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Topic of the Week: Is Your SLO Suffering from An Identity Crisis?

Kathy Shelton is a World Language Education Program Specialist for the Ohio Department of Education.  She has 25 years of experience teaching French in traditional and online programs.

The SLO (Student Learning Objective) is suffering from an identity crisis. An SLO gets lots of attention early in the school year when teachers pre-assess students in order to set growth targets for student learning. The SLO also gets lots of attention late in the school year when teachers post-assess to see if their students met their growth target. But in between, the SLO starts to feel like a neglected child trying to figure out who it really is and why no one is paying any attention to it.

Why this SLO identity crisis? What are we missing as far as its true purpose? We all know the SLO’s role in determining educator effectiveness and impact on student learning, but what is the educator’s role in determining the SLO’s impact on student learning?  Educators spend several days pre-assessing students, gathering and inputting demographics and data, and setting learning goals for students with this tool.  So why is this valuable information often ignored as soon as the SLO is submitted?  How can administrators and teachers use the SLO to plan curriculum and assessments that will maximize student learning?

The SLO pre-assessment information, along with demographic data gathered via the SLO, provides crucial guidance in designing content that addresses students’ needs because it identifies areas of strength and weakness for individual students, as well as their year-long learning goals. For world language teachers, one of the most effective ways to gather SLO data is by using an open-ended performance assessment or IPA as the pre-assessment.  By scoring the pre-assessment with proficiency rubrics, teachers receive concrete evidence for each student’s language proficiency in terms of interpretive, interpersonal and presentational skills, cultural competence, and what the student needs to do to advance to the next level.

For example, based on data in the SLO, the teacher may find that a large subgroup of her students struggle in reading skills and deeper comprehension of authentic texts.  The teacher decides to use the ACTFL Appendix D template to scaffold readings, based on each student’s proficiency level.  The sub-group of students initially focuses on literal comprehension skills such as key word recognition, main idea and supporting details.  As these skills improve, students begin to focus on higher level comprehension skills such as making inferences and comparing cultural perspectives.  The students who already have strong reading skills will be challenged to focus on both the literal and the higher level reading skills throughout the entire course. The  teacher will consistently use formative and summative assessments to monitor each student’s progress in comprehending authentic texts, ensuring students are on track to meet their learning goals for the year, as targeted in the SLO.

The true purpose of an SLO has arguably been overshadowed by its role in evaluating educator effectiveness.  Perhaps the time has finally come to resolve the identity crisis of the SLO.

Visit the Ohio Department of Education’s World Languages Model Curriculum  and SLO Guidance pages for more resources related to this topic.

Activity of the Week

  • Integrated Performance Assessments from the Ohio Foreign Language Association

    In today's Topic of the Week article, Kathy Shelton talks about how beginning-of-the-year pre-assessments related to Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) can guide instruction throughout the year, helping teachers to scaffold instructional tasks for different groups of students.

    Classroom-ready examples of Integrated Performance Assessments (IPAs) are available on the Ohio Foreign Language Association website at Under the "IPA Resources and Samples" section, you can download a French IPA dealing with travel or a Spanish IPA dealing with food and hunger; both documents include an IPA that can be used as a unit-final assessment and a different version that can be used as a more comprehensive pre- or post-assessment, such as you might use to track students' performance and proficiency regarding SLOs.

    The example cited in today's Topic of the Week article deals with the interpretive mode; specifically reading. ACTFL's Appendix D template as referenced in the article allows students at different levels of proficiency to all be challenged. The IPAs on the OFLA site use this same template for the reading portions; you will also see this template in use in the "Interpretive Task Samples" section of the page, such as this interpretive task dealing with free time in Spanish.

    More instruction and assessment resources are available on this Ohio Department of Education website. These resources are designed and arranged so that teachers can choose strategies appropriate to the task, language level, and age of their students.

CASLS Spotlight: STARTALK 10th Anniversary Fall Conference

The STARTALK 10th Anniversary Fall Conference took place on October 14th and 15th, 2016, in Atlanta, Georgia. 

