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Received: 5 October 2017 | Accepted: 10 November 2017
Grand challenges and great potential in foreign
language teaching and learning
Anne Cummings Hlas
What will foreign language education look like in 5, 10, or even 50 years? How can our field
create an organized and interconnected path into the future? This article contemplates our
grand challenges, which are difficult yet solvable problems facing foreign language teaching
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Anne C. Hlas (PhD, University of Iowa)
is Professor of Spanish, University of
This article argues for the field of foreign languages to begin
to identify and define our Grand Challenges, which are
difficult yet solvable problems facing our field. Seeking
answers to these challenges can provide new opportunities
for collaboration and can spur new directions and
innovation within language learning and teaching. Researchable
questions that emerge from these Grand
Challenges can form a research trajectory, build community
support, and contribute to changing public opinion about the
role of languages in greater society.
classroom discourse, high-leverage teaching practices, proficiency,
1 | INTRODUCTION
A curious truism is that innovations always lead the field long before the results, impacts, and
implications of them can be understood. This was the case with moveable print (McLuhan, 1962), the
© 2018 by American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
46 | wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/flan Foreign Language Annals. 2018;51:46–54.
automobile (Flink, 1990), and the mobile phone (Ling, 2004). This has been the case with many
breakthroughs in history; new ideas are welcomed as a novelty, as a labor-saving device, as a more
efficient version of some previous innovation, or as a novel reinvention of an essential element. It is
only with time and perspective that one can begin to assess just how the new innovation has actually
affected the society that welcomed it.
The same holds true in the field of foreign language education. A review of research from the last
50 years related to classroom practice attests that new ideas dominate the profession long before there is
a clear consensus as to how they will affect the language classroom. In the 1940s, for example, the use
of drills became a dominant methodology focusing on grammatical accuracy. Almost 75 years later,
drills are still prevalent in our profession even after numerous calls for new perspectives in the
classroom like Wong and VanPatten’s (2003) article, “The Evidence Is IN: Drills Are OUT.” In a sense,
we seem to continue asking the same questions about the same topics without learning from our past.
Adding to our historical amnesia, we seem to focus more on the now rather than the future,
lacking a unified ability to predict and examine factors that are driving change in our field and thus
spurring areas for innovation. Since 2012, ACTFL has begun to organize a research agenda focused
on priorities to improve foreign language education (ACTFL, 2016, 2017). Albeit a step in the right
direction, these research priorities could benefit from more forward thinking. Our colleagues in
Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL), for example, have organized their research
agenda around future directions and influences. The TESOL Research Agenda Task Force (2014)
identifies the change drivers for their field as “a) new theoretical perspectives on the nature and
learning of language(s), b) technological support for learning and c) agency of teachers as advocates
of change” (p. 2). As noted by the field of TESOL, research priorities must consider the changing
nature of the discipline.
For these reasons, I argue that for research in teaching to move forward, it must start asking the
right kind of questions, ones that change the public perception of foreign language teaching and
learning. We must begin to coordinate and focus our research efforts to address our field’s Grand
Challenges, which are unsolved problems that have the potential to lead to significant advances in
our field. In an ever-changing educational and political landscape, now more than ever we need to
identify our challenges and move forward with a united effort that is aligned to the needs of society.
For these reasons, Grand Challenges call on “students, journalists, the public, and their elected
representatives, to develop a sense of the possibilities, an appreciation of the risks and the urgent
commitment to accelerate progress” (Omenn, 2006, p. 1696). The areas that deserve focused
development have the potential to yield the greatest rewards for language learning, language
teaching, and society as a whole.
2 | GRAND CHALLENGES
The historical roots of Grand Challenges began with the German mathematician David Hilbert. In
1900, he outlined 23 “mathematical puzzles” and reasoned that the solutions of these problems would
lead to the furthering of the field of mathematics. Hilbert explained,
Who of us would not be glad to lift the veil behind which the future lies hidden; to cast a
glance at the next advances of our science and at the secrets of its development during
future centuries?… As long as a branch of science offers an abundance of problems, so
long it is alive; a lack of problems foreshadows extinction or the cessation of independent
development…. A mathematical problem should be difficult in order to entice us, yet not
HLAS | 47
completely inaccessible, lest it mock our efforts. It should be to us a guide post on the mazy
paths to hidden truths, and ultimately a reminder of our pleasure in the successful
solution. (as cited in Reid, 1996, p. 74)
Hilbert’s problems have received significant attention in mathematics; 21 have been solved, while
the other two are unsolved and may be unsolvable. Hilbert’s 23 problems shaped the future of
mathematics, outlined a research trajectory, and generated additional areas of inquiry.
Other disciplines, such as science, mathematics, engineering, and physical education, have started
to identify and address their fields’ Grand Challenges (see Table 1). In science, mapping the human
genome project was first seen as ridiculous, but it is now an international project. Within physical
education, the Grand Challenge “to educate our children to live physically active and healthy lives
today and into adulthood” (Metzler, 2016, p. 326) was met with government support through a
campaign like “Let’s Move!” with Michelle Obama.
In a sense, our colleagues in the science fields view these challenges as a starting point for further
analysis, to garner support, and in many cases to change public opinion. Within chemistry, for example,
one Grand Challenge is to “[i]mprove sustainability science literacy at every level of society” (National
Research Council, 2005, p. 10). This specific challenge involves educating citizens as well as future
scientists. Similarly, mathematics education is challenged to change “the public’s perception about the
role of mathematics in society” (Stephan et al., 2015, p. 3). Within language education, we can certainly
acknowledge and understand this important battle as our field continues to advocate for recognition as a
core subject with the public’s eye (Byrnes, 2005).
Interestingly, Grand Challenges have yet to be identified and defined in the arts. However, there
have been impactful reports providing solid reasoning and recommendations for the support and
growth of languages including the American Academy of Arts & Sciences’s Commission on Language
Learning report (2017), entitled “America’s Languages: Investing in Language Education for the 21st
Century” (p. 1). In this document, the commission recommended a national strategy: for “[E]very
school in the nation to offer meaningful instruction in world languages as part of their standard
TABLE 1 Some examples of grand challenges from other disciplines
Discipline Example of a grand challenge
Engineering (National Academy of Engineering, 2008) “Make solar energy economical” (para. 1)
Physical education (Metzler, 2016) “To educate our children to live physically active and
healthy lives today and into adulthood” (p. 326)
Environmental sciences (Committee on Grand
Challenges in Environmental Sciences and National
Research Council Staff, 2001)
“The challenge is to increase our ability to predict
climate variability, from extreme events to decadal
time scales; to understand how this variability may
change in the future; and to assess its impact on
natural and human systems” (p. 27)
Global health (Varmus et al., 2003) “Create effective single-dose vaccines useful soon after
birth” (p. 398)
Science education (Alberts, 2013) “Incorporate active science inquiry into all
introductory college science classes” (p. 249)
Chemistry (National Research Council, 2005) “Develop more effective technology and strategies to
manage the resulting carbon dioxide (CO2) from
current and future human activity” (p. 8)
48 | HLAS
curricula” (p. viii). The commission also shared its vision of the future as advocating for “100 percent
of learners in the U.S. education system [to be] exposed to international perspectives, cultures, and/or
languages in order to inform life-long decisions about work and learning, and to support language and
international efforts broadly in society” (p. 7). This timely leadership from the commission paves the
way for our field to take the next step by carving out and defining our future through Grand Challenges.
3 | DEFINING GRAND CHALLENGES IN FOREIGN
Grand Challenges are intended to be hard to do, yet doable (Gould, 2010). For the purposes of
discussion, what might a Grand Challenge be in foreign language teaching and learning? The process
of selecting Grand Challenges has varied from discipline to discipline. Mathematics education, for
example, recently invited members of the profession to identify their field’s challenges, thus building a
community of scholars (Stephan et al., 2015). To define Grand Challenges, mathematics educators
used the criteria delineated in Table 2.
Using a hypothetical example based on models in other fields, this section outlines a possible Grand
Challenge for foreign language education:
Improve the functional proficiency of all students at a level that allows them to interact for personal
and professional pursuits.
This Grand Challenge conveys an expectation that all students will develop proficiency, an
ambitious learning goal yet one that is doable. Dissecting this challenge for future research necessitates
an examination of various components, such as a greater understanding of the nature of language,
teacher knowledge base, high-leverage teaching practices, teacher education, and learner outcomes,
among other areas. To delve deeper into this topic, an understanding of these interactions and their
impacts within the classroom needs to be reached. Ultimately, this challenge compels our field to
innovate and approach language teaching and learning in new ways.
