The field of language teaching is always on the move. Every decade or so there is an innovative way to approach language teaching. For a recap of the language teaching methodologies that have surfaced over the past century take a look at this post. Over the past decade many foreign language teachers have embraced communicative language teaching, which focuses on authentic communication over language forms such as grammar structures.
To be clear, a certain level of accuracy of language is needed to convey a message that is comprehensible. The difference from methodologies of the past is that previous approaches to language teaching focused almost solely on accuracy of language. These days we see the value in focusing on the message, even when that means looking past some errors when the learner has not yet acquired the language structure.
There has been a significant shift in mindset along with the arrival of communicative language teaching. Previous methodologies focused on what learners did wrong rather than on their progress. The goal was complete accuracy in the past along with the belief that a speaker would not be understood if the language was not completely correct. We now accept that communication can happen despite occasional inaccuracy. This is the base of the difference in mindset, or underlying tenets that support the approaches.
Here are four areas of this mindset shift that distinguish current communicative approaches from accuracy-centered approach of the past.
Objectives and Content:
- Past: The teacher was the all-knowing possessor of knowledge and directed all content and objectives to ensure progress toward correct language.
- Present: The teacher works in collaboration with students and there are shared learning objectives. Content is driven by both the teacher and the student.
- Past: Typically communication was focused on the four traditional language skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking. This usually meant that these skills were practiced in isolation and were not interconnected.
- Present: The three modes of communication (presentational, interpretive, interpersonal) are now the focus. They provide students with opportunities to do something with the four skills.
- Past: The focus was on what students knew about the language and its structures. Practice of correct grammatical forms of the language were typically done in isolation and out of context.
- Present: The focus is on what the learner is able to do or accomplish with the language. This is always tied to context and students communicate authentically with the language despite occasional inaccuracy in language when the message is clear.
- Past: Assessments determined the level of language accuracy and the teacher could easily and quickly point out what was incorrect, such as verb forms, noun gender, adjective agreement, etc.
- Present: Assessments are performance-based. Teachers use tools and strategies such as backwards design and Can-Do statements to guide students toward communication.
Where are you regarding your teaching mindset? If you want to embrace communicative language teaching, take a look at the “present” mindset statements and see where you are. It can take some time and a solid approach is always evolving. It doesn’t have to happen this week. Download this PDF with some questions to help keep your lesson planning in the “present.”
Posted in Classroom Procedures, Listening, Reading, Speaking, Teaching Methodology and Research, Writing
Tagged ACTFL, communication, Foreigh Langauge, french, language learning, proficiency, spanish, teacher
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
Alan Bloom’s taxonomy (1956) is a classification system used to define and distinguish different levels of human cognition (thinking, learning, understanding). Teachers use Bloom’s taxonomy to guide assessments, curriculum, and instructional methods.
- Knowledge: Learner’s ability to recall information
- Comprehension: Learner’s ability to understand information
- Application: Learner’s ability to use information in a new way
- Analysis: Learner’s ability to break down information into its essential parts
- Synthesis: Learner’s ability to create something new from different elements of information
- Evaluation: Learner’s ability to judge or criticize information
Alan Bloom’s classic 1956 learning taxonomy was revised and refined by Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl in 2000.
- Remember: Learner’s ability to recall information
- Understand: Learner’s ability to understand information
- Apply: Learner’s ability to use information in a new way
- Analyze: Learner’s ability to break down information into its essential parts
- Evaluate: Learner’s ability to judge or criticize information
- Create/Design: Learner’s ability to create something new from different elements of information
Theses updates reflect of a more active thought process and include three main changes:
- Category names were revised from nouns to verbs.
- The last two stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy were switched so that evaluation (evaluating) comes before synthesis (creating).
- The knowledge (remembering) category was updated to reflect four knowledge dimensions instead of three.
More specific to foreign language learning it is important to recognize that these skills are not a hierarchy, but are interrelated and dependent on each other to function most efficiently and effectively. Language creation is dependent on understanding, analyzing, evaluating and applying knowledge.
