Category Archives: Speaking

The Role of Short and Long-Term Memory in Language Learning

We’ve all been there.  Students learn a new language structure (i.e. grammar point) or vocabulary words, take a quiz, do well, and then a few days later they are unable to produce the structure or vocabulary.  What happened?  Where did it it go?

The Role of Short and Long-Term Memory in Language Learning (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.com

First, let’s look at Interlanguage.  This is the language that a learner speaks that is on a continuum between his native language (L1) and the target language (L2).  Selinker explains that Interlanguage has these characteristics:

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Bill Van Patten takes this a bit further in his work (particularly in Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen) and presents the ideas of intake and uptake along this interlanguage continuum:

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 6.36.37 AMInitially, language input becomes intake or part of the short term memory of the learner.  This is consciously attended to and learned by the learner.  When structures and vocabulary become uptake, part of the long-term memory, it is considered subconscious and acquired. The uptake is the proficiency level of the learner.

When students take a quiz on the new material and do well it is because they are being assessed on their short-term memory (intake).  When new material comes along and that older materials has not moved on to long-term memory (uptake) it is replaced by the newer material.  That’s why the grammar structure they knew so well for the quiz is not as easily produced a few days later….and the reason we need to spend so much time reviewing for final exams at the end of the school year.

So, this begs the question, “How can we help students acquire language so that it becomes part of their uptake (long-term memory)?”  The answer is not complicated and involved, but does take persistence and consistency.  It comes down to providing as much comprehensible input as possible to students, both listening and reading.  The more exposure students have to input that is comprehensible to them the more likely the language will become uptake and make its way to the long-term memory.  Again, this is mostly a subconscious process in which language is acquired so comprehensible inout is the most effective tool.  This is yet another reason to use the target language as much as possible (90-100%) in the second language classroom.

I want to end with a quick word about learning grammar and vocabulary, as opposed to acquiring.  Steven Krashen, who is best known for his input hypothesis (i+1), does speak to the usefulness of studying and learning grammar and vocabulary.  He describes this learned language as a monitor that assess output that originates in the long-term memory for accuracy.  This learned, often intake/short-term memory, language is useful in writing as well because the writer has the time to reflect and monitor the output.  When communicating interpersonally in real time the output is often less accurate with novice and intermediate students because the more accurate and native-like language has not yet made its way to the long-term memory.

VanPatten, B. (1996). Input processing and grammar instruction: Theory and research. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

VanPatten, B., & Cadierno, T. (1993). Explicit instruction and input processing. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 15, 225–243.

VanPatten, B., & Oikkenon, S. (1996). Explanation versus structured input in processing instruction. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 18 (4), 495–510.

Assessing Proficiency with Student-Friendly Can Do Statements

The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines are a very helpful tool in the Foreign/World Language Classroom.  They provide teachers and students with clear guidelines and descriptions to assess proficiency levels.  They are also an effective tool for students and teachers to set achievable and concrete goals.

Assess Proficiency with Student-Friendly Ca Do Statements (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.comAssess Proficiency with Student-Friendly Ca Do Statements (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.comThe ACTFL Can Do Statements provide detailed examples of what students could/should be able to do at each proficiency level.  The challenge I have personally had with the Can Do Statements is using them for various age and developmental levels.  There are some Can Do statements that address such things as making reservations and asking questions about particular academic subjects.  While these are very applicable to older students, they are not developmentally appropriate for younger students.  For this reason I have developed, with the help of a few colleagues, Student-Friendly Can Do Statements.  These statements honor the text type (individual words and phrases, discrete sentences, connected sentences, paragraphs) of the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, but are more applicable to elementary, middle school and high school students.

Assess Proficiency with Student-Friendly Ca Do Statements (French, Spanish) wlclassroom.com

Target Language Use and Student Accountability

Language teachers know the importance of target language use in the classroom.  Regular exposure and interaction with the language leads to acquisition and a higher proficiency level.  In order to promote, expect and respect the use of the target language in the classroom teachers should support students by creating a classroom community that makes students feel safe taking risks with the language and teach the tools needed to communicate.  Students should also know their proficiency level and be personally accountable for their commitment to using the target language and striving to raise their proficiency level.

Target Language Use and Student Accountability (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comIn my classroom I have a 20 point rubric that I use to assess students each week on four focus areas: Community, Commitment, Proficiency, and Preparation.

Each category is based a five point scale.  Students are aware of these criteria and they are posted in the classroom so that they can be references regularly. I typically grade each student myself for the first few weeks of the school year and then students self-assess, but I of course reserve the right to modify the self-assessment grade if necessary.  The grade is given holistically for the entire week.  Here is the breakdown of each category:

Community:

  •  5  Choices and interactions enhance the classroom community.
  • 4  Choices and interactions almost always enhance the classroom community.
  • 3 Choices and interactions sometimes enhance the classroom community.
  • 2 Choices and interactions often hinder the classroom community.
  • 1 Choices and interactions regularly hinder the classroom community.

For recommendations on classroom community building see my post on Building a Community of Confidence.