To address the hypothetical Grand Challenge, we must first set the stage to move learners toward
higher proficiency. According to the Oral Proficiency Levels in the Workplace chart (ACTFL, 2015),
after two years of high school language study students are able to “Communicate minimally with
formulaic and rote utterances, lists, and phrases” (see chart at https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/
pdfs/TLE_pdf/OralProficiencyWorkplacePoster.pdf) at the Novice level. The Intermediate level
aligns with the language purpose to “create with language, initiate, maintain, and bring to a close
simple conversations by asking and responding to simple questions” (p. 9). Based on our current
TABLE 2 Proposed criteria for grand challenges
1. Represent complex and extremely difficult questions that are solvable (potentially within 10–20 years);
2. Improve the quality of life through positive educational, social, and economic outcomes potentially affecting
millions of people;
3. Involve multiple research projects across many subdisciplines to be satisfactorily addressed;
4. Require measurable outcomes so that progress and completion can be identified;
5. Compel popular support by encouraging the public to relate to, understand, and appreciate the outcomes of the
Source: Stephan et al., 2015. p. 3
HLAS | 49
recommendations, we must ask: What research would be needed to make progress in meeting the
Grand Challenge? How do we increase instructional time in foreign language classes? How can we
advocate for functional proficiency beyond the Novice level after two years of high school language
classes? Can we imagine a world where the Novice level is insufficient? And how do we increase the
functional proficiency of our students across all levels and learners? What follows are potential
research ideas included with sample research questions (see Table 3).
First, few studies have investigated the guiding tools we use in the classroom for planning,
instruction, and assessment, and “the various constructs that inform them have received scant research
attention” (Larsen-Freeman & Tedick, 2016, p. 1340). In general, there has been a paucity of research
on the Standards (National Standards Collaborative Board, 2015), the Can-Do statements (NCSSL and
ACTFL, 2017), and oral proficiency ratings. For example, Rifkin (2003) concluded that “two decades
of guideline-influenced instruction have failed to have an impact on student learning” (p. 582). For this
reason, we require more work investigating the validity of these tools, following the lead of Dandonoli
(1990), Norris and Pfeiffer (2003), Troyan (2012, 2016), and Tigchelaar, Bowles, Winke, and Gass
(2017). If we are using those tools as indicators and starting points for goal-setting, then we must
TABLE 3 Possible research avenues related to the hypothetical grand challenge
Research elements Sample research questions
Teacher knowledge How do preservice and early-career teachers learn core practices?
How frequently are high-leverage practices implemented by
language teachers when teaching? How do initial and more
experienced teachers use specific teaching practices? What is the
effect of teachers’ content knowledge on their students’ learning?
Measuring our progress How do teaching practices influence learner outcomes? What are the
characteristics of effective formative assessments to scaffold
students’ production of language?
Discourse patterns What are the discourse patterns in upper-level content courses? In
immersion programs? In courses designed for heritage speakers?
How do a teacher’s questions affect student responses?
Teacher education What type of teacher education or professional development can
support effective classroom practices? How can teachers be
prepared to engage their learners in practices that advance student
Reliability and validity of guiding tools
(e.g., Can-Do statements)
To what extent do the Can-Do statements (NCSSL and ACTFL, 2017)
match ACTFL’s Proficiency Guidelines (2012)? How can we
continue assessing the content validity of these guiding tools?
Levels and learners How do specific teaching practices that promote proficiency compare
across levels and learners? How do specific dimensions of teaching
impact students’ contributions to classroom discourse?
Curriculum Which curricular elements assist student language proficiency
development? What effect do well-designed tasks have on student
input, interaction, and output?
Nature of language How does knowledge of language learning processes inform teaching
practice? Over time, how does proficiency develop in specific
contexts of language use? What role do peers play in the
development of language?
50 | HLAS
validate them and identify their limitations in order to more effectively guide student language
Second, we must recognize the role of high-quality instruction in promoting language learning. For
example, research during the last several decades has provided insights into the importance of
classroom discourse (Kearney, 2015; Pryde, 2015; Wilkinson, 2001). It is now understood that the
teacher’s role within these dialogic exchanges can move a student further toward developing
communicative language abilities (Thoms, 2012). As such, the construct of language teacher
knowledge will need to be further delineated, researched, and validated (Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008;
Gitomer & Zisk, 2015; Halpin & Kieffer, 2015; Hlas & Hildebrandt, 2010; Martin-Raugh, Reese,
Tannenbaum, Steinberg, & Xu, 2016). Grounded in her work on high-leverage teaching practices,
Kearney noted that “[w]ork must be undertaken to better understand the relationships that link
particular approaches to teacher education with subsequent instructional practices and eventually
student outcomes” (2015, p. 121). Teachers employ a specific set of content and pedagogical content
knowledge when they are teaching. For this reason, we need data-driven approaches to determine our
field’s high-leverage teaching practices in addition to systematic observations of teachers at all levels in
various courses (Hlas & Hlas, 2012; Kearney, 2015). Further, we need to address the content validity of
those core practices and continue researching their connection (or lack thereof) to learner outcomes.
Third, the research centered on this Grand Challenge must also include all learners. As Ortega
(2017) noted, “we cannot serve language learners who we don’t study” (slide 100). To date, there has
been less research in the K–12 system, even within areas such as technology (Larsen-Freeman &
Tedick, 2016). Within the topic of classroom discourse, which has a relatively strong research
foundation, Thoms (2012) noted that little research on young learners or higher-level content courses
has been conducted. In general, a more organized and unified study of learners must be included in our
efforts including heritage speakers, speakers of all languages, and learners from diverse backgrounds
(Bigelow & Tarone, 2004; Ortega, 2005). Including a wider range of learners within a large number of
contexts is vital to understanding second language communicative abilities.
Fourth, the ways in which we provide instruction must reflect current views of language. As we
consider new views, we must innovate in the classroom instead of teaching based on impoverished
views of language. VanPatten (2017) argued that “[l]anguage is an implicit system; its content lies
outside of our conscious awareness” (p. 29). In addition, the TESOL Research Agenda Task Force
(2014) addressed how language teaching must consider new perspectives on the nature of language,
arguing for more consideration of ways in which social views can complement cognitive perspectives.
As a complex mental representation and one that cannot be necessarily translated from a page of the
textbook (VanPatten, 2017), the connection between our theory and practice must continue to evolve.
The way in which we allocate instructional time and the way in which curriculum reflects current
theories about language acquisition must also consider these new perspectives and move away from
traditional practices that are ineffective. New theoretical perspectives must be researched and
considered as we define our research priorities.
Finally, a line of inquiry related to teacher education and the features that lead to innovative
teaching must be studied. A better understanding of the nature of content courses, pedagogical courses,
and reflective enactment is essential to our continued study of teacher education. Further, a research
agenda that includes stakeholders who inform educational policy such as administrators and politicians
would also contribute to our knowledge base. After a review of research on teacher development
between 1916 and 1999, Schulz (2000) concluded that “[o]ur progress (i.e., any documented,
measurable impact on quality, quantity, or both) in the area of teacher development has been
disappointingly small” (p. 516). Addressing future directions in education can be challenging due to the
considerable variability inherent in teaching and learning (Grossman & McDonald, 2008). That being
HLAS | 51
said, there is a need for a coordinated plan to strengthen teacher education—one in which knowledge is
shared and articulated while building a necessary common architecture based on empirical research
across programs (Hildebrandt, Hlas, & Conroy, 2013).
4 | CONCLUSION
Grossman and McDonald (2008) called for future research on teaching to broaden the types of
questions the profession asks. They noted that “[t]wo critical attributes of a field include the existence
of a common set of questions or concerns that unites its members and agreed-upon ways to generate
new knowledge and to organize and aggregate existing knowledge” (p. 198). Grand Challenges
provide a way to build a comprehensive set of questions and thus provide a robust path forward that
connects opportunities to learn with learner outcomes. Embedded within these research avenues are
essential questions that our field must answer, such as: What does contemporary language teaching
look like? How can our research influence public debate and opinion? How will we know what impact
our practices have on our students’ developing proficiency, our teachers, and language policy in
general? How can our research advocate for language learning within society?
Responding to the needs of the greater society, Grand Challenges establish vital lines of inquiry.
They have the potential to enhance personal and civic lives as well as being an important issue of
national security, economic growth, and diplomacy (American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2017).
