Blog post written by Arianne Dowd

Today I spent the day learning about the OPI test with our informative presenter, Ryan Rockaitis. We learned about the test and what we can do to push our students to achieve to higher proficiency.

While speaking about the OPI I have often heard the terms the floor and the ceiling. Ryan explained these terms. When interviewees are tested, the interviewer wants to see what the interviewee CAN DO and CAN NOT DO. The floor = what they CAN DO and the ceiling is what they CAN NOT DO. This needs to be established by the rater with evidence. Consistency is key to prove the floor. The interview has a specific structure to collect data. Once you find the floor, you need to probe to see if the interviewee is at the next proficiency level.

We learned about what each level of proficiency sounds like.

  • Novices sound like parrots because they repeat back what they hear.
  • Intermediates sound like  linguistic survivors
  • Advanced speakers sound like informed reporters because they go beyond their own personal life and talk about community, what happened and what is going to happen (Can talk in all 3 time frames.).
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Ryan Rockaitis training Experienced Track teachers at iFLT19

These descriptions match the image ACTFL provides beautifully because novices have a narrow point below them indicating they can not stand on their own. They do not have enough language to survive however once you move up, there is a base for them to stand and begin to survive in L2. The variety of topics they can speak about gets wider and for that reason, with each proficiency level, the horizontal space gets wider.

Another interesting takeaway our group discussed was that many AP teachers often prepare students for superior tasks such as supporting opinions, hypothesizing or discussing topics concretely and abstractly however they might miss an important piece of the prior level of advanced proficiency which includes past narration because it is not an AP task YET it is important for the AAPPL or the OPI. We must make sure we are preparing AP students to hit advanced level proficiency goals and build these functions into our curriculum in order to guide our students to higher proficiency.

Travis Murray and I agree that one of the activities that Ryan had us participate in was an excellent way to help you understand proficiency levels as well as design a scope and sequence. First our group thought of different grammar topics and wrote them on post it notes. Next we moved them into what proficiency level they would fall into. This activity is an excellent way to see where in your scope and sequence you would need to emphasize certain grammar points AND HOW they fit into the functions of the proficiency levels. Travis tweeted about his perspective of the activity here.

I love how Ryan explained that we can use the language functions to guide differentiation in our class. If your have a level 2 class with Heritage Language students who have mastered the functions that the rest of the class is working on, you can simply differentiate! Give them new language functions at a higher proficiency level to master. Now the teacher is pushing these students toward higher proficiency. He also highlighted ways to assist, scaffold and support students who are having difficulty meeting the functions.

Ryan introduced us to this document titled “Oral Proficiency Levels in the Workplace.” It is wonderful because it shows students what level of proficiency is necessary for different careers. This year I had many seniors who declared their majors or future career early on. This document shows them what level of proficiency they will need to achieve in that field. It is a powerful document that will push all students towards taking the Seal of Biliteracy. In addition, it indicates that the language journey does NOT end after high school, particularly when students need to reach beyond an intermediate.

A helpful activity we participated in was watching a full OPI interview. Next we wrote on post it notes what we thought the proficiency level and sublevel would be of the interviewee. Our group was between IL and IM. We came together as a group and used the descriptors to help us reach a consensus. In the end, we talked it through and agreed. We were pleased when he told us we had rated the interview correctly and intermediate mid.

Ryan also had some excellent ways to assess proficiency in our classroom for AP or AAPPL. If you want to learn more about Ryan’s work, check out his site full of excellent ideas to enhance your classroom!

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