As a comprehension-based and communicative language teacher, I’ve largely dismissed promoting any use of flashcards due to their connection with memorization. Beyond disappointing research about this kind of explicit learning, my classroom experience has confirmed that the more students are aware of language, the less fluent they seem to become. For example, the frequent note-taking academic students are typically those who can’t respond without second-guessing themselves and checking said notes, overly concerned with accuracy, etc., which slows them down quite a bit. Above all else, teaching practices requiring memorization lead to inequity since individual differences can’t be accommodated. Then, Eric Herman lobbed some mind grenades in Acquisition Classroom Memo #39. He can be trusted to do that, and we’re all better teachers for it…Continue reading
TLDR; Don’t use UbD, especially this next year. COVID-19 messed with everything, so keeping the same expectations is unreasonable. Let’s face it…there’s not going to be any miraculous “catch up,” nor should we expect that. Instead of guessing where students will be in the fall, and how far their proficiency might develop with all the disruptions, try Forward Procedure.
I began writing this post after seeing calls from a lot of language teachers seeking tech tools as answers…to all the wrong questions. Rather than trying to maintain what we’ve done, we’re gonna need to make considerable adjustments to our expectations. Curricular design is one of those.
Sure, it makes perfect sense. You start with the result you want for your students, then go backwards from there, planning learning experiences along the way. It’s been recognized as good teaching across all content areas for at least a decade, and has been around since the late 90s. This is “textbook” best practice. In fact, it’s literally a textbook…
I’ve known that Krashen et al. suggested long ago that using Total Physical Response (TPR) to teach basic dance steps, martial arts, magic tricks, etc. results in compelling input. I’ve seen presenters talk about the idea of doing so, but haven’t really seen it much in classrooms. Now, I’ve performed one of Eric Herman’s magic tricks, but I didn’t really think I knew how to do anything that I could instruct students to do.
However, Tuesday was one of those perfect times to try something new during a weird day because the rest of the week was midterms. Since I got into archery this year, I decided to bring in my bow to demonstrate basic assembly, shot cycle, and target point values. Yes, I cleared this with security as well as admin, and no, I didn’t bring any arrows.
The experience was fantastic.
Students were captivated for a solid 45 minutes, and there’s no surprise why. Humans are naturally curious learners. It’s just that the school system has destroyed the joy of learning. If we can pause that “school feeling” for a moment, we bring back the joy. After my demo using common vocab, I projected a list of archery-specific phrases, and we co-created a quick text on archery. From there, I put together a more comprehensive packet. However, I wasn’t teaching words. I was teaching about archery. That’s the content.
In pedagogical terms, this is content-based instruction (CBI). Students asked a lot of questions about the bow. Why? It’s cool. In comparison, though, they didn’t ask as much about Roman apartment buildings last month. Why? That’s kind of boring, no matter how well we connect the content to their lives. Of course, exploring Roman content works the same way as exploring archery. It’s just that it takes someone with particular interests to get as excited about Romans. However, I’m not convinced that this should be either/or. I’ll both continue to explore Roman content (in Latin), as well as teach about other content (in Latin).
I’m now looking for other things to demo. Drumming might be one. After performing that card trick, I suppose I could teach it. In all of this, I’m reminded of how beneficial it is to include students in the demo process (e.g. distribute toy bows, drum sticks, decks of cards, etc.).
So, What could you teach your students?
Unless you’re an island of one, a program Mission & Vision is a good idea to keep the department heading in a similar direction, even if things don’t start out that way. I put a lot of time into crafting the document last spring, and just had some help from my admin for the final touches. Once that was squared away this week, I could hand in my 2018-19 Syllabus. Let’s unpack all that…
with Rothman (2008)
All of this research has been shared by Eric Herman, either in the Acquisition Classroom Memos, his book, “Research Talks…,”or from my direct requests. Thanks, dude! As you’ll see, there is very little support (none?) for explicit grammar, or traditional rule-based language instruction. Even effectiveness aside, it should be clear that the practice has no place in inclusive K-12 classrooms (and probably beyond), since affective factors—alone—are shown to result in enough negative consequences. N.B. The highly-motivated independent adult learner can, and probably will do anything they want, and/or feel is helping them regardless of any proof. K-12 students are NOT those people.
In 2013, Stephen Krashen wrote an article, The Case for Non-Targeted, Comprehensible Input, about the problems of the traditional “rule of the day” grammar syllabus. Krashen not only wrote how this “targeted” grammar and vocabulary has disadvantages, but also how TPRS reduces such problems, even ending the section with:
“Although TPRS probably succeeds in reducing the problems of the grammatical syllabus, there is another possibility: Non-targeted comprehensible input.”
At this point, it appears that the “targeted” nature of TPRS and non-targeted are—probably—on par, and that it’s really just an option of what appeals to you…
Unit Test “Mastery” (UTM) is a symptom many teachers and students suffer from. The teacher:
- presents content (Present)
- provides a learning experience (Practice)
- announces an assessment
- assesses students (Produce)
- chooses remediation based on low performance, or moves on
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).
I agree with Justin Slocum Bailey that something great can come from nothing. Most teachers fall into the habit of planning waaaay too much. Even if all that planning is enjoyable, somehow, it often results in insignificant gains in student happiness and/or proficiency. In the spirit of “no fail no burnout,” then, plan whatever you have to in order to sleep well at night, but begin class ready for any compelling diversion to take you away from those plans! Sometimes a sentence is all you need, and depending on the content, a single word (e.g. One Word Image, or One Word Drawing).
Pygmaliōn is the second video in the series after Mīnōtaurus. I wasn’t familiar with this myth until reading* Ovid with last year’s students. They voted to read it before Daedelus & Icarus, Pyramus & Thisbe, or Orpheus & Eurydice. My personal contribution here is calling Pygmalion “creepy” (i.e. infestus), which was inspired by student comments. I begin retelling the myth after the point when Ovid gives us Pygmalion’s reason for living alone, which downright bothered my students. Misogyny is completely unacceptable, and at an age when image is a sensitive topic, students weren’t comfortable with what the Pygmalion (i.e. Ovid) had to say about the nature of women, as well as how he sculpted a figure “more beautiful than a woman possibly could be.” Go ahead and add that part if you welcome the discussion, which could easily be connected to contemporary advertising industry and its use of Photoshop, as well as the negative social affects, but I kept the story more focused. Here’s Ovid’s Pygmalion myth retold using 31 unique words. The story is 221 words total in length.
*I say “reading,” but I definitely wasn’t reading Ovid with ease. I was certainly interacting with the text, reading the notes to establish meaning, consulting the L & S when necessary, and analyzing it closely for themes. After doing all of that in order to create simplified tiered versions for students, I will say that I had a better understanding, yet, as I “read” the poem now, I’m not sure I’m even reading still! Instead, I’m remembering what I translated during the interaction. I think this is what most Classicists do—recall what they’ve already translated, or discussion (in English) in the past.