Ideally, these challenges reach every level of society—from citizens with informal education to future
linguists, from practitioners to politicians. Taking a page from other fields’ book, we need to write our
own story. Now is the time to begin to define and organize our future path for language teaching and
I sincerely thank Christopher S. Hlas, Susan A. Hildebrandt, Kelly Conroy, and Amy Young for their
support and input related to this article.
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How to cite this article: Hlas AC. Grand challenges and great potential in foreign
language teaching and learning. Foreign Language Annals. 2018;51:46–54.
54 | HLAS
Copyright of Foreign Language Annals is the property of Wiley-Blackwell and its content
may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright
holder’s express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for
individual use.FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS · VOL. 44, NO. 4 605
Kristin Davin (PhD, University of Pittsburgh) is Assistant Professor of Foreign Language
Education at Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
Francis J. Troyan (MA, University of Pittsburgh) is a doctoral student in Foreign Language
Education at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Richard Donato (PhD, University of Delaware) is Associate Professor of Foreign Language
Education at the University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Ashley Hellman (MAT, University of Pittsburgh) is a K–5 Spanish teacher at Falk Laboratory
School, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Research on the Integrated
Performance Assessment in an
Early Foreign Language Learning
Loyola University Chicago
Francis J. Troyan
University of Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh
Falk Laboratory School, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Abstract: This article reports on the implementation of the Integrated Performance
Assessment (IPA) in an Early Foreign Language Learning program. The goal of this
research was to examine the performance of grade 4 and 5 students of Spanish on the
IPA. Performance across the three communicative tasks is described and modifi cations
to IPA procedures based on the needs of the young learner are presented. Comparisons
of the performance of monolingual and multilingual students and information collected
through a student post-IPA survey are also reported. The researchers argue that in addition
to benefi ts of the IPA to describe student communicative performance, integrate
teaching and assessment, and promote standards-based teaching practices, the IPA also
has the potential to identify strengths and weaknesses of elementary school foreign language
Key words: Spanish, classroom-based assessment, elementary school language assessment,
integrated performance assessment, integration of teaching and assessment
606 WINTER 2011
The purpose of this study is to examine the
implementation of the Integrated Performance
Assessment (IPA) in an Early Foreign
Language Learning (EFLL) program,
to uncover patterns of performance in the
three modes of communication, and to identify
necessary adaptations when using an
IPA at this level of instruction based on student
commentary and performance. To date,
IPA studies in foreign language education
have focused on the middle school, high
school, and university levels. One key to
the health and longevity of well-articulated
foreign language programs in elementary
schools is careful documentation of student
achievement (Donato & Tucker, 2010) and
the assurance that students will continue to
develop their language abilities across several
years of instruction. For this reason, it
is essential to conduct research on current
professionally endorsed assessment practices
at the elementary school level to ensure
that we can describe clearly the outcomes
of instruction to students and stakeholders.
Additionally, assessments developed for
the older learner and adults may not be categorically
appropriate for the young learner
and must be researched to determine where
principled adaptations need to be made
(Donato, 1998). Finally, research is needed
on the assessment frameworks for young
learners that seek to integrate instruction
and assessment and refl ect the communicative
and cultural goals of language education
as we currently understand them.
To our knowledge, this study is the fi rst to
provide comprehensive documentation of
the IPA process with novice level learners of
Spanish in elementary school.
Review of Relevant Literature
Through a federally funded project, the
American Council on the Teaching of
Foreign Languages (ACTFL) created the
IPA, an assessment prototype for measuring
students’ progress in meeting specifi c
aspects of the National Standards for Foreign
Language Learning in the 21st Century
[SFLL] (National Standards, 2006). The
IPA is a performance-based assessment that
consists of an interpretive, interpersonal,
and presentational communication task1
aligned within a single theme in which a
rater assesses students’ profi ciency in each
mode of communication. Glisan, AdairHauck,
Koda, Sandrock, and Swender
(2003) developed a prototype of the assessment,
conducted widespread fi eld tests in
six research sites, and have subsequently
published the fi ndings for the profession
(Adair-Hauck, Glisan, Koda, Swender, &
Sandrock, 2006). In their work, Glisan et al.
(2003) set out to (1) design an assessment
to measure students’ progress in meeting the
SFLL, (2) research the effectiveness of the
IPA as a standards-based assessment instrument,
(3) assess the feasibility of implementing
the IPA in a typical classroom,
and (4) understand to what extent the IPA
motivates teachers to change their practice
(Adair-Hauck et al., 2006, pp. 363–364).
The IPA project has offered the profession
an opportunity to reconceptualize classroom
assessment. This performance-based
system of measurement offers the classroom
teacher an innovative framework for
the development of assessments. Equipped
with this framework, instructional conversations
between and among students and
teachers are transformed into ongoing dialogue
regarding student performance (AdairHauck
et al., 2006). Adair-Hauck et al. argue
the potential of the IPA for washback effect,
defi ned as “the effect and infl uence that the
introduction of tests has on the educational
context” (Shohamy, 2001, p. 46), on student
learning and classroom instruction (Alderson
& Wall, 1993; Green, 2006; Messick, 1996;
Muñoz & Álvarez, 2010; Shohamy, 2001).
In the literature on school reform, Bryk
and Gomez (2008) suggest a three-phased
process for (1) development of innovation,
(2) fi eld trials, and (3) large-scale adoption,
or what design innovation and school
reform researchers have termed “going to
scale” (McDonald et al., 1999; McDonald,
Klein, & Riordan, 2009; Roschelle, Tatar, &
Kaput, 2008). Since the completion of phases
FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS · VOL. 44, NO. 4 607
To answer these questions, a 16-week study
of an EFLL program was conducted at a
laboratory school in Western Pennsylvania.
This K–8 private school enrolls approximately
300 students, and having just completed
an expansion project, plans to expand
enrollment by about 10% each year for
the next fi ve years. The population of this
school resembles that of the surrounding
areas in that approximately 10% of students
are African American, Asian, Hispanic, and
Indian minority students. Begun in the fall
of 2006, the Spanish program makes use of
a curriculum taught by an itinerant teacher
during 15 minutes of daily instruction. The
curriculum at this school is composed of
semester-long thematic units (e.g., A Trip
to Perú, All About Me) designed to meet all
of the SFFLs (National Standards, 2006).
Details on the instructional approach will
be provided in the context of interpreting
the fi ndings. As we will argue, student performance
on the IPA has the potential to
describe the strengths and areas in need of
improvement of foreign language programs.
For the present study, data were collected
for 48 students. Students who had
fewer than four years studying Spanish or
who were absent for one of the three IPA
tasks were omitted from the analysis. Once
these omissions were made, complete data
sets for 30 students remained and were analyzed.
Twenty-one of these students were
fi fth graders and nine were fourth graders.
All students in the data set had studied
Spanish for four years.
Description of the IPA
The IPA was situated in a semester-long
unit on El Mar Caribe (The Caribbean Sea).
In this unit, students studied animals that
live in the ocean, the levels of the ocean
in which they live, beach accessories, and
beach activities. The activities throughout
this unit refl ected IPA tasks in the interpretive,
interpersonal, and presentational
modes. For example, students watched a
Spanish video without English or Spanish
1 and 2 and the subsequent publication of
the IPA manual, ACTFL Integrated Performance
Assessment (Glisan et al., 2003), two
studies have been published on the IPA. In
the fi rst, Adair-Hauck et al. (2006) describe
the development and fi eld trials of the IPA
prototype. Through qualitative data analysis,
the researchers describe the effect of the
IPA on teacher practice during fi eld trials,
which took place in middle school and high
school foreign language classrooms. They
found that IPA training assisted teachers
in modifying and restructuring instructional
activities to support standards-based
curricula. They suggest further studies
to investigate the effi cacy of the IPA at
other grade levels, as the IPA goes to scale
through professional development opportunities
provided by ACTFL.
To measure postsecondary students’
progress toward meeting the SFLL, Glisan,
Uribe, and Adair-Hauck (2007) implemented
an IPA in a postsecondary Advanced
Spanish course. They found that students
performed best on the presentational task
and worst on the interpretive task. Based on
quantitative analysis, they found (1) a positive
correlation between years of study in
middle school and performance on the interpersonal
task of the IPA and (2) a negative
correlation between the number of years of
high school Spanish and performance across
the three tasks. Of the studies on the IPA to
date, none have attempted to describe the
implementation of the IPA in an elementary
school foreign language program.
