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Monday, January 12, 2015

BOSSA Team Awarded CLA Outstanding Service Award - Ceremony January 21

Congratulations to the BOSSA Team which has been selected to receive a CLA Work Group Outstanding Service Award for academic year 2013-2014. Their project is a collaborative effort between the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies and the CLA Language Center. The BOSSA Team includes:

  • Sara Mack, Spanish 1004 Level Coordinator, Spanish and Portuguese

  • Anna Olivero-Agney, PACE Assistant Developer, Language Center

  • Joanne Peltonen, Testing Coordinator, Language Center

  • Diane Rackowski, Technical Coordinator, Language Center

  • Gabriela Sweet, PACE Sustainability Coordinator, Language Center

The five team members will receive their award at the CLA Staff Appreciation Ceremony on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., in Memorial Hall, McNamara Alumni Center.

How can students better understand what and how they are learning? How does the student become the center of the educational process? How can students become aware of how they are contributing to their own learning?

These are questions that drove the BOSSA (Basic Outcomes Student Self-Assessment) protocol, which involves students in the assessment of their growing language competence.

The self-assessment component of the Certificate of Advanced-Level Proficiency in Spanish provided a starting point for BOSSA, but the project goes far beyond the one-time self-assessment component of the Certificate. It aims at engaging students in the development of their language capabilities and cultural awareness as they progress throughout the language curriculum.

The BOSSA protocol begins with a class session in the computer classroom in which students produce and record responses to contextualized questions or specific prompts, including the task to tell a story based on a photograph and to ask a number of questions for a presumed correspondent. They then listen to their own recording and analyse their production using a rubric that mirrors criteria presented in the previous activity, discussing their impressions with a partner and then with the group as a whole. After producing oral language and discussing the process, students complete an online self-assessment instrument in which they evaluate how well they can perform a number of specific speaking tasks in the target language (using the activity they've just completed as a reference point, if they wish). Based on their responses the students receive automatic feedback, both in the online session and as email, which provides guidelines for improving in areas where students have rated themselves below expectations. In another computer classroom session the students complete a similar procedure involving writing tasks. This process is repeated at the end of the semester with the same tasks as at the beginning. In addition, students are asked to reflect on their own progress throughout the semester in a series of three reflection activities.

This project makes inroads into a number of areas of learning at the university and within CLA: it focuses students' attention on course goals and asks them to reflect on their progress in meeting those goals; it presents realistic expectations and helps students understand and modify their own expectations regarding language competence; it points the way for students to be proactive in their learning, articulating areas for improvement and presenting pathways to accomplish it; it involves students in their own learning and opens the way toward learner independence; and it asks students to analyse their own competence as it develops. The project is an excellent springboard for lifelong learning that has an impact beyond the classroom and the undergraduate experience.

Data collected from this project have indicated that regular and systematic use of self-assessment in the language classroom promotes learner autonomy and self-awareness. The BOSSA protocol provides a framework for students to actively experience what they will be able to do in terms of communicative competence by the end of the course (through completing the performance tasks). After reflecting on how well they could complete those concrete course objectives, students reported that they knew what they needed to do to improve speaking and writing abilities in the language. In particular, the students who completed the semester-long protocol registered a significant increase in this awareness over the course of the semester. Likewise, with regard to the group of students who indicated that they had made changes in their language learning practices since the beginning of the semester, data show a notable increase in reported self-awareness. The more students can actively reflect on the process of language learning, critically evaluating their target language proficiency with the goal of improving it, the more they understand that they can take charge of the process, making choices in how they engage with language practices in support of learning.

This project was piloted with six sections of Spanish 1004 in Fall 2013. It was so successful that it spread to all 19 sections of Spanish 1004. The momentum didn't stop with the Spanish program! The BOSSA protocol was taken up in Spring 2014 by fourth-semester sections of French, German, and Italian. The project later became the basis for a major component of the Proficiency Assessment for Curricular Enhancement (PACE) Project funded by The Language Flagship. A major thrust in the project is to establish a sustainable culture of assessment to continue once the grant period is over. The PACE Project plan is to extend the self-assessment process throughout the language curriculum, from first year through graduation. The basis for this sustainability effort is the student self-assessment protocol that was established during academic year 2013-2014 by this excellent team.

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