IPAs – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As I travel down the “proficiency path” for the first time this year, some things have been really great, and some things have not been so great. I put a ton of work in this summer planning my units for 4 different classes. At the same time, I planned Summative Performance Assessments for each unit. Now that I’m “in the trenches” so to speak, I’m learning a lot on the fly. As I start to flesh out each unit just before I teach it, the first thing I do is look at my assessment. So far, I’ve revamped or at least tweaked almost every final IPA for almost every unit. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think it means that I’m getting a better handle on what my students should be able to do at various levels, and what I can realistically ask them for. Right now, Spanish 2 is at the end of a unit, taking that IPA. Here’s what I’ve learned so far (mostly from this particular IPA):

Technology is not always awesome. I found an excellent app this summer, Educreations, that I was very excited to make use of in my classroom. We used it with great success a couple of times in Spanish 3. Then there was an update. I thought the new update would be awesome. It would allow students to save presentations as drafts so that they could continue working later, the next day, or even at home if they had the app on their iPad.
After much success, I decided to integrate this app into my current IPA for Spanish 2, which asked kids to read about a game in Spanish (Spoons), and then describe the rules and give instructions for playing. I thought “Gee, Educreations will be great for this! They can record their voices and make it more interesting with a visual component!”

So we practiced with Educreations in class this week, and I realized that it might take them more than one class period to finish, since the presentation was only the reading/speaking portion of the IPA and interpersonal/writing/listening were a separate activity. That was fine, I just started the IPA a day early. They were ready.
Here’s how it went:
~”Okay kids, I’m not looking for you to write paragraphs on your slides in Educreations. I want key words, like PowerPoint, and then when you record yourselves, use more detail, sentences, etc. I don’t want you to read your description of the game!”
~Kids started working. Read about the game. Then proceeded to write or type every single word they wanted to say into their presentation. This, of course, took forever. Almost no one even got to the recording the first day.
~Educreations is weird. I don’t know if there are bugs in this new update or what, but my students kept losing their drafts. I was under the assumption that, if they logged in then their presentation would be on whatever iPad they used. But presentations disappeared, showed up under other students’ names, and then magically came back. I was not pleased. Finally, I told them that if Educreations was working for them, fine, use it, but if not, they could make a quick poster with construction paper and just record a “video” of themselves holding the sign and talking about it.

The kids needed more direction. This is one of my biggest downfalls as a teacher, not just in IPAs, but in general. I write instructions that I think are pretty clear and then let the kids go. I’m realizing the importance of modeling, but I thought “This is like a test. If they read the instructions, they should be fine. We’ve been practicing these same activities for over a week now.” Except that we had never practiced them all together in quite this way. So in the other section, these were the instructions (given to them in English):

You’re trying to make plans with your friends for the weekend. First, find a movie that you want to see. Then, have a conversation with your friends to decide which movie you’re going to see and when you can all go. Finally, write a note to your mother explaining your plans, including information about which movie you’re going to see, when, with whom you’re going, and why you think it will be fun.

To me, this made sense. First, look at movies. Pick one. THEN TALK WITH YOUR FRIENDS about which movie you want to see. THEN write a note to your mother. This is not what happened. Kids are shy, they’re nervous, and they don’t want to talk to each other for a test until they absolutely can’t put it off any longer. I think this is also part of why the presentations took so long to finish. So what ended up happening was something like this: Kids read about Spoons in Spanish. They worked on creating slides in Educreations. Then they looked up movies online. Then they wrote a note to their mother. THEN they sat around, hoping that someone ELSE would start speaking or ask them to talk with them.

Once I got everyone on the same page, and gave them the option of NOT using Educreations, things went pretty well. One class still isn’t finished and will need some time on Monday, but I’m definitely learning from this experience.

So now that I’ve told you all about the bad and the ugly with my current IPA, what about the good?

Well, based on past experience, I think this type of assessment is a much better method of figuring out what students can do. In previous years, mired in grammar, tests were all about what students missed and there’s certainly still some of that in my “grammar-Nazi” brain, but I try not to let it bleed into class or assessments unless it hinders understanding. I feel like I have a much better understanding of where my students are and how they can improve than I ever have before. Additionally, it’s easier to help them. Instead of saying “Well, memorize these charts and this list” I can tell them “Right now you’re using simple phrases and few sentences. Try including more verbs and putting whole sentences together.” They’re starting to understand proficiency levels and figuring out how to move from one to the next.

So far, no one has failed a “test”. In my book, that is huge because my students are not failures, but tests have never reflected that in the past. In fact, the lowest grade  so far on the 2 IPAs I’ve given has been a B-. Rather than feeling defeated, upset, discouraged, and exhausted when I finish grading, I’m generally pleased.

It takes SO much less time to grade these IPAs. One writing activity, one speaking activity, and sometimes one more Interpersonal activity (it seems like in the lower levels, the interpersonal can often get folded into the presentational. Is this because I’m doing it wrong, or have others experienced this as well?). No fill-in-the-blanks, no charts, no matching, usually I don’t even have any labeling or short-answer activities to look at. It’s quick. And yes, this is a big deal to me.

So there you have it. A long, some what vent-full post about IPAs. I’m learning. They’re getting better. I know that eventually, I will figure this out. And then it’ll be time to go back and revamp them again because I’ll figure out how to make it even better, more authentic, more realistic, or an even better gauge of what students can do.

I would love to hear about your experiences, good or bad, with IPAs as well!


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