We Teach Languages Episode 47: Professional Development and Working Together with Rebecca Blouwolff and Tim Eagan

In episode 47, Rebecca Blouwolff and Tim Eagan talk about their work together in a Massachusetts language department, Rebecca as a middle school French teacher and Tim and as the department chair. They talk about continuing professional development for language teachers from both the teacher and the administrator perspective. Teachers, coordinators, and administrators will all want to listen to this conversation between peers about the work they love.



Show Notes

We welcome feedback, resources, and diverse perspectives on this topic! To contribute to the conversation started here, leave us a voicemail or send a text message to (629)888-3398. Or you can follow us on Twitter @weteachlang or use this contact form to send us an email.



Resources and people mentioned on the show…

…the book The Keys to Planning for Learning by Laura Terrill

…Lisa Shepard’s blog Madame’s Musings

…Helena Curtain’s website/wiki

Chantal Thompson

#LangChat summaries

MaFLA (The Massachusetts state professional organization)

Greg Duncan on the web

Thomas Sauer on Twitter


Check out previous episodes…

Lisa Shepard on episode 14

Lisa interviewing Laura Terrill on episode 37


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Transcript of Episode 36 with Rich Madel

Transcript of Ep 36: A Departmental Shift to IPA-based Units with Rich Madel


[background music]

Narrator:  This is “We Teach Languages,” a podcast about language teaching from diverse perspectives of real teachers.

Stacey Margarita Johnson:  I’m Stacey Margarita Johnson, and today on episode 36, Rich Madel talks about how his department shifted their thinking from a textbook‑based curriculum to units all based on IPAs.

Rich, thank you so much for being here with me today.

Rich Madel:  My pleasure, thanks for having me.

Stacey:  Would you mind just giving us a little bit of your background, where you teach and what you work on in the profession, so we can orient ourselves to the story you’re about to tell.

Rich:  I teach in the Colonial School District, right outside of Philadelphia. I teach Spanish, I’m in, I suppose, my ninth year teaching Spanish here. I’m also the chairperson of the Department of World Languages. I’m in my fourth year doing that.

Within the profession at large, I am also an Executive Council member for the Pennsylvania State Modern Language Association and I also do some doctor work at St. Joseph University where my research focus is on proficiency-oriented pedagogy and assessment.

Stacey:  The reason why we’re chatting today is because your department has done some pretty interesting transformations as far as what your goals are for your students and how you are assessing those, and we’ll get into some of the details of how you did that.

I was hoping you could get us started by telling us what was it that you wanted students to achieve and just really briefly, what did you implement to help your department meet those goals? We can always unpack that as we go.

Rich:  What we were looking to do was, and I don’t think that we necessarily knew this at the time as explicitly as we do now, but we were really looking to grow proficiency among our students.

The conversation originally started when we were looking at AP scores and looking at how we could strategize to improve AP scores. We realized that our students need communicative ability at that highest level and so we unpacked it in a backward design model from there.

The ultimate result is that we took a look at our entire curriculum, our entire course sequence from 1A to AP and we rebuilt it, we tweaked it. It was under construction for a while and we found ourselves using the framework of the Integrated Performance Assessment to guide us through that process. That’s where we are today.

Stacey:  You mention that you didn’t know back then everything that you know now about how you needed to change. Can you give some specific examples of what the process was like for the department as you went through?

Rich:  What we did together, we first started at a very theoretical level. We first started by introducing ourselves to the Integrated Performance Assessment as a concept. During that period, we spent probably the first half of the year really having philosophical discussions about what the purpose of taking a language is. Having theoretical discussions about what the three modes of communication are and what that looks like in our classroom, how we would go about assessing that. What activities do we use to really build in each one of those modes of communication? From there we were then able to task ourselves with, “Let’s try it. Let’s all pilot a unit that culminates with a full Integrated Performance Assessment.”

We were all able to come back to the table now having that experience and have a very practice‑oriented conversation. We were able to talk about the nuts and bolts of what worked, what didn’t work. How did it affect and impact our instruction? How did it impact our students’ performance in each of those three modes?

Ultimately, we decided that it was something that was beneficial for all of those different stakeholders. We moved forward really just again attacking the entire curriculum.

