Category Archives: Teaching Methodology and Research

17: Increasing Student Motivation with Tracy E. Rucker


In this episode we are talking all about student motivation in the language classroom.  Where does it come from?  How can we motivate students?

I’m joined by Tracy E. Rucker, a widely respected and insightful French teacher, who walks us through his personal experience with student motivation and offers some actionable advice for all language teachers.

Tracy talks about:

  • what we need to understand about motivation
  • how we know when a student is motivated to complete a task, and not just complying
  • actionable ways that teachers can motivate students
  • obstacles to motivating students that teachers can plan for proactively

Connect with Tracy E. Rucker on Twitter.

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16: How Useful is Research for the Classroom Teacher?


In this episode we are talking about the relationship between those who do the research on teaching and learning language and those who teach in the classroom.  [sign up for Talking Points]

  • What can teachers take from research findings and use in their classroom?
  • What if the students in front of us are different (almost always the case) from those used in the study?
  • What can researchers do to make their findings and recommendations useful for classroom teachers?

There are some ways to connect the dots and there are certainly some things that we can all agree on.  We’ll discuss what these agreements are and how we can make the teacher-researcher relationship useful for all involved.

Links references in this episode:

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14: What About the Textbook with Timothy Chávez


In this episode we are talking about textbooks.  Some of us use them, some of us don’t.  Maybe you are required to use one and maybe it’s a choice.  Wherever you are with textbooks there’s a place for you in this conversation.

I am joined by Timothy Chavez, a Millennial Teacher, who, as you will hear, is part of a generation of students that were “brought up on proficiency in the classroom”…. proficiency natives if you will.  And these proficiency natives are teaching the way the they learned.  How exciting.

Timothy speaks about…

  • his experience as a student with textbooks in the classroom
  • how textbooks were traditionally designed and what might be missing
  • whether or not we need to  ditch the textbook all-together or if there are ways to use them effectively
  • how to integrate a textbook (when required) with proficiency-based approaches to teaching
  • the possibility of teaching without a textbook
  • how teachers advocate to administration if they want to move away from a textbook-based curriculum

Connect with Timothy Chávez:

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What is Communicative Language Teaching?

What is Communicative Language Teaching?

This is a question that comes up often.  It is a term that we hear as language teachers and maybe even use it to describe our classroom.  But, do we have a solid understanding of what it is?

Let’s take a look.

What is Communicative Language Teaching?

the research

There is considerable research being conducted and published on effective ways to teach and learn language.  At the forefront of this work is Dr. Bill VanPatten, a linguist whose work focuses on second language acquisition. Through his own extensive research as well as compiling studies done by other linguists and educators, Dr. VanPatten concludes these points:

  • Language is an abstract and complex mental representation that bears no resemblance to textbook rules and charts.
  • Language acquisition is largely controlled by unconscious mechanisms internal to the learner.
  • In order to develop a linguistic system, learners must be exposed to language (input) embedded in communicative events and comprehensible in nature.
  • Communicative ability develops as a result of participation in communicative events.

What is Communicative Language Teaching?

communicative language teaching

There are three concepts of communicative language teaching that set it apart form more traditional approaches:

  1. The focus is on communicating and doing something with the language as opposed to practicing isolated language features out of context.
  2. It is student-centered as opposed to teacher-centered. Students create with language rather than having the language explained to them.
  3. The approach is focused on understanding the message being conveyed by students despite inaccuracy in language form. This is a change from focusing on correct usage of language structures and only secondarily tending to the message.

communicative classroom

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 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 communicative approach.

What is Communicative Language Teaching?

Examples of a communicative classroom

Objectives and Content:

Non-Communicative:

  • The teacher is the all-knowing possessor of knowledge who directs all content and objectives to ensure progress toward correct language.

Communicative:

  • The teacher works in collaboration with students with shared learning objectives.

Communication:

Non-Communicative:

  • The communication is focused on the four traditional language skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) in isolation and not interconnected.

Communicative:

  • The three modes of communication (presentational, interpretive, interpersonal) are represented and focused on what the learner does with the four skills.

Performance:

Non-Communicative:

  • The focus is on what students know about the language and its structures. There is only practice of correct grammatical aspects of the language in isolation and out of context.

Communicative:

  • The focus is on what the learner is able to do or accomplish with the language. There is authentic communication with the language despite occasional inaccuracy in language when the message is conveyed.

Assessment in a communicative classroom

Assessments focus on what students can do with the language. Communicative assessment characteristics:

  • Students create a product or do a demonstration
  • Graded more holistically
  • Focus is on completing a task
  • Tasks are situation-based or use real-world content
  • Higher-level thinking skills of application, integration, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation

These are common assessment activities that focus on what students can do with language.

