InterCom, a customizable weekly newsletter for language professionals, is provided by the Center for Applied Second Language Studies (CASLS) at the University of Oregon. InterCom is sponsored through a Title VI Language Resource Center grant.


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Topic of the Week: Self-Assessment, Empowerment, and Ownership: The Case for Revamping the Current Approach to Assessment in the Classroom

Stephanie Knight is the Language Technology Specialist at CASLS.

Assessment, when employed correctly, is a powerful and transformative tool that motivates learning. However, in its current, mainstream iteration, it is as dangerous as it is ubiquitous. Important classroom time is lost in the name of standardized testing, educators are bullied when results are below what is desired, and perhaps most importantly, the top-down dissemination of assessment results leaves learners with little autonomy in setting learning goals and few opportunities for developing metacognitive skills. In short, the current approach to assessment is oftentimes as limited as it is limiting.

This observation of the current approach proposes a singular, inherently complex question: How should assessment be used in the classroom? The answer, unsurprisingly, lies in the students. To tell students what test results reveal to be their deficiencies in knowledge is belittling and uninspiring. However, teaching students to self-assess and to develop awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses and strategies for addressing those strengths and weaknesses is empowering. In order to engage in this thinking, McMillan and Hearn (2008) propose a “combination of three components related in a cyclical, ongoing process: self-monitoring, self-evaluation, and identification and implementation of instructional correctives as needed” (p. 41). In other words, learners must be aware of how they think about, process, and use material, where they stand in relationship to certain benchmarks, and what they need to do in order to meet certain goals.  Logic therefore holds that the current interpretation of the delineation between summative and formative assessment is much too stark; all summative assessments should involve each student’s voice in analyzing results to inform subsequent experiences within the classroom. In this sense, providing feedback to students after they are supposed to have learned something is a largely futile effort. Instead, students must receive feedback as they learn. Simply put, assessment must no longer be contextualized as a tool used to punish learning that hasn’t happened yet. It should instead be an integral part of the learning process, shifting students away from a performance (grade) focus and towards a mastery (learning) focus (McMillan and Hearn, 2008).

The classroom in which assessment is used as a tool to inspire progress is a much different classroom than that in which assessment punishes gaps in knowledge and understanding. The environment of the former is supportive, and all contributions made by learners are valued, regardless of their relative depth or superficiality (Clark, 2011). The implication of this placement of value then is that learners are celebrated for the knowledge that they possess due to its foundational implications for future growth rather than demeaned for what it is that they don’t know. Additionally, learners engage in metacognitive training, and expectations are scaffolded in such a way that learners see a clear pathway towards the appropriation and use of knowledge. The teacher plays the all-important role of guide, but it is the learners who propel themselves towards success through self-assessment and analysis.


Clark, I. (2011). Formative assessment and motivation: Theories and themes. Prime Research on Education (PRE), May 6th 2001, 27-36. Retrieved from

McMillan, J. and Hearn, J. (2008). Student Self-Assessment: The Key to Stronger Student Motivation and Higher Achievement. Educational Horizons, 87(1), 40-49. Retrieved from

Activity of the Week

  • Scenes and Storyboards

    Stephanie Knight is the Language Technology Specialist at CASLS.

    As this week’s Topic of the Week indicates, assessment is motivating to students when it is paired with self-evaluation. The activities showcased here are included in order to highlight some formative assessments and subsequent self-evaluation methods that correlate with improved levels of student motivation. These activities are appropriate for learners of all proficiency levels and are targeted towards developing a learner’s awareness of his or her interpretive language skills.

    Modes: Interpersonal Communication, Presentational Speaking, Presentational Writing, Interpretive Reading, and Interpretive Listening


    Learners will be able to:

    • Use existing knowledge to make inferences about texts and to negotiate meaning within texts.
    • Engage in self-evaluation to achieve higher levels of motivation within the world language classroom.

