The best way I can start this blog post it to say a huge thank you and give recognition to my collaboration partner, Meghann Kenkel. We are currently in year three of an increasingly wide-ranging collaboration that is showing no signs of slowing down. The text messages, Facebook messages, Pinterest messages, emails, and in person collaboration that has led to where we are now would fill a book. In lieu of that, this blog post summarizes where we are currently in our learning maps project. The only thing that I think is important to add here is that we both feel that revisiting the process of developing learning maps has been incredibly valuable for us. Too often, due to a range of factors, teacher professional development is limited to a workshop or a one time opportunity to do something or explore an idea. We intentionally chose to dig into this one again, and have arrived at this point with a very strong sense of the value of re-engaging with previous learning.
As I wrote in part one of this post, BC (where we teach) has been going through a curriculum redesign that led to the change in our thinking around assessment, that led to learning maps. We have used learning maps successfully in our classes for a little over a year now, and Meghann has also designed learning maps for the science classes that she teaches. (This was no small task, by the way, to focus on skills in a primarily content-driven subject area, but hopefully Meghann will start her own blog one day and tell that part of the story.)
During the past year, there has been more information released and we have given more thought to the core competencies of the BC curriculum. Our intent in this redesign was to review our wording and find ways to reflect the core competencies in the learning map, so that we are explicit about where they fit in the skills students learn in our classes, as well as how we assess them.
The BC core competencies are explained in detail here, but in summary they are:
- Communication -The communication competency encompasses the set of abilities that students use to impart and exchange information, experiences and ideas, to explore the world around them, and to understand and effectively engage in the use of digital media.
- Thinking – The thinking competency encompasses the knowledge, skills and processes we associate with intellectual development. It is through their competency as thinkers that students take subject-specific concepts and content and transform them into a new understanding. Thinking competence includes specific thinking skills as well as habits of mind, and metacognitive awareness.
- Personal and Social – Personal and social competency is the set of abilities that relate to students’ identity in the world, both as individuals and as members of their community and society. Personal and social competency encompasses the abilities students need to thrive as individuals, to understand and care about themselves and others, and to find and achieve their purposes in the world.
The driving idea behind the core competencies is that they are present in every area of learning, but that they are shown or may be explored by students differently in each subject area. Our goal was to be intentional and explicit about what that can look like in second language learning.
The communication competency is the easiest to incorporate in language learning. As long as students are using their core language competencies of speaking, listening, reading and writing, they are communicating. Many second language resources (in our case, French) are also available now via digital media, making that another accessible option for student learning.
Communication is embedded throughout the learning map, but to illustrate how it is expressed, our first big idea (which is now following a similar structure on the learning map for each grade level) reads as follows:
1. Construct and negotiate meaning in a growing range of settings.
For each grade level, we have included a footnote at the end of this idea to elaborate the range of strategies and settings students will explore during their learning. In French 8, students explore very common, everyday settings, and the strategies they use include interpreting gestures, facial expressions, intonation, tone of voice, contextual clues, and familiar words. By the time students reach French 10, the big idea is the same, but the range of settings is expected to be larger and reflect their growing capabilities. The strategies they use to derive and negotiate meaning at this level include circumlocution, paraphrasing, reformulation, reiteration, repetition, word substitution; interpreting body language, expression and tone; using contextual clues; interpreting familiar words. Finally, in French 12, the wording of the big idea has changed slightly:
1. Use a variety of strategies to construct and negotiate meaning in a growing range of contexts.
The elaborations we included for students to clarify what they will explore at this level explain that the strategies used to derive and negotiate meaning at this level include circumlocution, paraphrasing, reformulation, reiteration, repetition, word substitution; interpreting body language, expression and tone; using contextual clues; interpreting familiar words. Contexts may differ in terms of audience, purpose, setting, formal vs. informal, etc. as well as in person, online and other forms of communication.
The thinking competency includes both creative and critical thinking. This competency is seen in many aspects of language learning and use, particularly in the way that students select and apply the skills and strategies they learn. In addition, through revisiting previously learned material or revising writing drafts, students provide evidence of thinking through improving and growing from where they were previously.
One aspect of thinking that we decided to target specifically was the use of learned vocabulary and structures versus vocabulary and structures that come from outside sources (translators, friends in French Immersion programs, etc.) that don’t represent learning. If a student is not able to explain why they chose a given word or structure, or isn’t able to use it in a different setting or context, it can be argued that it does not yet represent learning for that student. We added more specific wording to state that students should be using “grade appropriate” and “learned” material in constructing their communication. Big Idea #5 is a good example:
5. Use grade appropriate vocabulary and structures learned in class to demonstrate an increasingly complex ability to connect sequences of events in past, present and future time frames.