Stacey:  Those initial pilot IPA units that you guys built. How did you actually build those? Was it each person working on their own to create something for their own class, or did you do it in community?

Rich:  I wanted us all to have that practice‑oriented experience. It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to send everybody out on their own and do it. I had some of my colleagues that did feel comfortable just taking a section that he or she was teaching on their own and just go for that.

I had some other colleagues that felt more comfortable working with other colleagues in sections that they shared. They worked together and were able to again split the work that way but also share the experiences in that regard. It depended on how they were going about it. I remember spending a lot of time just being there and guiding. I had already done some pilot work on my own, enough that I felt that it was worth sharing with my department and making this recommendation.

Stacey:  I like that. I do some consulting work with faculty on my campus around technology. I often learned the technology maybe six weeks ago or one semester ago. I’m one iteration ahead. I really like that kind of mentorship because I’m not so far ahead that I’m not still learning. There’s still things I don’t know. I’m still really comfortable with the learning process, but I’m far enough ahead that I have a few more answers. [laughs]

Rich:  Oh, absolutely. Certainly the same thing, I’ve presented on what the IPA is, and I’ve worked with other departments as they introduced themselves to the IPA. There does exist an IPA 101, but I can tell you right now I’m in the IPA 301, I’m in this 401, but I am still absolutely learning and figuring out what works, how it’s manageable for my students, how it’s manageable for me as someone who values my time. [laughs] There’s absolutely growth along the way, no doubt.

Stacey:  So, after you did that initial pilot and everyone decided you wanted to pursue this, I guess you had a practice‑oriented discussion, and then everyone decided they wanted to pursue it for the program. Did you continue that system of people getting to decide for themselves? Because an entire IPA curriculum is just such a huge undertaking. I’m just wondering how you managed it.

Rich:  It is definitely a large undertaking. It’s a large undertaking just working at the unit level definitely. What we did is we divvied up the responsibilities based on the sections that we were teaching. If I had a level three and I felt comfortable going with the level three at the pace that I was working, then I was creating the assessments as we went.

I had other teachers who shared level two, so they worked on that collaboratively. Other teachers at a different level felt OK going at their pace. We were very patient, but we were also very diligent with the work that we were doing.

It took over a year to get to a place where we felt that the entire curriculum reflected not just the assessment shift but also reflected again the pedagogical shift that goes along with working with the Integrated Performance Assessment.

Stacey:  Rich, can you tell me how you build a unit based on an IPA?

Rich:  Yeah, so, previously we had been using a text book that we felt comfortable with. Our unit sequence in a large part followed the scope and sequence of that textbook. We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. We didn’t want to create extra work for ourselves, especially when we already had these resources.

What we did is we in essence stayed with the thematic framework of a lot of the units that already existed. We constructed essential questions that we were interested in that we thought would be relevant to the students. We took a backward design process, where again we started with an essential question. We identified the specific proficiency target that we were looking for.

From there what we did is we developed and described a communicative event in which all three modes of communication would be necessary. In developing that communicative scenario, it was really important that we detailed it in such a way that it was real world.

It was something that we could say either, A, our students are existing in this world or, B, it’s something that we’re preparing our students and realistically can say that our students would encounter this situation in the real world. Then from there, it was just a function of saying, “OK, now what are the tasks within each of these three modes that are relevant to these communicative scenario?”

For example, we have a unit where we talk about celebrations from all around the world. In that sense our essential question is, “What are these celebrations like in different countries? What are the products and the practices of these celebrations in different areas of our own target culture?”

We found an article in a local Spanish‑speaking newspaper that really did a great job of introducing the concept of the quinceañera. We use that as our interpretive piece. Part of that article was actually multiple case studies of specific families and how they prepared and celebrated their quinceañera. What we were able to do was just assign students these different case studies as in, “OK, this is the quinceañera that you’re going to go to. You can read that.” And then that really provided the content for our interpersonal conversation. We were able to compare and contrast experiences in these different quinceañeras.

From there, going and culminating within the presentation mode, we were able to give back to this family that invited us to their quinceañera. We were able to share with them a celebration that’s really important to our families. We created a scrapbook where we were able to detail ‑‑ this what we did, this is how we prepared. We were able to wrap in all of these different elements of the unit. You really get to see that integrated piece of the integrated performance assessment work. Each part of the assessment really builds off of the other.

