Category Archives: Teaching Methodology and Research

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.

Virtual World Language Classrooms (with or without Bitmojis)

I’m sure that you have seen Bitmojis™ around the Web.  If they are new to you they are little cartoon versions of yourself, which are used on social media, in texts, or in a virtual classroom spaces. You just create an avatar that resembles you, and there are lots of options from which to choose once you are all set up.Virtual World Language (French, Spanish) Classrooms with or without BitmojisWhen we entered into distance learning teachers began creating virtual classrooms. They are shared with students as a go-to spot for resources and assignments or as a screen share when conducting synchronous lessons on platforms such as Zoom™ and Google Meet™.  Teachers then add their Bitmoji™ avatars to the virtual classroom to personalize the space.  This is a good video tutorial that walks you through creating your own Virtual or Bitmoji™ classroom.Virtual World Language (French, Spanish) Classrooms with or without BitmojisI have seen many versions of these classrooms being used by world language teachers.  It appears that there is not any particular version that is the the best way. Some options include:

  • Posters with functional junks
  • Audio or music resources library
  • Movie or video clip links
  • Book (pdf or Web link) library
  • Escape rooms
  • Posting daily agendas
  • Posting tasks and instructions
  • Choice board links
  • Do Nows or Quick Questions
  • Conversation or topic hooks and class openers

The possibilities are as endless…anything we do in our physical classrooms can happen in our virtual classroom, provided we can digitize it.

I created a Bitmoji™ classroom a few weeks back and asked by PLN friends on Twitter and in my Facebook Group for feedback.  The most common feedback was that there was too much stimuli and too much going on.  I needed to pare it down to focus on one activity or task at a time.  I started with this version.

Virtual World Language (French, Spanish) Classrooms with or without Bitmojis

I then made templates of the same room with a task-specific focus.  For examples these are classrooms I use for conversation or topic hooks and class openers.

Who is our guest today?  Students ask questions to try to figure out who the special guest behind the door is.  There are prompts posted to support the question process.  When students figure it out I have the animation set to make the door disappear revealing the guest.  This can be a celebrity, a person from school, a character in a story or book…anyone with a connection to the topic of the day to get students thinking about the topic.

Virtual World Language (French, Spanish) Classrooms with or without Bitmojis

What’s in the box?  This works just like the previous activity, but instead of a person it is an object in a box.  Again, students ask questions to try to figure out what is in the box.  There prompts posted to support the question process.  When students figure it out I have the animation set to make the box disappear revealing the object.  This can be anything with a connection to the topic of the day to get students thinking about the topic.

Virtual World Language (French, Spanish) Classrooms with or without Bitmojis

Where are we? For this opener the window is linked to Window Swap. This is Website that shows views from windows all around the world that people submit to the website.  The views change each day and there are multiple options to click through.  While this does not work as direct hook to the topic of the day, it is an engaging way to get students talking and describing what they see, who might live there, and they can also learn the names of countries and cities in the target language.

We would all love to see what you are doing with your virtual classroom.  Please share on Twitter and be sure to tag @wlclassroom.  Looking forward to seeing all the great spaces.

Digital Google Slides™ Activities to Focus on Foreign Language Verb Accuracy

This activity is an effective follow up and extension to comprehensible input activities.  Once students have seen (in writing) and heard verb forms in context the next step is to begin the process of producing language.  I like to use activities that show students various possibilities and have them choose the accurate form based on their interaction with the language forms.If you are moving away from direct instruction of verb conjugations try this out with students.  If they have had sufficient contextualized exposure to the verb forms and meanings you will likely see that students can choose the correct form based on what “sounds right.”  When this happens we know that they are progressing in their proficiency and moving toward accurate language output.

French & Spanish Digital Google Slides Activities French & Spanish Digital Google Slides Activities

Here is another way that includes the infinitive of the verb.French & Spanish Digital Google Slides ActivitiesFrench & Spanish Digital Google Slides Activities

I then take it a step further and have students write a sentence that show that they understand the meaning along with the form.  They have some question words to support the process.

French & Spanish Digital Google Slides Activities French & Spanish Digital Google Slides Activities

This activity is also useful when working with students in a PACE lesson, particularly in the co-construction and extension parts of the process.  Keep in mind that this is best used with students when they are detecting patterns with forms in an inductive (implicit) lesson, rather than deductive (explicit) lesson.

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

The inductive (implicit) approach focuses on meaning along with the forms  communicatively.  The deductive approach focused more (or maybe even only) on the forms. Brown (2007) reminds us that “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.”

