What Is A Language Curriculum?

Modern and classical language teachers alike have been using big name textbooks for decades, yet there’s been an emerging counter culture known broadly as “untextbooking.” This movement is a response to a) the lack of proficiency, b) dropping interest/enrollment, and c) the kind of exclusivity that form-based textbook teaching has an affect on. Instead, preference within the “untextbooking” movement is given to meaning-based teaching that results in greater proficiency, higher enrollment, and a removal of obstacles, making language programs more inclusive. For years now, I’ve heard things like “there’s not enough culture,” or “this lacks curriculum support,” or some other complaint suggesting that textbooks have something necessary to offer that not-textbooks don’t. It’s been shown that textbooks can overload learners with too much vocab, grammar rules, and target-culture details (in English). However, I’m more interested in the role of proficiency. That is, for all the supplements textbooks might bring to the curriculum, what do they really do for language proficiency? Where does proficiency come into play in a curriculum?

Language proficiency generally refers to one’s unrehearsed ability to communicate (e.g. listening, reading, seeking clarification, replying, sharing ideas, asking questions, etc.). Humans can’t plan to communicate genuinely (e.g. “ready, communicate!”). It’s just something that happens when there’s a reason to do so. The following curricular questions keep language proficiency in mind (vs. studying about languages, or cultures, or memorizing vocab, which requires little to no proficiency)…

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What CI Isn’t (reboot)

**Updated 5.1.2020 with CI is not immersion.**

Nearly three years ago, I wrote about misunderstandings I kept observing with the term “CI.” Since then, CI has not changed at all, of course, but my own use of it has. I now tend to avoid the term because it’s been misrepresented at best, and corrupted at worst. Whenever I can, I refer simply to “input” because in a comprehension-based and communicative language teaching (CCLT) approach, comprehension (C) is not only implied, but step zero. However, I think there’s a need once again for a reminder of what CI is not, as I’ve found non-examples to be just as helpful when it comes to explaining pedagogy.

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Specialized Vocab vs. High Frequency: “If You Need To Look Up A Word…”

Jim Wooldridge, aka Senor Wooly, once lamented over having to teach a unit on different kinds of fabric. That was his all time low in terms of thematic vocab textbook teaching. Thematic vocab teaching is basically mini units of specialized vocabulary. However, our reality—in a genuine communicative sense—is that people start getting into specialized vocab when they choose to do something…special…beyond common daily needs and experience.

Since archery is my latest thing, let’s use that as an example. There are a lot of specific terms in archery. Of course, if the purpose is to learn about archery in the target language, I’d probably be using that specialized vocabulary. But do I need them all? In a first year class, maybe I wouldn’t have to go quite as deep into the topic, therefore less-specialized vocab could suffice (e.g. “can you teach me how to hold X?” will be more useful to a student than “can you teach me how to string walk after nocking with a finger sling?”). So, not all of that vocab is necessary when exploring a specific topic to learn about the topic. That is, a particular topic explored lightly doesn’t require the use of highly-specialized vocab otherwise needed when exploring it deeply. Think of the kind of learning that goes on in a survey-level undergrad course vs. a very focused grad course. And in terms of vocab, our students are more like kindergartners!

In this post, I’m asking you to consider something, but only consider it…

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How To Plan So Your Plans Never Get Messed Up

On any given day, it’s common for teachers to have wrenches thrown into their plans without warning. Sometimes these wrenches appear during the very class teachers are required to plan for! Other times, it feels like the whole damn tool chest is being tossed our way! This post offers tips on how to structure your planning so those wrenches have absolutely no impact, whatsoever…

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TPR Wall Reboot & TPR Upgrade: Don’t Laugh!

Last year, I ditched the TPR Word Wall for a bottom-up Word Wall (i.e. blank at start of year, then add as you go). This year, I’ll have both. As such, my TPR Word Wall just had a reboot, now featuring English meanings, pictures when possible, new verbs (that I know I’ll use more), and a cleaner look. Oh, and these posters are primarily to help me do TPR, not as a learner reference on the wall. With everything up there, all I have to do is combine things to form novel chain commands, and hilarious 3 Ring Circus scenes (i.e. assign chain commands/actions that a few learners then loop)!

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MovieTalk

**Updated 7.31.19**

On June 24th, 2018, Dr. Ashley Hastings asked teachers to stop using “Movie Talk” if they’re targeting vocabulary with the intent that the student WILL acquire what we repeat. Why? It’s antithetical to Hasting’s MovieTalk, as well as Krashen’s theory. If you do that, all it Clip Chat or something. However, the natural repetition from the movie itself, or intent to make oneself more comprehensible (but not cause acquisition), is spot on, and approved under the term “Movie Talk.”

Dr. Ashley Hastings’ original MovieTalk looked a lot different from what we see today from the CI-embracing community. Instead of using short animated clips, frequent pausing, interacting with students via Personalized Questions & Answers (PQA), and reading follow-up texts (actual or parallel), Dr. Hastings would instead played longer segments of feature-length movies while narrating as part of the FOCAL SKILLS program’s Listening Module, “where class time is devoted exclusively to improving the students’ listening comprehension.”

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Tasks

On Episode 61 of Tea with BVP, Bill explained Tasks a little bit more. He said that Tasks are usually longer term goals, but also added that level-appropriate and input-based Tasks could be given right away. They certainly could be given right away, but they’re also unnecessary. Considering how hard it is to get multiple concrete examples of Tasks, the amount of planning that needs to go into an assortment of Tasks makes me want to set up a retirement countdown timer and hope it goes by in a blink.

Bill uses the terms “Exercises, Activities, and Tasks” to categorize what we do in class as they relate to communication. Exercises are drills, practicing language for language’s sake, which haven’t been shown to significantly contribute anything to a student’s acquisition or learning experience other than anxiety and frustration for most, so I don’t recommend spending any amount of time on them whatsoever. Instead, the majority of time would be best spent on Activities and Tasks, and there’s one major difference between them…

A Task is an Activity that has a purpose.

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