Students really required the content now that they get from each one of those pieces in order to progress through the assessment experience. Now, there’s another aspect to building the unit this way, and that is, once we’ve identified what our assessments are going to be in each one of those modes, we’re then able to extrapolate these Can Do statements.

In order for our students to be successful in the interpretive mode, we need them to be able to do X, Y and Z. In order for them to be successful in this conversation, they need to be able to express X, Y, and Z. For me, I used those Can Do statements as my curriculum. What I’m doing is I’m taking a look at those statements and saying, “How do I need to prepare my students? What are we really doing at a task level in order for them to be successful at that more holistic level, working through the IPA?”

I have some colleagues that they still…because they’re still working within that thematic framework, they still feel comfortable using the textbook and using some resources. In that sense, go for it. I have an entire closet of these textbooks that I no longer use. I’m glad that they can use it, but for some of my other colleagues, myself included, we have just absolutely enjoyed the freedom and the liberation of being able to say, “You know what? That part of that unit, not relevant to these tasks. This vocabulary expression, not relevant to these tasks,” or, “You know what? There’s an expression that isn’t in here that we should be incorporating.” And so I have the liberty to go in there and really mold the unit to fit both the tasks at hand, but also that larger, essential question.

This assessment is really driving everything that we’re doing in the classroom.

I think that’s one of the most powerful aspects of working with the integrated performance assessment, is that washback effect and how it’s impacting my practice and also what my students are doing on a day‑to‑day basis in the classroom.

Stacey:  Yeah, I love that. That’s a wonderful example. I imagine that you’re able to better conceptualize and document what your students are able to do and that they’re able to do more because you’re really focusing on that.

I wonder, overall, how are the teachers and students experiencing the new model? Have there been any difficulties or any successes that maybe you didn’t expect?

Rich:  Yeah, especially coming from where we were, we were working within a performance model, in quotations, but our students prior to this, when we assessed an interpretive mode, it was a pedagogically prepared paragraph that they read and it was five true and false questions or it was a textbook listening sample and five true and false questions.

Some of the experience for our students that want it to be easier, they missed that. I think that’s part of the process, is that when you deal with a more complex assessment model, it demands more.

It demands more from the students in terms of what they are doing, but also it demands more from us as the teachers in terms of the time that it takes to evaluate, the time it takes to craft these assessments to make sure that we’re getting the insight that we’re looking for in terms of our students’ progress.

There’re students that miss that old model, but I do think that there are a lot of students that are walking away from this with so much more confidence. The fact that they are, in fact, ready for the real world. Again, we know that as they’re progressing through our course sequence, we’re absolutely sure that they’re able to succeed in these real‑world scenarios.

Stacey:  That’s awesome. I imagine that for the teachers there was a bit of that, too. It’s just a different feedback model and it can be really overwhelming in the beginning. How did you negotiate the workload for instructors?

Rich:  First and foremost, we worked together to really build a rubric for each of those modes that fit our desires as educators in terms of what did we want to see our students, where were the areas of growth that we really wanted to see. We had been working with Fairfax County’s performances rubrics for years.

We took a look at ACTFL’s IPA rubrics. We looked at Ohio Foreign Language Association’s rubrics, and we took bits and pieces from all of them, and really created expectations that were our own and met our needs. Now that being said, as I was mentioning before, working with a dynamic assessment requires time and that is definitely one of the things that, going into using the IPA, I think that everybody needs to understand is that this is no longer grading a true and false quiz. This is taking a look at students’ performance and aligning it to the standards that we’ve set in our rubrics. It does take some time to gain that comfort and to familiarize yourself with the language and the expectations and the different criteria that you set.

Stacey:  Grading performance with a rubric is a skill, also, so it can…

Rich:  No doubt.

Stacey:  It gets easier with time. [laughs]

Rich:  Absolutely, it does.

Stacey:  All of the investment that you guys have put in for really over a course of years to get to where you are, would you say that it was worth it?

Rich:  I absolutely would. Again, if you look at the publications about the Integrated Performance Assessment, there’s often an element of what they call the washback effect. When the washback effect first appeared in literature some 30 years ago, it was really defined as that idea of the behaviors of both the students and the teachers are influenced by the assessment itself.