I have done these activities with Powerpoints with the entire class. You can take a look at some examples in the post.

I am also using digital activities more with students and now have them do this activity using Google Slides™ that can be shared directly through Google Classroom™ and students get their own copy. Ideal for distance learning, homework, in-person classes or blended, hybrid model.

Brown (2007).  Principles of Language Learning and Teaching.  Pearson Longman

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

As I write this post many of us are teaching remotely due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  I have been using Zoom to teach and communicate with students.  One of the features is breakout rooms where students can be put into small groups. Other platforms offer similar possibilities.  I was trying to find a way to see what groups are doing in real time in addition to popping in and out of each group.

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

I saw on Twitter that Rebecca Blouwolf, ACTFL Teacher of the Year, was trying out using shared Google docs during breakout group time.  I have known Rebecca for over 20 years and I respect her so much.  We started our teaching career together and I have been very impressed with all that she has accomplished.  When I saw what she was doing with Google docs I knew that I had to look into it.

My first iteration looked like this.

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

I shared the doc (I used Google sheets) with all students and groups worked collectively in the same document.  I was able to see what they were entering in real time and could write a message to all of the groups (broadcast message in Zoom) when I saw saw some common inaccuracies or I could go into an individual group when I wanted to support them verbally.  There was one problem with this, they were all doing the same questions and could see each other’s responses.  It didn’t seem to be much of an issue, but I wanted to give each group different prompts while all working in the same shared document.  I could have shared different documents with each group, but that would mean looking at different documents.  I wanted the individual group work all together so that I could  see what all groups are doing at once.

So, I got back to work. This is the second iteration and the version that I have been using successfully.

Keep Track of Virtual Group Work in the Language Classroom

This allows for different prompts for each group (blue column), while being able to see all responses in real time. Atelier means “workshop” in French and the is the word I use with students for “breakout room.”  They type their group responses to the right of the prompts in blue.  In addition to text, groups can insert images in response to a prompt or a link to audio or a video that that they record or through search.  My initial intent was to use this to see work done in real time in Zoom breakout rooms, but I’m envisioning using this for asynchronous (not in real time) student work as well. Though this is a work-around during a crisis, I plan to continue using it when we are back in the physical classroom.

If you would like to us this with your students, make sure that you share one document with the entire class and allow editing when sharing a Google doc. For ease of formatting I use a Google Sheet, but you can do this with any of the Google doc options.  I tell students that they can delete  it out of their Google account when done so that it is not yet another document taking up space.  I have the original with all of their responses….another benefit of having it all in one place.  You can also have a spot for groups to put their names in  next to the the breakout room.  I keep track on my own.

This link will make a copy of the breakout room document in your Google Drive (just like assigning  to students in Google Classroom)  and you can modify it for your own personal use.  This is a work in progress for me.  I’d love to see and hear about what works for you.

 

What If the Next Teacher Doesn’t Embrace Proficiency-Based Teaching?

We are getting there.  More and more teachers are embracing proficiency-based language teaching.  There are increasing amounts of research that support an approach to language teaching that focusing on communication.  Along with Communicative language teaching we use proficiency levels and ACTFL Performance Descriptors that provide concrete benchmarks.  Simply put, proficiency is not what students know about the language, what rather what they can do with it.  Resources, such as Can-Do statements, help to keep our teaching (and student learning/acquisition) focused on what students are able to communicate.

What If the Next Teacher Doesn't Embrace Proficiency-Based Teaching (French, Spanish(

As happy as I am to see so many teachers adopt this approach, I am often reminded of how much more work we have to do.  I find that individual teachers tend to implement communicative activities in their classrooms, but language departments and districts are slower to get there.  In May of each year I often get a reminder of the work that is to be done when my 8th graders ask me to fill out a form to recommend them for their high school language level.  I teach in a school that ends in 8th grade.  Our students go to numerous high schools after, so I get a look at what is expected and what programs look like when I receive the recommendation forms.

Here is one that I got this year, but it is a typical of many of these forms that I get from studentsWhat If the Next Teacher Doesn't Embrace Proficiency-Based Teaching (French, Spanish(

As you can see, it is just a list of grammar topics.  They place students in a language level based on what grammar topics they have studied.  There is no place to speak to what the student is actually able to communicate in the target language.  These types of lists are the opposite of proficiency, with a request to know what the student knows about the language and not what they can do with it.

The reaction when I put this on Twitter and Facebook was reassuring that there are many language teachers who are fighting the good fight.

