Increase Modern Language Learning Time: Move beyond Translation

Translation. Teachers may spend class time in having students “learn” vocabulary by doing translation activities such as saying flashcards in pairs, running up to the board to write the modern language word for the said English word, playing flyswatter to say the modern language word for an English word card before the other students in their group, etc. Often these games take ten minutes or more.

Language Use. When teachers move from translation to language use, students quickly solidify their learning in the target language. A teacher may introduce classroom vocabulary by showing a picture of the word and the modern language word under it. (see a picture of a chair, see the modern language word for chair, and hear and say the modern language word for chair). After the introduction to the words, the teacher moves to asking target language questions that incorporate the learned vocabulary by either using different pictures or real objects. “Is this a chair?” as the teacher points to a classroom chair, “Is the chalkboard red?”, and “Does John have two notebooks?” as the teacher holds up John’s notebook. The teacher watches as students signal thumbs up for “yes” or thumbs down for “no”. Then the teacher has the students say their own sentences to a partner such as “The door is brown”, “There are three windows”and “Ana has a pink backpack.” The teacher can provide a sample sentence to help students with each of the sentence structures if they need the scaffolding. Students can make up some true statements and some false statements and their partners tell if each  statement is true or false.

In the translation exercise, students spend ten minutes in going from English to the modern language words. They never move beyond vocabulary translation. In the second language use exercise in the same ten minutes, the students did not translate. They heard the new vocabulary in meaningful statements in a realistic situation. They actually said basic sentences with the new vocabulary. The second teacher has gained much time in the classroom since students use the new vocabulary to communicate.

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  I have 30+ ready-to-use activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student’s spontaneous speaking starting with highly structured or scaffolded speaking for beginning students. Students work in pairs to communicate and they usually assess each other in a formative assessment manner.

My ebook, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies is available at  http://bit.ly/tsmash.  It contain many activities to help students advance through the Can-Do statements with half the activities focusing on interpersonal communication/ speaking.

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle, there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity.  My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities ebook contains many communicative and cultural activities, http://bit.ly/tsmash

Enough Meaningful Modern Language Vocabulary to Communicate

Some textbooks provide the students with just a few vocabulary words so the students can practice the grammar point of the unit. For example, the textbook presents the verb “to be” and then provides five places the students can be. However, the students usually want to say a real place that they can be, not the ones that the textbook has selected for them. A textbook needs to offer students many vocabulary words so that the students can select those words that have meaning for them, that help the students to express what they want to say about the topic.  When students engage in meaningful communication, they use words that are important to them.

Students can have active vocabulary, i.e. words that can use  to communicate about themselves, family or friends and passive vocabulary, i.e. words that they can recognize when heard or read. I usually present my students with long lists of vocabulary for a topic and ask them to recognize all the words in the list but to be able to actively use at least six of the words to describe themselves, family or friends. For example, when  I present personal adjectives, they have a long list. I quickly pronounce the words and have them pronounce the words. Then, the students  scan the list to find words that actually do describe themselves, their  father/mother, brother/sister or a close friend. They “study” those words.  They prepare to describe themselves, family and friends. As they listen to other students describe themselves, family or friends, they passively hear many other adjectives.

Students can learn a handful of words that accurately describe themselves, family and friends. On the other hand, when teachers give students a list of thirty or more words for a topic and require the students to actively learn all the words, students often do poorly. Such a long list is not productive nor meaningful to the students.

Do you supply your students with sufficient vocabulary that they can communicate what they want to about the topic, not what the textbook wants them to talk about?

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  I have 30+ ready-to-use activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student’s spontaneous speaking starting with highly structured or scaffolded speaking for beginning students. Students work in pairs to communicate and they usually assess each other in a formative assessment manner.

My ebook, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies is available at  http://bit.ly/tsmash.  It contain many activities to help students advance through the Can-Do statements with half the activities focusing on interpersonal communication/ speaking.

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle, there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity.  My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities ebook contains many communicative and cultural activities, http://bit.ly/tsmash

 

Analyzing a modern language test

There are numerous ways to analyze a modern language test.

1. Identify what different “skills” are being tested such as  speaking, listening, reading, writing, culture, vocabulary and grammar.  How many points are allocated to each? How many points are there cumulatively in each skill area? What does that show about the test’s priorities?  If listening is a total of 20 points but grammar is 50 points, then the test is predominantly a grammar test. If grammar and vocabulary outweight the other skills than the test is definitely not communicative.

2. Identify how each part is scored.  For example, if students have to write out an answer and each answer is worth eight points, how many points are given for answering the question (content), for vocabulary, and for grammar?  If grammar is five points, content two and vocabulary one, then the test evaluates grammar, not the communication of  ideas.

3. How much of the test is contextual or situational based as opposed to discrete unrelated  items? Test items such as He  _____ (to work),  She ______(to cook) are only connected by being verb conjugations. These same items could be used in a realistic conversation in which students complete a conversation by conjugating the verbs, sometimes in statements and sometimes in questions.