This study attempts to answer four research
questions: (1) How do elementary students
who have studied Spanish for four years perform
on an IPA? (2) What patterns of performance
in the three modes of communication
are revealed in the ratings? (3) What adaptations,
if any, are needed in the use and scoring
of IPAs for the young learner? and (4)
What are students’ perceptions of the IPA
and attitudes toward preparation for the IPA?
608 WINTER 2011
available on YouTube.com was selected. In
this video, a child named Caillou spends
a day at the beach with his family observing
wildlife, swimming, and playing in the
sand. A comprehension task (see Appendix
A) was created according to the interpretive
task template in the IPA manual (Glisan
et al., 2003; Appendix C). Because the IPA
template is based on an interpretive reading
task and this study implemented an
interpretive listening task, some modifi –
cations were made to the contents of the
template. The interpretive task for novice
learners contains three sections. In the
fi rst section, 10 key words from the video
are listed in English (e.g., vacation, beach,
picnic) and students are asked to write the
word in Spanish. Although only three of
these key words were cognates, students
had been exposed to all 10 words during
the unit or at some other time in their study
In the second section, Important
Ideas, eight phrases were listed (e.g.,
A song is sung about the sea). Students
were asked to identify which phrases were
true and which were false. In the third section,
students were asked to write the main
subtitles about the beach and completed
comprehension questions, participated
with a partner in an information gap activity,
and presented descriptions of ocean life.
These activities exposed students to the IPA
process and rubrics during group feedback
sessions with the two classes. After four
months of instruction centered around this
theme, students participated in an IPA lasting
nine days. Table 1 outlines the schedule
for the IPA.
Interpretive Task and Feedback
According to the IPA manual, appropriate
novice-level texts for the interpretive task
should be “strongly supported by contexts,
usually visual, with content of a frequent
everyday nature” (Glisan et al., 2003, p. 28).
Students began the IPA with a contextualized
situational prompt that stated, “You
are a freelance reporter for Viajar, a Spanish
language magazine for travelers. Your
boss wants you to write an article on the
Caribbean. So, you begin by researching
life at the beach.” A two-minute portion of
a video entitled “Caillou se va a la playa”
Schedule of IPA
Tuesday IPA Overview and Review of Interpretive Rubric
Wednesday Interpretive Task (Caillou video and comprehension task)
Thursday Feedback on Interpretive Task (Review of rubrics; Discussion of errors)
Friday Introduction to Interpersonal Task and Rubric
Monday Interpersonal Task with 1st class (1 hour long) (Paired conversations
about differences in pictures)
Tuesday Interpersonal Task with 2nd class (1 hour long) (Paired conversations
about differences in pictures)
Wednesday Feedback on Interpersonal Task (Review of rubrics; Discussion of
Thursday Presentational Task (Preparation of magazine articles)
Friday Feedback on Presentational Task (Review of rubrics; Discussion of
FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS · VOL. 44, NO. 4 609
You and your partner work for a huge
magazine company that has offi ces in
Pittsburgh and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The June issue of the magazine has
to go to press today, but there is one
big problem. The printing machines
messed up and changed the images
some, so you have to fi x this. One of
you lives and works in Pittsburgh, the
other in Puerto Rico. You must ask
your partner questions to determine
the differences between the two pictures.
Your boss is listening in on this
conference call and speaks only Spanish.
Try to be as descriptive as you can
and use as much detail as possible.
The more complete sentences you can
use the better. (See Appendix B for the
entire task sheet.)
Objects in the two pictures differed
slightly in color, number, and location. For
example, picture A depicted three palm
trees while picture B depicted only two.
Looking at only their picture, students were
instructed to converse to discover all of the
differences in the two pictures.
Prior research describing novice level
performance in EFLL programs indicates
that young L2 speakers need L1 support
during oral assessment to demonstrate more
fully their speaking profi ciency (Igarashi,
Wudthayagorn, Donato, & Tucker, 2002).
Anticipating the need of such assistance
during the interpersonal task, four prompts
were developed and provided by the assessment
facilitator, if and when necessary. The
following prompts were given orally as
needed by the assessment facilitator during
the interpersonal task: (1) Talk about any
differences that you see; (2) Look for differences
in color; (3) Sometimes objects are
added or omitted; and (4) Sometimes the
location of objects is changed.
After the interpersonal task was completed
for each class, the teacher returned
scored rubrics to each student, provided
feedback to the class as a whole, and
discussed with the class the meaning of
the scores. The teacher then showed the
idea of the video. Although not present in
the IPA novice-level interpretive template,
the researchers added a fourth section to
probe students who might be approaching
the intermediate-low level. In this section,
students were asked to infer the meaning
of three phrases in the video that they had
not previously studied (e.g., ¡Qué asco!,
On the following day, students received
their scored interpretive tasks and were
given an opportunity to watch the video
again. During this time, their teacher carefully
led the students through the video
in order to help them fi nd the correct
answers and understand where misinterpretations
might have occurred. The class
reviewed the correct answers and discussed
the meaning of the scores on the rubrics.
As stated above, the students were familiar
with the scoring rubrics as they had been
used throughout the semester.
Interpersonal Task and Feedback
For the interpersonal task, students were
paired with a classmate who had a similar
profi ciency level. The reason for this system
of pairing was to prevent an imbalance in
conversation that might silence less profi
cient students. A student teacher supervised
the class as the Spanish teacher and
one of the university researchers assessed
the interpersonal communication of pairs
of students. Students were given fi ve minutes
to converse about the prompt below
in a quiet room. All conversations were
videotaped for analysis.
For the interpersonal task, the IPA
Manual suggests that “each of the two
speakers comes to the task with information
that the other may not have, thereby
creating a real need for students to provide
and obtain information through the active
negotiation of meaning” (Glisan et al.,
2003, p. 20). To achieve the information gap
described above, each student in the dyad
was given one of two pictures of Caillou at
the beach. The pictures were accompanied
by the following directions:
610 WINTER 2011
ment design and implementation, which
included the creation of a unit of study
linked to the IPA. Davin was the instructor
of the testing and assessment course for
which the teacher created the IPA. Davin
also designed and implemented the Spanish
program at the Spanish teacher’s current
school in 2006 where she taught K–5
Spanish for three years. Troyan, also a doctoral
student in foreign language education,
designed and implemented a standardsbased
high school curriculum connected to
the IPA and currently teaches testing and
assessment to preservice teachers. Donato
is a specialist in foreign language education
and has considerable experience in research
on EFLL programs and language learning
in young children. Through collaborative
meetings with the teacher, the interpretive,
interpersonal, and presentational tasks
were designed and concerns of the teacher
Data collection occurred throughout the
course of one semester in the form of fi eld
notes, artifact collection, interviews, journaling,
focus groups, surveys, and assessment
scores. Throughout 12 weeks during
the spring of 2010, two researchers alternated
observing the two combined grade 4
and 5 sections. During observations, fi eld
notes were written focusing on the teacher’s
instructional activities and assessments.
During the implementation of the
IPA, student performance on each task
was documented. For the interpretive and
presentational tasks, photocopies were
made of students’ completed performance
and their rubric. For the interpersonal task,
each dyad was video-recorded and photocopies
were made of each rubric. Scoring
for each task was done using the novice
level rubrics from the ACTFL IPA guide.
To ensure rater reliability, the researchers
and teacher fi rst rated fi ve samples together
for each task. They then double rated all
of the students’ performances. If there was
a discrepancy for a particular rating, the
students examples of their utterances from
the interpersonal conversations, such as
complete utterances, well-formed questions,
and utterances that were a mixture of
Spanish and English. This activity mirrored
an interpersonal activity that occurred
earlier in the semester in which the students
practiced scoring conversations with
Presentational Task and Feedback
For the presentational task, students were
asked to write a magazine article in which
they described the Caribbean. They were
given the following writing prompt:
Your boss at the magazine needs your
help yet again. He has asked you to
write several paragraphs describing the
Caribbean in which you talk about the
weather, activities you can do there,
how to get around, and types of wildlife.
Because this is for publication,
please be sure that your writing is neat
and can be read.
Students worked on this task independently
without notes or dictionary. Although not
required, some students added illustrations
to accompany their writing. Following the
presentational task, the Spanish teacher
returned students’ magazine articles and
rubrics. Feedback on common errors in
their written magazine articles was given to
the students in the group setting.
