Category Archives: Teaching Methodology and Research

40: Microinstruction in the Language Classroom with Lindsay Mitchell


In this episode we talk about the concept of Microinstruction. This approach is being applied in general education contexts, but we we speak about how it can be used specifically in the language classroom.  I’m joined by Lindsay Mitchell, a Spanish teacher in New Hampshire, who talks about her own personal experience and success with Microinstruction.

Lindsay speaks about:

  • the skill set from her previous profession that she brought to her teaching
  • obstacles and challenges that she saw in her classroom that led her to look for other approaches
  • the concept of microinstruction and its benefits
  • what a lesson looks like using the microinstruction approach
  • the levels and content best suited to microinstruction

Connect with Lindsay Mitchell:

French and Spanish Teaching Position at the Brookwood School in Manchester, MA.

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Grading for Proficiency and Competency

There is momentum in the move toward competency-based or proficiency-based grading and assessment.  The foundation of these assessments is to provide feedback about what students are able to do with the target language.  There will certainly be formative assessments of vocabulary of or perhaps some language structures, but ultimately we want students to be able to communicate with the vocabulary and structures.

If we are assessing the language that students can interpret and produce then the majority of students’ grades should rightfully reflect that.  With the understanding that there are other factors that come into play, here is the grading percentage breakdown that I use.

Let’s break down one of the categories to see what a competency/proficiency-based grade looks like.  For this example I will use my Presentational Writing assessment process.

I begin with the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Presentational Writing:

The main takeaway for me is the Text Type, as this the language that students are producing and there are clear indicators of what student output should be at each proficiency level.

I began with the idea of a single-point rubric from Jennifer Golzales at the Cult of Pedagogy and combined it with John Hattie’s notion of Medals and Missions. 

I modified the idea of the single-point rubric and developed a 4-point rubric with a “3” being the goal/objective, which is a B+.  This allows for feedback below or approaching the objective and output that goes above.  Here are examples of Novice High, Intermediate Low and Intermediate Low/Mid rubrics.  You will notice the text-types and language control are aligned with the ACTFL Performance Descriptors.

I then took that 4-point scale and aligned it with letter grades, which is how grades are reported in my school.  When it comes time to average out the grades, I take the average grade of each mode (on the 4-point scale) and average them together with the formative grade using this scale.

Here is an example of how a term or semester grade would be determined using this process of assessment for competency and proficiency in the target language.

As we move in the direction of assessing what students can do with the target language, and not just what they know about it, we will need to find ways to bridge traditional grading with competency assessment.  The above process is working well for me and my students, but I will continue to modify and reassess how I’m doing it, and look forward to feedback from others as I continue to work out the details and efficacy.

33: Integrating Can Do’s and Social Justice Standards with Cécile Lainé


In this episode we discuss the Learning For Justice Social Justice Standards, incredibly necessary topics in the language classroom.  One of the biggest hurdles is addressing the topics of Identify, Diversity, Justice and Action in the target language.  We do not have to put our language objectives aside when these topics come up.  We can integrate them into our Can Do’s.  Cécile Lainé, a French teacher in Tennessee, joins me to talk through the Social Justice Standards with suggestions for integrating them into our Can Do Statements.

Cécile speaks about…

  • what the Learning For Justice Social Justice Standards are and how they are designed
  • how can we use the Social Justice Standards along with Can Do Statements
  • what this integration looks like in the classroom, particularly at the novice level.
  • how we can address these topics at all proficiency levels without the need to rely on native language

Resources that Cécile mentions:

Connect with Cécile Lainé:

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

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32: The Origins of CI: Krashen’s Input Hypothesis


Where does the whole concept and idea behind Comprehensible Input (CI) come from?  In this episode I walk you through Stephen Krashen’s Input Hypothesis that is part of his theory of second language acquisition that he calls the Monitor Model.  Krashen’s Input Hypothesis is the origin of what what we are doing with Comprehensible Input today.

What Is Comprehensible Input?

  • Comprehensible input means that students should be able to understand the essence of what is being said or presented to them.
  • This does not mean, however, that teachers must use only words students understand. In fact, instruction can be incomprehensible even when students know all of the words. 
  • Students learn a new language best when they receive input that is just a bit more difficult than they can easily understand. In other words, students may understand most, but not all, words the teacher is using. (i+1)

Stephen Krashen’s Monitor Model (late 1970’s, early 1980’s):

5 individual, yet somewhat interrelated theories and comprehensible input is just one.

  • Acquisition-Learning hypothesis
  • Input hypothesis
  • Affective Filter hypothesis
  • Natural Order hypothesis
  • Monitor hypothesis

Criticism:

  • Brown (2000): Krashen’s theory of SLA is oversimplified and the claims he made are overstated.
  • McLaughlin (1987): Krashen does not provide evidence in any real sense of the term, but simply argues that certain phenomena can be viewed from the perspective of his theory.
  • Gregg (1984): bypasses counter-evidence

Support:

Lichtman and VanPatten (2021): Was Krashen right? Forty years later

Ideas have evolved and are still driving SLA research today often unacknowledged and under new terminology.

  • The Acquisition-Learning Distinction
    implicit versus explicit learning
  • The Natural Order Hypothesis
    ordered development
  • The Input Hypothesis.
    communicatively embedded input

Motivated Classroom Podcast (Liam Printer) : Episode 50
Translating second language acquisition research into motivational practice with Dr. Karen Lichtman & Dr. Bill VanPatten

Where does this leave us?

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26: Languages: Vehicles for College and Career Readiness with Ryan Smith


In this episode we are take on the question that we often get from students…”Why are we learning this?”  Ryan Smith joins me to talk about how language teachers can infuse the idea of language learning as an essential skill when preparing students to be ready for college and careers.  Ryan points how many useful communication skills that are developed and honed in the language classroom in addition to language learning and cultural competence.

Ryan speaks specifically about:

  • why language learning is an essential aspect of being college and career ready
  • convincing reasons to learn a new language
  • skills that will make students college and career ready, particularly  21st Century Skills
  • some “carrots” to help motivate students to learn a language and hone their skills
  • how we can incorporate college and career readiness into our classrooms
  • Seals and Credentials, especially the Seal of Biliteracy 

Connect with Ryan Smith on Twitter (@renosenor).

Work with Joshua either in person or remotely.

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24: Redesigning Classroom Structure with Darcy Rogers


In this episode we look at how we structure our world language classrooms. How can we redesign our classrooms so that they are more communicative and support risk-taking, promote community, and help students rise in proficiency?  I’m joined by Darcy Rogers, Spanish Teacher and founder of OWL (Organic World Language), who helps us all re-envision what our classroom can be.

Darcy speaks about:

  • the traditional classroom structure and the obstacles it creates
  • how we can remove these obstacles
  • the linguistic and social-emotional benefits of removing these obstacles
  • the foundations of OWL methodology
  • infusing pieces of OWL into our classrooms

Connect with Darcy Rogers:

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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.