Proficiency Can Do Benchmarks from ACTFL.

I have a nice opportunity to dig into ACTFLs new proficiency can do benchmarks with colleagues in my district.  This is the kind of work I wish we had more time to do.  It’s hard to carve out the time among the craziness of being ready for the students walking through the door the next hour, but we must find time to do it so that we continue to improve.

I’m quickly discovering that my understanding of proficiency is weak in respect to the intermediate level.  Because most of our students will leave us within the intermediate range, my hope is to flush out that level as I consider the ACTFL can do benchmarks.

The Novice Level Interpretive Communication Benchmark from the NCSSFL-ACTFL can do statements reads:

I can identify the general topic and some basic information in both very familiar and everyday contexts by recognizing practiced or memorized words, phrases, and simple sentences in texts that are spoken, written, or signed.

Notice the focus on familiar, practiced or memorized and simple.  Novice learners can understand things that they are working on currently when it is sheltered toward the novice learner.  This makes sense and in my experience happens quickly for students in a community of language learners.

It is important to use caution with terms like practiced or memorized words, phrases and simple sentences.  This can be interpreted as supporting the use of memorized vocabulary lists or skill based practice routines.  I think adding a qualifier like “within communicative context” adds a lot to what this actually looks like with a novice learner.  Novice learners acquire chunks of patterns of language as they make connection to meaning, but this happens within the processing of language to reach comprehended meaning.  Novice level learners connect to familiar patterns of language and they struggle to branch out of those patterns and comprehend the input.  This doesn’t mean that they should be memorizing phrases and vocabulary.  It simply is a statement to what they will be able to do with those familiar phrases and patterns of language.

The Intermediate Level Interpretive Communication Benchmark from the NCSSFL-ACTFL can do statements reads:

I can understand the main idea and some pieces of information on familiar topics from sentences and series of connected sentences within texts that are spoken, written, or signed.

An intermediate student upgrades from the general topic to the main idea.  Moving from basic information to some pieces of information seems quite similar to me.  The intermediate student continues in the familiar but instead of very familiar and everyday contexts we move to sentences and specifically connected sentences within texts.  As I flush this out in my own head I see 3 major differences between a novice student and an intermediate student.

  1. The intermediate student is able to isolate a main idea of a text opposed to having a simple and general idea.
  2. An intermediate student does not just rely on memorized and practiced words.  (I see this as recognizing familiar words that have not been the recent focus of instruction or communication.  They are able to recall previous language patterns and connect them to recently acquired language patterns.)
  3. The intermediate student is able to negotiate added meaning created from connected sentences.

It is clear that intermediate students are still operating in the familiar.  This leads me to consider that level 3 of any language program is critical.  Students start to be able to understand text, but once the message goes outside the familiar they revert to or at least feel like novice learners again.  Spiraling back to previous acquired language patterns seems critical both for acquisition and for building confidence in Intermediate level learners.

As I look toward the next phase of my own learning about language learning and comprehensible input, a question about intermediate learners will drive my thoughts.

How do I construct a curriculum guide that will spiral back to familiar language for the intermediate learner so that they have opportunities to frequently access previously acquired language patterns as the process newly acquired language patterns??

What do you think?  How critical is the end of level 2 into level 3?  How do we stay in bounds with the familiar while offering learners opportunities to move forward?  Let me know what you think?



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