To pilot the IPA with elementary school
Spanish language learners, a university/
school partnership was formed. The two
principal researchers in the study, Davin
and Troyan, met weekly throughout the
spring term of 2010 with the K–5 Spanish
teacher, Ms. Hellmann, a fi rst-year teacher
and a recent graduate of a MAT program
in foreign language education. As part of
her preservice coursework, Ms. Hellmann
was trained in foreign language assess-
FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS · VOL. 44, NO. 4 611
Today your students have completed
the interpersonal task of the IPA. Could
you refl ect on this experience? Did
things go the way that you had anticipated?
What did you expect? What
surprised you? Were there any issues
that came up that you didn’t expect?
Data from the two interviews and 11 journal
entries were coded and analyzed similarly.
The fi ndings from this analysis are
beyond the scope of this publication and
will be reported in a future publication.
Descriptive statistics were used to analyze
students’ performance across the three
IPA tasks, as shown in Table 2. As Table 2
indicates, students attained the highest ratings
on the interpersonal task with over half
of the students receiving ratings in either
the exceeds expectations or meets expectations
categories. Seventeen out of 30 students met
or exceeded expectations for interpersonal
communication, whereas only 13 students
did not meet expectations. Five of these 17
students exceeded expectations on the interpersonal
task. The lowest ratings for performance
occurred on the interpretive task. On
the interpretive task, only 8 students out of
30 met expectations whereas 22 out of 30 students
did not meet expectations. On the presentational
task, 12 out of 30 students met or
exceeded expectations, whereas 18 students
did not meet expectations.
As previously discussed, three probing
questions were added to the interpretive
task to document the performance
of students who might be approaching
the intermediate-low level of profi ciency.
According to the IPA Manual (Glisan et al.,
2003), novice level students are capable
only of literal comprehension and cannot
infer the meaning of language from context,
an assertion that we argue needs further
investigation. To assess whether any of
these students could interpret beyond the
literal meaning of the text, a section was
researchers and teacher collaborated and
agreed upon a rating.
Once the data from each of the IPA
tasks were placed into the spreadsheet, the
number of students who received exceeds
expectations, meets expectations, or does not
meet expectations for each task was counted.
Students for which Spanish was their L3 or
L4 were identifi ed and their scores on the
tasks were compared to the scores of students
for which Spanish was their L2. These
results were aligned with survey data collected
from the students that asked about
their language background and their perceptions
of the IPA (see the section on student
responses to post-IPA questionnaire).
In addition to data collected from students,
data were also collected from the
Spanish teacher. The researchers interviewed
the teacher before observations
began in February of 2010. During this
interview, the teacher described her current
assessment practices, her prior experience
with the IPA, her feelings about
implementing an IPA with young learners,
and challenges that she thought she
might encounter. A second interview was
conducted in June of 2010 after the IPA
had taken place and once the semester had
ended. During this interview, the teacher
refl ected on the IPA, spoke about diffi –
culties she experienced with the IPA, and
described changes to her teaching practices
brought about through her experience
with the IPA. In addition to the interviews,
the teacher responded to journal prompts
weekly from February to May of 2010. The
researchers provided these prompts based
on discussions that had taken place or
instruction observed in her classes. Sample
journal prompts included:
Regarding our work on Monday, March
22, could you refl ect on the rubric that
we created and the decisions that were
made together during the meeting?
Also, do you think that the rubric will
have an impact on the assignment?
612 WINTER 2011
Student Performance and Perception
of Task Diffi culty
Following the descriptive analysis, statistical
correlations were established between
student performance on each task and their
opinion of task diffi culty. A numerical value
was assigned to each student’s rating on the
three IPA tasks: exceeds expectations 3,
meets expectations 2, does not meet expectations
1. After completing the IPA, students
responded to a questionnaire, in which
they rated the diffi culty of each task on a
1–5 scale, with 1 as very easy and 5 as very
diffi cult. Spearman’s rho correlations were
computed and analyzed to determine
whether a relationship existed between students’
perceptions of task diffi culty and their
actual task performance. Summaries of the
correlations are presented below.
Table 3 summarizes the correlations
of students’ performance on each task with
their evaluation of the task diffi cultly. Signifi
cant negative correlations were found
between students’ opinion of task diffi –
culty and their ratings on the interpretive
and presentational tasks (r .54, p
.01 and r .66, p .01, respectively).
The negative correlations indicate that as
the students’ perceptions of task diffi culty
increased, task performance decreased. The
importance of this fi nding is that students
added to the interpretive task to determine
if students could infer the meaning of three
unfamiliar phrases in new contexts.3
on these interpretive questions, 6 out of 30
students were able to infer the meaning of
two of the three phrases, whereas six additional
students were able to infer the meaning
of one of the three phrases. No students
were able to infer the meaning of all three
phrases. This fi nding suggests that some
elementary school students at novice levels
of profi ciency are capable of inferring
the meaning of unfamiliar phrases and that
assessment of the interpretive abilities of
these students should not categorically be
excluded from the IPA.
Correlation of Student Opinion
of Diffi culty and Task Performance
IPA Task Student Opinion
of Diffi culty
n 24, **p .01.
Performance Across Modes of Communication, n 30
Task Exceeds Meets Does Not Meet
Expectations Expectations Expectations
Interpretive N/A* 8 22
Interpersonal 5 12 13
17% 40% 43%
Presentational 4 8 18
13% 27% 60%
*Based on the interpretive novice level rubric, students cannot exceed.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS · VOL. 44, NO. 4 613
interpretive and interpersonal task scores
(r .19, p .31) were not signifi cant.
However, a statistically signifi cant correlation
was found between the scores on the
interpersonal and presentational tasks of
this IPA (r .68, p .001). This fi nding
suggests consistency between performance
on the interpersonal and presentational
tasks. Furthermore, it indicates a discontinuity
between the interpretive task and the
other two tasks of this IPA. The observed
relationship suggests the need to explore
the nature of the direction of the relationship
between the two constructs, and the
relationship between the communicative
modes of the IPA, in general. The absence
of a relationship between the interpretive
task and the other two tasks is intriguing
but perhaps not surprising. Assuming that
a learner’s productive abilities in the foreign
language are parallel to those of their reading
and listening comprehension abilities
would indeed be a misguided assumption.
While the three modes of communication
are used in concert in authentic communication,
this does not mean that one’s ability
across the modes is the same (E. Glisan,
personal communication, November 8,
2010). Additionally, the lack of a relationship
between the interpretive task and
the other two tasks, coupled with the low
overall performance of the students on the
interpretive task, are similar to the fi ndings
of Glisan et al. (2007), who also found
the weakest performance on the interpretive
task in their study of students in a
postsecondary Advanced Spanish course.
appear to accurately assess their abilities on
the interpretive and presentational tasks.
Students’ perceptions of diffi culty align with
their task performance. Perceived task diffi
culty on the interpretive and the presentational
tasks is refl ected in their fi nal scores.
There is no correlation with students’ perceptions
of diffi culty and performance in the
interpersonal task. The results of this analysis
suggest that students are aware of their
strengths and weaknesses relative to two of
the IPA tasks and allude to the IPA’s potential
to raise students’ metacognitive ability
to assess their own learning and set goals
for addressing areas that need improvement.
Later in this article, we will provide corroborating
evidence of this potential through a
descriptive analysis of students’ narrative
Integrated Nature of the IPA
The integrated nature of the IPA tasks
assumes a relationship between one task
and the next. In other words, the learning
that is to occur in the interpretive task
becomes the basis for the face-to-face interaction
during the interpersonal task. In
turn, the information gleaned from the fi rst
two tasks is used to construct the presentational
task. Seeking to explore this task
relationship statistically, Spearman’s rho
correlations were performed on each possible
pairing of task scores.
As Table 4 indicates, the relationships
between the interpretive and presentational
task scores (r .15, p .42) and the
Interaction Between Pairs of IPA Task Scores
Interpretive Interpersonal Presentational
Interpretive – – –
Interpersonal (.19) – –
Presentational (.15) (.68)** –
n 30, **p .01.
614 WINTER 2011
the performance across these tasks of the
IPA. Interpretive communication was unaffected
by students’ language background,
further suggesting that performance on the
interpretive mode of communication is not
analogous to other modes of communication
and may be affected by factors and
develop in ways that are not equivalent
to the interpersonal and presentational
communicative modes. This point will be
addressed further in the Discussion section.
Summary of Findings
In summary, students attained the highest
levels of performance on the interpersonal
task. In contrast, over two thirds (22) of the
30 students in the study did not meet expectations
on the interpretive (listening) task.
