March 11, 2019
Melissa Creamer

It’s so hard to believe, but I started teaching 19 years ago. I was lucky enough to get a job at the high school I attended and when I got there they were still using the same textbook series that I used for the four years I took Spanish. As the newest teacher in the department, I followed what everyone else was doing and I gave large chapter tests at the end of each chapter. They were blackline master pages provided by the textbook company and didn’t leave any opportunity for changes.      

After a few years of experience and developing my own style of teaching, I realized that the textbook chapter tests weren’t working for my students. They were memorizing grammar and long lists of vocabulary for the test, and by the next day they were forgetting what they had memorized. The parts of the test were often separate, instead of building on each other, and didn’t reflect natural language acquisition or real world situations.    

I wanted my students to see how they could use the language and language learning skills in the real world and I wanted them to have a more authentic experience. Unsure of how to do this, I started by digging through boxes of stuff that I saved from my time as an exchange student in Ecuador and my travels to Spain while in college. I found maps, brochures, menus, and flyers and brought them into my classroom. I started with a stack of maps of Madrid and had students figure out the best routes between tourist spots and where to catch the metro. I was using vocabulary for places around town, prepositions of place with the verb estar, and they were learning language while learning about tourism in Spain! They were much more excited to use an actual map than look at exercises in a textbook or worksheet.         

Inspired and excited, I started looking for authentic resources based on the themes in our textbook. I used storybooks, novels, magazines, brochures, and eventually articles, videos, and infographics from the internet. I also began to modify my quizzes and tests to reflect the authentic pieces that I found.    

Right around the same time that I was finding and using more resources from the internet, I discovered that the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) was revising their World Language standards and that they had created a template for something called an Integrated Performance Assessment (IPA). Lucky for me, this template was exactly what I needed to better assess my students.   

So what are IPAs? Good question! Integrated Performance Assessments are like a puzzle.  Each piece is unique, but connects to the next piece, and when assembled, they work together to create the finished product.      

An Integrated Performance Assessment is a three part, standards-based assessment designed by ACTFL to assess progress towards proficiency. An IPA covers the three modes of communication; Interpretive, Interpersonal, and Presentational, and it is performance-based. It assesses students on what they know and what they are able to do with the language based on real world scenarios.   

The IPA is created using backward design and starts with an essential question based on a theme or content area. IPAs can be designed at the novice, intermediate, or advanced proficiency level and are created using authentic resources. The interpretive task is reading and/or listening, and the interpersonal and presentational tasks can be either writing or speaking. The tasks are then scored on level appropriate rubrics.

Are IPAs worth using? I will be honest, my journey with IPAs has had some bumps along the way (okay, many bumps) and it has taken me time to adjust and time to transition to this style of teaching and assessment, but the journey has been worth the time and effort.    

For me, the best parts of these assessments are the authentic resources. I like incorporating current events and pop culture. I also like finding resources based on my students’ interests in order to keep them engaged. Picking pieces that have a connection can be time consuming, but when all of the pieces come together to create an assessment that reflects natural language learning, the time spent researching and creating the IPA will be well worth it.  

One thing to remember: you don’t have to plunge in and go IPA all the way, right away. You can dip your toes in first, get used to the water, and then ease your way into using IPAs regularly. Creating and fully implementing IPAs can take several years. Start with an online search to find IPAs that are already out there to use, to gain the inspiration and ideas. Choose one or two activities to do with your students and gradually add more.

To create your own IPA, start with an essential question based on your theme and find a resource. Use the ACTFL template to create the assessment and try creating a few activities at first, then add more as you become more comfortable with the style.

*Download links expire 3/24/19

Posted By Melissa Creamer | Spanish Teacher

After teaching for 17 years in a suburb of northeast Ohio, Melissa Creamer believes in a student-focused classroom. The biggest reward she gets from teaching is being able to watch her students work together and learn from one another, and witnessing how proud they are to show her what they have learned. One of her favorite perks of teaching is hearing from former students that have used Spanish in their travels and/or profession.

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