Commitment:

  • 5  Always speaks target language and circumlocutes.
  • 4  Always speaks target language with some effort to circumlocute.
  • 3 Makes an effort to speak target language, but need to circumlocute more.
  • 2 Resorts to native language; no circumlocution.
  • 1 Little use of target language.

For tools and strategies for students to remain in the target language see my  posts on circumlocution, functional chunks and language ladders.

Proficiency:

  • 5  Regularly speaks at expected proficiency level and strives to speak above level.
  • 4  Regularly speaks at expected proficiency level.
  • 3 Usually speaks at expected proficiency level and below level at times.
  • 2 Regularly speaks below proficiency level.
  • 1 Always speaks below proficiency level.

See my post on Foreign Language Goal Setting Using ACTFL Proficiency Levels to learn about assessing students’ proficiency levels.

Preparation:

  • 5  Punctual, has all materials, assignments complete.
  • 4  Punctual, has most materials, assignments complete.
  • 3 Punctual, has all materials, assignments incomplete.
  • 2 Late or missing materials.
  • 1 Late or missing materials, assignments incomplete.

Try out this rubric system and modify to fit the needs and of your individual classroom.  I’m sure you will see an increase in student accountability for using the target language and you will feel confident that you are supporting your student in their language proficiency growth.

90%+ Target Language Use, Questions and Answers

How do we get to 90%+ target language use in the foreign language classroom?  We need to rethink how we have been teaching over the past few decades and be willing to leave some of it behind.  Traditional teaching practices were not designed to promote a high percentage of target language use.

90%+ Target Language Use in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comIf you want to get to 90%+ target language use in the classroom reflect on your teaching through the lens of these four questions and recommendations.  Take some time to contemplate how you can move your teaching in a direction that is more proficiency-based and promotes regular and confident use of the target language in your classroom.

  • Q1: Are prompts and tasks at the appropriate proficiency level?
  • R1: Assess the proficiency level of students to make sure that prompts are not above students’ proficiency level.
  • Q3. Are students held accountable for using the target language?
  • R3: Include goal setting, consistency, commitment and proficiency in grade.
  • Q4. Are all the students actively engaged and interested?
  • R4: Provide choice and opportunity for personal interest, investment and active engagement.

Hide and Speak (or Write): Foreign Language Activity to Practice Speaking and Writing

I’m always looking for ways to get students up and moving in the classroom while they are practicing their foreign language speaking and writing skills.  This is an activity that I call “Hide and Speak (or write)” that accomplishes this goal and students enjoy it and often ask to play.  I’m happy to oblige because they speak (or write) so much during this activity.

Hide and Speak (or Write): Foreign (Wolrd) Language Activity to Practice Speaking and Writing (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.com

  • Begin by hiding 20-30 prompt cards.  These can be index cards with vocabulary words, an image, a question about a reading, or proficiency-based questions aligned with ACTFL standards.  The possibilities are endless for prompts based on the material that is being covered in class.  Memory Cards or  Task Cards work very well for this this activity.
  • Pairs of students set out to find the prompts and when they do they return to the teacher with the card and perform the task: identify the image in the target language, use the word or verb in a sentence, answer a proficiency-based question or complete a Task Card.  Lots of possibilities.  This can all be through speaking or writing.  When writing I give pairs a small white board and marker.
  • If the pair responds correctly they can get a point for their team or the teacher can make it a point for the entire class with the goal being to get a certain number of points collectively in a specified amount of time.  The teacher keeps the prompt card and the pair sets back out.
  • Be sure to tell pairs that they need to wait in line to check in with the teacher so that that they don’t call crowd in.

Check out these task cards these task cards and memory cards that work well in this activity.

Get Students Moving and Practicing Foreign Language Vocabulary

This a very effective go-to activity that requires very little prep and gets students moving and using the target language immediately.  It’s also a great way to use a set of memory/concentration cards that you may have in your classroom.  If you need cards you can find them here:

Get Students Moving and Practicing Foreign (World) Language Vocabulary (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comSet up desks or tables around room, spaced out enough for students to move around, and put several pictures on each table. Play music and kids move around (maybe dance if they are so inclined), then when the music stops students stand behind a table.

Choose a word card, say it out loud and student with that picture identified says they he/she has the corresponding picture card on his/her table (int he target language of course). He/she then uses the word in a sentence and puts a point up by his/her name on the board. Play the music again and continue the same process of stopping the music and students saying a sentence with the word if they had the picture match.

Students really enjoyed this activity, review lots of vocabulary, and speak a lot.  You can also allow the winner of the round to be the one to start and stop the music the next time, choose a word card and say it to the class.  Try this with verb forms as well, with the conjugations 0n the desks.

Foreign Language Interactive Speaking Activity to Practice Vocabulary and Structures

El Camino/Le Chemin is an engaging and interactive speaking activity that students can do in pairs or small groups. Very quick set-up with no prep needed. Just print out the two pages that make up the game board and students are ready to go.  Students can do this activity in groups of 2 or 3. Each player needs a game piece to move around the board. They can use a bingo chip, a coin or any object of similar size. One die is also needed for the activity.

