I let the students know what we will discuss at each of our sessions. I want the students to feel comfortable with conversation. In our first sessions, we went over question words and ways to ask questions.
Now, as each session starts, we review current topics and I ask if there is any vocabulary they need me to demonstrate for them. We then move into conversation practice. I first ask each of them a question, they they take turns asking each other questions.
Because of my small class sizes in the online academy, I have found it best to have all levels meet at the same time. Our goal is always to get them speaking and feeling comfortable and confident in the language, not to practice current grammar rules (they have ample practice activities outside of our online sessions). I do make it clear that I expect them to be using the vocabulary of their level in their responses. in some situations, I can require certain tenses and I let them know in advance when that happens. For example, I had Spanish II and Spanish III students in class this morning and both levels have worked with the preterite this term so I had them asking about what they did yesterday.
While they are practicing, I am taking notes. I write a Q when they ask a question and an A when they answer a question. I put a plus sign after strong questions and answers, and minus signs after weak questions and answers. When necessary, I make notes, like “M____ is using the tú form in his responses”. I then look at the data I gathered and use the oral proficiency rubric to determine a grade. If a student did not attend a session or remained silent, they have a 0/10. By attending and trying to participate, the very lowest score a student can get is a 6/10. This is student functioning at the beginner level.
I think one of the biggest advantages my online students have is the messenger tool in our online learning environment. I use it to give them immediate and detailed feedback after each conversation practice. This isn’t as attainable in my traditional classes with 120 students in all. Here is an example of feedback given in my class:
Your grade for the oral is 8. Go back to the rubric and read what a score of 8 means and what you can do to score higher. Your pronunciation is good and you have good accuracy, but you were not willing to expand on what you were saying. I think you have the knowledge and capability of expanding and would like to hear more from you next week.