The mission of the STARTALK program is to increase the number of U.S. citizens learning, speaking, and teaching critical need foreign languages. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) launched STARTALK in 2006 granting oversight of the program to the National Security Agency (NSA) who in turn contracted the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC) at the University of Maryland (UMD) as subject matter experts in the implementation and administration of the STARTALK program. 

The STARTALK summer language programs use LinguaFolio Online in all their courses. The original version of LinguaFolio, developed by members of the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL) and based on the European Language Portfolio (ELP) and the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements, was produced on paper and is still being used extensively. In order to take advantage of the benefits of a digital space, NCSSFL, in collaboration with the CASLS, began development of the online version in 2009. LinguaFolio Online is an ePortfolio evaluation tool that allows students to collect evidence demonstrating their communicative abilities in a world language, according to the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements.

The fall conference affords STARTALK grantees time to reflect on the 2016 programs, attend sessions for teaching critical languages, learn about resources, and network with other colleagues. Dr. Julie Sykes, CASLS Director, and Stephanie Knight, CASLS Language Technology Specialist, presented a 60-minute session that highlighted the outcomes from the use of LinguaFolio Online in the 2016 STARTALK summer programs. Using these outcomes as a frame, they provided examples of best practices highlighting work done in current STARTALK programs. Emphasis was placed on ways to include real-time evidence collection without disrupting regular class sessions, providing exemplar activities that can be applied to STARTALK programs as well as language classrooms in other contexts. 

Language Corner

Report: Programs and Services for High School English Learners in Public School Districts: 2015–16

Source: IES Back to Quick Links


The 2015–16 survey Programs and Services for High School English Learners provides the first nationally representative data on this topic. This report is based on that survey and presents data on programs and services for high school English learners (ELs), including instructional approaches, newcomer programs, online or computer-based programs, and programs or services (e.g., tutoring) designed specifically for high school ELs. The report provides findings on the use of native language(s) for content instruction, instructional support, materials, and services. Data are presented about the information that districts provide about educational programs or services to ELs ages 18 to 21 seeking to newly enroll in the district, as well as the factors districts consider when providing information about these programs and services to ELs in this group.

Download the report at

The “Pre-Oral” Consult – Another Formative Feedback Opportunity

Source: Language Sensei Back to Quick Links


Colleen Lee has written another great post about integrating more formative assessment into her instruction - this time about individual consultations with her students before an interpersonal assessment. Read about her experience here:

High School Competition: Euro Challenge

Source: Euro Challenge Back to Quick Links


The Euro Challenge is an exciting educational opportunity for high school students to learn about the European Union (EU) and the euro. Student teams of three to five students are asked to make presentations answering specific questions about the European economy and the single currency, the euro. They are also asked to pick one member country of the “euro area” (the 19 EU member countries that have adopted the euro so far), to examine an economic problem at the country level, and to identify policies for responding to that problem.

Learn more at, and register at

Lesson Plans for English Learners

Source: elt-resourceful Back to Quick Links


Rachael Roberts has contributed several lesson plans to the British Council Teaching English website. Here they are presented on her own blog:

Here are the lessons:
Is Slavery a Thing of the Past?
Unsung Heroes
Get to Know the Neighbours

A Student-Led Pokémon Go Project Transforms a School

Source: Edutopia Back to Quick Links


Natalie Catlett describes how her inquiry-based “Mutant Go” art project, inspired by the Pokémon Go game, got her students thinking about complex concepts in new ways. The ideas she presents could easily be adapted to second language classrooms.