Foreign (World) Language Interactive Speaking Activity (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comAll players start at “Début” or “Comeinzo.” Taking turns, each player rolls the die and moves the number of spaces rolled. The object is to land on the numbered boxes in the correct order (1-12). They can move in any direction, but they can’t use the same box twice in a turn. They can share a box with another player. The winner is the first player to land on square #12. The game can be made longer by having players return to “Début”  or “Comienzo”and work toward #12 a second time.

Foreign (World) Language Interactive Speaking Activity (French, Spanish) www.wlteacher.wordpress.comEach time a player rolls the die and moves closer to the next number, he/she must say the verb, number, time, category word, etc. of the square he/she lands on. They can also be required to say a complete sentences.

You can download these activities here:

Foreign Language Speaking Activity, Easily Adapted to Proficiency Levels

This activity gives students a chance to express themselves confidently at their current proficiency level.  It is easily adapted by simply prompting students as to how they should speak (text type).

Foreign (World) Language Speaking Activity, Based onProficiency Levels (French, Spanish) www.wlteacher.wordpress.comTypically I have students work in pairs or in groups of 3. Begin by setting up a sheet with 12 categories on it that are number 1-12.  Provide 2 dice along with this paper.  Give each pair or group a small bag (not transparent) with small slips of colored paper along with a sheet that has a point value assigned to each color. For fun I also include a “Zut” or “Caramba” color which has no points assigned. You could also  put slips of parer with point values in the bag, but I like to keep it more engaging and colorful.  You can project the category sheet that the entire class can reference, but again I prefer to keep the activity centered in the group, so I provide an individual reference sheet.  The plastic frames that can hold a sheet of paper have come in very handy for me with various activities.

Foreign Language Speaking Activity, Easily Adapted to Proficiency LevelsStudents begin by each individually rolling 1 or both dice and attend to the category of the number.  If done correctly (group consensus), the student chooses a colored slip out of the bag and keeps a running total of points.  He/She puts the slip back in the bag.  After a predetermined amount of play time, the “winner” is the students with the highest points.

The teacher can easily adapt the speaking to the proficiency level of the students by using the tasks/functions and text types by ACTFL proficiency level.  You can learn more about these asks/functions and text types on the ACTFL OPI website.  Be sure to download the OPI Familiarization Manual.

If the students are at the novice level, they will give one word answers or short phrases, most likely giving an example of something in that category.  If they are at the intermediate level they can speak using a series of sentences or be required to ask a question of another player about the topic.  If students are at the advanced level they can speak at length in paragraph form.  The categories at this level will need to be more complex in nature, perhaps pertaining to world events or characters and plot in a story.

An Exercise in Foreign Language Circumlocution

The 100th day of school is a very important day in many elementary schools and there are lots of activities to celebrate, all based on the number 100. Each year, I challenge my 3rd graders to list 100 words and expressions that they know in the target language in 20 minutes. I give pairs of students a card with a category and they brainstorm words and expressions. It’s a great way for them to use category words in preparation for circumlocution.

An Exercise in Foreign Language Circumlocution (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comWe then write the list. I always hold off on using the words for numbers, unless they are needed to reach 100. We did not need to resort to them this year.  It is all about the context.  Rather than listing words for fruit, ask students to tell you which fruits are their favorite, or to describe the colors.  Instead of asking for examples of verbs, have students tell you what they like to do on the weekends with their friends, and follow it up with when and where.  Once they communicate in context the words and expressions keep coming.

A Change in Words Can Change a Student’s Mindset

I’ve been reading a lot about student motivation and I wrote a post last summer about extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.  The focus of that post was student choice in what they talk and write about so that the motivation to use the foreign language is self-motivated (intrinsic) rather than the motivation being a grade or to please the teacher (extrinsic).  The more I have searched the internet and communicated with teachers in my Personal Learning Network (PNL) the more I have found that students can take a more metacognitive approach to motivation.  This will help to make motivation that is typically more extrinsic more intrinsic.

A Change in Words Can Change a Student's Mindset (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comIt essentially comes down to changing how students approach challenging linguistic situations.  This is reminiscent of Vygotsky’s Private Speechwhich is speech spoken to oneself for communication, self-guidance, and self-regulation of behavior.  He argued that children use private speech when learning to navigate the word around them, including language development.  If students change the words and questions they use to approach their work, the outcome will be different. A mindset that is more focused on growth and overcoming challenges will lead to higher confidence and a clearer understanding, whereas a fixed mindset causes students to limit their confidence and potential (Carol Dweck, Mindset).

Here are some examples of self-talk (private speech) that follow a fixed mindset along with a change in approach that is more focused on a growth mindset.  The examples are in English, Spanish and French as they can be easily assimilated into the world language classroom.  Perhaps students can write their own growth statements.

A Change in Words Can Change a Student's MindsetA Change in Words Can Change a Student's MindsetA Change in Words Can Change a Student's Mindset