language domains and student portfolios

ACTFL Can-Do Statements are holding my students back. I've been using them to evaluate porfolio submissions and award badges, and the badges just aren't matching students' abilities this way.

I need a system that connects what we know about proficiency with what students can and want to do with the target language.


Students submit evidence for reading, writing, listening, and speaking on their e-portfolios each six weeks, and if they don't show me that they can definitely, consistently perform at the designated level for all 3-4 objectives in a given category-100%, they have to submit evidence for the same level, the same category the next six weeks.

The objectives for each category and level are based on the ACTFL Can-Do Statements, though I whittled them down the as far as I felt I reasonably could. I like the idea of having something "Official" to ground these linguistical rites of passage, but they are hindering recognition where recognition is due.


There are kids who are consistently performing at an intermediate level on IPAs who can't break out of Novice Mid based on the Can-Dos (and, yes, I'm using the bold ones, not the niggling example bullet points below). I've been justifying it with "The Cone"--you have to show how far out you can go out with different contexts, not just how far up with text types.

But is that all The Proficiency Cone is?

The more I said it to kids who were convinced they'd at least hit Novice High (P.S. how cool is it that they want to defend their performance levels?), the more I heard myself omitting language domains.

Get your copy
on the ACTFL site!
Having taken part in the #LangCamp book study on The Keys to Planning for Learning this past summer, I knew there was a lot more to proficiency than text types and contexts.

But what could I do about it?

I hadn't been awarding badges based on proficiency guidelines or performance descriptors primarily because I thought it was more fun to have more levels to conquer, and neither document was willing to break down levels further than the broad headings of Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced (okay, and Superior and Distinguished, but my early college kids ain't getting there in 2 years--3 if they beg).

My kids have a pretty good grasp on proficiency/performance levels in general, but what if they also grasped language domains?

Could they then define their own goals for badges?


I stand by my belief that novices  don't know enough to know what they don't know, and they usually don't know even enough to know what they want to know. With language domains to choose from, I think they could have just enough ammunition to set some goals that are
  1. realistic, and
  2. relevant.
As with the ACTFL Can-Do's, though I'm going to choose to ignore the parts that I don't want. For one, I think language control is a domain that novices by definition can't evaluate. For two, if my kids want to talk about dinosaurs and roller coasters instead of their families and hobbies before they hit intermediate, I see absolutely no reason why they shouldn't. So I'm refusing to limit contexts in the accepted sense as well.

I find the descriptors for cultural awareness limiting, but I do like the idea of connecting whatever reading, listening, speaking, or writing they are doing to
  • "Knowing Myself"
  • "Exploring Communities," and/or 
  • "Engaging with the World."
The rest of the domains I broke down into novice and intermediate descriptors by mode (and I have to say, it really helped me grasp what I should expect when a lot more clearly!) 



Each six weeks, students are still going to 1)  pick/create 3 samples of their work for each communicative skill (a different skill each week).

Then, for each sample they are going to 2) construct an objective that that sample reflects, and they will pick at least one descriptor from each of the five domains in the infograph above.

Then they are going to 3) reflect on what the sample demonstrates about their performance level and where it shows they are with that skill, as well as their cultural awareness.

I made a Google Drawing that students can copy for each skill to pick their descriptors and just cut out the ones that don't apply. This way they'll automatically have a relevant header for anything that they embed in their portfolios, AND an easy way to reflect on their skills!

Before and after: I designated the level as Novice High because it drew from Novice AND Intermediate descriptors.


With domains and their command, students will be able to form their own relevant and appropriate objectives to apply to the evidence they want to display.

And then maybe they can tell me what is worth a badge.

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