Topic Thread

1.  Performance or Proficiency?

Posted 05-17-2017 10:06
Hello esteemed colleagues!

Greetings from Worcester, MA. We are working hard here to move from a more text book based approach to a proficiency-driven approach.  This year, we piloted presentational writing common assessments and used the Can-do benchmarks for presentational writing to gauge where our students were at in September, January and again in May.

The prompts we used (Level 1 "Write a letter to a pen pal, describe yourself, tell three things you like to do with your friends and ask your pen pal for some information about his/her interests") was of course very difficult for the students at the start and not surprisingly, the majority were in the novice low category. However, by January and May, many had mastered describing themselves and basic activities so by the May pen pal letter, they were writing full paragraphs (well into the intermediate category). Wonderful, yes!  But my question is, are we truly measuring proficiency? To me it looks like performance since they were writing on very familiar topics.

Any and all thoughts and suggestions are welcome. Thanks for reading.

Michelle Huaman


2.  RE: Performance or Proficiency?

Posted 05-17-2017 10:21
Dear all, I think performance and proficiency are somehow interwoven and what makes the distinction is your purpose for the test I believe. I think a performance task can become a proficiency one when you have not practiced nor prepared for it ahead of time. For beginner levels the same topics and therefore tasks  are always expected to be covered regardless of your goals ( describe your home, your likes and dislikes, etc). So, I think they can be the same at times. I hope I made sense!

Fatima Baroudi
Secondary Arabic/ Tunisian Studies Coordinator/ World Language Department Coordinator
American Cooperative School of Tunis

Opening doors, hearts and minds

extension: 325

3.  RE: Performance or Proficiency?

Posted 05-18-2017 07:04
I agree that you might be assessing only performance, but it depends on what students have been doing in class before, and whether they knew about the writing task ahead of time.

I've decided to skip performance altogether (Performance vs. Proficiency: Why I choose Proficiency (or at least NOT Performance))

Lance Piantaggini (Teaching for Acquisition-Making Latin & other languages More Comprehensible) (Marching Artistry)

4.  RE: Performance or Proficiency?

Posted 05-19-2017 08:15
The only way you can assess proficiency is through performance. Separating the two too categorically is counterproductive.  The question is whether you gear the performance to something that has been explicitly studied or toward the general underlying ability to process content and form of the language at the same time. Some teachers practice certain performances until the students get blue in their face and then call a memorized performance "proficiency", which it is not.

In the old training workshops for proficiency interviewers, there was always a warning of what was called the "hothouse special", i.e. an area of special expertise in which the candidate would perform at a very high level because they had special knowledge in that field. Having such a 'hothouse special' would not be enough to bring candidates to a higher level of proficiency.

In a way, concentrating on narrow performance is the same as teaching to the test if one constructs a test to measure narrow performances. But this is not the same as testing for proficiency. With narrow performance training we are only a few short steps away from audio-lingual memorization practices, which have not turned out very well for many students. I personally am not at all opposed to training certain performances because I am not an adherent of a romanticized concept of non-mindful 'acquisition'. I have observed too many students processing their language on a semi-conscious level before the structures were internalized to believe that there is an impermeable border between the monitor and acquisition (and this goes for native speakers in a language correcting themselves). Training for many varied performances may eventually lead to acquisition, just as careful practice of a musical instrument may eventually lead to musical artistry and expressiveness. I must be constantly aware of what I am doing as a teacher and what that will mean for my students' linguistic development. A performance that requires language more than one step above a student's general proficiency will generally not increase proficiency. At the same time, we learn our native language partly that way. Children are constantly exposed to language beyond their level in their daily doings. They memorize poems or the pledge of allegiance before they fully understand everything in those texts. So even this is no mortal sin as long as the teacher knows what s/he is doing.

Eckhard Kuhn-Osius

5.  RE: Performance or Proficiency?

Posted 05-18-2017 18:47
If we are talking about performance tests vs proficiency tests, I would think that the former are series of bench markers to reach the latter, a certain level in learning a TL. As a teacher, we can adjust our selection of teaching materials and modify our delivery methods (how much time given in a flipped classroom) accordingly.


6.  RE: Performance or Proficiency?

Posted 05-19-2017 07:00
Ling, that's true, but only to the extent that the performance benchmarks are actually required to reach proficiency.

I don't think they are.

Providing more reading and listening-that students understand-is how to increase proficiency.

Lance Piantaggini (Teaching for Acquisition-Making Latin & other languages More Comprehensible) (Marching Artistry)