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.

World Language: Going from Learning About to Communicating With People

A previous blog , briefly described three levels of culture.  This blog expands on the critical difference between the first two levels.

The first level, learning about another country/culture, most often involves learning the facts about the country such as its currency, location, famous landmarks, etc. According to the Iceberg concept of culture, this level contains the mostly easily recognized things in the culture. This level can be devoid of seeing people of the country; the pictures usually focus more on famous monuments, mountain ranges, etc. Also, this level contains a very low emotional response. Students do not end up feeling more positive about the country/culture after learning the facts about the country such the population, the name of the capital, etc. Furthermore, the country view usually comes from an outsider’s view of the country. Often, the teacher or a web-site of someone who visited the country provides the information. Equally important, culture is seen as isolated pieces of information such as learning about the flag, then the currency, etc.

The second level of communicating with a person or persons from the country changes many aspects. Students actually interact with a person or people from the culture. Although students can do email and tweet exchanges, the most common form of communicating is a video chat. The students see what the people of another country look like, what they wear, what they drink,  where they study, etc. The students move from media stereotypes to contact with actual people of that culture. This level helps students to feel more positive about the people of the other culture. For example, when students do a “My Class/ Your Class” video conference, the students see many similarities between the two countries. Likewise, the students hear information from people who realistically know about the culture; the people from that country have an insider’s view. Students from another country can tell their  Saturday activities. In addition, the native speakers integrate aspects of culture; for example, they combine foods with family traditions.

At what level of culture are your students?

There are many cultural activities in the eboook 90 Mobile Learning Modern Language Activities. For cultural activities that actively involve world language students go to http://bit.ly.mlcomcult and look under culture.

The Search for Meaning as the Goal of the World Language Class

Viktor Frankl’s logotheraphy asserts that the striving to find a meaning in one’s life is the primary, most powerful motivating and driving force in humans (http://www.viktorfrankl.org/e/logotherapy.html). A Times Article reports a study in which 50% of the workers lacked meaning in their work. Of those who found meaning they were three times more likely to stay in that job, had 1.7 times more job satisfaction, and 1.4 times more engaged than others (http://www.fastcompany.com/3032126/how-to-find-meaning-during-your-pursuit-of-happiness-at-work). Likewise, Van Patten (1996) asserts that learners process input for meaning before form; they process the “what” before the “how said” (http://www.tesl-ej.org/ej35/r5.pdf). ACTFL in its 2015 World Readiness Standards for Modern Languages for Interpersonal Communication states “Learners interact and negotiate meaning in spoken, signed, or written conversations to share information, reactions, feelings, and opinions” (http://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/World-ReadinessStandardsforLearningLanguages.pdf)

How do we help our students focus on meaning in the world language classroom? Do our students share personal information? Can they tell about their relationship with others? Can they react when other students or the teacher share personal information? Can our students express their feelings and opinions about a situation? Can they supply reasons for their opinions? Can they express their future aspirations?

This search for meaning runs contrary to the students reading about some fictional Bob and Jane characters in their textbook or in an oral story. Students search for meaning in their own lives. Students want to find meaning about who they are, how they fit into their lives, and what they want to do. The more we help them talk about their their own lives, families, preferences, and situations, the more they can establish their own meaning in life.

Since logotheraphy emphasizes the drive for personal meaning, how do world language teachers provide situations to help their students find meaning?

There are many pair language activities at http://bit.ly/mlcomcult for beginning to advanced students to express their opinons and preferences. These activities are for all world languages and specifically for Spanish.

Highly Effective World Language Communication Activities

Each student speaks in pairs so that everyone in the class can increase their amount of speaking.

Each student responds without looking at their notes, the handout, the textbook, the classwebsite, or the PowerPoint. They speak spontaneously.

Each student answers real situational or topical questions, not questions designed to illict a specific grammar point.

Each student answers many questions for the same topic so they go in-depth with a topic.

Each student answers many different questions. Often in class, students only get called on a few times.

