Effectively using the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements in world languages

Research indicates that the identification of clear learning targets is a strong support for language learning. The NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements for Language Learning are progress indicators for language learning, and are a valuable resource for teachers and students alike. Based on research that reveals language learners to be more motivated and self-directed when they have an understanding of the proficiency spectrum and language progressions, as well as gaining the ability to self-assess on their language ability, the National Council of State Supervisors for Languages (NCSSFL) and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) collaborated to develop the national Can-Do statements. These are made up of two parts: the Can-Do Benchmarks and the Can-Do Statements.

The Can-Do Global Benchmarks show what language learners can typically do across the three modes of communication, by proficiency sub-level, when supported by strong teaching and long, articulated language sequences that provide ample opportunities for students to acquire language. They indicate the global functions students at each proficiency sub-level can reasonably be expected to do across the three modes of communication. Teachers should bear in mind that learners develop proficiency in the three modes at different rates, and that performing at novice-high in interpretive reading for example, does not necessarily mean a learner will simultaneously perform at novice-high in interpersonal communication.

The benchmark statements and their progress descriptors can be used for:

  • Backward design planning of units and lessons
  • Guiding curriculum and course progressions
  • Identifying course targets to move students along the proficiency spectrum
  • Understanding the language functions of learners at each proficiency sub-level

When using the interactive Can-Do Global Benchmarks for instructional planning at a given proficiency sub-level, users should click to open the appropriate proficiency level for the appropriate level of communication, but should not stop there. Users should also open up the next highest proficiency level for the same mode of communication in order to identify where the teacher should aim with instruction. By always looking at the current proficiency level as well as the next highest, teachers are better empowered to align instruction and assessment to student growth and performance that moves along the proficiency spectrum. By knowing where teachers are trying to get students within proficiency sub-levels, they can maximize unit, lesson, and assessment design, while also creating a discourse-rich community in their classrooms at an appropriate level. Furthermore, by keeping the next highest proficiency sub-level in “view,” teachers are more effectively able to provide areas of stretch for students to grow in their language acquisition and output—ultimately moving students along the proficiency spectrum.

The Can-Do Statements, on the other hand, provide a sense of the kinds of language functions and tasks a learner would be able to perform in a given mode of communication, at a given proficiency sub-level. They are intended for student self-assessment of proficiency targets. There are a few important caveats to be aware of when using the Can-Do Statements. First, educators should be aware that Can-Do statements are for student self-assessment and are not intended to guide instruction and assessment. Students do not/should not necessarily be able to do every single item on the Can-Do checklist at each proficiency sub-level. Instead, those items represent the kinds of functions learners are typically able to successfully perform. In other words, students will be able to do many of the tasks that appear at the appropriate sub-level but will not necessarily be able to do all of them depending on instruction, units, and what has been taught, and that is to be expected. Second, and perhaps more importantly, learners need to be taught how to self-assess; it should not be considered to be automatically possible on the part of a language learner. Language teachers can help educate their students on honest, accurate self-assessment by educating them on the larger proficiency spectrum, helping learners understand that language acquisition is developmental and therefore takes time, and that performance at various proficiency levels may or may not happen easily or quickly. These points help orient students to the reality that language learning, like mathematics, is complex and requires time. Helping students understand this early on helps them to have realistic expectations for their language learning experience and in turn, to be able to more accurately self-assess.

For more information about the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Benchmarks and Statements, contact Maine DOE World Languages Specialist Jay Ketner at  jay.ketner@maine.gov.

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