Modern Language Formative Assessment or Just Raw Data

The term “formative assessment” is used very frequently in discussing modern language learning. Teachers often cite many different ways of doing formative assessment:  thumbs up or down; five fingers;   A, B, C, D cards;  clickers;  online surveys;  red  yellow green cards;  exit slips;  3-2-1 cards; etc.

Each of these techniques collects raw data. If the activity ends with the raw data, then no formative assessment has been done. Formative assessment implies that the raw data (monitoring), will go to diagnosis, to feedback, and to student implementation of the feedback to overcoming the gap. (Tuttle,Formative Assessment: Responding to Your Students 2009.)

In diagnosis, the modern language teacher decides if there is a gap between the intended learning and the actual student learning. If there is a gap, then the teacher does a diagnosis to determine what specific different strategy the student can use to overcome the gap within this class or a few classes. In feedback the teacher invites the student to use the new different strategy. It is highly unlikely that if the original learning strategy or approach did not work, redoing the same strategy or doing more of it will result in success (“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – attributed to Einstein). The modern language teacher builds in classroom time for the student to practice the new strategy; the student may need several classes. The formative assessment has worked when the student has overcome the language gap and can successfully demonstrate the learning. If the student has not demonstrated the learning after several tries then the student may need another different strategy.

What does formative assessment look like in the modern language classroom? An example from my book: Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment will illustrate peer formative assessment.  Student A describes a visual for a minute. Student B records a slash for each said statement. At the end of the minute, Student B tells Student A how many sentences he/she said.  Students know that their goal is eight sentences in a minute. If Student A has not said eight sentences, Students B indicates topics or items in the visual that Student A could have talked about.  Student A then creates sentences for those items.Student A and B  may practice several times that class and even during the next class so that they can say eight different things about the visual in a minute.

In another example from my online speaking activities,  Student A asks Student B the question from a printed card.  Student B supplies an answer.  Student A compares that answer to the written answer which contains the most likely response or  responses. If Student B’s answer does not match, then Student A coaches Student B by giving hints about the answer; Student A does not just give him/her the answer. Once Student B gets the answer, Student A asks the question again so Student B can answer it correctly.

Do you do formative assessment or do you collect raw data?

I have 30+ activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student speaking at At the same location there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity.

The formative assessment books are available at

The following ebooks are available at

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle

90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities by Harry Grover Tuttle



Modern Language Proficiencies: Can-Do Strategies


NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements: Recording Language Proficiency Progress

Frequently, a modern language teacher and  his/her students measure their progress in a course in terms of the chapters covered in the textbook. For example, a teacher might say, “We have just finished Chapter 3.”  However, textbook coverage implies nothing about actual student language proficiency. Likewise, to say that a course covers chapters one through eight of the textbook has no proficiency meaning. However, to say that by the end of the course, the  students have met the Interpersonal Communication Novice Mid level indicates a specific proficiency.

A language proficiency model focuses on the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements.  A teacher states, “By the end of  this unit, in Novice Mid you ‘can ask some simple questions'”. The teacher provides basic instruction and many opportunities for the students to ask and answer questions.

After the students have demonstrated  several times that they can do the  Interpersonal Communication Novice Mid “ask some simple questions”, they place a huge checkmark in front of that Can-Do statement on their Can-Do listing for Interpersonal Communication. They see their language progress in this unit. They have proof  that they have learned new language proficiencies each chapter.

Each new unit teachers can focus on additional Can-Do statements and scaffold their class so that students can demonstrate their new proficiencies. The students continue to show their progress by checking off more and more Can-Do statements.They reach a point where they have checked off  a whole subsection and, eventually, all of the sublevels for a whole level such as Novice Mid. These Can-Do statements serve as their learning progress chart.

How do assess your students’ language proficiency in each unit?

By early May, my ebook tentatively titled Modern Language Proficiencies: Can -Do Strategies  will be available at Smashwords. This ebook covers Can-Do statements and strategies for speaking, listening, reading, and writing plus it has sections on the role of  vocabulary, grammar, culture, textbooks and mobile devices in the development of  these proficiencies. The major emphasis is on speaking.

To help your beginning and more advanced students move toward spontaneous speaking, I have developed 5 Visual activities/games  for any modern language (no words) and have developed 28 Spanish activities for students.  I am developing activities based on the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements. Teacherspayteachers:

My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities, is available at can instantly use these many communication and cultural activities in your classroom with even beginning students when only half the class has mobile devices. It can be downloaded as a pdf.

My three formative assessment books, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, Formative Assessment: Responding to Your Students and Successful Student Writing Through Formative Assessment, are available at

How to show student achievement (SLO) in Modern Language class for Teacher Evaluation

With the new teacher observation system, modern language teachers have to be able to show student gain from a pre-test to a post-test (student learning outcomes or SLOs) Although many teachers have opted to use a grammar point such as the future tense as their performance measure, I would suggest that having a speaking goal is much more impressive.

For example, a teacher could state that as a result of studying the vocabulary and grammar of the school unit, students will be able to say ten sentences about school. For a pre-test students talk to their partner who records the number of sentences said about school at the beginning of the unit. Most students will say no sentences or they may be able to make up one or two. The teacher collects these partner sheets and transfers them to her official sheet or puts them directly into a spreadsheet.

After studying the unit, the students can easily say ten random sentences to  explain what they do in the class such as “I study.  I do my homework. I work alot.  I write. I have three pens. I work with a classmate.  I talk in Spanish. I look at pictures.  My Spanish book is big. My teacher teaches.”   Again, they can tell these sentences to their partner who counts the sentences and records the number. The teacher collects these partner sheets and records them on her official sheet to show the dramatic increase in sentences said.

She puts the numbers  in a spreadsheet to get both individual and class achievement. She  produces a chart that shows the very low scores in the beginning speaking  and the very high speaking scores at the end.

Administrators who see the results will be doubly satisfied. Not only has the teacher shown improvement in his/ her students’ academic growth but he/she has had them speak which is what many administrators see as the main goal of modern language study. They see this as a worthwhile performance goal.

How will you show student growth in your modern language class?

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (29+) includes Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Speaking Mats ( Student can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas in pairs or small group), Modified Speed Dating (Students ask their  partners one question from a card-whole class), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers:

At the same site, I have a series of modern language visual stories with no words (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students.  These can be used in any language since there are just visuals, no words.

My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at