Each student who answers a question or makes a response can receive formative feedback from the partner who can see a sample answer.

Each student has low emotional stress since the student is asked a question by another student and not the teacher. At the same time, often partners compete against each other to see who can answer the most questions or say the most sentences.

Each student can use the scaffolding of the asked question, the visual, etc. to help become successful in responding.

Modern Language Communication and Culture contains over 40+ communication activities that are ready to use for the classroom. To help you to find an appropriate activity, the activities have been subdivided into Modern Language (visual stories for all languages), Spanish, Can-Do, Groupings, Topics, Culture and Grammar.

Modern Language Communication and Culture Activities

Modern Language Communication and Culture Activities

Which of your activities are highly effective world language communication activities?

World Language Fantastic 40 Minutes: From Translation to Communication

Students are in a world  language class for forty minutes five times a week or  40 minutes x 5 days = 200 minutes; 200 minutes/ 60 minutes in an hour  = 3.33 hours a school week.  These fantastic forty minutes are the only time that the world  language students can listen to their teachers speak the target language and react to the teachers and the only time the students can communicate in the target language and have other students react. During a five day school week of 120 hours (5 day x 24 hours), the students spend only 2.75% of their time in world language class. That extremely small number means that world language teachers have to maximize communication time in the classroom.

How much target language do your students hear during the Fantastic 40?  How much target language do your students speak during the Fantastic 40?  Could someone mistake your modern language class for an English class due to the large amount of English being spoken?

When world language teachers move from translation activities to communication activities, they move closer to the language goal of producing students who can communicate. Instead of having students play a translation game (one students holds up a card with English on one side and Spanish on the other while the partner says the Spanish for the English),  students can say basic sentences. For colors, the students can say the colors of the objects in the class such as “The door is brown.” or they can change it into a question activity such as “The door is brown, right?” or “Is the door brown?”  The teacher provides the sentence structure and then the students create the sentences that their partner answers/responds to. The students use the colors to describe or ask about their class; they communicate basic information. They use the colors for communication instead of for translation games.

How much world language do you use during the Fantastic 40 in you class?  How much do the students use? Do they use words for communication instead of translation?

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  I have  5 any language  picture speaking activities; 25+ ready-to-use Spanish structured speaking activities (including 5 Can-Do ones) for beginning students; and numerous Spanish students-as-investigators cultural activities.

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

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

 

Two Different Language Learning Approaches: Self or Survival

ACTFL’s Interpersonal Level Novice Can-Do statements follow a pattern of having students talking about

self  -> family / friends  ->  community / city.
Most of the Novice level focuses on socializing.  In this approach students go from what is most known or familiar  to them (themselves) outward (to others). Most modern day textbook follow this approach. This approach assumes that students in the classroom will be talking in the target language  to other students about things in their lives.

Another approach is the travel approach where students learn a  language to survive in the target language country. This approach concentrates on daily functioning in the language country. Students learn how to order a meal, ask for a hotel room, check on the price of a product, etc. Very old textbooks and travel conversation books follow this pattern. The travel approach assumes that students in the target language country will be talking in the target language to native speakers.

Although students enjoy talking in the target language to each other and learning about each other as in the ACTFL approach, I have found that they feel the geatest sense of achievement when they can do a real-life daily survival task in the language such as “I can ask the price of something.” I try to blend the two approaches.  As soon as my students learn the numbers (1-59) in the first unit , I teach them to go from telling time to asking the price of things such as  “How much does this soccer ticket cost?” Since I use cultural products in class such as a soccer ticket, the students practice asking and answering how much real things cost. In the ACTFL approach, students cannot ask the price of something until the end of Novice Mid, very near the end of the course.

What approach do you use with your students?  What survival skills do your students have even in the beginning level?

At http://bit.ly/tpthtuttle,  I have  5 any language  picture speaking activities, 25+ ready-to-use Spanish structured speaking activities (including 5 Can-Do ones) for beginning students and numerous Spanish investigation cultural activities.

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

 

 

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