Read the article at

Comparison of VanPatten, Long, Ellis, and Conti

Source: Musicuentos Back to Quick Links


All of us want to implement “best practices” or at least good practices in our classrooms. However, what are these “best practices” or “principles” that should guide us. Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell takes the position that “there is no set of the actual right ‘principles.’” However, there do seem to be some points of general agreement. In this recent blog post, she compares the principles of Bill VanPatten, Michael Long, Rod Ellis, and Gianfranco Conti:

Blog about Project Based Learning and Second Languages

Source: Projects + Languages Back to Quick Links


Projects + Languages is Australian Carolina Castro’s blog dedicated to sharing ideas and experiences around working with project based learning and second languages. Explore her ideas and resources at

If you teach as the post-secondary level, Ms. Castro welcomes your participation in an online survey she has created. Learn more about her project and the survey at

Series on Low Educated Second Language and Literacy for Adults

Source: TESOL Back to Quick Links

Recently Raichle Farrelly wrote a two-part series about resources for teaching English to adults with low education and literacy levels.

The first installment of the two-part series deals primarily with LESLLA, a grassroots forum for researchers and practitioners who share an interest in literacy development and second language learning among adults with immigrant or refugee backgrounds. Read it at

The second installment describes three effective strategies for teaching this population. Read it at

English for All Initiative

Source: Language Magazine Back to Quick Links


The U.S. Department of State and Peace Corps have launched English for All, a new initiative highlighting the U.S. government’s commitment to helping people around the world learn American English. The U.S. government invests more than $200 million a year in English instruction programs, providing a gateway to opportunity for millions worldwide. English for All provides a unified brand to promote all English language teaching programs run by the State Department and Peace Corps. The English for All website ( will serve as a resource for foreign audiences interested in learning about the range of English programs supported by the U.S. government and for Americans looking to serve their country by teaching English abroad.

Professional Development

#LangChat Summary: Collaboration Across Disciplines

Source: #LangChat Back to Quick Links


Each Thursday evening language professionals get together on Twitter to discuss a pre-chosen topic. Last week, it was “How can World Language teachers collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines?” You can read a summary of the chat here:

Learn more about #LangChat at


New Issue of Reading in a Foreign Language

Source: NFLRC Back to Quick Links

The October 2016 issue of Reading in a Foreign Language is available online at

This issue of RFL begins as a special issue, “Celebrating Linguistically Diverse Learners of St. Louis: Responsive Research and Practice for Literacy,” edited by Cindy Brantmeier. It features three articles.

The first article, by Brevik, Olsen & Hellefkjaer, examines the timely and important topic of reading assessment with adolescents at the secondary level. The second article, by Endley, examines proficiency levels and strategy use with 12 Arabic speakers studying English at a university. The last article, by Zhao, Guo, Biales and Olszewski, investigates several factors of individual learner differences as predictors of L2 incidental vocabulary acquisition.

In addition, there are two regular articles. In the first, Eun Young Jeon and Richard Day present their results of a meta-analysis of the impact of extensive reading on reading proficiency. This is followed by Kate Paesani’s report of her investigation of reading-writing connections to determine if these literacy practices facilitated students’ understanding and use of resources such as grammar, vocabulary, genre, and style.

Tianxu Chen reviews Second Language Reading: Cognitive and Psycholinguistic Perspectives. Then there is a special issue discussion piece by Elizabeth Thorne-Wallington. There are three regular discussion pieces, by Tom Cobb, Paul Nation, and Jeff McQuillan. This issue concludes with the valuable October feature, Readings on L2 reading: Publications in other venues 2015-2016.

Book: Teaching and Learning for the Twenty-First Century

Source: Harvard Education Press Back to Quick Links


Teaching and Learning for the Twenty-First Century: Educational Goals, Policies, and Curricula from Six Nations
Edited by Fernando M. Reimers and Connie K. Chung
Published by Harvard Education Press

 This book describes how different nations have defined the core competencies and skills that young people will need in order to thrive in the twenty-first-century, and how those nations have fashioned educational policies and curricula meant to promote those skills. The book examines six countries—Chile, China, India, Mexico, Singapore, and the United States—exploring how each one defines, supports, and cultivates those competencies that students will need in order to succeed in the current century.

