Approaches to teaching are always improving, or, maybe we should say changing. When there is momentum behind a new, innovative or highly-supported methodology many of us get behind it and begin to implement it, as best we can at least. Teachers are particularly prone to “buy-in” when we see colleagues (real or virtual) having some level of success with a new methodology.
The wave of communicative language teaching is currently, and rightfully, the foreign language teaching methodology that is supported by the foreign language teaching community. This has helped put the teaching focus on guiding students toward authentically communicating rather than simply learning about the details of the language.
One of the biggest debates or challenges among the communicative language teaching community is the topic of grammar instruction. There are lots of questions and concerns around this. Should we teach grammar? Should we only provide examples of language structure through comprehensible input? What is the “right” way to teach or expose students to grammar structures in a second language? Implicit or explicit grammar instruction?
Some researchers in language acquisition and teachers claim that grammar should be taught explicitly, as rules. Others point to the teaching of grammar implicitly, suggesting that students acquire language structure only through meaning exposure in context. As a result they create their own “language rules” implicitly rather than having the rules be taught explicitly. Let’s make sure we have a solid understanding of the two approaches to language instruction.
- Deductive instruction is a “top-down” approach, meaning that the teacher starts with a grammar rule with specific examples, and the rule is learned through practice.
- Inductive instruction is a “bottom-up” approach, meaning that the teacher provides examples of the structure in context and students make observations, detect patterns, formulate hypothesis, and draw conclusions. PACE Model is an example of this approach.
I prefer to move beyond anecdotal evidence and consider the benefits of the two type of grammar instruction as they are presented in language acquisition research.
- “While it might be appropriate to articulate a rule and then proceed to instances, most of the evidence in communicative second language teaching points to the superiority of an inductive approach to rules and generalizations.”
Shaffer (1989) :
- “Evidence against the notion of an inductive approach should not be used for difficult structures.”
So, where does this leave us? As much as we as teachers would like one tried and true way we all know that teaching and education is mostly a mixture of effective techniques. To this end here are some thoughts from Shaffer:
- Implicit grammar instruction is effective for language structures that are regular and consistent as this allows students to observe patterns, make generalizations and form linguistic rules.
- Explicit grammar instruction is more effective for language structures that are irregular, inconsistent and less commonly present in communicative language.
Ultimately it would seem that a varied approach is necessary depending on the regularity or irregularity of a the focus structure. The important thing to keep in mind is the active engagement of the student in whichever process is used. The inductive approach lends itself to active engagement using a process such as the PACE Model. When teaching irregular language feature deductively be sure to provide opportunities for students to use the structure communicatively and also provide additional comprehensible input activities that contain the focus structure.
Brown (2007). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. Pearson Longman
Shaffer (1989). A Conversation of Inductive and Deductive Approaches to Teaching Foreign Languages. The Modern Language Journal 73.4
Posted in Classroom Procedures, Grammar and Structures, Teaching Methodology and Research
Tagged ACTFL, deductive, french, Grammar, inductive, language, language learning, spanish, teacher
The PACE MODEL is a very effective way to use one of the ACTFL Core Practices, which is to teach grammar as a concept and to use the structures in context. Essentially this means that students should focus on the forms of the grammar structure after they focus on the meaning. The PACE Model (Donato and Adair-Hauck, 1992) encourages the language learner to reflect on the use of target language forms. The teacher and learners collaborate and co-construct a grammar explanation after focusing on the meaning in context. The PACE model provides a concrete way for teaching grammar as a concept.
Much like authentic language learning that happens outside of the classroom, this approach stresses that learning happens between people through social interaction (reminiscent of Vygotsky). The PACE model requires the learner to be an active participant in the language learning process.
The PACE model is a “four-step” process that includes elements that encourage student comprehension and participation. The four stages are:
1. PRESENTATION :
The teacher foreshadows the grammar structure with an appropriate text, with emphasis on meaning. Typically, the teacher recycles the storyline through pictures, TPR activities, etc., to increase comprehension and student
participation. The focus is not on the grammar structure at this point, but it is used by the teacher and in the text.
2. ATTENTION :
The teacher now has students focus on the language form or structure through the use of images, powerpoint slides or highlighting a particular linguistic form.
3. CO-CONSTRUCTION :
After the teacher has focused student attention on a particular target-language form, together they co-construct the grammatical explanation. The teacher provides scaffolding and assists the learners with questions that encourage them to reflect, predict and form generalizations regarding the consistencies of the language. Students construct their own grammar rules, guided by the teacher who will make sure that they end up with an appropriate explanation.
4. EXTENSION :
The learners use the grammatical structures to complete a task relating to the
theme of the lesson, which helps the language remain communicative while also highlighting a particular structure.
Reference: Donato, R. & B. Adair-Hauk. “A Whole Language Approach to Focus on Form.” Paper presented at the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages. San Antonio,Texas (1992).
