Modern Language Textbook as the Only Tool or as One of Many Tools

During my recent presentation on “Transforming Textbook Activities into Spontaneous Speaking Ones,”, I  polled the audience of  modern language teachers  to find out  how many created or found additional material for their textbook. Over 90% of the audience raised their hands. These language  teachers had textbooks from  various publishers; the teachers represented many different languages and different  levels of learning. These teachers commented that a textbook is just a tool. It is not the only tool in a teacher’s repertoire. Other tools are better at certain times.  Just as a carpenter would not use a hammer to saw wood,  teachers understand that each tool has its unique purpose. They select their tool for a  specific  learning purpose.  In addition, when teachers use different tools, they add variety to the classroom.

Many foreign language  teachers use video tools such as YouTube to show a real life example rather than having students just look at  the printed word from the textbook.  For example, a Spanish teacher may show a YouTube video of people at a hospital emergency room in the target country, have their students identify the basic emergency room vocabulary, and, then, have the students role play an emergency room  conversation based on watching the video with no sound.  The static textbook  tool cannot duplicate the  actions of real people from a video tool.

Many modern language teachers incorporate outside readings or current cultural events that are not in the textbook.  The textbook chapter done in December may deal with common foods but not with  foods unique to the cultural celebrations  that occur in  the target language country at that time. Students who only use a textbook  tool  could go through the whole year without ever learning about the current  celebrations / activities in  the target language country.

Many foreign  teachers  try to engage their students in conversations that go beyond the limited ones in the textbook. The teachers may use  the tools of objects (authentic cultural items from the target country),  pictures from the target language area, video clips,  prompted conversations, current school topics, etc. to promote conversation.  When students move from just asking or answering textbook questions about a topic to engaging in interactive, highly responsive conversations through other conversation prompting tools, they improve their speaking.

Do you use your modern language textbook as the only tool or as a tool? Do you have one resource, the textbook, or a variety of resources?

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (25+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask partner a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers: http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle. I have a series of modern language visual stories (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students. Can use in any language since there are just visuals, no words.

My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at http://is.gd/tbook

No Basic Differences in Modern Language Textbooks in 50 Years: Go Virtual

I examined two textbooks that are fifty years apart, a Spanish textbook from 1960 and one from 2010

Both:
– Teach the same grammar – present, present irregulars, preterite, preterite irregulars, imperfect, …..
– Teach the same basic vocabulary- family, occupations, house, …. The 2010 textbook does have more modern words such as cell phone, computer…
– Start each lesson with  a written dialogue
– Focus primarily on grammar- almost all the exercises are grammar focused
– Have images – The 1960 has black and white illustrations and the 2010 has many colored photos.
– Include cultural information
– Have dictionaries

Some differences:
–  The  1960 textbook contains 200+ pages while the 2010 textbook has 500+ pages.
– The 1960 has some testing/practice material while the 2010 textbook has  much online grammar practice.
– The 1960 textbook has a story line of a family with a father who travels to Latin America, however, the 2010 does not have a storyline.
– The 1960 textbook teaches practical vocabulary essential to daily living and traveling while the 2010 teaches specialized vocabulary such as words to describe art in a museum.
– The 1960 textbook follows the grammar translation methodology while the 2010 follows the grammar use methodology.

The 2010 textbook, once all the colored photos are removed, is essential the same as the 1960 textbook.  Do modern language teacher still want to focus primarily on grammar instead of communication?

How has the textbook, the staple of most classes, changed over the last 50 years?
– Does it scaffold information to make it easier for students to learn?
– Does it include strategies to help the students better learn the material?
– Does it organize information in a way to help students see similarities and differences?
– Does it build in self tests so students can measure their progress in a formative assessment manner? Does it provide formative feedback?
– Has it gone to the “less is better” with more concentration on critical learning  or has it gone to “the bigger is better” way of thinking?
– Has it incorporated spontaneous speaking or is the speaking still based on teaching grammar?
– Is the vocabulary being taught include verbs and adjectives about the topic instead of just nouns?  Can student talk in depth about a topic?

I’ve written several blogs about textbooks Smartphone (Mobil Learning Apps as Alternative Textbooks)  and Why a Physical Textbook?

Think of creating your own virtual textbook that truly matches the state goals and your district’s goals. Consider using QR codes to create your own textbook.

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (25+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask partner a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs), Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawings from 2-4 people), Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group), Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs), and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers: http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle. I have a series of modern language visual stories (the beach, the city, school, etc.) for two students to role play; the restaurant role play involves four students. Can use in any language since there are just visuals, no words.

My book, Improving Foreign Language Speaking Through Formative Assessment, and my book, Formative Assessment, Responding to Students, are available at http://is.gd/tbook

Spontaneous Speaking in Modern Languages – Not Just Saying Grammar Exercises

I recently heard a modern language teacher brag about how much speaking her students did in the classroom. She said that her students orally did every book grammar exercise. She was amazed at how much they were speaking.  Yes, the students were orally saying the grammar exercises but they were not spontaneous speaking.  They could do the exercises perfectly but they could not use those  grammar concepts in their own conversation about a topic.  I asked her how closely the exercises resembled a real world conversation and she countered that the students  had to know every grammatical form to be able to communicate.