In that sense, what I’m seeing my students do on a day‑to‑day basis, I think, is absolutely something that we were not doing before. My practice has changed enormously throughout the process of working with the IPA.

I’ve become so much more reflective of what I’m doing to prepare my students with intercommunicative model, really giving students tools for their communicative toolbox, so to speak, in terms of, “How are you negotiating meaning? What are you doing when in this, in, within this task, if communication breaks down?”

Applauding students for strategies they might not even know are strategies. No longer is it a timed writing sample when they don’t understand what the prompt is. Instead, we’re focusing on the writing process, where we are specifically identifying who is our audience, how are we going to engage with them in the presentational mode when they can’t engage back with you, and crafting a message.

It’s inspired our students to be more reflective when they’re working peer to peer, and they’re editing, and they’re giving feedback. For me, it has been absolutely transformational to my practice, working with the Integrated Performance Assessment, just working within these modes and encouraging communicative competence has been huge.

Again, also integrating these authentic resources has allowed us to have conversations of cultures that we weren’t having before. Talking about the three Ps of culture was not something that we had even done before as a department.

Now, it’s standard. Now, we can’t deal with an authentic resource without dissecting these different components of culture and having that conversation and that comparative analysis.

Stacey:  That’s wonderful. I’ve got to tell you, I’ve gotten a lot out of the conversation. I’m sorry that you live so far away, because I think the next thing I want to do is come visit a few of your classrooms and take some notes. It sounds like you guys are doing tremendous work. Thanks for putting it out there so we can all learn from it.

Rich:  No, my pleasure. I’m so proud of us as a department and the work that we’ve been doing. It is absolutely stretched a lot of us in terms of our own personal growth. Again, seeing now what the students are able to do, and especially in comparison of where our expectations were before, it’s awesome. It is really, really cool.

Stacey:  Thank you so much for being here today. This was a tremendous conversation. I know that a lot of people are going to benefit from it.

Rich:  It was my absolute pleasure. I hope to hear from anybody that has questions or comments, by all means. You can find me on Twitter now, but you can send me an email. I’m here to help and to share all that I have.

[background music]

Stacey:  If you would like to comment or give feedback on the show or be a guest on the show yourself, let us know. You can find us on Twitter, @weteachlang, you can comment on any of the episodes on our website, or you can send a text message or leave a voicemail on our Google Voice number, which is 629‑888‑3398.

If you leave us a voicemail, we may even play your question or comment on the air. Don’t forget to tell your friends and colleagues about the show. Thank you so much for listening. Bye‑bye.

We Teach Languages Episode 36: A Departmental Shift to IPA-based Units with Rich Madel

In episode 36, Stacey asks Rich Madel, a secondary Spanish teacher and department chair in Pennsylvania, about how he and his colleagues moved from a textbook-based curriculum to IPA-based units that build on authentic resources using backward design.

Read the transcript for this episode here.


Show Notes

We welcome feedback, resources, and diverse perspectives on this topic! To contribute to the conversation started here, leave us a voicemail or send a text message to (629)888-3398. Or you can follow us on Twitter @weteachlang or use this contact form to send us an email.

You can find Rich Madel on Twitter @SrMadel or by email

Resources mentioned on the show…

… Implementing Integrated Performance Assessment by Adair-Hauck, Glisan, and Troyan

The Keys to Assessing Language Performance by Sandrock

…  NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements

Performance Descriptors

Ohio state rubrics

Previous episodes that touch on the IPA and performance assessment

Ep 9 with Claire Knowles

Ep 14 with Lisa Shepard

Ep 18 with Catherine Ousselin

Ep 23 with Paul Sandrock

Ep 34 with Raul Rosales


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We Teach Languages Episode 34: Assessments, Affect, and Proficiency Goals with Raul Rosales

In episode 34, Danielle Dorvil interviews Professor Raul Rosales Herrera, Associate Professor of Spanish at Drew University. Raul discusses his perspective on excellent language teaching and the goals he and his institution have set for students.



Show Notes

We welcome feedback, resources, and diverse perspectives on this topic! To contribute to the conversation started here, leave us a voicemail or send a text message to (629)888-3398. Or you can follow us on Twitter @weteachlang or use this contact form to send us an email.