Here are questions to use when creating tasks, activities & assessments in the world language classroom using the updated Bloom’s taxonomy categories:
- Remember: Can the student recall or remember the information?
- Understand: Can the student explain ideas or concepts?
- Apply: Can the student use the information in a new way?
- Analyze: Can the student distinguish between the different parts?
- Evaluate: Can the student justify a stand or decision?
- Create/Design: Can the student create or design a new product or point of view?
Download a pdf with a list of over 60 verbs to use when creating tasks, activities & assessments in the world language classroom using the updated Bloom’s taxonomy.
Lorin Anderson and David Krathwohl : A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York : Longman, ©2001.
Feedback is information that teachers provide to students regarding where they are, how they are performing, and what they need to work on to progress in their language proficiency. We tend to think about feedback as only corrective in nature, but we also provide supportive and encouraging feedback.
If video if better for you, take a look at the livestream videos that I did on the topic of effective feedback on Periscope and Facebook Live.
Feedback in the foreign language classroom can be looked at in three ways. These three types of feedback are not given in isolation, but should be used together to provide information for language students who are working toward increased proficiency.
- This involves encouragement and indication that the efforts on the part of the learner are paying off and helping them progress in language proficiency. Motivation is an important part of language learning. We as teachers need to find the progress (big and small) and point this out to our students. If they see no progress in language learning they are likely to lose motivation.
- Along with the appreciation and building motivation and confidence in our students, we also need to coach them in the process. Just like an athletic coach who suggests different approaches and shows the path to the objective, we as language teachers should approach our language coaching in the same way. This is not so much about correcting the language, but more a question of creating learner experiences in which learns can use the language they have and grow in proficiency. We should guide their path to the goal, but they are responsible for making the goal on their own, just as a soccer player would do.
- Our evaluation of language learners is feedback on where they are regarding their present proficiency level. This is not about pointing out what is incorrect or inaccurate, but more a matter of concretely showing students where they are on their language learning journey. This will also provide information about where to go and what to work on so that students can continue to grow in proficiency.
Teachers are often wondering what to do when they encounter learner language that is inaccurate. Is this an opportunity for correction? Is it useful? Will it stick? The answers to these questions depend on whether or not the learner has had sufficient input with the inaccurate structure or if it is an attempt at language creation. It is important to distinguish between and error and a mistake in learner language.
- Mistakes are performance errors, where the learner has acquired the accurate form, but in a particular moment produces inaccurate language.
- Errors occur in the learner’s interlanguage because a learner has not yet acquired the accurate form, and they are making a guess, often based on their native language and their current knowledge of the target language.
When students create with language and hypothesize a form or word in the moment and make an error we should use this information as an indication that students are “ready” for (i.e.need ) this structure in their language learning journey and we should then begin using the structure more often and providing comprehensible input. In this situation we as teachers are getting the feedback that we need to adjust our instruction.
As teachers, we should focus language feedback on mistakes because this is what our students should be able to do in the target language. If a student has had sufficient input and exposure to the structure and there is inaccuracy in the student language we then take on the role of coach. This means that we create situations in which we guide the student toward the accurate structure. Here are some suggestions for how to coach students in this situation.
- Clarification requests : If there is a mistake in the vocabulary or verb form a question about the inaccurate wording brings attention to the error.
- “I go to the store yesterday.”
- Elicitation: If you hear a mistake in the student language, repeat the sentence and pause at the place where the mistake was made. This provides the learner with an opportunity to correct his own mistake by concentrating only on that word or structure.
- “I go to the store yesterday.”
- Yesterday, I….
- Repetition: When there is a mistake repeat exactly what the learner said. Emphasize the mistake. This will indicate where the mistake is located, and gives the learner an opportunity to focus on that particular part of the output and, upon reflection, produce accurate language.
- “I go to the store yesterday.”
- I GO to the store yesterday?”
Providing effective feedback is one of the ACTFL Core Practices for effective language learning and instruction. Use this post and the information to provide feedback to your students that will guide them toward a higher lever of language proficiency.
Be sure to check out the livestream videos on the topic of effective feedback on Periscope and Facebook Live.