As students grow in proficiency beyond the novice level, where they are parroting language structures and chunks, they aspire to create with language and speak and write on their own. As teachers we need to provide opportunities for students to create with language. This can be an intimidating prospect for the novice high/intermediate low language learner. It is best, in my experience, to scaffold this language creation in a way that makes students feel confident that they are creating messages on their own, but at the same time not feeling too overwhelmed by the process.
To assist students in this process of moving toward creating their own sentences that move beyond memorized chunks of language I made these tactile sentence writing activities. They are set up to provide some scaffolding in terms of the types of sentences that writers create, while also ultimately leaving the content of the sentence up to the student.
There are two versions of these writing activities. The first version looks like this:
This is how it works. A pencil, a paperclip and a copy of the worksheet are needed to complete this activity. Students place the point of their pencil and a paperclip in the middle of each hexagon. They spin the paperclip by flicking it with a finger. Students write complete, detailed sentences based on the three responses to the spins. Each verb is followed by a question word. Students write an answer to the question word in their sentence.
The second version looks like this:
One die or three dice and a copy of the worksheet are needed to complete this activity. Students roll the die three times or roll three dice once. Students write complete, detailed sentences based on the three responses to the rolls. Each verb is followed by a question word. Students write an answer to the question word in their sentence.
You can download over 20 versions of these writing activities for French and Spanish by clicking on the links below:
Posted in Grammar and Structures, Uncategorized, Writing
Tagged ACTFL, Foreigh Langauge, french, language, proficiency, spanish, teacher, teaching, Writing
It’s the question on everyone’s mind. What is the role of accuracy in foreign language as students grow in proficiency? Do we tend to accuracy? Do we just focus on proficiency and assume that the language will become more accurate with time and practice?
The ACTFL performance descriptors are an effective tool to determine precisely what students can do at each proficiency level (and sub level). The descriptors go on to state what the language output of students looks like at each level. Take a look:
While these are very useful, we are often met with the issue of inaccuracy in language. To be clear, proficiency is about communicating a message and is not so focused on polished and accurate language forms. Essentially the language structures need to be accurate enough for the message to be understood. It is generally understood in second language acquisition research that continued exposure (input) to language structures in context will lead to internalization and acquisition of the native-like language structures.
The issue here is that it is often challenging to focus specifically on a particular language element or structure when providing students with contextualized input. Is there are a way to provide this focused input to students? Is there a way for students to be actively engaged in the content, which will peak their interest?
I have been faced with this challenge of students moving up to the intermediate proficiency level and speaking and writing in complete, discrete sentences, but the verb forms are often not correct. Students communicate their message, but I want to provide contextualized input of a particular structure so that students move toward more accurate language as well. I’m assuming you have been here?
In an effort to make input compelling and interesting to students I try to have them create the content as much as possible. The more they choose the topic the more they will be interested and will pay attention to the themes and language structure being highlighted. Combining student-generated content and a focus on a particular language structure I developed these activities.
Students begin by writing the correct form of the verb when given the subject and the infinitive. To reiterate the correct form students them locate the subject, infinitive and verb form in the grid. It works like a word search. Until this point, it’s a very mechanical exercise that is devoid of context. So, the next step is to write a sentence with each subject and verb form. This is where the student-generated content comes in. Some students choose to write personal sentences, other prefer to write about topics that interest them and some prefer to be humorous. Regardless of the sentences, in the end the correct verb forms in a contextualized sentence provide very focused input for students.
I have seen a marked increase in accurate verb forms when students use this type of writing activity. The word-search element provides an interesting way to focus on the correct verb form and the sentences that are student-generated highlight correct usage in context. You can take a it a step further and use the student sentences to create a task such as collating sentences into different categories and graphing results. The important thing to keep in mind is that all the while students are seeing and using the sentences that contain the accurate verb forms in context. Increased exposure to these language forms is what is needed to move toward acquisition.
If you would like to help your students polish their language structures, take a look at these activities. There are many topics in both French and Spanish. Click on the links below to access these resources and watch the accuracy of your students’ language rise with their proficiency.
Posted in Activities and Games, Grammar and Structures, Teaching Methodology and Research, Writing
Tagged ACTFL, foreign language, french, language, proficiency, spanish, teacher, teaching
I am always a fan of repurposing things in my classroom. Why completely reinvent the wheel when you can just spin it in a different way? Playing cards are something that I always seem to have so I got to work trying to figure out how I can use them to get students speaking the target language. I always want to make sure that in addition to practicing vocabulary and language structures (initially) that activities and tasks also provide ample opportunities for authentic communication as well.
Last year I wrote a blog post about an activity that I crafted using playing cards. You can read the details of that those activities HERE. I was looking though Pinterest and saw that there was a math game that many teachers are doing using playing cards and I started thinking about how I could do this type of activity with my foreign language students. The teachers were having groups lay out the cards in a path of their choice and using them as a sort of playing board. I thought that this be easily modified for use with foreign language vocabulary and language structures and it also lends itself very easily to proficiency levels depending on the task and prompts given to the students.