You can find Raul Rosales on his faculty page https://users.drew.edu/rrosales/

Previous episodes mentioned on this episode…

Ep 14 with Lisa Shepard

Ep 32 with Walter Hopkins

You can find the ACTFL proficiency guidelines here https://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/actfl-proficiency-guidelines-2012

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Transcript of Episode 32 with Walter Hopkins

Transcript of Ep 32: Reflective, Principled, and Proficiency-Oriented Teaching with Walter Hopkins


[background music]

Stacey Margarita Johnson:  This is “We Teach Languages,” a podcast about language teaching from the diverse perspectives of real teachers.

I’m Stacey Margarita Johnson. Today on Episode 32, I am honored to have my friend Walter Hopkins as a guest on the podcast.

I should mention that he didn’t just volunteer to be a guest on the podcast. First, he volunteered to be a guest speaker in my teaching methods course this semester, and then, he agreed to let me share the recording of his presentation with everyone through the podcast.

Walter is everyone’s favorite sidekick on the podcast “Tea With BVP.” He also is the Assistant Director of the Spanish Language Program at Michigan State. He joins us today to talk a little bit about what constitutes excellent language teaching from his perspective, and a little bit about his experience supervising teaching assistants and instructors, and helping them develop.

My class and I got so much out of his presentation and I hope you all enjoy this episode as well.



Walter Hopkins:  I’m Walter Hopkins. Hi, everybody. I teach at Michigan State. I’m really excited to be with you all. I just want to say first of all that one of the things that I think is of utmost importance in teaching…

I work in a program where I’m the immediate supervisor for between 18 and 20 ‑‑ depending on the semester ‑‑ teaching assistants and instructors.

One of the things I always reiterate to them about teaching is that the reality of teaching is that no one is ever going to have a perfect lesson all of the time. No one is ever going to come out of the lessons feeling like every single class period goes perfectly well.

I think that’s a reality that we as teachers aren’t willing to accept because we want perfection, we want everything to go well all the time. We want everything to go perfectly all the time, and so I think one of the most important things for teachers is that they be reflective.

When I say reflective I mean, if I’m going to observe your class, I need to, as someone who’s observing, an outsider coming into your class, watching you, I’m much more interested in your response to how that lesson went than actually how that lesson went. I want to know from you, because that’s going to demonstrate to me, how you are as a teacher much more than whether your lesson went perfectly that day that I came to observe you.

I often tell my TAs and instructors, I say, “If I’m coming to observe you, and I see a mediocre lesson, but you think that it went incredibly well, then I’m much more concerned about that than if I see someone who gives a pretty horrible lesson and can tell me that it was pretty horrible and can tell me some things that they would do to improve it.”

Does that make sense? I think that we’re so concerned about whether each and every time we’re in the classroom, everything goes perfectly, but we don’t consider the fact that it’s not about everything going perfectly but rather about: can we make adjustments? Can we consider what we would do to improve this lesson for future iterations of that class or even in the next class saying, “OK, guys. Last class was a mess. It was horrible. [laughs] So, let’s try this again.”

I think that your students can appreciate that because they can appreciate the fact that you are being reflective. You’re thinking about how you’re teaching and you’re willing to make changes, because you can see that things didn’t go as well as you had planned or as you had hoped for.

That’s the first thing I’d like to say. Think really in terms of quality teaching because it’s about you, the teacher as a whole, that you’re able to reflect on your teaching and have real honest reflection, and then be able to take that honest reflection and turn it into quality instruction, improved instruction in the future.

That’s number one. [laughs] The other thing that I think is really an important part of quality teaching is principled teaching. I’m going to say reflective and principled teaching are the two things that I think are really important.

What I mean by principled teaching is that you have taken the time to think through, “What is it that I believe about language teaching? What is it that I believe about what a language class should be? What is it that I believe that my students should know and what they should be able to do with language by the end of their time with me in this class?”

The answers to those questions are really going to inform how you set up your class, how you teach your class, and how you evaluate your students. This goes hand‑in‑hand with setting goals and saying, “OK. These are the goals for my students. These are the goal…” I think even just setting goals for yourself as a reflective teacher and as a teacher who’s constantly in need of improvement, a teacher who’s constantly developing and growing.