    Materials: Target visual or audio texts, scene depiction handout, RAFT template, Storyboard template


    1. Scene depiction: Find a video or audio text and give learners the scene depiction handout. Allow learners to depict a specific scene featured in the text by working individually to draw and label what they understand on the handout. Afterwards, the class will engage in a gallery walk/carousel to evaluate what they understood by comparing and contrasting their drawings with those of their classmates. A short closing discussion regarding the content of the text will allow learners to more finely assess their interpretive skills than the carousel/gallery walk alone.
    2. Text marking: Have learners highlight the words that they understand or can figure out in an assigned written text. After they are done highlighting, learners must use only the highlighted words to answer comprehension question. This focus empowers learners to use existing knowledge to make inferences and to negotiate with unknown language. It also helps learners to see trends (e.g., thematic vocabulary strengths and weaknesses and the ability to recognize verb tenses) in the knowledge that they possess.
    3. RAFT: Allow learners to explore a targeted perspective featured in a given text by writing or speaking a RAFT (Role, Audience, Format, and Topic). In order to produce a RAFT, learners are assigned a combination of R, A, F, and T to consider as they produce language. Self-evaluation regarding using source texts can occur if learners to mark evidence in their source text that justifies the claims made in the RAFTs.  To better understand how to assign a RAFT, see the example that we have provided regarding how the prince should choose his bride in Cinderella.
    4. Storyboard creation: Have learners work in pairs or small groups to create a storyboard with six scenes from a target audio or visual text. For each scene, learners will be charged with representing a specific chunk of the text. So that learners can engage in self-reflection of their interpretive language skills, have the pairs or small groups present their storyboards to the class to reinforce instances of comprehension and to highlight any instances of miscomprehension. A storyboard template is provided here for use with any target text.


    Though these activities are appropriate for learners of all proficiency levels, teachers must exercise care when choosing appropriate texts. Additionally, teachers should consider the appropriate amount of target language use to imbed in the closing reflection of each activity.

CASLS Spotlight: New Content Added to Games 2 Teach Website

One of the projects that we work on over at CASLS is the Games 2 Teach website, which serves as an online gathering of curricular resources and professional development opportunities involving the intersection of games, pragmatics and language learning. For teachers, keeping students motivated and engaged in the target language can be a very daunting challenge, but games have been proven to lend themselves very well to this end. Like any kind of authentic material, however, games can be effectively used to complement teaching a particular language feature, or they can be an unproductive distraction depending on several factors, such as the content of the game, the acceptance of the students, and the scaffolding of the teacher. Games 2 Teach strives to provide helpful resources for teachers so that they can make informed decisions about which games would be appropriate to use given their particular context. Some of these resources include:   

  • Reviews of popular games based on their relevance and suitability for L2 teaching and learning
  • Classroom materials for L2 learning activities using widely available games in Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish
  • White papers and academic-level working papers on issues related to digital game-mediated L2 teaching and learning
  • A manual for L2 teachers and education professionals on evaluating, designing, and implementing game-enhanced L2 learning activities
  • Announcements of summer workshops on digital game-mediated L2 pedagogy

In their most recent blog post, Games 2 Teach discussed some of the advantages and challenges of using Never Alone: Kisima Inŋitchuŋa, winner of the 2015 ‘Games for Change’ award. The game itself is essentially an interactive fable of the Iñupiat people, where players guide a young girl named Nuna and an arctic fox that becomes her companion on a journey through the Alaskan tundra. The blog post discusses several aspects of the game from various angles, but most importantly brings up some best practices for using this game in the language classroom. One point that stands out from the post is to be aware of cultural values and the inherent world view of the target culture. While Never Alone gives great insight into the ideology of the Iñupiat people, an instructor has to be mindful not to bundle everything taken from the game as a comprehensive depiction of the culture. Rather, the teacher should have the students compare and contrast the cultural values found in the game with their own. If you would like to read more about best practices using Never Alone: Kisima Inŋitchuŋa, click here. We would love to hear your input on your experience with using games to teach. Write to us at, follow us on, or like us on Facebook


Language Corner

Photo-Detectives: Connecting the Cross-Cultural with the Cross-Curricular

Source: Education Week Back to Quick Links


J. Sara Klatchko writes, “Knowing how to decipher an image—visual literacy—is a vitally important skill. It encourages young people to slow down and pay attention; to step back from the hyper skimming of the internet age, to look closely, to observe, to engage—skills that will set students down a path of deeper learning for a lifetime. Visual literacy is about understanding what we see—with our eyes, our minds, and our hearts.”