As with the other grades, the big idea is exactly the same on all learning maps from grade 8 to grade 12. The difference is in the elaboration (added in a footnote) which explains more of what is explored at each level. For French 8, timeframes are expressed using a variety of common verbs in le futur proche, le présent, and le passé composé. In French 10, timeframes are expressed using a variety of regular and irregular verbs in le futur proche, le futur simple, le conditionnel, le présent, le passé composé, and l’imparfait. In French 12, timeframes will be expressed with attention to nuances among tenses and moods, including previously learned tenses in addition to le passé composé, l’imparfait, le plus-que-parfait, le passé simple, le conditionnel and le subjonctif. The first thing that is apparent is that there is growth over time in the range of tenses a student will know and be able to use. There is growth in some more subtle aspects of communication, such as the ability to use nuance. However, it is also important to note that if a student in French 8 uses the imparfait in their work, it does not represent learned or grade appropriate material. If a student in French 10 uses le subjonctif, the same is true. It may or may not be evidence or translator use depending on the situation, but it does not represent learning (of a tense) for a student who is not able to explain their choice of tense or replicate that use in a similar situation.
Personal and Social
The personal and social competency is strongly connected to the communication competency, because in order for one student to communicate, another must be their audience. Students grow over time in their ability to modify communication to facilitate comprehension of a partner, to create a certain effect such as persuading, informing, entertaining, etc., to work effectively in groups, to complete self and peer assessments or feedback, and so on. The exploration of culture in a second language class provides students with an opportunity to learn about other cultures, while becoming more aware of their own. Big Idea #3 focuses on this element. In French 8, it reads as follows:
3. Expand understanding of Francophone culture through the exploration of Francophone creative works, and cultural aspects of Francophone communities, practices and traditions.
At the French 10 level, the scope has widened to include a larger range of cultural voices and viewpoints:
3. Expand understanding of Francophone culture through the exploration of Francophone creative works, contributions of Francophone Canadians to society, and engaging with Francophone communities, practices & traditions.
And in French 12, students are exploring more subtle, nuanced aspects of culture by looking at language and culture together, from across la Francophonie.
3. Expand understanding of Francophone culture through the exploration of Francophone creative works, connections between language and culture, and engaging with Francophone communities, people or experiences.
At each level, the lens of comparison is used to encourage students to look at their own and other cultures, and to notice similarities, differences and connections.
Once we had incorporated wording that pertained to the core competencies, Meghann and I wanted to emphasize the growth mindset that we use to approach instruction and assessment, as well as the way in which we would like students to view their own work. We use a portfolio based method of final assessment, with the idea that a student’s growth should be demonstrated through their work as they progress through the course. In our performance statements, we incorporated descriptions of what levels of growth should look like. For example, Big Idea #4 reads as follows:
4. Understand and use increasingly complex learned vocabulary and language structures.
Again, the specific vocabulary and structures to be understood and used at a given grade level varies, but the performance descriptions for this big idea indicate how much growth students should be striving for. At an A level:
Demonstrates significant growth over time of the ability to use a range of increasingly effective, fluent and accurate complex learned vocabulary, ability to identify bias and adjust register, appropriate for grade level.
And a B level:
Demonstrates consistent growth over time of the ability to use a range of increasingly effective, fluent and accurate complex learned vocabulary, ability to identify bias and adjust register, appropriate for grade level.
And a C+ level:
Demonstrates moderate growth over time of the ability to use a range of increasingly effective, fluent and accurate complex learned vocabulary, ability to identify bias and adjust register, appropriate for grade level.
Students are expected to attempt all of the learning tasks and to work with all of the material presented, but the degree to which they demonstrate they can do it, as well as the growth in that ability, will determine where they fall on this scale. If a student begins the course and has a very limited vocabulary but works hard and is able to demonstrate significant growth, they can potentially score higher here than a student who enters a course and because they did well in previous years, does not put as much work into growing their vocabulary and other skills described in the big idea.
New and Improved! Learning Maps
Here is the collection of new and improved learning maps we will be using in the 2017-2018 school year. We think these are a dramatic improvement over what we were using previously, and we can’t wait to get started.