This is my 14th year teaching language, and I still don’t have it all together. I think it’s important for us to recognize that development, growth, learning about teaching and being a better teacher doesn’t end because you’re no longer students. That continues throughout your entire career.

As you take a look though at your principles, you take a look at what it is that you’ve said, “This is important for me, as an instructor. This is important for my students. These are the things that I find to be really key things for a language classroom,” then you need to follow those principles. You need to work toward those goals that you’ve set for yourself and for your students.

That’s what I mean when I say principled teaching. You say, “This is what’s important in a language class. This is what’s important to me. These are the things that I, through my development as a teacher up to this point, have recognized. These are really important. This is what we really should be focusing our attention on the language classes.” Then, do that. Follow those principles and aim to achieve those goals.

I think for me, when I first started out, I had all these thoughts. There were lots of things that I had learned in classes, but I just didn’t see how any of that made sense once I actually was thrown in to a classroom. You’re just overwhelmed with what you have to do.

My first teaching setting, I was teaching high school and middle school French and Spanish. I was given a textbook and said, “Finish the book.” [laughs] I was like, “All right then. I’m not sure how I’m gonna do that, but I’ll do my very best to make sure I finish this book.”

That was the goal. That was what that particular location, they said, “That was what we want you to do. We want you to finish the book.” That was all I had. It was a challenge for me then because you learn all these things in a methods class, or in a principles of language teaching, or whatever the course might be called.

You learn all these things but then when you’re thrown into the midst of it, you realize, “Wow. How do I really put all this into practice?”

When you come in and you recognize you have these principles, you have these ideas, you have thoughts that are based on research. In your mind about, “This is how I want to teach and this is how I want to help my students to learn.” Then, when you’re given a book and said, “Finish the textbook,” then you can say, “OK. Well, how am I going to do that?” as opposed to just following…taking a look at the pages and saying, “I guess I’m just teach this for the sake of knowledge, they’re gonna learn what they need to know, because that’s what they want.” Rather you can say, “No. There’s some principles behind what I’m teaching and this is what I, these are the outcomes that I want my students to be able to have by the end of the course.”


Stacey:  I think that’s so important especially for new teachers. You might have a lot of constraints on their practice. Thank you for that.

Walter, I’m wondering as someone who has a lot of experience supervising TAs and instructors. What would you say are some of the common mistakes that you see instructors making when you visit their classrooms, or engage them in professional development?


Walter:  I wouldn’t say mistakes. The reality is that they’re in the learning process, right?

I was telling them when I come to observe them, “This is not an evaluation. This is an opportunity for professional development. I’m not coming in here with my clipboard and writing down you did this, you did this, you didn’t do this, you didn’t do this, you did this, you did this, you didn’t do this, you didn’t do this.”

Rather I’m coming in and seeing, “What’s going well? What are some areas in need of improvement?” Trying to help them develop professionally. We actually set goals after that meeting and say these are some of the things that we together would like to see improvement on over the course of rest of the semester.

I would say that the most common thing that I see is that the TAs or the new instructors, they want students to be able to produce language long before they’ve ever given them all of the tools to be able to produce that.

What I mean by that is that, they think that by saying something a few times, that students already have that up in their brains, and then they say, “OK. Now you do this.” The students are looking at them like, “What just happened?” [laughs]

That’s the most common point of growth I would say, is helping them recognize that it takes a lot of repetition. It takes a lot of repeated questioning and interaction with input for students to get enough into their brains to finally be able to actually do something with that.

By just simply giving them a short brief introduction and then say, “Now do this.” It’s not sufficient. Students oftentimes feel unprepared to produce output, because they haven’t been given sufficient amounts of input in order to be able to do that. They haven’t had that opportunity to interact with the input in order to be able to do that. That’s the thing that I most commonly see.


Stacey:  I know that you at Michigan State are doing a lot of really innovative things in your language program. I was wondering if you could tell us about a few of the ways that you are increasing the focus on proficiency, on student outcomes, and just trying to innovate in your context.


Walter:  Let me tell you a little bit about what we’re doing. We are what we call a Proficiency‑Oriented Program and we sometimes refer to ourselves the Goal‑Oriented Program. What we’ve set up are courses with the primary focuses on developing proficiency. What we did when we look at proficiency goals, we said, “We want to start at the top and then move down.”

