Modern Language Class as a Light Bulb

I compare the modern language classroom to a  light bulb.  The light bulb burns brightly when the teacher speaks in the  modern language.  The bulb dims each time the teacher uses English. Likewise, when students communicate ideas and feelings in the target language, the bulb burns brightly. When students do low level activities such as vocabulary translation activities or do grammar for grammar’s sake, the bulb dims.

The light bulb image appeals to me since most modern language students only hear or use the modern language in the classroom. The rest of their day is in target language darkness.

How bright is your modern language class bulb?

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 for students to do on their smartphone or tablet, http://bit.ly/tsmash

 

Create a modern language final using Can-Do Statements

At this time of the year many college  modern language teachers are preparing their students for finals. Some finals test the textbook while others test certain language skills.

Many modern language finals reveal very little about the actual proficiency of the students. The final in one school district or college probably differs in content from the final in another school district and from state to state. Such finals may not represent language proficiency but represent translation skills, discrete vocabulary learning, discrete non-contextual grammar learning at a low level and random cultural facts. Modern language teachers benefit from a national standard to use so they can truly evaluate their students’ proficiency against other students’ proficiencies.The NCSSFL-ACTFLCan-Do statements serve such a purpose.

When teachers compare their finals to the Can-Do statements for their level, they may discover that they are testing on items that ACTFL says students should not be proficient in. For example, a beginning college class may have a  past tense, the preterite, questions on the final. Students in a beginning level may only reach Novice High and talking in various time frames does not show up until Intermediate High; therefore, students cannot be tested on the preterite. On the other hand, students may be tested at a lower level than ACTFL states. When students read in the target language, they are expected to respond in the target language. ACTFL does not include “translate into English” in any of the reading Can-Do statements.

Also, teachers may find that their final does not focus on language functions as NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements do.  A Can-Do based final represents real-life language use, not isolated discrete statements. The final reflects the various language functions for that proficiency level. For example, at the Novice Mid level, can students describe their family and friends? At the Novice High, can students complete map directions based on an actual map?

Does your modern language final show what your students Can-Do according to NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do statements?  Or is it a grammar-vocabulary tests of discrete items?

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 for students to don on their smartphone or tablet, http://bit.ly/tsmash

 

 

Unrealistic Expectation for Students’ Grammatical Perfection in Modern Language

In addition to teaching college Spanish, I also teach a college English course, Writing Essays Through Literature.  My literature is all Hispanic-translated literature. My English students are native USA citizens.  They have lived in an English-speaking environment all their lives.  They have gone through twelve years of school in which all their classes were conducted in English. They have had twelve years of English classes. My students are at least 18 years old.  However, they still make many English grammar mistakes in their writing such  as subject -verb agreement,  sentences without verbs, incorrect past tense forms, pronoun errors, etc.

Based on my English teaching experience with native English speakers and their mistakes in their native language, I realize that  we modern language teachers cannot expect our students in the modern language to be grammatically perfect no matter what their level.  Even four years of a language course is not equivalent to eighteen years in the native language!

We can change our focus from grammar perfection to communicating various language functions. Knowing how much something costs is much more important to daily communication  than knowing the present progressive irregulars verbs. Being able to ask directions is more essential language skill than knowing each stem changing verb. Let’s ask ourselves “What are the most critical language communication functions to survive and communicate in the language?” and then change our class time from a major focus on grammar  perfection to a major focus on  language functions as indicated in the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements

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 for students to don on their smartphone or tablet, http://bit.ly/tsmash

 

Have Reading Compehension in the Modern Language, not English

Recently a colleague shared that a certain school had students respond to the chapter test  reading passage in English.  He shared that the students responded to all the other parts of the test  in the modern language; they wrote a mini-composition, they wrote out answers to oral questions, etc. He felt it was inconsistent with the other testing parts and missed the ACTFL 90% in the modern language concept.

Students can respond in many ways to a modern language reading comprehension passage other than in English.These activities do not require students to produce complete sentences.
A) They read statements about the passage and indicate if the modern language statements are True or False.  John leaves at seven thirty  Yes  No
B) They answer modern language multiple choice statements/questions   John has English at A-8:00, B-9:00  C-10:00  D- 11:00
C) They answer each modern language question in one to three words in the target language  Where is John?   School
D) They select the appropriate picture of objects, people or scenes.  Which scene is being described in the passage?  A, B or C
E) They underline the answer in the passage and put the question number next to it.   John goes to Science after lunch. (in the modern language)  3. When does John go to Science?  after lunch 3
F) They do a matching with the modern langauge questions on the left side and the answers in scrambled order on the right.
G) They read and answer each modern language question word with one to three words.
(in modern language)  Who?   What?   Where?   When?  How many?
H)  They complete incomplete modern language statements about the reading.   John does not like _______ class.
I) After reading, they label a picture. After reading a passage about two sisters, they identity in a picture which sister is which, what each sister has in her backpack, etc.

Teacher can decide whether to use literal questions (the answer is physically in the passage  John arrives at school at eight o’clock  Question When does he arrive at school? ) or inference questions (Students have to infer the information from the passage, the information is not directly stated    John leaves school at three.  How many hours is he in school?  Students finds out when he arrived and when he leaves and calculates the total).

Let’s immerse students in the modern language in reading comprehension. Let’s help our student feel that they are capable of reading, understanding, and responding in the modern language.
In what language do your students respond to reading passages?

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 for students to don on their smartphone or tablet, http://bit.ly/tsmash

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