If you’re a public educator in the USA in 2015, there’s a good chance that your district and state have been changing the manner in which you are evaluated. As of this year, in MN, 35% of my evaluation must be based on test scores. As it happens, in my district, our district has decided to evaluate me, an 8th grade Spanish teacher, on how well the 6th, 7th and 8th graders do on their standardized tests at the end of the year. Kids I don’t teach in subjects I don’t teach. 35%.
Students Evaluating Teachers
Included in my evaluation is data gathered from a student survey. The survey is intended to measure the level of student engagement. There are 13 questions and it’s administered once. At the end of the year. As you can imagine, those 13 questions are general “best practice” questions. But the typical and seemingly innocuous questions they ask “My teacher spends all class lecturing” or “In this class we work in pairs and group projects to apply our learning” are not “best practice” of a world language class, much less a TCI class. Why would they be? It’s intended to be a generic survey. It presumes equivalence of best practice in all content areas. And they don’t address the standards that I hold myself to. I decided that just wouldn’t do.
Luckily, there’s a clause in our contract that allows me to present my own data as evidence of my effectiveness.
So I came up with my own. It’s one of the tools I use to demonstrate what’s happening in my classes and it’s what I want to share with you today.
Download a PDF of my year-end student questionnaire here.
My purpose, though, wasn’t solely to defend myself against silly new district evaluation tools. In fact, I had developed it prior to the new tools being implemented.
I wanted a tool that could demonstrate to nay-sayers and those who don’t yet understand TCI that I was making a difference in language students’ lives.
I wanted to hold myself accountable to the principles of language education that I say I believe in.
I wanted to see if my students’ perceptions of class match mine.
I wanted to demonstrate that my classroom practice was in adherence to the new district-wide world language goal statement.
So, without further ado, here’s our district’s goal statement, broken down. In each section I’ve added a few thoughts that resulted in questions that I put on the student questionnaire.
Our District’s World Language Goal Statement
Just because I say it’s best practice doesn’t make it so. And we all know that citing real and valid research doesn’t get to someone’s heart if they just aren’t inclined to believe what the research says (yet). So I chose to have my students evaluate me based on my adherence to our district-wide goal statement. It was introduced in January 2013 and strongly (and rightly) favors communication as the main goal of instruction.
I do hope you’ll click over and look closely at the goal statement. It’s darn near poetry for proficiency-focused teachers. There are references to the ACTFL National Standards, ACTFL’s 90% Position Statement, and our district’s own initiative for equity in education. You’ll see, when you look at the whole survey, that I specifically chose questions that would demonstrate adherence to this goal statement.
In ISD 622, we believe that all students can acquire a second (or third) language.
We believe that ALL students can develop communicative competency in a non-native language of their choice. Our goal is that EVERY student will be able to communicate in meaningful,relevant and appropriate ways with speakers of other languages and to become life-long language learners.
In this opener, there are three huge points for me:
ALL students can acquire language.
Gone are the days when language learning is simply for the college-bound. We need to teach in ways that recognize the unique human capacity to acquire language in all our students.
Every student should have the opportunity to develop the ability to communicate with others in another language.
The purpose of instruction is to promote communication with others in a second language. Our focus is clearly not on learning about the language, but learning to use it to communicate.
Students should be able to communicate in ways that are meaningful and relevant to the student.
Learning to talk with others could mean memorizing tourism dialogues. Not in our district. This goal statement goes beyond learning to talk with others and specifically states that the purpose is to empower the students to use the language in ways that they need. Not all kids are college-bound. Not all will go on to read el Quijote or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. For those that will, we meet their needs. But for the kid who wants to be a mechanic, we also empower her to speak with others by focusing not on textbook chapters, but on high frequency language.
In other words, my job is to empower students to become Intermediate level users of their language so that they have the skills and capacity to continue using and learning language in the context of their own life.
How can I measure that in a level 1 classroom??
I requested class period, gender and perceived academic achievement so that I could later disaggregate.
In the images of the results that you’re about to see, there were 108 students surveyed. It was fairly gender equal. Most questions were posed as a Likert Scale with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 “strongly agree”.
Confidence and Competence
They will have a high degree of confidence in their language of study, be skilled at clarifying meaning and advocating for themselves in their language of study and believe strongly in their own ability to continue to acquire the language regardless of their chosen life path after graduation.
If we’re going to increase upper level language study, students have to WANT to continue.
Am I sending confident students on to the next level?
Do they feel and recognize their own ability in the language?
Does my presence and instruction breed confidence or tear it down?
Do my students perceive me as someone who believes in their ability to become a proficient speaker of Spanish?