What that means is that we said, “What is our outcome? What is our desired outcome for our students when they finish the four‑semester sequence?” so the two‑year language requirement. What is it that we want them to be able to accomplish at that time.

We decided that we want our students to achieve, we actually set a quantifiable goal. We want 50% of our students to achieve intermediate‑mid proficiency by the end of four semesters.

From there then, we decided to take a look at, what does that mean? What does it mean for our students to reach intermediate‑mid proficiency? What is required? What is the knowledge that’s required? What are the things that they need to be able to do in order for them to reach intermediate‑mid proficiency?

We said, “That’s what we want to take a look at,” and so we looked at our curriculum. We looked at the textbook and we said, “What are the things in our textbook that are going to help contribute to them achieving intermediate‑mid? What are the things in our textbook that are superfluous that are not going to help them to achieve that intermediate‑mid level proficiency?”

We then determined what’s going to help, what’s not going to help and we threw out the stuff that wasn’t going to help, and we augmented the stuff that was going to help. We then established Can Do statements for each our courses.

We said, “So by the end of Spanish 101 ‑‑ so first semester‑‑ we want our students to be able to achieve these goals.” The Can Do statements are established for Spanish 101.

We said, “Then by the end of Spanish 202, by the end of the second semester, we want them to be able to achieve these goals. By the end of the third semester, we want them to be able to achieve these goals. By the end of the fourth semester, we want them to be able to achieve those goals.”

We first started out at the program level. We said these are our goals based on our principles. These are our goals we want our students to be able to do, and then work down to each individual course.

Then, we worked with individual instructors and said, as we look at these as our goals for this course, now let’s develop the course and see how we can fulfill those goals for each individual course. At a unit level, how we can fulfil those goals for each individual course at a classroom day‑to‑day level. Breaking it down from program, to course, to then each individual unit, and then each individual class‑day.

That’s how we got started. It’s been a long journey. It started just before I started here. It started in 2011 and I was hired in the fall of 2012.

We’re constantly revisiting and revising, and we’ve discovered that we’re not achieving our proficiency outcome goal, 50% of students getting to intermediate‑mid. Now we’re revisiting and saying, what can we do to adjust our curriculum in order to help us to achieve that goal.


Stacey:  That’s fantastic. I love how transparent you all have been also along every stage of the process. II know that you’ve done widespread assessment on how the progress is going. Now you’re really upfront that, “Yeah, we haven’t quite met our goals, so we’re re‑evaluating curriculum.”

I think that just sets really such a good precedent for other programs that might be interested in starting that same proficiency‑oriented process so that everyone knows, it’s not something you get right out of the gate. It’s a process of always moving towards that goal.

[background music]


Stacey:  Walter, thank you so much for participating in the podcast and for sharing your knowledge with all of us. I am really grateful.


Walter:  All right. Take care.


Stacey:  If you would like to comment or give feedback on the show, or be a guest on the show yourself, let us know.

You can find us on Twitter @weteachlang. You can comment on any of the episodes on our website, or you can send a text message or leave a voicemail on our Google Voice number which is 629‑888‑3398. If you leave us a voicemail, we may even play your question or comment on the air.

Don’t forget to tell your friends and colleagues about the show. Thank you so much for listening. Bye‑bye.


We Teach Languages Episode 32: Reflective, Principled, Proficiency-Oriented Teaching with Walter Hopkins

In episode 32, Stacey shares an interview with Walter Hopkins, instructor and assistant director of the Michigan State University Spanish language program. Walter discusses his perspective on excellent language teaching, unpacks some of the issues faced by new language instructors, and explains how his language program has developed around proficiency goals.


You can read the transcript of this episode here.


Show Notes

We welcome feedback, resources, and diverse perspectives on this topic! To contribute to the conversation started here, leave us a voicemail or send a text message to (629)888-3398. Or you can follow us on Twitter @weteachlang or use this contact form to send us an email.

You can find Walter Hopkins online…

…on Twitter @teawithwph

…on his podcast teawithbvp.com

…or on his MSU faculty page http://www.rcs.msu.edu/people/faculty/walter-hopkins/


blurb 32a