While world language teachers may have a certain perception of their courses such as that their students are learning to communicate in the language, students may have a very different perception. College students who were in a beginning level Spanish class that did about fifteen percent of each class in student-to-student conversation were asked at the end of the semester for their suggestions on how to redesign the class in any way they wanted.
Their comments reveal their perceptions of the class:
– At the start of each unit, give the students a packet of all the vocabulary and grammar.
– Instead of having students talk with partners, spend more time covering the textbook information.
– Go over the Spanish words and translations at the end of each class.
Even though the students were in a class that devoted much time to conversations, they still perceived the class as a basic vocabulary, grammar and textbook language class. They did not seem to value conversation in the world language.
What perception do your students have about your world language class?
How much teacher preparation, materials needed, and class time go into an activity and how much student learning comes out it? If we measure student learning by ACTFL’s Can -Do statements, then we have an objective measure of student learning.
If a teacher prepares a vocabulary bingo game to help students learn common actions by preparing bingo cards for two hours and the students spend ten minutes in class, what ACTFL proficiency has been achieved for that investment? The answer is none. Vocabulary by itself is not communication. If on the other hand, a teacher prepares om thirty minutes two sets of ten written questions about the common actions of family members and this activity takes ten class minutes, then the return is a student demonstration of Novice Mid, “I can communicate basic information about myself and the people I know.” There is a high return on the investment.
Backward planning improves ROI. How do what we do and what our students do lead directly toward the students achieving a specific oral proficiency? If we spend days on students learning and practicing vocabulary, we have a low ROI. If we quickly move our students from learning vocabulary to using the vocabulary in meaningful sentences then we obtain a high ROI.
What is your ROI in World Languages?
Some materials that can help you students communicate about topics are at http://bitly/ml, click on a top topic and then look at the list below.
Focus on apps that encourage speaking; avoid grammar and vocabulary apps
Use apps that come with mobile device
Consider how people normally use their mobile device
Use mobile for motivation
Base activities on ACTFL Can Do statements
Novice Low: I can communicate on some very familiar topics using single words and phrases that I have practiced and memorized.
Cell pictures —Avoid selfies that do not have any context.
Keep an ACTFL Can Do spreadsheet to record student progress on your mobile
I can communicate on very familiar topics using a variety of words and phrases that I have practiced and memorized.
I can communicate and exchange information about familiar topics using phrases and simple sentences, sometimes supported by memorized language. I can usually handle short social interactions in everyday situations by asking and answering simple questions
Series of pictures
I can participate in conversations on a number of familiar topics using simple sentences. I can handle short social interactions in everyday situations by asking and answering simple questions.
I used to teach Spanish in a public school but, having retired, I teach it at a community college. I have three fifty minute classes a week. So far I have had nine classes.
My students have learned at least two sentences or questions each day so that they can have a conversation of at least 18 statements/questions.We started out with greetings, introductions, and added more statements or questions each day. Each day we review the whole conversation and add more to it. After we have practiced the conversation with it in a PowerPoint, I turn off the screen and have them say the conversation in pairs. After the greetings and introduction, they can ask and answer the questions in any order. It is amazing to hear them talk for over two minutes without looking at any notes or the book and ask personal questions such as How are you? What are you like (personality)? Where are you from? How old are you? Are you a romantic? What time is your English class? What is the name of your English book? How much does it cost? How is the class? How many students are in the class? Do you like the class?
I teach high frequency questions that can be easily modified. The question are slightly modified from ones that the students have identified as being important for that topic.
How much of a spontaneous conversation do your students have each day?
A critical question for world language teachers is “Are my students having a conversation in the target language now?” If students are not conversing in the language, then teachers have to ask themselves, “How can I modify what I am doing so that they can converse in the language?” Vocabulary study is not an end to itself and grammar study is not an end to itself. The sooner that teachers move their students from isolated words and isolated grammar into communication, the soon their students will converse. For example, in terms of verbs, as soon as students learn the first person and the second person of a verb they can begin to converse with a question such as “Do you smoke?” and a response such as “No, I do not smoke.” or a question of “Do you cook?” and a response of “Yes I cook.” When world language teachers teach high frequency verbs that students want to ask questions about and answer, then students will want to communicate. Likewise, vocabulary can be incorporated into questions. For example, for location vocabulary, a student might ask, “Which ice cream store is your favorite?” and the partner can respond. When students ask each other meaningful questions about their world, they communicate in the language. Little mini-conversations can build into big conversations. Are your students conversing in the language now?
What world language students do in their classroom reveals much about their teachers’ priorities. If teachers say that speaking is a priority and yet their students do not speak / converse in class, then speaking is not really a priority.
Teachers can do an every five minute check to determine what their students are doing in class. At the end of each five minutes, the teachers write down the exact type of activity that their students are doing in the classroom such as “learn vocab,” “tell time to partner,” “do gram. sheet,” “play gram. race” and “talk about classes.” Whenever the class is doing the same activity at the five minute mark, the teachers place a slash after the already written down activity.
After class, the teachers tally up what activities the students did and for how long. This provides a realistic view of what actually happens in the class. Teachers may find that their students spend more time preparing to speak such as learning vocabulary then in actually speaking. Teachers might consider ways to move their students from “learning about” to “using” language.