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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: Workshop

Planning for Assessment Assignments + Projects

Examine the Topic


Now that you have read the research and viewed the video discussion on assessment, you will examine the topic further by analyzing a project description to see how it implements elements of an effective performance assessment.

A performance assessment can empower teachers to focus their instruction in a way that is meaningful and exciting to students and can motivate students to become more invested in their learning. An important part of a well-planned performance assessment is the description of the project that you provide to students. An effective description informs students about your expectations for the project and gives them strategies for meeting those expectations. The following is a list of the elements of an effective project description.

Elements of a Project Description

  1. The desired performance task is described.
  1. Authenticity of product and performance is achieved.
  1. Criteria and performance standards are established for students.
  1. Strategies useful to the task are made explicit.
  1. The rubric is communicated and modeled.

A. Analyzing a Project Description

For this activity, you will analyze the description of a portfolio project designed by Elizabeth Runnalls and Wendie Santiago for a Spanish IV class in Nanuet, New York. As a culminating project, students wrote and illustrated a children’s story, then recorded it on audiotape and performed it for younger students. To help them draft their text and rehearse their presentations, students were provided with a project description as well as rubrics for the written, artistic, and oral components of the project.

You will now use the elements of a project description to analyze the children’s story project description.

If you would like to explore the elements of a project description further, consider analyzing a project description from Jane Shuffelton’s Russian I, II, and III classes. For this project, students were asked to write a letter of introduction about themselves that would be sent to a teenager in the Republic of Georgia.

To begin, print out the Georgia Letter Project Description (PDF, 83 K) form and highlight the sections of the text that contain the five elements of a project description described above. When you are finished, you can use the Georgia Letter Project Description — Sample Analysis(PDF, 83 K) form to compare your answers.

B. Reflect on the Activity

After comparing your analysis of the project description(s) with the sample answers, reflect on the following questions:

  1. How do you think the degree of authenticity that was built into the assessment affects the results?
  1. How does having a description of a project’s end product help you facilitate the task? How does it help your students complete the task?
  1. What observations can you make about how the teacher(s) communicated the task, rubrics, and strategies to students?


Write a brief summary of what you learned from this activity to submit as an assignment.

Put It Into Practice: Activity A

In this section, you will apply what you have learned to your own teaching. The following activities are designed to assist you in developing plans for assessing student performance. Choose one or both of the activities below.

The following is an outline of what Ms. Granville’s assessment plan might have been:

A Cajun Folktale and Zydeco: Interpersonal Communication Assessment

  • Assessment objective: Students can exchange information about characters, events, and the outcome of a Cajun folktale.
  • Assessment type: Teacher/student interview
  • Authenticity: Retelling a story and sharing reactions is what one does in a classroom and in real life.
  • Criteria: Comprehensibility, vocabulary use, and communication strategies
  • Feedback: Provided individually to students so that they understand how their performance was rated

Activity A: Informal Performance Assessments

Informal assessments usually focus on performance in the context of a narrow and limited task. In the video classroom excerpts, Ms. Granville demonstrated her approach to informally assessing interpersonal communication. She conducts such assessments throughout the year across various content themes. She also uses the ACTFL K-12 Performance Guidelines (see Resources) to establish the proficiency level she expects, and then builds these into her Rubric for Interpersonal Task (PDF, 14 K).

Select a thematic unit that you have previously taught or are planning to teach for which you could develop an assessment plan. Using the above assessment plan as a model, design a short, informal performance task for interpretive or presentational communication that you could use in a class and that allows you to assess and offer feedback on the spot. You can use the Informal Performance Assessment (PDF, 54 K) form to guide your design.

Assignment: Submit your informal performance assessment plan as an assignment.

Put It Into Practice: Activity B

The following is an outline of what the Nanuet teachers’ assessment plan might have been:

Children’s Storybook: Presentational Communication Assessment

  • Assessment objectiveStudents are able to create a story narrative with characters, actions, and a resolution appropriate to the genre. Students read and record the story with appropriate expression so that younger students understand the story.
  • Assessment type: Written and recorded presentation
  • AuthenticityThe product — a storybook with illustrations that help convey meaning to young children — is something that is found in real life.
  • CriteriaLinguistic accuracy, originality, visual presentation, and oral expression
  • Feedback: Provided to students with younger storybook audience present

Activity B: Formal Performance Assessments

Formal assessments focus on 1) broader tasks that may involve significant in-class and out-of-class time, depending upon the content and the Communication modes involved, or 2) cumulative content knowledge. For example, Nancy Gadbois’s Integrated Performance Assessment in Springfield, Massachusetts, was done over several weeks to assess interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational communication, with each mode taking in-class or out-of-class time as was appropriate to the task (for example, class time to view the video and out-of-class time to prepare for presentations). In another video classroom excerpt, French and Spanish students at Nanuet High School wrote and illustrated children’s storybooks, then read them to younger students. This final performance project focused on presentational communication that was written, oral, and visual.