Teaching and Learning for the Twenty-First Century appears at a time of heightened attention to comparative studies of national education systems, and to international student assessments such as those that have come out of PISA (the Program for International Student Assessment), led by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. This book’s crucial contribution to the burgeoning field of international education arises out of its special attention to first principles—and thus to first questions: As Reimers and Chung explain, “much can be gained by an explicit investigation of the intended purposes of education, in what they attempt to teach students, and in the related questions of why those purposes and how they are achieved.”

Visit the publisher’s website at

Call for Chapters: Language Teaching in the Linguistic Landscape

Source: LINGUIST List Back to Quick Links


With the continued growth of research on linguistic landscape in fields such as sociolinguistics and language policy, interest in the possibilities of linguistic landscape for fostering language development as well as culture and literacy learning has also been on the rise.

However, as global flows and superdiverse conditions have come to redefine relationships of people, place, and language there is an imperative for L2 educators and learners to answer Leander and Sheehy’s (2004) call for the “spatialization” of language/literacy education, and to engage with notions of geographical locations as culturally charged and contested spaces of top-down and bottom-up meaning-making practices.

This edited volume seeks to take up this call for a spatialized approach, both illuminating the potential of the linguistic landscape to address long-standing challenges in language and literacy pedagogy, and mobilizing research on teaching and learning to expand the theoretical and methodological repertoires of linguistic landscape research. The editors invite chapter proposals grounded in teaching and learning practice that address the aforementioned aspects of the topic.

The editors welcome proposal submissions by December 1, 2016.

View the full call for chapters at

Free Bialystok Article about Bilingual Gains in Executive Function

Source: LINGUIST List Back to Quick Links


Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, published by John Benjamins Publishing, is honored to announce a new special issue “Bilingualism and Executive Functions: An Interdisciplinary Approach,” edited by Irina A. Sekerina and Lauren Spradlin. With papers by many of the leading experts on this topic, the special issue deals with the current debate/discussion revolving around the question of what the experience of bilingualism has on the brain, especially as regards potential “cognitive reserve” as reflected in executive functioning (i.e., the so-called bilingual advantage). A main feature of this special issue is the article by Professor Ellen Bialystok -- the pioneer researcher in this general field -- in which, for the first time, she addresses the recent claims that gains in executive functions are either non-existent, task-specific or extremely limited. Her article details the complexities involved in testing for the effects of bilingualism on executive functioning, ranging from methodological and statistical issues to understanding bilingualism as a nuanced (non-categorical) variable and what this entails for the comparability across different datasets. Given the importance of this article in particular, Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism is offering this free of charge to all.

Article link:

The Signal and the Noise: Finding the Pattern in Human Behavior
Ellen Bialystok

Studies on the effect of bilingualism on executive functioning have sometimes failed to find significant differences between performance of monolingual and bilingual young adults. This paper examines the interpretation of these null findings and considers the role of three factors: definition of bilingualism, appropriateness of statistical procedures and interpretations, and the range of data considered. The conclusion is that a correct interpretation of this important issue will require careful consideration of all the data and scrupulous attention to design details.

Book: Innovative Strategies for Heritage Language Teaching

Source: Georgetown University Press Back to Quick Links


Innovative Strategies for Heritage Language Teaching: A Practical Guide for the Classroom
Edited by Marta Fairclough and Sara M. Beaudrie
Published by Georgetown University Press

Heritage language (HL) learning and teaching presents particularly difficult challenges. Melding cutting-edge research with innovations in teaching practice, the contributors in this volume provide practical knowledge and tools that introduce new solutions informed by linguistic, sociolinguistic, and educational research on heritage learners. Scholars address new perspectives and orientations on designing HL programs, assessing progress and proficiency, transferring research knowledge into classroom practice, and the essential question of how to define a heritage learner. Articles offer analysis and answers on multiple languages, and the result is a unique and essential text—the only comprehensive guide for heritage language learning based on the latest theory and research with suggestions for the classroom.

Visit the publisher’s website at

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