Unmet Students’ Expectation of World Language Class

Beginning language students come to their world language class with an expectation. The vast majority of these students believe that the purpose of the language course is to speak the language. However, they soon find out that the class really focuses on “vocabulary and verbs” as a former high school French student wrote as he thought what his college Spanish class would be based on his former language experience. Students want to be able to speak the language and, yet, many teachers spend so much time preparing them to speak by learning vocabulary and learning verbs that the students do not get to speak. Students want to communicate in the language. How do we change our world language courses so that we met the students’ expectations and their parents’ expectations?

Some activities to help you develop communication in your  Spanish classroom:

Spanish Describing School Classes Spontaneous Speaking – Pairs    Speak about class with structured choices – two levels, 49 terms

Spanish Friend /Family Member Detailed Description – Partner Talk   Say 9 sentences about a friend using 36 choices.

Spanish Tell Me About Yourself Substitution Sentences   Talk about yourself by substituting your information in given sentences.

Spanish Family Indepth Speed Interviews- Partner Talk   Do 4 Family Interviews of 10 questions each

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World Language Role Playing With a Photo

Steven Smith describes the role playing oral testing which is one of the three parts of the oral testing for the GCSE (General Certification of Secondary Education) in the UK. He describes the activity in which a student asks questions and answers questions.The questions are based on common topics/themes. The same situation can be used at all levels of the language but the language sophistication increases. This type of testing eliminates pre-learned conversations/ presentations.

Steve writes the following:
Instructions to candidates 
Your teacher will play the part of your French friend and will speak first.
You should address your friend as tu.
When you see this – ! – you will have to respond to something you have not prepared.
When you see this – ? – you will have to ask a question.

Tu parles de ton collège avec ton ami(e) français(e). 
• Ton collège – description (deux détails).
• ! Sciences –ton opinion et une raison.
• Projet – septembre (un détail).
• ? Matière favorite.

I have done a variation on this activities for many years. Each group of two students sees a photo (projected via PowerPoint) that they have never seen. They role play the situation such as a party, a family at a restaurant, two friends at a sports event,or students in class. One student picks a person in the picture and his/her partner picks another person in the picture. Each student has to ask and answer questions or react about the situation or problem; the goal is a total of ten (different questions + answers/reactions) for each student in three minutes; students need to have a fairly equal number of questions and answers/ reactions. To be counted each answer has to be comprehensible and appropriate.

Since I do this activity in pairs during class time, all my students speak at the same time. They record the number of questions and statements by writing a question mark (?) for each question asked and writing a slash (/ ) for each said response or reaction. They try to improve their score each speaking time.

During the actual testing, I listen to a pair of students. I find that when students talk to each other, their speaking is more natural, they ask critical questions, and they give authentic responses. They usually pick a topic and talk in depth about it. Sometimes they do one topic and go to a related one such as this restaurant food to food at a birthday party).

http://bit.ly/mlcomcult  contains many communication activities for beginning to  advanced students; the activities have high structure to help students. These activities are for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.
90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities contains many speaking activities
for beginning students. Students enjoy using their mobile devices as a basis for
speaking.

Asking and Answering Questions about a Picture Oral Testing

Steven Smith describes the talking about Photo card questions oral testing which is one of the three parts of the oral testing for the GCSE (General Certification of Secondary Education) in the UK. He describes the activity in which a student sees a picture, the student asks three questions about it and the teacher asks the student two surprise questions about it.. The pictures are based on common topics/themes. The same picture can be used at all levels of the language but the language sophistication increases. This type of testing eliminates pre-learned conversations/ presentations.

I have used a variation on these for many years, both when I taught public school and now that I teach college beginning Spanish. I have my students, in pairs, look a topical or thematic picture that they have never seen before. Without any preparation, they alternate asking and answering questions. For example, Student A asks a question, Student B answers it and asks Student A a different question, then Student A answers it and asks a different question. They talk for three minutes. I grade them on a combination on the total number of questions/answers times the number of different questions as long as their answers/questions are comprehensible and appropriate (answers the question). For example, if Student A asks four different questions and answers four questions, the score is (4 questions + 4 answers) x (4 different questions) = 8 x 4 = 32. If Student A asked variations on the same question such as How is the father? How is the mother? How is the son? and How is the daughter?, the score is (4 questions + 4 answers) x (1 question) = 8 x 1  = 8. Students learn that to do well in the question asking picture activity, they need to ask a wide variety of different questions just as they do in a real life conversation.

http://bit.ly/mlcomcult  contains many communication activities for beginning to advanced students; they have high structure to help students. These activities are for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.   90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities contains many speaking activities for beginning students.

Final Modern Language Exams – What real speaking goal?

After I gave a  recent presentation, a teacher talked to me about her June final which the department chair made up.  This teacher stressed that she believes in communication and she wants to prepare her students to communicate with people from the target language.

However, the department final  has a speaking component in which students wrote out a conversation, memorized the conversation, and said the memorized lines. She remembers that last year during the final speaking her students made comments to their partners such as “I can’t remember what we wrote,”  “Say your lines,” and “What comes next?”  All those comments reinforced that the final was not a speaking final but a recital or saying of memorized lines. It had nothing to do with the give and take of a real life conversation.

She remembers that no student displayed any emotion  while speaking except for stress and frustration during the conversation even though they said happy lines (I really like to …) and sad lines (I am sorry). They mechanically delivered their memorized conversation.

She said that the speaking final was so different than the real life conversations her students had in her beginning level class. Often when her students talked about a situation, the students would laugh or smile (That’s my favorite show, too); they would ask more in-depth questions as they heard an answer that interested them (Why do you like the show?)

One of many possibilities is to move to final like a  modified OPI in which someone asks students some general questions and some probing questions.  Another possibility is for two students to spontaneously talk about a previously unknown topic or situation.

What does your speaking final show about your real goals for your students speaking in a world language?

http://bit.ly/mlcomcult has many activities that allow students to interact in the language.

At http://bit.ly/tuttlebks, I have a book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment.

Speaking Final- What Criteria?

Modern language courses usually include a speaking final. That final can take many forms such as a  teacher asks a student a question, students work in pairs on a topic, etc.

Even more varied is how the speaking final is assessed such as a holistic score, an analytic rubric with numerous components, or a checklist.

The more important question is “What is the speaking being assessed against?”  Does the teacher judge the students based on the teacher’s concept of he or she individually think good speaking is?  Are there state or national standards or proficiencies that the students are being assessed against? Without a definite standard or proficiency, the speaking assessment measures very little.

One reliable technique is for the teacher to ask each question based on the NCSSFL-ACTFL Interpersonal Communication Can-Do statements. The teacher asks one or two questions for each section of the Can-Do at the Novice and the Mid level.. For example, a teacher asks for Novice Low “I can answer a few questions”- “Do you prefer water or soda? and “When is your Spanish class?”.The teacher bases . The teacher structures the questions going from the lowest level of Novice Low to the highest level of Novice Mid (assuming the class reached that level).  The teacher uses these national proficiencies to measure at what level of the proficiencies the students are.

The teacher has a reliable and valid speaking final. The students’ score on the speaking final represents the highest level of their speaking proficiency based on national proficiencies.

What does your speaking final measure?

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  I have 30+ ready-to-use Spanish speaking activities and numerous Spanish culture activities.

At  http://bit.ly/tsmash, I have two ebooks, Modern Language Proficiency: Can-Do Strategies and 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities

 

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/