  • Complete the sentence logically
  • State your opinion, thoughts, or comments
  • Give personal answers
  • Create a situation
  • Seek information
  • Develop a product, e.g. advertisement, brochure, collage, poem, song, essay, video, etc.
  • Demonstrate your knowledge
  • Summarize, paraphrase
  • Change the ending

What is Communicative Language Teaching?

You might also want to listen to me talk through this on an episode of the World Language Classroom Podcast.

Resources:

Lee, J. F., & VanPatten, B. (2003). Making communicative language teaching happen.

VanPatten, B. (2003). From input to output: A teacher’s guide to second language acquisition. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Van Patten, B. (2014). Creating Comprehensible Input and OutputThe Language Educator, 7(4), 24-26.

Krashen, Stephen D., and Tracy D. Terrell. “The natural approach: Language acquisition in the classroom.” (1983).

Schmidt, R. (1990). The role of consciousness in second language acquisition. Applied Linguistics, 11, 129-158.

VanPatten, B., & Fernández, C. (2003). The long-term effects of processing instruction. In Processing Instruction: Theory, Research, and Commentary (pp. 277-293). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Unpacking Language Pedagogy

I’m a big fan of teaching practice that is supported by data and research.

I appreciate resources such as the OASIS Database, which provides one-page descriptions of research articles on language learning and language teaching. The summaries provide information in accessible, non-technical language about each study’s goals, how it was conducted, and what was found.

My newest find is Dr. Florencia Henshaw, an instructor and Program Director at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

I can’t get enough of her YouTube videos where she unpacks research articles and language terms in ways that are clear and accessible to language teachers.  I rewatch her videos when I need a refresher and catch something new each time.

Dr. Henshaw adds new topics all the time and keeps the videos to about 10 minutes so that the topics are not too overwhelming.  She also does an excellent job of breaking down topics into individual videos that are focused and concise.

Equity & Social Justice in the World Language Classroom

The world language classroom is certainly a place where we can highlight and embrace equity, equality and social justice.  Given that we engage in discussions of cultural almost every day we should keep this equity lens front and center. Before we even begin to think about language learning, or learning of any kind, we need to create welcoming classroom environments where every student feels safe, valued and understood for who they are.

Social Justice in the World Language Classroom

I’ve been familiar with the work and publications of Teaching Tolerance for many years.  Despite the good work of the organization I have always had a problem with the word “tolerance.”  It seems like such a low bar.  I was very happy to see that they decided to change their name to Learning for Justice.  So much better.

There are lots of resources on the LFJ website.  One that I think we can all use in the language classroom is the Social Justice Standards and Anti-Bias Framework.  They are set of anchor standards and age-appropriate learning outcomes divided into four domains—Identity, Diversity, Justice and Action.  The anchors provide common language and they guide teachers and administrators as they seek to make schools more just, equitable and safe.

I particularly appreciate how the standards are leveled for K–12 education.  They remind me of how the ACTFL Can Do Statements are organized.

There are 5 anchor standards for each domain. Social Justice in the World Language ClassroomThen there are grade level and developmentally appropriate outcomes and goals for each anchor. Here is an example of the goals for the Action Anchors for grades 9-12. Social Justice in the World Language Classroom

It is interesting to track a goal through the developmental levels. Let’s take #17 under Action for example:

17. Students will recognize their own responsibility to stand up to exclusion, prejudice and injustice.

K-2:  I can and will do something when I see unfairness—this includes telling an adult.

3-5: I know it’s important for me to stand up for myself and for others, and I know how to get help if I need ideas on how to do this.

6-8: I know how to stand up for myself and for others when faced with exclusion, prejudice and injustice.

9-12: I take responsibility for standing up to exclusion, prejudice and injustice.

You can see the progression from “can do something,” and “know how to get help” to “stand up for myself and others” and “take responsibility.”  The outcomes and goals make the anchors very concrete and understandable.

Since we are often in the proficiency-level head space these Social Justice Standards blend well, particularly in the language classroom where we have infinite opportunities to take on issues of equity and equality.

Differentiation in the Language Classroom

Every teacher knows that in any classroom there are many student needs.  A “one size fits all” approach to learning and teaching is just not effective.  The word we use, and often hear about, is differentiation.

We know that we should be doing it, but what do understand what it is, particularly regarding teaching language?

Take look at these graphics from ASCD:

Now that you have a solid idea of what differentiated instruction is and isn’t, let’s turn our attention to doing this effectively in the language classroom.