There are many different types of activities that we create for our foreign language students. In the communicative language classroom there are two broad categories of activities: exercises and tasks.
What is a task?
- A task requires the use of the target language in order to complete a task. The goal is the completion of the task, though the expectation is that the target language is being used to complete it.
What is an exercise?
- Bill Van Patten describes “exercises” as activities that focus on language mechanics and often use language out of context.
- “Tasks,” in contrast, are activities that have a product, goal, objective or outcome that require using the target language to achieve it, but are not focused on mechanics.
With tasks the goal is independent of language. Research overwhelmingly shows that language used in context is most beneficial to language acquisition. Tasks are an effective way of providing communicative activities to students.
Is the activity an exercise or a task?
Consider these aspects of activities when determining if it is an exercise or a task:
The Activity is an exercise if it…
- focuses only correct examples of language.
- uses language out of context.
- focuses on producing small amounts of language.
- doesn’t focus on meaningful communication.
- dictates language structures and vocabulary.
The Activity is a task if it…
- focuses on achieving communication.
- focuses on meaningful use of language.
- employs communication strategies.
- does not use predictable language.
- links language use to context.
- does not dictate language structures.
How do I design task?
- Choose a theme and a goal. Keep in mind particular vocabulary themes or language structures that you would like students to use and craft the activity accordingly.
- Explain the task and desired outcome.
- Pairs/groups engage in task. Teacher engages as necessary to keep task on track.
- Pairs/groups share out their goals with other groups or as a whole class.
- Teacher provides an individual extension activity.
Take a look at this SlideShare that explains the difference between exercises, activities and tasks.
Also have a look at this post with lots of task-based activities for the French and Spanish classroom.
Posted in Activities and Games, Classroom Procedures, Speaking, Teaching Methodology and Research
Tagged ACTFL, activity, comminicative, french, spanish, task, teacher, teaching
There are six ACTFL Core Practices that serve as guide for teachers as they teach toward increased foreign language proficiency in their classrooms. Once of the key core practices is designing communicative activities for students.
The wave of communicative language teaching began several years back when the language teaching community (linguists, teachers and students alike) took a hard look at the “best” practices of language teachers and came to the conclusion that these practices were not leading students toward being able to use the target language. Much of the language teaching that was happening several decades back was focused on what students knew about the target language (i.e. verb conjugations, adjective forms, pronoun placement) and not what they were able to accomplish or do with the language that they were learning. When it became clear that students were not able to communicate effectively using the target language it was clear that we needed to modify how we teach languages. This was the birth of the concept of communicative language teaching. Essentially it is an attempt to guide students toward an increased ability to communicate.
What is a Communicative Activity?
There are three concepts of communicative language teaching that set it apart form more traditional approaches:
- The focus is on communicating and doing something with the language as opposed to practicing isolated language features out of context.
- It is student-centered as opposed to teacher-centered. Students create with language rather than having the language explained to them.
- The approach is focused on understanding the message being conveyed by students despite inaccuracy in language form as opposed to being focused on correct usage of language structures and only secondarily tending to the message.
Tips for Designing Communicative Activities
Here are a few tips and ideas to keep in mind as we design communicative activities. Remember, communicative language teaching, or teaching that will guide students toward confidently communicating in the target language, is focused on the message, not practicing language structures out of context.
- Activate background knowledge (pre-speaking activities) on the topic of the activity and/or choose a topic with which students are familiar. When the focus is on communicating and building confidence we want students to be comfortable with the topic. If they have the language proficiency, but lack content knowledge they will not communicate as much as they would if they were more familiar with the topic.
- Use open-ended prompts and questions when designing an activity or task. Prompts that are more finite will not allow for opportunities to engage with the topic and negotiate meaning.
- Design prompts that require that pairs or groups of students must rely on and listen to each other. If the prompt requires sharing an opinion, but not finding a commonality or difference with their speaking partner the task is more presentational in nature.
- Create questions and prompts that require pairs and groups to collaborate and use the language to arrive at a product, not necessarily something physical that they will produce, but more finding a collaborative solution.
