Novice High ACTFL Performance Benchmarks: The basics without visual support and a little detail.

I continue exploring ACTFL’s can do statements which started as my colleagues and I began to explore the new ACTFL performance indicators and can do statements.  Read those posts here.   This post explores Novice high proficiency specifically.  The Novice high can do statement for the interpretive mode in the ACTFL document states:

I can identify the topic and some
isolated facts from simple sentences in
informational texts.

This is still extremely general.  I can identify the topic is not the same thing as I can identify the main idea.  What is a topic?  Perhaps a theme or descriptor but, in general, I don’t see a topic as having much of a statement about anything.  Secondly, isolated facts lead me to believe that the reader is not picking up a lot of connected ideas.  The big difference between Novice high and Novice mid is understanding with the support of gestures and visuals.  When are students able to do this without gestures and visual support?

I’ve leaned toward students being able to achieve Novice High level proficiency by the end of Latin 1 which is about 130 hours of instruction at my school.  My reasoning is connected to ACTFL’s document text at the intermediate low level under the interpretive mode which states:

I can identify the topic and related
information from simple sentences in
short informational texts.

Notice once again that the reader simply can identify the topic at the Intermediate Low level and that is when we are reading short informational texts.  I think most of my Latin two students are able to do with with readings by the end of level two, especially if they are short information texts.  But as I reflect more, they are probably only able to do with extremely familiar texts when one excludes the support of gestures and visuals.  Therefore, students performance after Latin two might be intermediate low, but that is with extremely familiar topics.  More than likely they will be in the Novice range with a text on a less familiar topic.

Also, students are probably Novice in respect to reading about some topics but emerge into intermediate when reading about other topics which peak their interest.  The more I consider how students must be able to read without the support of visuals and gestures just to make it to Novice high, the more important it seems to me to have a strong self directed reading program and opportunities for students to listen to materials that are not created by me.  They need exposure to a variety of topics that peak their interest to help bridge the gap from gestures and visual support to independent reading.

Back to Novice level can do statements and the listening interpretive mode can do statement for Novice high says:

I can understand familiar questions
and statements from simple sentences in
conversations.

This statement seems much more clear to me.  Not long ago a student taking Latin three for me as an independent study confessed to me that he now realizes how important it is to process language with a group of people.  I set up a reading course for him with tiered versions of assignments for him to complete as he progresses through readings.  He has shown me that students in level two still use supports even when it seems to me they are processing more on their own.  Once again the difference between Novice mid and Novice high in interpretative listening is the listener’s reliance on gesture and visual support to process meaning.

Therefore it is imperative that we keep asking ourselves, “Have students moved from a reliance of visual support to process meaning on this topic?”  I’m certain that even upper level students end up in Novice territory when approaching certain topics.  Perhaps this idea of reading and listening without visual support is the most important idea in acquisition to formatively assess for upper level students.  When we know students are approaching a topic at a Novice level we can scaffold input with more visual support but when students seem to be approaching a topic at an intermediate level we can focus on connected meaning and processing without the visual support.

Because I’m a Latin teacher, I live in the interpretive mode a lot.  This year in Latin 3 we have been reading and learning Roman history in Latin.  As December came to a close I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had moved the class into an incomprehensible phase.  We had an informal class meeting (a strategy I learned in the book, Better than Carrots or Sticks) to address some behaviors that had cropped up.  The students were awesome in the meeting and although a lot of our discussion centered around technology use and how to make the environment better for listening, one student surprised me and it hit me that the incomprehensible Roman history as of late was probably part of the problem.

He asked to have vocabulary quizzes.  I had to bite my tongue because in an informal class meeting the most important component is to build trust with the group that every member will be heard.  So I held my desire to discuss what research says about vocabulary lists and the dangers of “learning” the list.  As I reflect, what this student continued to say was something like, “When you pass out a story, sometimes it just seems like words on a page.”  He basically described the difference between a Novice and Intermediate learner.  This student often emerges into the intermediate level during class discussions about student preferences and daily life with things like calendar talk but we have been reading a lot of Roman history, lately.  At the minimum, this student feels like a Novice level student when we approach Roman history in Latin.  This tells me a couple of things.

  • Although I simplified readings, the Roman history content is still out of their reach.
  • I need to do more with the vocabulary of the historical events with gestures and visuals leading up to the readings.
  • The line between Novice and Intermediate is more of a wavy line than straight depending on the topic at hand.

Therefore, I am probably assessing performance more than proficiency.  Does that make them Novice level?  Certainly at times with certain topics.  Should I be bringing down expectations and focusing grades more on proficiency?  I’m not sure yet, but I will be thinking about this a lot in the intermediate future.  What do you think?  Should we communicate grades based on performance within a topic or proficiency when the visual support is removed?

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