In my previous playing card activity post I wrote about a reference sheet that I created for students that coincides with each card in the deck.
I decided to have students use this same reference sheet to engage in this new activity. Students have a chance to get a little creative with how they lay out the card path. Once laid out they get a copy of the reference sheet. This can be pictures, time, subject/verb pairings, questions…unlimited possibilities. In addition to the deck of playing cards and the reference sheet, each group of 3-4 students also gets one die and a playing piece, such as different coins or any small object that distinguishes the players.
Each player takes a turn by rolling the die and moving the number of spaces (cards) along the path. They find the box on the reference sheet that corresponds with the card they land on (4 of diamonds, king of hearts, 10 of spades, etc.) and speak using what is in the box. If students are novice they may identify with a singe word or phrase, but intermediate students could use the word or picture in a complete, discreet sentence.
The first student to reach the end of the path is the winner. This can sometimes move quickly, so I have students keep points by the number of wins and go back and start again each time there is a winner.
Be sure to keep this communicative by asking students to do more than say a verb form, time or vocabulary word. Consider what the proficiency levels of the students are and have them speak using the reference prompt in context and with the text type that is at their proficiency level.
You can get these card reference sheets on a number topics by clicking the links below.
We have made major strides toward language proficiency in recent years. Classroom instruction, activities and tasks have all become much more communicative in nature. Assessment has moved more toward what students can do with the language rather than simply what they know about the language. One of the most important and effective tools available in this shift toward proficiency has the publication and implementation of the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can Do Statements. The simple use of the phrase “I Can” has put the focus on what students are able to accomplish in the foreign language and move beyond just listing vocabulary and manipulating grammar structures.
The Can Do Statements are intended to be used for any language and any age or developmental level. The reality is that a “one size fits all” approach is often challenging, particularly when a novice mid can be 6 years old or 30. For this reason many teachers have developed classroom or unit-based Can Do Statements that are developmentally appropriate to the age of the students. As many of us create individualized Can Do Statements it is important to keep our communication and proficiency goals in mind. It is easy to assume that simply putting “I Can” in front of a prompt will make it communicative.
Take a look at these “I Can” Statements and determine if they are communicative and based on proficiency:
- I can count to 100
- I can say the days of the week
- I can day the date
- I can say I like and I don’t like
- I can say sentences in the present tense
- I can say sentences in the past tense
- I can say sentences in the future tense
These are a good starting point, but they can be more communicative by providing context. Essentially they should provide an opportunity for students to do something with the language that they can produce. The above statements demonstrate what a student knows about the language, but a change in the prompt toward more communication will allow students to show what they can do with the language.
- I can tell you my phone number, age and address (using the numbers 1-100)
- I can tell you what day(s) I have a class, lesson, sports practice or rehearsal (using the days of the week)
- I can tell you my birthday and the birthdays of my friends or the date of an upcoming or past event (using knowledge of how to say the date)
- I can tell you what activities, food, movies, books, art, sports that I like to do or don’t like to do (using the phrases “I like” and “I don’t like”
- I can tell you what I typically do during the day or on the weekend or what I am doing right now (using the present tense sentence structure)
- I can tell you what I did yesterday, last week, last year or earlier today (using the past tense sentence structure)
- I can tell you what I am going to do tomorrow, next week, next year or later today (using the present tense sentence structure)
The examples above show that “I can say” does not lend itself to a conversation, whereas “I can tell” invites more detail, interaction and personalization of the language.
“I can say” is good starting point when working toward proficiency, but be sure to add in I can Statements that give students an opportunity to use the language in a communicative context as well. These are the types of tasks and prompts that will lead to increased proficiency.
I wrote a post recently on foreign language class lesson planning that follows the “Learn, Practice, Apply” sequence that I learned about from the teachers that I work with in Nicaragua. I have found this simple framework very useful when planning lessons and activities in my foreign language classroom. I created these Spanish Tab Books that follow this sequence.
The first pages provide scaffolded notes so that students get familiar with the new material, then they practice the material on the next pages, and finally students apply the material on the last page. The “apply” stage is often left out when teaching new material. These tab books assure that students get to this stage in the learning process.
Setting Up the Tab Book:
-Cut the pages in half on the dotted line.
-Cut out the box on the bottom of each page along the dotted lines.
-Place the pages on top of each other so that the tabs are visible on the bottom. Students can highlight the tab titles.
-Staple the pages together in the upper right corner. Students can also highlight the tabs on the bottom.
These Tab Books can be glued into an interactive notebook and/or referenced as needed when reviewing. It has all the information needed to review in one convenient place.
You can get over 30 versions of these French Tab Books by clicking the link below.