Twelve of the 30 students met expectations
on the presentational task. Analysis of students’
opinions of their performance on the
three tasks in comparison with their actual
performance indicated strong student
awareness of the diffi culty of the interpretive
and presentational tasks and accounted
for their fi nal ratings. An analysis of the relationship
between the possible pairs of scores
across the three tasks of the IPA showed
no relationship between the interpretive
task scores and the other two task scores,
whereas a signifi cant relationship between
the interpersonal and presentational task
scores was found. The statistical difference
is supported by the students’ low performance
on the interpretive task and the challenges
(as noted by the teacher) in providing
This fi nding points to an overall trend in the
classroom involved in this study and perhaps,
in general, across classroom settings
Student Language Background
The student survey also provided data
regarding the number of languages known
by the students. Language background data
were then compared to student performance
on each of the three IPA tasks. Our
survey indicated that 22 of the 30 students
were currently learning Spanish as a second
language. We referred to them as Second
Language Speakers. Seven of the 30 students
were Third Language Speakers; they spoke
Spanish, English, and another language at
home. One student was a Fourth Language
Speaker. She spoke Spanish, English, and
two additional languages (French and Italian)
at home. For each group, the mean
score for each task was calculated with 3
being the highest rating and 1 being the
Table 5 depicts the mean performances
on the three tasks by language group. The
most salient trend in these data is the students’
performance on the interpersonal
task, which steadily improves across the
three groups as the number of languages
spoken increases. The scores on the presentational
task also show increases across
the groups. The interpretive task performance
was not consistent across groups,
however. The data for the interpersonal and
presentational tasks suggest that as number
of languages spoken increases, so does
Mean Scores by Language Group
Language Group Interpretive Interpersonal Presentational
Second Language Speakers (n 22) 1.32 1.64 1.4
Third Language Speakers (n 7) 1.14 2 1.57
Fourth Language Speakers (n 1) 2 3 3
1 does not meet expectations; 2 meets expectations; 3 exceeds expectations.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS · VOL. 44, NO. 4 615
who responded to the question, 15 students
commented that the teaching and learning
that took place during the thematic unit,
which preceded the IPA, helped them to
prepare for the IPA. Twelve students stated
that review and practice were also helpful.
Student comments related to instruction
were prefaced by the phrases “we learned”
and “we were taught” followed by specifi c
references to the academic content and
vocabulary of the thematic unit necessary
for discussing the topic of the Caribbean.
Representative comments include “we
learned about the Mar Caribe,” “we learned
words for animals, activities, transportation,
and clothing,” and “we learned motions
to help us remember new words.” As one
student stated emphatically, “defi nitely the
[thematic] unit on Mar Caribe.”
Students also stated that “we did little
tests and went over answers,” “reviewed
connector words for writing,” and “reviewed
what would happen during the IPA.” One
student who met expectations on all three
tasks provided a response that went beyond
classroom tasks and practice and refl ected
her awareness of the learning process itself.
In her words, “we needed to pay attention
because it involved learning Spanish.” Conversely,
the comments of the six students
who did not meet expectations on any of the
three IPA tasks were typically vague, truncated,
and underspecifi ed. For example, “we
learned more Spanish,” “we learned clothes,
weather, and much more,” and “practice
video, found differences, paragraph.” As
the representative comments indicate, the
majority of the students perceived the connections
between the thematic unit, which
preceded the IPA, and their feelings of preparedness.
Question two, on the topic of what the
students found most helpful to their performance
on the IPA, did not, for the most part,
yield information that differed signifi cantly
from the fi rst question. Students continued
to mention the learning of key vocabulary,
the use of gestures, and motions to assist
memory of the new words, and practice
sessions on the topic of the IPA. When
students with authentic interpretive tasks,
an issue we will revisit in the Discussion
section. Finally, the results of an analysis of
student performance on the three tasks of
the IPA by language group suggest that the
more languages students spoke, the better
they performed overall on this novice-level
Spanish IPA. The next section will present
students’ post-IPA narrative comments that
reveal student opinions of the IPA, support
the fi nding that students are aware of
their diffi culties, and show a relationship
between students’ orientation to language
learning and their performance.
Student Responses to Post-IPA
Following the IPA, students were asked
to complete a fi ve-item questionnaire that
asked them to describe (1) what best helped
them prepare for the IPA; (2) what helped
them to be successful across all three tasks;
(3) the diffi culties they experienced during
the assessment; (4) their level of enjoyment
when participating in the IPA; and
(5) any suggestions for improving IPA procedures.
Thirty-seven students responded
to the questionnaire and their responses
were grouped by theme for each question.
Interestingly, student responses were highly
consistent and indicated an awareness of
the nature of the IPA, the need for preparation,
and the academic content-focus of
the assessment in contrast to a focus on
primarily grammatical accuracy. We also
tried to determine differences in responses
between students who performed well (i.e.,
meets and exceeds expectations) on the IPA
compared to those students who did not
meet expected levels of performance. This
analysis, however, did not consistently
Question one asked the students to
describe which types of classroom activities
helped them to prepare for the IPA.
Two themes emerged in their responses:
(1) instruction that aligned with the content
and language demands of the IPA, and
(2) review and practice. Of the 37 students
616 WINTER 2011
included the speed and length of the listening
comprehension material (n 4), diffi –
culties in combining words into sentences
and paragraphs (n 3), nervousness (n
3), working without assistance (n 2), not
knowing how to participate in the conversation
(n 1), and the paired speaking task
(n 1). Clearly, students experienced some
diffi culty on the IPA and could articulate the
sources of their struggles, primarily lack of
adequate vocabulary resources for the tasks,
diffi culties in listening comprehension, and
sentence combining skills. What is surprising
is that, although students perceived
gaps in their language knowledge and were
challenged by the tasks, they remained
quite positive about the assessment and did
not express frustration, as the responses to
the next question will show.
When asked to describe what they
enjoyed about the IPA, a positive picture
emerged that is consistent with the theory of
assessment on which the IPA has been developed.
Student comments also indicate that
the IPA is perceived in ways that differ from
traditional testing that emphasizes student
defi ciencies rather than achievements. Seven
of the students reported that the IPA helped
them learn new vocabulary and content and
made them aware of how much Spanish they
actually knew. One student stated, “I knew
some words and the ones I did not know, I
now know.” Another remarked, “I learned
that I knew more that I thought I did.” Along
with the learning potential of the IPA, seven
of the students’ comments described the
experience as enjoyable using words such
as “creative, interactive, and fun.” Other
students enjoyed talking to their classmates
during the interpersonal task, illustrating
their written work, and being able to receive
feedback on their performance during the
assessment. Curiously, three of the 16 children
who did not meet expectations on two
or three of the IPA tasks stated that what
they enjoyed the most was the challenge
(“The IPA was sort of challenging and I
Finally, when asked to comment on
suggestions for improvement, some student
reviewing the comments of students who
met or exceeded expectations on three tasks,
an interesting divergence emerged from the
typical “practice and learn responses” given
to question one and question two. These students
reported specifi c classroom activities
that linked directly to the IPA tasks, such
as having opportunities to talk and interact
with one another in Spanish; reviewing
the IPA rubric; being asked to sound out
important key words and guess their meanings
(“[it] was really fun”); discussing and
explaining the theme, reasons, and concepts
embedded in the unit on the Caribbean;
and seeing and using key vocabulary words
in sentences rather than in isolation. These
comments indicate that some elementary
school students are capable of perceiving
the connection of their daily classroom
activity with expected performances on
the IPA and did not view the IPA as being
radically different from what they typically
do in class. If assessment and teaching are
to be seamless, these students clearly saw
the close relationship of how they learn
Spanish to how their progress is monitored
and assessed in the IPA, which may have
accounted for their strong performance.
In questions three and four, students
were asked to comment on their diffi culties
during the IPA and the aspects of the experience
that they enjoyed. For these two questions,
we analyzed only the responses of
students who completed all three IPA tasks.
Additionally, no major differences in the
quantity or quality of responses were found
when comparing students who received ratings
of meets or exceeds expectations to those
who did not meet expectations on at least two
of the three tasks.
The theme of the most frequent
response to the question of diffi culty was
gaps in language knowledge. Approximately
half of the students (n 12) commented
on their lack of vocabulary knowledge during
the IPA. As one student stated, “it was
hard fi nding the exact words for the things I
[was] trying to say in Spanish.” Other diffi
culties reported were evenly distributed
among student responses. These comments
FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS · VOL. 44, NO. 4 617
listening skills, and ongoing self-assessment
of what they know and do not know.