To change grammar exercises to real speaking, we have to ask ourselves, “How would a target language person  use this grammar point in an authentic conversation?” and try to duplicate that in the classroom.  We can start our students off with just responding to their partners. For example, in teaching the Spanish preterite tense, students can start on their path to  spontaneous speaking by seeing a long list of common verbs, selecting 10 verbs that describe what they did do in the past and then saying a past time word like yesterday or the past week  and the verb in   the “I” form.  I always have my students  do at least a three part sentence (Past time word +subject/verb +what or where or how such as “Yesterday I ate at McDonalds.”  As a student says the sentence to his/her partner , the partner agrees or disagrees by repeating it or modifying it; a modification may be “Yesterday I ate at Burger King.”,  “Last week I ate at McDonalds.”, or “Yesterday I ate two hamburgers and French Fries at McDonalds.”  Once students realize that their partners are listening and responding to what they say, they begin to make more realistic sentences.  Then the partners say a sentence and the listening students respond. They alternate until they each have said eight sentences. By saying their sentences and having their partners respond, they find out more about their partners. They start to use  language in an interactive manner where they have to listen carefully to their partner and respond accordingly.

This blog has been moved from my EduwithTechn blog

I have developed many  Spanish activities that allow students to begin to express themselves and to begin to move toward spontaneous speaking as in a natural conversation.  My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (20+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask  a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs),  Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawing from 2-4 people) and Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group),  Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs),  and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers:  http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle

My three formative assessment books:   http://is.gd/tbook

Are Modern Language Students’ Real Questions Found in their Textbook?

I recently asked my  Spanish college students to make a list of questions that they would want to ask of a person whom they are meeting for the first time. I was amazed at how uniform their answers were:

What is your name?
What is your phone number?
How old are you?
When is your birthday?
Where are you from?
What are you like? / Are you (athletic, …..)?
Where do you live? /How long have you lived here?
How are you?
What school/college do you go to? What is your major?
Where do you work? /What do you do?
What do you like to do?
How many brothers/sisters do you have?
What is your favorite (music, team, color, hobby, TV show)? / Do you like ( a particular music group, sport, TV show)?

My guess is that if we look at most modern language textbooks, we will not find these questions in the first few chapters.  We may not find these critical question grouped together.   For example, one textbook might not teach “to live” until the 4th chapter and the course only covers the first  5th chapters of the textbook.

I think that we can learn a great deal about what is important to our  modern language students by asking them what they would want to say about a common  topic found in the textbook.  Does the language textbook reflects things that are of importance to students?  Or does the textbook focus on its own  grammar and vocabulary without focusing on what students, their intended audience,  would normally want to say about a topic?  A communicative book focuses on  what real people would ask/answer about a topic in a normal conversation. A grammar focused textbooks presents a very limited amount of  questions but concentrates more on a specific grammar point that has been worked into the questions/conversation.

I have put together numerous speaking mats that present students with a wide range of vocabulary for a given topic so that they can say and ask things that are important to them.  Some speaking mats:
Spanish Activities / Sports Spontaneous Speaking Mat – Small Group
Spanish Clothing Spontaneous Speaking Mat – Partner Talk
Spanish Casa /House Spontaneous Speaking Mat – Partner Talk
I have many other activities where I supply the students with a wide range of possible answers such as
Spanish Friend /Family Member Detailed Description – Partner Talk

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (20+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask  a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs),  Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawing from 2-4 people) and Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group),  Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs),  and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers:  http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle

My three formative assessment books:   http://is.gd/tbook

This was copied from my EducwithTechn blog  at http://wp.me/p262R-Kc

Analyzing a Modern Language Textbook for Authentic Communication

Recently I analyzed a textbook for its communication value. Of the 25 activities in one chapter, there were 17 textbook only activities.  A textbook activity deals what is in the textbook such as questions about a picture.   For example, the book showed a tv schedule and asked students about the schedule.  There were  8 activities that encouraged students to talk about their lives .  Each of the 8 activities followed a strict formula in which students substituted in their answer for the given one.   What did your father eat yesterday? He  ate …….  What did  your mother eat?…  Only one activity was longer than 5 lines. The students do answer  questions but they do not react. None of the activities lead to a  free flowing conversation  in which students honestly reacted to each other. None of the personal activities lead to  a  full conversation.

Some questions to ask about your textbook:

1 How many of the exercises are personal ones in which students tell about their lives?

2 Can students tell many things about themselves or does this exercise really focus on practicing a  specific grammar /vocabulary point?  For example, I get up at six. I eat at 7, I lunch at 12.  People really  do not talk that way unless they are recounting their day and then they would add in more details.

3 How long of a conversation does the book encourage?  Do the students say a 8+ line conversation?

4 What part of the conversation is spontaneous and free flowing as opposed to strictly following the formula/questions?

5 Do the students’ statements and questions follow the logical fashion they would in a real conversation ? Or does it twist, in an unnatural way, to present a grammar point/ vocabulary term?

6  Would a target language speaker actually say this conversation?

Let’s help students to communicate not “grammarate”.

I have developed many  Spanish activities that allow students to begin to express themselves and to begin to move toward spontaneous speaking as in a natural conversation.

My Spanish spontaneous speaking activities (20+) includes Modified Speed Dating (Students ask  a question from a card-whole class), Structured Speaking (Students substitute in or select words to communicate in pairs),  Role Playing (Students talk as people in pictures or drawing from 2-4 people) and Speaking Mats (Can talk using a wide variety of nouns, verbs and adjectives to express their ideas- pairs or small group),  Spontaneous Speaking (based on visuals or topics in pairs),  and Grammar speaking games (pairs or small group). Available for a nominal fee at Teacherspayteachers:  http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle

My three formative assessment books:   http://is.gd/tbook

Copied from my other  blog http://wp.me/p262R-K8