Select a thematic unit that you have previously taught or are planning to teach for which you could develop an assessment plan. Using the above assessment plan as a model, design a culminating unit activity that you can use to assess student performance and that addresses one or more of the communicative modes (interpretive, interpersonal, presentational) and perhaps cultural or content knowledge. You can use the Formal Performance Assessment (PDF, 54 K) form to guide your design.


Submit your formal performance assessment plan as an assignment.

Action Research Project

The following four-step process will help you plan a small action research project to explore your questions about assessment, implement action plans for designing performance assessments and providing feedback to students, and collect information to assess your instructional innovations. Before you begin this section, you can go to About Action Research for an introduction to the process of designing and conducting action research projects. If you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project from any one of the eight workshop sessions as an assignment.

If you would like to focus on assessment for your action research project, use the following questions and examples to help frame your thinking and shape your project.

I. Thinking

  1. What issue concerning assessment do you want to describe, document, and investigate? For example, you could look at ways of simultaneously assessing multiple goal areas of the national standards. You could look at ways of designing rubrics that address students’ creativity and risk-taking with language, as well as their grammatical accuracy. You could also look at assessments that capture students’ abilities in areas that are not typically assessed, such as academic content knowledge in a content-based lesson, involvement in the target language community outside the classroom, or the ability to make cultural and language comparisons. This will be the focus of your action research project.
  1. Why is performance assessment important to you as a teacher? How have you planned performance assessments in the past? How do you want to change that approach and why? If you have not carried out performance assessments in the past, why not? What has been your experience with designing informal and formal assessments? What has been your experience with rubrics? Are you satisfied with the ways in which you provide students with feedback during assessments? Why or why not?
  1. What is your research question concerning assessment? The research question will help you investigate your area of focus and understand it better. For example:
  1. How could I use rubrics that capture student creativity and risk-taking with the language? How should I develop these rubrics, and how would they differ from what I am currently using?
  1. How would my students react to performance-based assessments? How do they feel about these assessments as compared to traditional textbook chapter tests?
  1. How could I involve my students in setting performance criteria and identifying important task components for a rubric for a particular task?
  1. If my students were allowed to suggest assessments, would they select traditional types of assessments or would they select performance-based alternatives? How would student performance differ on self-selected assessments versus traditional assessments?
  1. If I worked with other teachers to develop end-of-unit summative assessments that provide comparable information across levels, how could this information be used to help assess our program’s curriculum and articulation?

II. Acting

  1. What is the action plan for carrying out your project? Depending on your action research question, the following are some questions you might ask yourself to help you develop an action plan:
  1. How will I go about developing the rubrics I need?
  1. What questionnaires might I develop to query students on their assessment preferences?
  1. How long will I collect information on my project, since students may need time to get used to a new procedure?
  1. How will I record student performances on assessments so that they can be easily compared over time?
  1. How will I prepare students to discuss their views on assessment in pairs or small groups? How will I observe their discussions?
  1. What information will you need to collect to answer your research question and assess your project? For example, you could take field notes of critical incidents, ask a colleague to assess videotaped student performances and later compare their assessment with your own, use student questionnaires to gauge reactions to your rubrics and assessments, or gather information about several student performances over time. You should have at least two sources of information.
  1. How much time will you allot for your action plan? That is, when and for how long do you plan to collect information before you’re ready to begin analyzing it? Develop a timeline for implementing your action plan.

III. Reflecting

  1. After collecting your information, how will you analyze it? That is, how will you organize and review the information you have collected to understand it better and help you answer your research question? For example, will you use percentages based on responses to a questionnaire, summaries of interview data, or comparisons of rubrics ratings over several administrations of a performance-based assessment?
  1. How will you display the information so that it can be shared with others? For example, you could use charts, graphs, and/or tables. The goal is to organize your data in a way that presents a clear description of what you investigated and answers your research question.

IV. Rethinking

Note: The final step of the action research project is to reevaluate your teaching practice based on your research data. Because it takes time to complete an action research project, it may not be possible to do this step during the course of this workshop. However, if you are taking this workshop for credit, you will need to complete one action research project during or after the course of the workshop to submit as an assignment.

  1. Based on what you learned through your data analysis, how will you rethink your assessment practices? What changes will you make to your lessons the next time you design assessments? If you had to research your classroom assessment practices again, what changes would you make to your action research plan?


If you are taking the workshop for graduate credit, submit your completed action research project on any one of the eight session topics.

Reflect on Your Learning

In this session, you explored performance assessments in daily activities and for larger units. You will now write a one- to two-page summary of what you have learned and how you plan to apply it in your classroom. Review the notes you have taken during this session, as well as your answers to the Reflect on Your Experience questions. Use the questions below to guide your writing.

  1. How might you describe the differences between testing and assessing? Between grading and evaluation?
  1. How does a focus on performance assessment influence the design and execution of testing and evaluation?
  1. How does the use of rubrics help students judge and improve their own performance?
  1. What is the role of linguistic accuracy in performance assessment?
  1. Why is it important to link assessment to real-world tasks?
  1. How would you use the standards when designing an assessment?
  1. What kinds of assessments would you include in a portfolio for language students?


Submit your summary as an assignment.