Read how she got young students “reading” photos in a photojournalism workshop and how you can apply her techniques in your classroom in this article:

Activity Idea: Star Interviews

Source: Tekhnologic Back to Quick Links


Here is a zero-prep interpersonal activity idea that involves students asking and answering five questions in pairs:

Publications from the National Research Summit on the Early Care and Education of Dual Language Learners

Source: CAL Back to Quick Links

The National Research Summit on the Early Care and Education of Dual Language Learners took place in October 2014. It focused on new directions in research, policy and practice on the early care and education of dual language learners and produced a variety of publications, including briefs and commissioned papers.

Access the publications here:

New Website for the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition

Source: CAL Back to Quick Links


The new NCELA website has launched, featuring the English Learner Tool Kit developed to support state and local education agencies in meeting their obligations to English Learners (ELs).

Sign up for the bimonthly enewsletter, NCELA Nexus, designed to keep you up-to-date on new resources, upcoming events and provides links to opportunities for jobs, education, and funding related to education of ELs and the EL community.

Visit the new website at

Professional Development

GURT Pre-Conference Workshop: Useful Evaluation in Language Programs

Source: AELRC Back to Quick Links


The Georgetown University Round Table (GURT) on Languages and Linguistics will take place March 11-13; for full details go to

The Assessment and Evaluation Language Resource Center (AELRC) will offer a pre-conference workshop on Thursday, March 10. The topic is “USEFUL EVALUATION IN LANGUAGE PROGRAMS.” Presenters are John Davis, Amy Kim, Todd McKay, Mina Niu, Young A Son, and Francesca Venezia. The workshop is introductory and relevant for language educators new to program evaluation and looking to learn practical techniques to implement in their courses and programs. Participants will receive a certificate of attendance after completing the workshop.

For more details about the workshop go to

Learn more about AELRC at

Webinar: Occupied Paris: Creating a Virtual Learning Experience

Source: COERLL Back to Quick Links


Occupied Paris: Creating a Virtual Learning Experience
Monday, February 22, 2016 - 13:00
Presenter: Terri Nelson (California State University, San Bernardino)

Results from student testing of Paris Occupé, a presenter-created role-playing game set in Nazi-occupied Paris, show student progress in linguistic production, complex reasoning and empathy. In the game, students take on fictional identities to learn about Nazi-occupied Paris. The combination of historical information learned through the game, as well as more traditional course materials (fiction and nonfiction in a variety of media) plus the personal, emotional engagement with their RPG (role-playing game) character, helps students engage in higher level critical thinking skills and express more nuanced emotional, moral and philosophical stances in French while also developing a more comprehensive and realistic understanding of the complex time period. This presentation will demonstrate the game design features underlying the content delivery and linguistic scaffolding.

Learn more and register at

#Langchat Topic: Reconcile Different Views and Methods in Your World Language Department

Source: Calico Spanish Back to Quick Links


#Langchat is a group of language teachers who converse every Thursday evening via Twitter. On January 21, participants discussed collaboration and conflict resolution in language departments. What can you do when you and your colleagues use different methods and have different philosophies, yet must work together?

The consensus was that teachers can work together peacefully if they share a common destination, a focus on language use, and an agreement to respect each other.

Read a summary of the discussion here:

Symposium: Promoting Spanish Language Development for Emergent Bilinguals

Source: CAL Back to Quick Links

Promoting Spanish Language Development for Emergent Bilinguals
A Collaborative Symposium by the Center for Applied Linguistics and WIDA
April 14 - 15, 2016 in Washington, DC
Summer 2016 in Madison, WI

Join the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) and WIDA in Washington, DC or Madison, WI for an engaging and interactive two-day Symposium designed to promote Spanish language development in a variety of bilingual and dual language settings, including one-way and two-way 90-10 or 50-50 program models.

Participants must be proficient in Spanish and have a working knowledge of English to fully participate in all aspects of the Symposium.

