Learner-Centered Texts vs. “Authentic” & “Natural”

Chris Stolz recently had a couple fascinating things to say regarding language teaching. Both had to do with what some people refer to as “natural” language…

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Getting Texts: Companion Post to Input-Based Strategies & Activities

**Updated 2.8.19 with Dixit Card Storyasking**

See this post for all the input-based activities you can do with a text. But how do we end up with a text in the first place?! Here are all the ways I’ve been collecting:

**N.B. Many interactive ways to get texts require you to write something down during the school day, else you might forget details! If you can’t create the text during a planning period within an hour or two of the events, jot down notes right after class (as the next group of students line up for the Class Password?), or consider integrating a student job.**

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Input-Based Strategies & Activities

**Updated 3.5.19 with Guessing Game**
**Check out the companion post on Getting Texts!**

When choosing the class agenda beyond each particular day’s routine, it dawned on me that I couldn’t remember all my favorite activities. Thus, here are the input-based strategies & activities I’ve collected over the years, all in one place. Although this began as only reading activities, I decided that it didn’t matter as much whether students were reading or listening. Why? These input-based activities start with some kind of text either way, so beyond variety, what really matters most to me when planning for class is providing students with input, and what kind of prep goes into getting the text/activity. Everything is organized by prep, whether no instructions, no prep, printing only, or low prep. You won’t find prep-intensive activities here beyond typing, copying, and cutting paper. Oh, and for ways to get that one text to start, try here. Enjoy!

**N.B. Any activity with the word “translation” in it means translating what is already understood. This should NOT be confused with the more conventional practice of translating in order to understand.**

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Unit Test “Mastery” (UTM)

Unit Test “Mastery” (UTM) is a symptom many teachers and students suffer from. The teacher:

  1. presents content (Present)
  2. provides a learning experience (Practice)
  3. announces an assessment
  4. assesses students (Produce)
  5. chooses remediation based on low performance, or moves on
  6. repeat

The consequences of UTM is that students appear to “master” the content either right away or after the remediation, which itself is usually misinterpreted as assisting a “struggling student.” The teacher then moves on, and students seldom run into the same content, even from what you might expect from cumulative courses (e.g. one-off math/science concepts, or that perfunctory “transportation unit” in which students are given a vocabulary list for all possible—and likely outdated—ways to get around Madrid, etc.).

This symptom seriously misleads the teacher. It’s one source of validating teaching practices that don’t actually produce results they seem to be producing. For example, most language teachers attribute their understanding of language to how they were taught, yet they’ve probably just been exposed to the language daily over time, teaching similar (same?) content year after year. This looks like proficiency, yet is probably just daily recall of translated and memorized information!

In reality, communication isn’t really something anyone can master, at least not in the subject-matter-learning sense used in other content areas. There’s a lot of pressure to make language courses fit what’s expected in school, but the model fails when we have inclusive classrooms based on universal human traits, and not intellectualizing language. The best teachers are able to resist that, educating their administration, or at least find the wiggle room to provide input and encourage interaction in a second language during the school day—something all humans are hardwired for.

I encourage everyone to find alternatives to traditional units accompanied by lessons with limited flexibility. Instead, meet students where they are, and move forward. One way to think about curriculum is basing it on vocabulary frequency, but not thematic (e.g. Greetings, Getting Around, Sports, etc.). Chris Stolz has shares how Mike Peto’s entire department has taken this to an extreme with fantastic results! All of these ideas are supported by what Eric Herman has coined “Forward Procedure:”

Forward procedure is process-oriented. It focuses on where students are. That doesn’t mean you can’t have tests, but those are not pre-determined. They are created in response to what has happened in class and tailored to where students are. If there had to be an element of “standardization” between sections, this would be to agree to use the same test format, but not the same content (e.g., sections hear a different story and do a timed rewrite). Rather than focus on something to cover, it focuses on giving students what they want and need in that moment to learn. It is the approach that makes a teacher most responsible to the learner. In a second language, communicative classroom, this is a much better fit. To quote Savignon (1976): “Above all, remember that for it to be real, communication must be a personalized, spontaneous event. It cannot be programmed – but you can make it happen” (p. 20).

Infusing Myth: Chris Stolz’ Story Strategies

My curriculum map reflects how I focus on the familiar theme/essential questions of “Who am I? Who are we?” before moving onto the less-familiar distant past of ancient Romans; the rationale being that once students have had decent exposure to the Latin, they can begin reading about the target culture IN the target language, which is actually how those 4 Cs are supposed to be met (i.e. Communication in the target language is required for Cultures, Connections, Comparisons, and Communities).

Still, we know that students already find myth compelling. As such, consider this simple strategy to sprinkle class stories with a bit of mythology, avoiding an isolated “Olympian Gods/Goddesses Unit,” which seems to be just as perfunctory as “The Roman Villa”

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Capitalizing on Schoolwide Policies: Behavior Systems

I’ve used DEA as anywhere from 0% (i.e. just rules) to 100% of a student’s grade, including a sliding scale throughout the year. While a few have referred to DEA as a “behavior system,” I prefer to look at it as habits that promote an ideal environment for input and interaction. Whatever you want to call it, students who do DEA, or DEA-like things acquire language (adjusting for neuro-diversity, of course), and those who don’t, make it harder for themselves and/or others. Some schools forbid grading behavior altogether, others report them as “Life Skills,” etc. Still, others implement elaborate behavior systems more closely tied to discipline, etc.

My school has implemented a streamlined version of their behavior system. If you’re wondering why it exists in the first place, there’s good reason. Some of our students had never done a homework assignment in middle school (eso si que es), yet they are all college-bound, so we need to support them. For me, DEA is just rules this year, but many of the behaviors in the streamlined behavior system address my version of DEA (i.e Look, Listen, Ask). As such I’ve decided to begin class with another Call/Response routine (popular this year). Now, this is the kind of thing I would typically do in English, like giving instructions, but it’s just another opportunity for more input using common words, while at the same time supporting students with a school policy:

Demerit

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Stolz’ Daily Routine PPT

If you missed Chris Stolz’ daily routine, go check out his post for the details. I like how this is both an extension, and reminder of his “how should I teach boring stuff?” post from years ago; just 2 minutes for the boring stuff, and then personalization really starts to lift off! Note how easily this daily routine could launch into a scene, or complete story!

Here’s a PowerPoint (ppt) to help get you comfortable with a daily routine:

Stolz’ Daily Routine PPT