First we’ll consider how we differentiate.  There are two ways to break this down.  One is focused on the teacher (instruction) and the other is focused on the student (learning).

Teacher

  • Content: What is learned
  • Process: How it’s learned
  • Product: What is produced

Student

  • Readiness
  • Interest
  • Learning Profile

Here are a few articles that go into more details with these possibilities.

Another useful concept for employing differentiation in the language classroom:

Here are some resources for using these approaches when teaching in the language classroom:

As with any teaching suggestions…there is a lot to consider and take in.  I wouldn’t try to do it all at once.  Pick a focus area, work on it, modify as needed, try it  again, and move on to another suggestion when you’re satisfied with the results.

Authentic Resources in the World Language Classroom

ACTFL provides us with Core Practices that guide teachers toward teaching language proficiency rather than simply teaching about the target language.  It comes down to providing students with opportunities to do something with the language and not just demonstrate what they know about the language.

Authentic Resources in the World Language Classroom; French, Spanish

When we take on the task of providing opportunities for students to engage with culture ACTFL recommends using authentic cultural resources.

Authentic Resources in the World Language Classroom; French, Spanish

What is an authentic cultural resource? 

  • Eileen W. Glisan and Richard Donato explain that “Authentic texts […] are created for various social and cultural purposes by and for users of the target language.”  The word authentic implies that “the text has not been simplified or edited for the purpose of language instruction.”

How do I choose authentic cultural resources? 

Leslie Grahn suggests that these resources should be:

  • Authentic (truly for by and or native speakers)
  • Appealing (compelling to students)
  • Accessible (according to the students’ proficiency level)
  • Aligned (integrated into goals and backward planning)

What are some possibilities for authentic cultural resources? 

  • Video clips
  • Poems
  • Audio clips
  • Songs
  • Articles
  • Commercials
  • Infographics
  • Books
  • Podcasts
  • Advertisements
  • Images
  • Memes
  • Quotes
  • Movies
  • Stories
  • Conversations

One of the best pieces of advice that I have heard regarding using authentic cultural resources is from Leslie Grahn:

“Adapt the task, not the text.”

NCSSFL ACTFL Intercultural Can Do Statements

It is now commonly understood that language and culture are inextricably connected.  Every language is used within a culture and every culture involves communication in at least one language.  These two concepts of language and culture cannot exist in isolation, but rather influence and depend on each other.

Intercultural Can Do Statements; French, Spanish, ACTFL

The NCSSFL-ACTFL Can Do Statements were originally published with a focus on authentic communication and were a useful guide for language teachers to make sure that the students were using the language in communicative contexts.  The Intercultural Can Do Statements were published a few years later.  In addition to the goal of language proficiency they now include competencies for investigating and engaging in the various cultures where the language is used.

Intercultural Can Do Statements; French, Spanish, ACTFLIntercultural Can Do Statements; French, Spanish, ACTFL

  • They now include these goals for investigating and interacting with culture:

Intercultural Can Do Statements; French, Spanish, ACTFL

Intercultural Can Do Statements; French, Spanish, ACTFL

  • There are also specific goals by proficiency level that dive into further detail:

Intercultural Can Do Statements; French, Spanish, ACTFL

By following the communicative goals along with the intercultural goals we are moving our students toward a stronger CQ (Cultural Intelligence).  This will provide the skills and insight to navigate, interact and behavior appropriately and respectfully in cultures that are different from their own.

Download the NCSSFL-ACTFL Intercultural Can Do Statements  and the Reflection Tool.

 

Digital Can Do Statements in the Language Classroom

Can Do Statements are essential to backwards design.  They are what keep us focused on what our students will be able to do with the language they are learning.

I wanted to find ways for students to use the statements actively and regularly throughout a unit.  I’ve used various paper versions, but I took on the task of finding a way to do this digitally and in a way that lets me check in on student progress at any time.

I initially started with a Google Form, but the data was only available to me, not to students once they submitted it.  I then moved on to several versions using Google Sheets.  This is the one that has worked the best.

The sheet is set up with the Can Do Statements for the unit.

As we progress through the unit, students choose their current ability to meet the objective by choosing from the drop-down menu to the right of the statement.

I have the responses set to change color for easy identification.

When students choose “with confidence” they type in an example to show that they can meet the statement objective.

When shared through Google Classroom I set the assignment to make a copy for each student and then I can check in on their progress individually.  I have been particularly impressed with the conversations about proficiency that come up.  Students take an active role in concretely understanding where they are and what they need to do to level up and meet the goal.

It took some time to figure out how to best do the drop down menu and have the cells change color, but I eventually figured it out.  Good news is that you can can copy the Google Sheet directly to your Google Drive.