Do my students of differing backgrounds – gender, race, socio-economic status, academic ability perceive class and their own success similarly?
An Environment for ALL Language Acquirers
This goal of communicative competency, along with our duty as public educators to reach all students, requires us as language educators to strive to create the optimum environment in which language acquisition can occur for everyone. Therefore, ISD 622 classrooms will feature maximum use (90% +) of natural language in a way that is comprehensible, personalized and meaningful to students.
I try my best (and it’s a daily battle) to stay in the target language. Admittedly, I stink at it. Still, I want to know if my students have an understanding or accurate perception of how much Spanish is spoken in class. Would they report that we achieve 90%+ on a regular basis?
I believe that it’s not enough to speak the language. Incomprehensible language doesn’t contribute meaningfully to acquisition.
I want to know if my students perceive me to be speakign with them comprehensibly.
Do they know that they can stop me at any time and get meaning they missed?
Am I empowering them to do so?
Personalization is the heart of the TPRS/TCI classroom. I want to know if my students feel that I’m tapping into their real lives and interests.
Am I using my students background knowledge, their creativity, their personal realities in my class to help them access the learning?
I believe that appreciating practices and perspectives of foreign cultures begins by appreciating their own classmates. Am I creating an educational space that is respectful of all students? Do they feel that? Do they feel they belong to the learning community that I personally am responsible for creating and maintaining?
I believe that students should be encouraged to create meaning and express themselves. Memorizing irrelevant, sterilized dialogues or phrases doesn’t have a place in my classroom.
Do they feel as if I’m equipping them to express real meaning?
Negotiation of Meaning
Instructors will use a variety of communicative input strategies involving face-to-face negotiation of meaning and large amounts of reading to facilitate comprehension, personalize the language and support meaning-making.
I like to think I hold my kids accountable for responding to everything they hear or see. I want to believe that I empower them to clarify meaning at their level – we often start with non-verbal clarification of meaning until the confidence is there to clarify in the target language.
So, am I getting across to them that I expect them to stop me when I’ve gone too fast or gone out of bounds with new vocabulary?
Am I helping them learn how to get their questions answered? Are they feeling empowered to interrupt a Spanish speaker, identify a word or phrase that’s novel to them and ask for clarification?
An Environment Optimized for Acquisition
In an environment optimized for language acquisition, instructors will:
*provide comprehensible input that is communicative in nature and relevant to students
*make meaning clear through body language, gestures, and visual support
*ensure that sure ALL students are understanding
*negotiate meaning with students and encourage negotiation among students
*elicit talk that increases in fluency, accuracy, and complexity over time
*encourage self-expression and spontaneous use of language
*teach strategies for requesting clarification and assistance when they don’t understand
*offer feedback to improve students’ ability to communicate in the target language
I tried to develop questions for each of these bullet points listed in the goal statement. I want to know if students feel encouraged to express themselves. A key tenet of TCI is that we allow speech to emerge. We do require choral output, but I’m constantly stopping and letting them know that they should respond at the level they’re comfortable with.
“Class, is Juan wearing new red shoes?”
The answer may be “Yes.” I let them know that ALL of these answers are correct:
Yes he is.
Yes, red shoes.
Yes, new red shoes.
Yes, Juan’s wearing new red shoes.
Do students feel I help them to express themselves? That I provide them feedback that improves their ability to communicate?
Are My Students Experiencing JOY?
Finally, I wanted to make sure that I was adhering to the principles laid out by Dr. Stephen Krashen and others who maintain that delayed gratification is not a necessary evil of language acquisition. That we can, in fact, use language NOW to talk about real and relevant topics at a level that engages students and elicits appropriate output. When students are experiencing sensations of language acquisition, they are not feeling as if they’re working. I wanted to know if my students perceive their language learning as both easy and joyful.
To that end, I wanted to find out if they perceive class as easy and fun. If they do, I’m doing something right.
Do they feel stress when in class? If they are, I’m doing something wrong.
Please take a look at the survey and consider what may apply in your own context. If it’s helpful, use it. If you’re in a situation where others are defining your effectiveness, consider what guiding principles your district uses and create a tool that gets at them. If you have no unifying goal statement, I might suggest you initiate that conversation. Feel free to use ours as a model.
There’s nothing that impresses an administrator more than a teacher who takes their own effectiveness seriously. We’ve all had administrators, colleagues, parents and students who bring with them their own ideas of “what works” in the language classroom. But when you present this type of data to a principal who may not know about or appreciate TCI (yet), she can’t argue with high levels of confidence, engagement and strong sense of community.