4, Do students answer questions that relate to their own lives? Often students have a writing part on a test but do those questions allow them to tell about their own lives? Are stipulations put on the writing such as include three -er verbs, include a place, and include an occupation so that the writing is forced? Are students encouraged to think on their feet by answering questions for which they did not prepare or is the writing part a writing out of a memorized writing?

5. How much of the test involves the students  reading and writing items in sections that are not labeled as the reading or writing category? Listening comprehension can be based on a picture with multiple choice short answers such as “How many computers are in the room?  A-two B-twenty  ….” or listening comprehension can be tested by giving the students four full sentences from which to select.  The second  method changes the listening comprehension to include a reading component. Students can write out numbers without having to write out a full sentence, especially if points are taken off for grammar writing points. Each category should be as purely that skill as possible without depending on other skills otherwise the teachers can not identify what the results signify.  In addition, reading and writing are the least used skills in normal communication while listening and speaking can count for up to 70% of normal communication. Does the test represent that real life percentage?

6. What percentage of the test is in English? How many questions involve translation from English to the modern language? Prompts for writing, in English, such as “tell your age, where you live” cause the students to translate. Likewise, a vocabulary exercise such as ” tall =, ”  relies on translation. Is there a modern langage reading passage that students answer in  English?  The greater the test percentage is in English, the less the students use the  target language.

7. Does the test assess the the most common verbs and the most common vocabulary according to the 100 most common verbs and 100 most common words lists? Does the test focus on everyday common use of the language or on specific irregularities, exceptions, or non-critical words? Likewise, does the test evaluate the most common language functions like  “I would like…”, “I’m sorry”,  and “Really”? If students were in the targe language country, they would use many of these functions each day.

8. What does the test score tell the teachers about the students’ ability to communicate in the language? How closely does the test reflect the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Proficiency statements?  Teachers can label each test section with the specific proficiency statement.

What does your test analysis reveal?

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  I have 30+ ready-to-use activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student’s spontaneous speaking starting with highly structured or scaffolded speaking. Students work in pairs to communicate and they usually assess each other in a formative assessment manner.

My ebook, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies is available at  http://bit.ly/tsmash.  It contain many activities to help students advance through the Can-Do statements with half the activities focusing on interpersonal communication/ speaking.

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle, there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity.  My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities ebook contains many communicative and cultural activities, http://bit.ly/tsmash

What do modern language tests reveal about speaking?

Modern language students know that tests are important. They know that the tests measure what the teacher considers to be  important.

If students have a unit test that does not include a speaking component, then the students learn that speaking is not important.  If the students have a speaking test, they know that speaking is important. If students have four unit  tests worth 20 points and a speaking test worth ten points, then they discover that speaking is only worth half of what the other tests are worth.

Likewise, if students only have speaking tests at the midterm and at the final, they learn that these tests are not as important as the other tests that they have at the end of each unit. The regularity of the testing adds to its importance to the students.

In addition, the type of speaking test reveals the teachers’ priorities. If students have to memorize some lines of a conversation and repeat those lines, then the teachers’ emphasis is on mechanical or memorized speaking, not the interactive spontaneous communication of real life. In the same manner, if the teachers grade primarily on the grammatical correctness of each utterance, they focus on grammar, not communication.

A suggestion for changing speaking tests is to incorporate speaking “tests” into daily classroom speaking. As students speak with partners, the partners record the number of sentences that they say. After they are done speaking, the partners tell them the number of sentences and suggest other topics that the speakers could have included. For example, a student may describe a family member to his/her partner.

What do your tests reveal about the importance of speaking?

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  I have 30+ ready-to-use activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student’s spontaneous speaking starting with highly structured or scaffolded speaking. Students work in pairs to communicate and they usually assess each other.

My ebook, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies is available at  http://bit.ly/tsmash.  It contain many activities to help students advance through the Can-Do statements with half the activities focusing on interpersonal communication/ speaking.

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle, there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity.  My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities ebook contains many communicative and cultural activities, http://bit.ly/tsmash

My Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment and a general Formative Assessment book are available at http://www.routledge.com/books/search/author/harry_grover_tuttle/

 

Communicative Consistency in Quizzes and Tests

Backward Design stresses that modern language teachers establish the ending goal and then work backward so that all instructional elements support the ending goal. Sometimes, modern language  teachers who teach in communicative manner may not test in a communicative manner; they may need to re-examine their quizzes or tests.

During the past year, I have tried to make my teaching more aligned with NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do proficiences. As I have examined my quizzes and tests, I discovered that these evaluations have been very traditional and have not measured proficiency. They tested discrete grammar or discrete vocabulary.  Students can know the discrete grammar or vocabulary and not be able to communicate.