For full details go to


Book: Innovation in Methodology and Practice in Language Learning

Source: Cambridge Scholars Publishing Back to Quick Links


Innovation in Methodology and Practice in Language Learning: Experiences and Proposals for University Language Centres
Edited by Christopher Williams

This volume is composed of 24 papers originally presented as talks at the VIII National Conference of the Italian Association of University Language Centres (Associazione Italiana dei Centri Linguistici Universitari: AICLU), held at the University of Foggia, Italy, between 30 May and 1st June 2013.

The contributions fall into five sections: 1) keynote addresses from plenary speakers; 2) innovative challenges for language centres; 3) new developments in teaching language for specific purposes; 4) proposals and case studies in Content and Language Integrated Learning; and 5) the use of new technologies in language learning.

The volume represents the ‘state of the art’ in the field of language teaching and theory in university language centres not only in Italy, but also in other parts of Europe and the Mediterranean, and testifies to the rich variety of ways in which these centres are adapting and thriving in rapidly changing times.

Visit the publisher’s website at

Book: Interaction and Second Language Development

Source: LINGUIST List Back to Quick Links


Interaction and Second Language Development: A Vygotskian perspective
By Rémi A. van Compernolle
Published by John Benjamins Publishing Company

This volume addresses the role of communicative interaction in driving various dimensions of second language development from the perspective of Vygotskian sociocultural psychology. Emphasizing the dialectical relationship between the external-social world and individual mental functioning, the chapters delve into a wide range of topics illustrating how the social and the individual are united in interaction. Themes include psychological and human mediation, joint action, negotiation for meaning, the role of first language use, embodied and nonverbal behaviors, and interactional competencies. Theoretical discussions and key concepts are reinforced and illustrated with detailed qualitative analyses of interaction in a variety of second language contexts. Each chapter also includes pedagogical recommendations. Supplemental materials or ‘data sessions’ that engage the readers with the themes presented in the book through sample analytic exercises are included, while videos have been made available online.

Visit the publisher’s website at

Book: Lexical Issues in L2 Writing

Source: Cambridge Scholars Publishing Back to Quick Links


Lexical Issues in L2 Writing
Edited by Päivi Pietilä, Katalin Doró, and Renata Pípalová
Published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Research into lexical issues has been one of the most rapidly growing areas of second language acquisition studies in recent years, and understandably so: the importance of vocabulary can hardly be denied. This volume concentrates on vocabulary in written language, mostly in academic settings. The target language (L2) in the studies reported in the volume is English, except in one study on the lexical competence of multilingual learners of French. Each chapter constitutes an independent unit, but together the studies reported in them give the reader a varied and extensive picture of lexical issues in L2 writing. The authors approach their topics from different perspectives and use diverse research methods, adding to the multifaceted nature of the volume. The book will be of interest to researchers, educators and students of second language acquisition and applied linguistics.

Visit the publisher’s website at

February 2016 Issue of Language Learning & Technology

Source: Michigan State University Back to Quick Links


Volume 20 Number 1 of the online journal Language Learning & Technology is available at This is a special issue on Digital Literacies and Language Learning

Articles in this issue:

Becoming Little Scientists: Technologically-Enhanced Project-Based Language Learning
Melinda Dooly and Randall Sadler

Effects of Web-Based Collaborative Writing on Individual L2 Writing Development
Dawn Bikowski and Ramyadarshanie Vithanage

Type and Amount of Input-Based Practice in CALI: The Revelations of a Triangulated Research Design
Luis Cerezo

Language Learning Through Social Networks: Perceptions and Reality
Chin-Hsi Lin, Mark Warschauer, and Robert Blake

The Effects of Item Preview on Video-Based Multiple-Choice Listening Assessments
Dennis Koyama, Angela Sun, and Gary J. Ockey

Twitter-Based EFL Pronunciation Instruction
José Antonio Mompean and Jonás Fouz-González

Learning to Express Gratitude in Mandarin Chinese Through Web-Based Instruction
Li Yang

Concordancers and Dictionaries as Problem-Solving Tools for ESL Academic Writing
Choongil Yoon

Plus announcements, columns, and reviews.

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