Based on the fi ndings of this research, the
IPA proved to be an effective assessment
of profi ciency in the three modes of communication
with young Spanish language
learners. Additionally, the IPA also provided
valuable insight into the strengths
and weaknesses of the EFLL program at this
school. Four salient issues are discussed in
this section: (1) reasons for the results on
the interpersonal task; (2) reasons for the
results on the interpretive task; (3) the need
for student-friendly rubrics; and (4) patterns
of performance based on number of
Two reasons can be given for why students
performed best on the interpersonal
task of the IPA. First, because the itinerant
Spanish teacher teaches approximately
200 students for only 15 minutes daily, the
majority of class time is focused on oral
communication, typical of many elementary
school foreign language programs
(Adair-Hauck, 1992; Knop & Sandrock,
1994; Met, 1994, 2000). Given the constraints
of time, systematic instruction in
interpretive and presentational communication
through meaningful activities is
not possible on a regular basis. Thus, the
default mode that often takes precedence
during short class periods is interpersonal
communication. Second, several useful
adaptations were made during the interpersonal
task to support the spoken interaction
of the young learners. Unlike typical
IPAs, the assessment facilitator provided
pictures for the interpersonal task and prescribed
prompts to guide the production of
the students. In order not to invalidate the
IPA process, students completed a picture
difference task during the unit of study preceding
Our second point requiring discussion,
and similar to the fi ndings of Glisan et al.
(2007), is that students performed least well
on the interpretive task, which suggests a
responses took the form of realizations of
the type of instruction needed to become
profi cient in the various modes of communication.
Their comments were direct
and focused and included “more class time
learning words that are not just objects and
actions,” “reading and [stating] main ideas
of sentences and paragraphs,” and “more
time [in class] explaining, like, in between
words, like conjunctions; basically how to
say more detailed sentences.” Thus, one
positive outcome of the IPA is that the students
become aware of what they need to
know and be able to do to use Spanish in
purposeful and meaningful ways. Likewise,
the teacher also becomes aware of areas in
the curriculum that need to be strengthened
and is potentially well positioned to
address these language issues in class with
students who clearly perceive the purpose
of the instruction.
In summary, students understood the
close alignment between the thematic unit
and the IPA and the seamlessness of teaching,
learning, and assessment. Following
their IPA experience, students refl ected
on how they had learned and perceived
the increased need for learning vocabulary
beyond nouns and verbs, sentence- and
paragraph-building skills, reading for main
ideas, and having frequent opportunities
to speak to each other. Students could also
comment on the content focus of the assessment
and the learning that occurred during
the assessment itself. Students enjoyed the
interactive and social nature of the assessment,
which is not surprising given that
most classroom assessments are noncooperative.
What is most compelling about
the students’ responses, however, is that,
from the experience of participating in an
IPA, new language goals and purposes for
learning emerge. One outcome of the IPA,
therefore, seems to be a growing metacognitive
awareness of the students’ own process
of foreign language learning. This awareness
of the learning process is expressed by
the students in their desire for vocabulary
resources and textual cohesive devices, rules
of participation in interactions, selective
618 WINTER 2011
miliar vocabulary than the interpersonal or
presentational tasks. Because the interpersonal
and presentational tasks were student
generated and the interpretive task was produced
for Spanish-speaking children and
outside the students’ locus of control, it is
reasonable to assume that students would
struggle more with this task. Additionally,
because the language used by peers in the
interpersonal task was based on previous
classroom instruction, it was most likely
more familiar to students than the language
of the video. The question arises as to how
students would have performed had the
text of the interpretive task used a greater
number of familiar vocabulary items. The
resolution lies in fi nding a thematically
related authentic text with a suffi cient
amount of vocabulary that refl ects the unit
of study. Future research might examine the
appropriateness of using authentic video
materials with novice-level learners for
assessment, and what preparation they need
to be successful on these tasks. Authentic
video materials in which speech is delivered
at a rapid rate could very well discourage
young learners. This discussion does not
suggest that authentic texts should not be
used in the IPA with young learners. Rather,
it suggests that the young learners’ need
frequent opportunities to interpret carefully
selected authentic texts with appropriate
supportive feedback from the teacher (e.g.,
dynamically assessed performance) (Davin,
2011; Poehner, 2008).4
In this way, we
may improve young learners’ interpretative
abilities and be able to incorporate these
materials into the IPA to ensure motivation
and student success on this phase of the
Third, throughout the design and implementation
of the IPA and the corresponding
unit of study, it became apparent that some
adaptations to the rubrics were necessary
for young learners. The design of the IPA,
its rubrics, and its feedback loop promote
the communication of effective feedback to
students (Adair-Hauck et al., 2006; Glisan
et al., 2003). Tunstall and Gipps (1996)
argue that descriptive feedback to young
need for closer examination of this communication
task. Two possible explanations for
this low performance are (1) a lack of exposure
to authentic spoken and written texts;
and (2) the presence of a large amount of
unfamiliar vocabulary. First, it is possible
that students were unaccustomed to authentic
texts and therefore scored poorly on the
interpretive task. Students’ reactions that the
characters in the video spoke too quickly may
reveal their lack of opportunities to listen to
native speakers using Spanish in nonsimplifi
ed ways and at a typical rate of speed. Previous
research has shown that speech rate,
accent, and opportunities for interaction
are signifi cant factors for successful listening
comprehension (Carrier, 1999; Garcia &
Asención, 2001; Gass & Varonis, 1994; Goh,
1999; Leeser, 2004; Pica, Doughty, & Young,
1986; Pica, Young, & Doughty, 1987; Polio
& Gass, 1998; Rodrigo, 2004; Tyler, 2001)
and that listening comprehension improves
with increased exposure to authentic speech
(Herron & Seay, 1991). However, making
meaning of complex authentic listening passages
requires opportunities for students
to develop the necessary listening strategies
(Bacon, 1992; Shrum & Glisan, 2010).
In elementary language programs, such
as the one described here, development of
the necessary interpretive listening/viewing
strategies is often neglected. In this context,
the teacher stated that two factors had limited
her opportunities to engage students
in listening comprehension activities—
limited class time and lack of easy access
to technology. Although her school has
ample technological resources, assembling
these materials in the available 15 minutes
required reducing the precious few minutes
she has for instruction. As many involved in
early language programs already know, the
constraints of scheduling and time limitations
create conditions that often preclude
balanced attention to all aspects of language
learning (Mitsui, Haxhi, Donato, & Tucker,
A second possible explanation for the
low scores on the interpretive task is that
this video used a larger percentage of unfa-
FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS · VOL. 44, NO. 4 619
Fourth, as presented in Table 5, we
found compelling evidence that students
who spoke languages in addition to English
in the home had an advantage on particular
tasks of the IPA. The advantage was most
evident in the interpersonal task. While this
fi nding is nonconclusive due to the small
sample size, it is an area that should be
probed in future research. Previous research
indicates that learning a third or fourth
language is easier than learning a second
language. Research has also indicated that
when students are learning an additional
foreign language, they bring to the learning
task well-developed strategies and
greater metalinguistic awareness (Sapienza,
Donato, & Tucker, 2006).
In summary, the IPA was a successful
classroom-based performance assessment
of fourth and fi fth graders’ Spanish profi –
ciency in this program. We recommend this
assessment in similar programs in which
the goal is communicative competence
and instruction is provided across all three
modes of communication. In order for the
IPA to be useful, this assessment should
mirror a teacher’s instruction and should
be part of a backward planning design
process. Students who are not familiar with
communication across the three modes of
communication would most likely struggle
with this assessment.
In the present study, students performed
the best on the interpersonal task with 57%
of students exceeding or meeting the standard.
On the presentational task, 40% of
students exceeded or met the standard. Students
performed the worst on the interpretive
task in which only 27% of students met
the standard. In surveys, students indicated
that they struggled with the interpretive task
because they were unaccustomed to listening
to the speech of native speakers of Spanish.
In an interview with the teacher, she corroborated
this statement by indicating that
constraints of time and lack of easy access
to the technology hindered instruction in
learners must be highly descriptive, contextualized,
and comprehensible to have
an impact on student learning. The use of
student-friendly rubrics during this unit
allowed the students and the teacher to
engage in the process of “constructing
achievement” and “constructing the way
forward” (Tunstall & Gipps, 1996, pp. 399–
401) by increasing the comprehensibility of
the feedback provided to the young learners
during the IPA. We maintain that the language
of the IPA rubrics was far too complex
and specialized for young learners to understand.