- Be sure that the tasks students complete are at their proficiency level. Know what their level is and the text type (lists, chunked phrases, discrete sentences, connected sentences, paragraph). Design a task that will require creating with language using these text types. A prompt for intermediate low students that requires speaking in connected sentences will lead to a communication breakdown because the text type for their proficiency level is single, discrete sentences.
Is the Activity Communicative?
Of the three modes of communication (interpersonal, interpretive, presentational) communicative language teaching lends itself best to interpersonal communication. This mode is about active, real-time exchange of ideas and messages in a two-way (rather than one-way) exchange. Often when teachers create activities that appear interpersonal they are actually more presentational. Here are some questions to keep in mind to make sure that the activity that you are designing is actually interpersonal:
- Is the activity student-centered, rather than teacher-centered?
- Is the language spontaneous and unrehearsed, rather than prepared and practiced in advance?
- Is the focus on conveying and understanding the message, rather than on correct language forms?
- Is the communication a two-way exchange, rather than one-way, requiring response, reaction and spontaneous follow-up?
- Do students have opportunities to negotiate meaning if they don’t fully understand, rather than understanding all vocabulary and language structures?
- Do students have communication strategies that they can employ (language ladders, functional chunks, circumlocution)?
Examples of Communicative Activities
Here are few examples of activity structures that, regardless of proficiency level or content, take into account the concepts of communicative language teaching outlined above:
- OWL (Organic World Language) Conversation Circle
- Info-Gap Activities
- Jigsaw Activities
- Picture Prompts
- Task-Based Activities
I created a PDF with one-page description of communicative activities along with a lesson template and an example lesson. Download it HERE.
Posted in Activities and Games, Classroom Procedures, Speaking, Teaching Methodology and Research
Tagged ACTFL, communication, communicative, foreign language, french, language, language learning, proficiency, spanish, teacher, teaching
One of the ACTFL Core Practices is to teach with the Backwards Design Model. Backward Design is a teaching method that involves designing educational curriculum by setting goals before choosing instructional methods and forms of assessment. This teaching model lends itself very well to proficiency-based language teaching as it requires the teacher to focus on what students will ultimately be able to do with the language, rather than simply knowing about the language.
Traditional language teaching as focused on learning and producing language structures and vocabulary through practice-type activities. When it comes time to assessment (or testing) it has typically been a matter of verifying what students can tell the teacher about the language, such as vocabulary lists or verb forms, rather than demonstrating what he or she is able to do with the language.
Backwards design planning and execution happens in three phases or stages.
1. Identify Desired Results
Consider these questions when identifying these goals and desired results for a foreign language unit or lesson.
- What will students do with the language?
- Does this goal only focus on what the students know about the language?
- What is the current proficiency level of the students? (novice mid, intermediate low, etc.)
- What is the text type that students can produce? (lists, chunked phrases, discrete sentences, connected sentences, etc.)
- Is this goal specific?
- Can I create 2-3 can do statements to focus on this goal?
2. Determine Acceptable Evidence
Consider these questions when determining acceptable of language learning and progressing in proficiency.
- Are there opportunities to demonstrate proficiency in the three communication modes? (interpretative, presentational, interpersonal)
- Are the prompts at the appropriate proficiency level? (novice mid, intermediate low, etc.)
- Do the prompts focus on the text type of students at this proficiency level? (lists, chunked phrases, discrete sentences, connected sentences, etc.)
- Is there opportunity for student choice?
- Do the assessments provide insight in to students’ ability to perform the can do statements articulated in the goals and desired outcomes?
- Are there opportunities for spontaneous language production?
3. Plan the Learning Experience and Instruction
Consider these questions when planning instruction to move students toward the desired outcome of the unit or lesson.
- What are the vocabulary themes necessary to reach the goals and desired outcomes?
- What are the language structures necessary to reach the goals and desired outcomes?
- What activities will provide opportunities to meet the goals and desired outcomes using the three communication modes? (interpretative, presentational, interpersonal)
- What tasks will provide students with opportunities to use the language to accomplish a goal that is independent of practicing the language structures and thematic vocabulary?