I have transformed my quizzes and tests from the old discrete testing to a more proficiency based testing  by using three categories of testing: multiple choice responses; fill in the blank in a conversation; or an oral conversation. A multiple choice response quiz starts with a common statement or question  in the target language and the students select the appropriate target language response from the choices. A sample question may be  “What is your name?  A-Well   B-Pleased to Meet You   C- 15 years old   D-Ana”  Each statement is based on a specific Can-Do statement.

The fill in the bank conversation resembles a real conversation. In this written target language conversation, certain words have been omitted.The students have to write out the missing  target language word/words as in this example “Paco:  _______ is your class?        Nilda:  It is at nine o’clock.” The conversation often includes ten blanks for the students to complete. The conversation includes several Can-Do proficiencies.

The third choice is for students, in pairs, to have a target language conversation based on specific Can-Do  proficiencies.For example, as students practice greeting a person, introducing themselves, introducing someone else, and saying goodbye, I walk around the room to assess their conversation. It may take me several classes to listen to each pair.

Students perceive each of these assessments as part of the normal class. These quizzes are another form of the communication that takes place in the class.

How well do your quizzes show your students’ communicative proficiency?

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  I have 30+ ready-to-use activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student’s spontaneous speaking starting with highly structured or scaffolded speaking. Students work in pairs to communicate.

My ebook, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies is available at  http://bit.ly/tsmash.  It contain many activities to help students advance through the Can-Do statements with half the activities focusing on interpersonal communication/ speaking.

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle, there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity.  My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities ebook contains many communicative and cultural activities, http://bit.ly/tsmash

My Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment and a general Formative Assessment book are available at http://www.routledge.com/books/search/author/harry_grover_tuttle/

 

Communicative or Grammar Textbook Focus: Look at the Grammar

A test of a modern language textbook’s communicative ability is to look at what the book has students do with the grammar after the textbook presentation of the grammar point. For example a Spanish textbook may supply the forms of the verb ser and then give the rules for using ser. The book may give one or two examples of origin such as “I am from Argentina.” Or they make have a sentence or two example to show that ser is used with occupations such as “Sr. Ríos es dentista”. The book may explain ser being used for identification with a sentence such as “It is a backpack.

Does the book provide the modern language students with enough vocabulary to be able to talk about themselves, family or friends using the verb? Does the textbook provide the critical questions that students might ask using that verb? For example, does it provide the students with “Where are you from?” for origin? Do it provide the question “What is this?” so students can ask the question of identifying something? Furthermore, does the book give numerous countries so students can tell what country they, their parents or grandparents are from so they can realistically answer the question? For occupations, does the book provide numerous occupations so the students can say the actual occupation of family and friends? For identification, do the students have a list of classroom objects so when someone says “What is this?” they can respond, “It is a book”? with things they do see in the classroom?

If the textbook does not supply essential questions or realistic answers for the modern language students to apply the grammar to talk about their own lives or the lives of family and friends, then the book’s focus is grammar, not communication.

Does your textbook have a communicative or grammatical focus?

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  I have 30+ ready-to-use activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student speaking through highly structured or scaffolded, speaking. Students work in pairs to communicate.

My ebook ,Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies is available at  http://bit.ly/tsmash.  It contain many activities to help students advance through the Can-Do statements with half the activities focusing on interpersonal communication/ speaking.

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle, there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity.  My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities ebook contains many cultural activities, http://bit.ly/tsmash

My Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment and a general Formative Assessment book are available at http://www.routledge.com/books/search/author/harry_grover_tuttle/

Modern Language Student Placement: Best Results with Can-Do Statements

Often modern language teachers have entering students from other locations and the teachers are not sure of the students’ placement.  For example, at a college level, entering modern language students might be screened by the number of years of language prevously taken. This diagnostic screen may not reveal the students’ appropriate placement since not all schools teach the same thing at the same levels.  Another popular screening technique is to ask students questions. Many students panic when they hear the language being spoken after no hearing it all summer and often they  cannot answer questions. These oral questions may not provide a correct placement.

The most reliable diagnostic screening is for modern language students to complete the NCSSFL-ACTFL Interpersonal Communication (Speaking) Can-Do Statements. They put a slash for each proficiency that they can do. If they find whole sections that they cannot do, they put a large dash (–) in front of the section.  Within five to ten minutes, the students have self-evaluate their language proficiency. If students know that in a beginning college course they will cover 80% of the Novice level and the students already know 50% of the Novice level, they realize that they do not belong in a beginning course. They voluntarily transfer to a higher level.  Other students become aware that they do not have the Can-Do statements as active proficiencies.

How do you properly place entering modern language students?

My ebook ,Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies is available at  http://bit.ly/tsmash

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle, there are four modern language culture inquiry activities and one Spanish culture inquiry activity.  My ebook, 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities ebook contains many cultural activities, http://bit.ly/tsmash

Also, at the same site,  I have 30+ activities (about 24 for Spanish and 6 for all Modern Language) to develop student speaking through highly structured or scaffolded, speaking. Students work in pairs.

My Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment and a general Formative Assessment book are available at http://www.routledge.com/books/search/author/harry_grover_tuttle/