We revised, therefore, the language
of the rubrics to communicate expectations
to the young learners in clear and accessible
ways. The contents of the rubrics were
matched with the rubrics provided in the
IPA manual and used to score the tasks (see
Appendix C). These rubrics, which were
inspired by the Consortium for Assessing
Performance Standards (CAPS) rubrics,5
were also used throughout the instructional
unit preceding the IPA and during the
In the presentational task, students
were asked to describe the weather, activities,
transportation, and wildlife in the
Caribbean. Each category of the rubric was
aligned with the novice level rubric provided
in the IPA manual, with language
modifi cations for increased comprehensibility.
For example, instead of labeling
one category Language Function and using
the exceeds expectations descriptor “Creates
with language, able to express own meaning a
basic way,” on the student-friendly rubric,
the category was posed as the question
“Can I describe the Caribbean in Spanish?”
and the descriptor for exceeds expectations
states “I described the weather, the things
to do, how to get around and types of wildlife
in the Caribbean. I also added additional
details and created with the language on my
own.” These questions and descriptors,
modeled after the rubrics created by the
Consortium for Assessing Performance
Standards, allowed students to self-assess
their work using language they could easily
620 WINTER 2011
found that the IPA had a powerful washback
effect on this Spanish teacher’s practice.
More research is needed to document this
change and to determine the nature of the
washback. That is, does using the IPA produce
a positive washback that truly serves
as a guideline for standards-based instruction
or conversely does it simply encourage
“teaching to the test” (Poehner & Lantolf,
2010, p. 316)? Finally, this research points to
the need for a detailed look at the feedback
provided during the IPA and how this helps
learners to improve language performance.
Our hope is that the present study has created
the impetus for further research of the
IPA at this level of instruction and investigations
of the consequences of using IPAs on
teachers, the curriculum, and the status of
foreign language programs in the school.
We wish to thank the Spanish teacher and
students described in this study who welcomed
us into their classroom and embraced
our work. We thank Professor Eileen Glisan
of Indiana University of Pennsylvania who
encouraged our work on this study and
provided numerous insights on this project.
We also acknowledge Dr. Alan Juffs from
the Department of Linguistics at the University
of Pittsburgh for his assistance with
the statistical analysis. Finally, we thank the
three anonymous reviewers for their useful
1. For the purpose of this article, we refer to
these three communication tasks as the
interpretive task, the interpersonal task,
and the presentational task, respectively.
2. In future IPAs, we need to ascertain that
students are indeed understanding the
materials rather than simply identifying
and guessing the meaning of words based
on previous exposure. Little guidance is
provided in the IPA manual on the use of
listening texts for assessing the interpretive
mode of communication. The use of
listening comprehension and interpretation
in her classroom.
While the IPA is an effective method
of assessing students’ profi ciency in a foreign
language, it is also an effective way to
assess a teacher’s practice. This IPA offered a
window into the foreign language program
at this school and revealed its strengths
and areas for improvement and additional
attention. Findings presented above reveal
that more attention in the curriculum is
needed for developing stronger listening
comprehension ability of native speaker
communication and increased opportunities
for meaningful practice of the students’
written Spanish. These fi ndings are not
surprising considering that the teacher has
only 15 minutes a day with each class and
teaches approximately 200 students.
As discussed above, we found that in
EFLL programs, such as the one in which we
worked, the constraints of time and teacher
resources create an imbalance in instruction
on the modes of communication. One way of
addressing this imbalance is to work toward
the integration of foreign language into the
content and goals of the school’s academic
curriculum and an increase in instructional
time. Additional time for Spanish instruction
could be justifi ed on the grounds that
the language program provides support for
other academic areas and contributes to the
students’ intellectual development in the
context of meaningful and purposeful language
study of relevant and age-appropriate
academic topics. In this way, the instructional
inequalities between foreign language
instruction and other academic areas would
be addressed. We speculate that if the program
were content-based and if the students
had more time on task, the results of this
study might be quite different.
Based on our fi ndings, we have identifi
ed three implications for future research.
First, a longitudinal study is needed to track
language learners’ performance on the IPA
as they continue to study the language. We
are currently preparing an IPA to be implemented
with these same students in their
middle school Spanish class. Second, we
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teaching-assessment dialectic and L2
I. Key Word Recognition
Find the equivalent of the following English words in the video. Write your answers in Spanish.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS · VOL. 44, NO. 4 623
it’s okay ______________________________
II. Important Ideas. For each of the following, circle the letter of each detail that happens in
the video. They’re worded as True/False.
A. A song is sung about the sea.
B. Caillou hears the sound of the sea while in the car.
C. The reason Caillou complains about the water.
D. Caillou gets mustard on his sandwich and is not happy.
E. The crab is described as “beautiful.”
F. After the fi rst wave hits the sand castle, Caillou says to his parents, “Let’s go!!”
G. Caillou plans to go back to the beach.
H. Caillou’s mom says they will come back to the beach tomorrow.
III. Main Idea(s): From what you see in the video, provide the main ideas(s) of the article
Caillou se va a la playa in English:
IV. Words in Context
¡Qué asco! __________________________________________
y el otro y el otro y el otro _____________________________
This is so exciting! Today you get to show off in front of our camera. So for the next few
minutes, the three of us are just going to talk in Spanish.
You and your partner work for a huge magazine company that has offi ces in Pittsburgh
and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The June issue of the magazine has to go to press today, but there
is one big problem. The printing machines messed up and changed the images some, so you
have to fi x this. One of you lives and works in Pittsburgh, the other in Puerto Rico. You must
use Spanish to fi gure out the differences between the two pictures. Your boss is listening
in on the call and only understands Spanish. Try to be as descriptive as you can and use as
much detail as possible. The more complete sentences you can use the better.
Before you begin your description
• Pick up the phone
• Greet your partner
• Make some small talk about how they are doing, the weather, etc.
Oooh, it’s time for the magazine to go to press. Thank you both for helping with what
could have been a huge problem!
624 WINTER 2011
Student-Friendly Rubric for the Interpretive Task
Meets Expectations Does Not Meet Expectations
Can I recognize vocabulary heard in
I accurately identify most
vocabulary words that I have
already been taught.
I cannot accurately identify many
vocabulary words that I have
already been taught.
Can I understand the Caillou video? My answers show that I understood
the important idea I heard in the
My answers show that I
understood little of what I heard.
Can I identify the main idea in the
I can identify the main idea. I cannot identify the main idea.
Student-Friendly Rubric for the Interpersonal Task
Exceeds Expectations Meets Expectations Does Not Meet
Can I talk to my
partner and describe
between the pictures?
During the conversation, I
express the differences in
the picture and sometimes
create my own meaning.
During the conversation,
I mostly use memorized
language to talk about the
differences in the picture.
During the conversation,
I use only memorized
language and lists of
Can I speak
I speak mainly in
Sometimes I connect
I speak using some
and some memorized
I speak using words,
phrases, chunks of
language, and lists.
How well do I
I can ask and answer
simple questions. I clarify
by asking and answering
I mainly respond to
questions asked by my
partner. I clarify by using
I respond only to
questions that we
practice a lot. I repeat
words or use English to
Am I understood
when I speak in
I am understood without
I am understood with
occasional diffi culty.
I am understood with
much diffi culty.
How accurate am I? I am mostly correct
when speaking in simple
sentences and make
errors when creating.
I am mostly correct with
I am correct only at the
FOREIGN LANGUAGE ANNALS · VOL. 44, NO. 4 625
Student-Friendly Rubric for Presentational Task
Exceeds Expectations Meets Expectations Does Not Meet
Can I describe my
animal in Spanish?
I described the weather, the
things to do, how to get
around and types of wildlife
in the Caribbean. I also added
additional details and created
with the language on my own.
I described one or two
of the items required.
I used mainly
I used only
language and did
not complete the
Can I use complete
I wrote in complete sentences. I had two complete
sentences and some
I used only lists.
How detailed is my
Vocabulary is suffi cient to
provide information and limited
Can the audience
The reader understands me
without diffi culty.
The reader has
some diffi culty
The reader does not
How accurate am I? I am mostly correct when
producing simple sentences and
make errors when creating with
I am mostly correct
I am correct only at
the word level.
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