Tag Archives: language

13: Diving into Comprehensible Input with John Bracey

In this episode we talk all about comprehensible input (CI), which you will see is a useful approach in teaching and learning any language.

I am joined by John Bracey, a Latin teacher who uses CI very effectively with his students.  He also makes a strong case for all teachers to try out CI, including Latin teachers.

John speaks about…

  • his journey with CI and how he discovered it.
  • the linguistic benefits of CI. 
  • using CI to personalize language and connect with and validate students’ lived experiences.
  • what CI looks like in his classroom.
  • why Latin teachers should use CI.

Connect with John Bracey:

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12: ACTFL Proficiency Levels


In this episode I walk through the ACTFL Proficiency Levels and Performance Descriptors.

What are they?

The ACTFL Performance Descriptors (Can Do’s) for Language Learners…

  • Describe language performance that is the result of instruction in a classroom setting 
  • Reflect how language learners perform in various learning environments.

How are they used in teaching and learning?

  • Help teachers create performance tasks targeted to the performance range, while also challenging learners to use strategies from the next next level up (Krashen, i+1). 
  • Teachers can set realistic expectations at the summative assessment level. 
  • Describe a pathway for learners to keep track of progress, identify areas that need more attention, and have a clear understanding of how to move to the next level.

How are they designed?

The ACTFL Performance Descriptors:

  • “Describe the language performance of language learners in Standards-based, performance-oriented learning environments”
  • “Provide descriptive performance outcomes adaptable to fit differences in languages and learners” (Any language at any level)

How are they organized?

  • Three levels – Novice, Intermediate, Advanced Range (and superior, but for our purposes)
  • Three Modes of Communication – Interpersonal, Interpretive, Presentational (episode 8)

What is involved with each proficiency level?

  • Functions (global tasks the learner can perform in the language)
  • Contexts (learner can function) and Content (topics)
  • Text Type (that which the learner is able to understand and produce in order to perform the functions of the level)

Interpersonal Proficiency Levels:

Novice

  • Function: Can ask highly predictable and formulaic questions and respond to such questions by listing, naming, and identifying. (May show emerging evidence …)
  • Context: Able to function in some personally relevant contexts on topics that relate to basic biographical information.
  • Text Type: Understands and produces highly practiced words and phrases and an occasional sentence.

Intermediate

  • Function: Consistently able to initiate, maintain, and end a conversation to satisfy basic needs and/or to handle a simple transaction.
  • Context: Able to communicate in contexts relevant to oneself and others, and one’s immediate environment.
  • Text Type: Able to understand and produce discrete sentences, strings of sentences and some connected sentences. Able to ask questions to initiate and sustain conversations.

Advanced

  • Function: Can communicate with ease and confidence by understanding and producing narrations and descriptions in all major time frames and deal efficiently with a situation with an unexpected turn of events
  • Context: Content areas include topics of personal and general interest (community, national, and international events) as well as work-related topics and areas of special competence.
  • Text Type: Able to understand and produce discourse in full oral paragraphs that are organized, cohesive, and detailed.

 How to use Proficiency Levels (Performance Descriptors) in the classroom

  • Unit Can Do (focus on function and text type); global tasks the learner can perform in the language and the language they need to do it
  • Assessments (stay with the range)
  • Activities: Too low or too high leads to lack of or limited engagement. 

Blog posts:

  • wlclassroom.com/ican —  walks through writing I can statements that are truly communicative and there is a link to the ACTFL Performance Descriptors
  • wlclassroom.com/levelupshows what language looks like at each proficiency level and what students can focus on (or do) to level up.

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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.

11: Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) with Jade Greene

In this episode we talk about Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) in the in language classroom.

I am joined by Jade Greene, a high school teacher in North Carolina, who helps us understand the benefits of reading in the target language and how to set up FVR in our language classrooms.

Jade speaks about…

  • the primary benefits of promoting a culture of reading in the language classroom
  • choosing books for your classroom library
  • students’ responses to the reading options
  • how FVR works
  • her journey as a CI (Comprehensible Input) author

Connect with Jade Greene:

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10: Equity in the Language Classroom with A.C. Quintero

In this episode we talk about equity in the in language classroom, but it’s really about equity in any classroom.  [sign up for Talking Points]

I am joined by A.C. Quintero who helps us to understand the importance of creating a classroom and student experience that moves beyond equality and focuses on an authentic equity.

A.C. speaks about…

  • what students “bring” to the classroom that language teachers need to be aware of.
  • how we can assess in ways that are equitable and recognize students’ skills in different areas.
  • culturally responsive teaching and how this benefits student.
  • teaching equitably in intentional ways.
  • biases and our responsibility as teachers to recognize them.

Connect with A.C. Quintero:

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9: Teach Grammar as a Concept and in Context with Mike Travers

In this episode we talk about grammar.  This is always a hot topic in language teaching with lots of questions about how (or even if) we should do it.  [sign up for Talking Points]

I am joined by Mike Travers, a teacher in Massachusetts, who has presented on this topic many times at teacher conferences, having been named “Best of Conference.”  So, who better to help with this conversation?

Mike speaks about…

  • The role of grammar in communicative language teaching.
  • ACTFL’s Core Practice of Teaching Grammar as a Concept and in Context.
  • Why is it essential and beneficial that language structures be taught in context.
  • Procedures for teaching grammar in context and as a concept.
  • Possible benefits of explicit grammar instruction.

Connect with Mike Travers:

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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.

7: The Why & How of Positive Teacher-Student Relationships with Ebony Thornton


In this episode we talk about how essential positive teacher-student relationships are, particularly when we want our students to feel valued, comfortable and motivated to speak the target language.  [sign up for Talking Points]

I am joined by Ebony Thornton, a teacher in Georgia, who speaks about…

  • relationships with her own teachers and those that influenced her student-teacher relationships
  • barriers that make teacher-student relationships challenging
  • respecting distance when needed
  • how do you get to know your students
  • how effective relationships enhance the teaching and learning experience
  • the “savior” complex
  • representation in the language classroom
  • #BlackWLTeachers

Connect with Ebony Thronton

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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.

4. What is Communicative Language Teaching?

In this episode I take on the topic of communicative language teaching (CLT).  What is it exactly and how do we teach communicatively? [sign up for Talking Points]

Topics:

  • CLT is an approach and not a method.
  • Difference between an approach and a method?
  •  Bill VanPatten’s description of  CLTR.
  • The role of input.
  • The role of output.
  • The communicative classroom:
    • student-centered
    • students create with language
    • focus is communicating messages

What does this look like in the classroom?

  • Performance
  • Assessment

What does the teacher do in the communicative language classroom?

“[It is not] because some plants will grow in a desert, [that] watering the ones in your garden is a waste of time. In fact, of course, while the desert may provide the minimum conditions for a plant to grow, watering it may help it grow faster, bigger, and stronger, that is to realize its full potential.” —Larsen-Freeman and Long, 1990

This blog has a pdf that you can download with all of these details on communicative language teaching.

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