What If the Next Teacher Doesn't Embrace Proficiency-Based Teaching (French, Spanish( What If the Next Teacher Doesn't Embrace Proficiency-Based Teaching (French, Spanish(

So, how do we respond?  I usually use it as an opportunity to educate about the ACTFL Core Practices and Proficiency Levels with a description of the students proficiency level.  I provide examples of what the student is able to do with the language at their particular proficiency level. Hopefully this creates some interest in learning more.  Just planting the seed, and hoping they will water it.

“Ben performs consistently at the Intermediate Low ACTFL Proficiency Level for Interpersonal Communication and at the Intermediate Mid Level for Presentational Writing and Interpretive Listening and Reading.  At the IL level Ben can confidently and consistently speak in discrete sentence that he creates on his own without resorting to memoized chunks.  At the IM Level he consistently writes, reads and listens at a slightly higher level with strings of 2-3 connected sentences.”

I would imagine that this is more useful than “Ben can conjugate regular verbs in the present tense.”  Even if Ben can talk about the verb forms how does that indicate that he can actually use them to communicate?  This is a frustrating situation at time, but hopefully the more often we use this as an opportunity to educate our colleagues the more the entire language teaching community will move toward proficiency.

One final point that I want to make.  I fully understand that there are teachers, departments and districts that firmly believe that that a focus on grammar and structures is the most effective way to teach a language.  I am always happy to have the conversation.  I usually have several of these conversations each time I do a workshop in a school.  I like to be challenged and appreciate the opportunity to show the benefits of a proficiency-based program.  The only thing that I ask is that those who disagree have empirical evidence to support their argument and beliefs, because that is what I am bringing to the conversation.

 

How Can Teachers Use Research to Guide Their Language Teaching?

I like a good story.  Stories are interesting, intriguing and often capture and maintain our interest.  While I enjoy a good story or pleasant anecdote, I need more than a story of success and suggestion based on experience when I’m looking introspectively at my practice as a language teacher.

I actually like reading research that is conducted in applied linguistics and, more specifically, in the field of second language acquisition (SLA).  I quite enjoyed my graduate school days when we dove deep into empirical research and used it to inform our understanding of the cognition and social dynamics that govern learning a first or second language.  Who doesn’t like spending a little quality time with Krashen, Vygotsky, Swain, VanPatten or Asher?

While I do enjoy a good, quality, peer-reviewed, empirically sound research project I don’t always have the time, and, let’s be honest, the  focus, to read all about it.

How Can Teachers Use Research to Guide Their Language Teaching? (French, Spanish)

OK.  Get ready for it.  This is the the type of thing that I get incredibly excited about….On an episode of Bill Van Patten’s podcast, Talkin’ L2 with BVP, a guest mentioned the Website OASIS .  It is quite remarkable what they provide and are able to produce.

How Can Teachers Use Research to Guide Their Language Teaching? (French, Spanish)

OASIS summaries are one-page descriptions of research articles on language learning, language teaching, and multilingualism that have been published in peer-reviewed journals. The summaries provide information in accessible, non-technical language about each study’s goals, how it was conducted ,and what was found.  There are often ideas for using the information to inform classroom teaching as well.

Just use the search bar on the OASIS  Webiste to look for articles any topic of language acquisition of interest to you and you will soon have accessible research findings that allow you to move beyond anecdotal evidence.  Enjoy, and try not to fall down the rabbit hole.  I always do.

What is Communicative Language Teaching?

There are often buzz words that come up in education. For the past ten years or so we have been talking about, exploring, redefining and doing our best to implement communicative language teaching. If you were asked to define what this is exactly, what would you say? It’s a methodology that we tend to understand best when we see it, and we are often very capable of pointing out what is not communicative language teaching.

What is Communicative Language Teaching?  (French, Spanish) Bill Van Patten

Bill Van Patten was instrumental in my graduate education in applied linguistics and second language acquisition. We often cited his research and used his books in a several classes. I’ve continued to follow his research, publications, and now, his weekly podcast Talkin’ L2 with BVP.

He continues to explore the nature of language and the most effective and efficient ways to teach and learn a second language. On a recent episode of the podcast he talked about recent, short, concise and rather concrete piece that he wrote in response to teachers’ requests for an approachable, understandable and actionable definition of communicative language teaching. He discussed and provided that he titled Tenets of Comprehension-based Language Teaching with a Focus on Communicative Ability.

In this Communicative Language Teaching “manifesto” BVP lays out five facts about language acquisition based on empirical research. He then provides five principles that should underlie contemporary language teaching where the focus is on communicative ability. This is the most useful resource that I have come across that defines communicative language teaching, what it is, why it exists and how these factors should drive our lesson planing, curriculum and goals.