Nervous about leaving the textbook behind?

Never fear!  If you’ve decided to embrace comprehensible language, you are excited to incorporate culture and authentic resources, and you’re thrilled to leave behind topics that don’t spark your students interests, you’re going to be successful!!!

So fundamental changes you’ll see right away:  

1.Textbooks WAY overload kids with vocabulary. Most ss don’t learn to use the new vocab chapter by chapter, just use it on unit test and then move on to next unit.  Now you’ll try to pick out key vocab and structures and use them in natural convo, stories, and situations with kids so they feel confident using the language!

 2. Textbooks isolate grammar concepts.  This is not how we learn our first language.  “Sorry honey, you can’t say anything in the past tense until you’ve mastered the present tense!” Teaching with Comprehensible Input  seeks to expose students to all tenses naturally as they appear in reading and in stories without worrying about what’s a 2nd year or 3rd year structure!  If it is given in context, students will understand.  Leave the explanation of why for after students have a large working knowledge of a particular tense and use the rules to help them see the pattern in what they already know… Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?  I taught out of a textbook for 13 years before I caught on….
3. Textbooks have teachers thinking unrealistically about what students can do after 4 years of language.  Clearly if there are 8 different tenses and moods included in the Realidades series, students should be fluent users of all 8 when they graduate from high school… not so much! 😉  On the OPI, a score of Advanced Low is achieved by speaking consistently in three times (past, present, future)… We expect our graduating language teachers to hit advanced low… NOT our high school students.  Intermediate is long and messy!  They are often trapped in Intermediate Mid for a long time… Sometimes college students need a study abroad to drag themselves out of that sticky intermediate phase and into advanced low!  So focus hard on getting them comfortable and confident in the three times and have them reading lots of things with other tenses and moods so that the best can begin to acquire those as well… but even the slower processors will come out in the intermediate range!
4. You can’t fail them!  You’re going to be speaking Spanish in class every day!  They are going to learn a LOT of Spanish that way!  At the end of every year (hopefully) you’ll think of a million things you would change and do differently the next year but that is what makes it fun to keep going back!!!  You’ll just keep reminding them all year that tengo has the o so that means I and at the very end of the year you can put up that little chart and show them how all the forms fit in but when you ask them how to say “I have” they’ll already know! 🙂
Good luck shifting your paradigms!!!

Not everyone is cut out to learn another language

I’ve thought it myself.  I’ve had slow processing students who I gave up on.  I have been so star-struck by the fastest (and atypical) processors that I began to judge what a student should be able to do based on their performance….  But I’m reformed.  Not only CAN every student learn language, they should…..

If we are honest with ourselves, teaching in a way that prepares language students for the AP exam is creating an environment that focuses on the highest performers.  We want a nation of bilinguals, a generation that values language study, and a focus on proficiency over perfection and yet we exclude those who need additional scaffolding…

This week at iFLT 14 was proof that there are hundreds of teachers out there trying to create a language learning environment that allows the superstars to shine while providing needed repetition for the average and slower processors.  TCI is a lot of things: comprehensible, compelling, creative… but most importantly it is comprehensive… it includes everyone. 

Take aways:

  • Fastest processors will acquire the most complex parts of the lesson while the slowest will acquire only the core structures.
  • Authentic (by native for native) resources are a wonderful addition to the class in many cases but as we did in our pre-literate kindergarten years, we must offer a wide variety of reading material so that our classes are not geared only toward the atypical student.
  • Incorporating a culture of service learning is an excellent way to give students the opportunity to connect classroom content to the cultures they’re studying.
  • Reading is fundamental in language classrooms.  Just as we read for pleasure, our language students should read for pleasure.  No reading (that has been edited by native speakers) is a bad reading! Authentic is great but material written for language learners is key to providing a classroom that is friendly to all learners. 
  • From backward planned lessons, to cultural units, to 20% projects, if we keep the tenets of TCI in mind (even when we are implementing other methodologies): teaching to the eyes (, going slowly, asking lots of questions, we are going to have successful students.
  • We have to honor who we are!  Some teachers pull off silly, crazy, and funny while others are reserved and easy-going.  Katya Paukova’s Russian class taught our beginners that you can be super mild-mannered and classy and teach people to speak, read, and understand Russian in 3 hours!

Already looking forward to iFLT 15… Or HOPEFULLY another TPRS Publishing Multicultural Conference (#bringitback #clubmed) where other teachers can come watch master teachers demo language class.  It’s the best PD around, start a penny jar just for this!!!


Meme stolen from Martina Bex… Good work, MB!!!

Backward Design and ACTFLs Keys to Planning

I am a long time backward planner! I love dreaming up hooks that get students excited to dive into a new unit and planning assessments that measure students real ability to use their new language! Many people love the idea but don’t know how to get started. How exactly do we come up with an essential question that will carry meaning for our students?? How can we remain true to the tenets of comprehensible input yet teach cultural content in the target language? I assure you, it’s possible and exciting to use real contexts while maintaining comprehensibility!

Step 1: What do I want to teach?
This is a question we never got to ask ourselves when we were tied to a textbook! Laura Terrill, in a workshop presented for IL teachers last week reminded us that we should be considering themes rather than topics. The text is divided into isolated, blocky topics that often lack depth and engagement. Rather than listing chores they like and don’t like to do, think of your teaching in a bigger theme. EQ- How can I serve others in my community? You can still touch on chore vocabulary if it is important to you but you are able to connect that learning to a real opportunity to serve others at home and abroad.

Step 2- What will I accept as evidence that my students have acquired this new language?
Again, textbooks provide us a ready made, one size fits all solution to this question. I want to challenge you to think of ways you can assess that allow for student choice and are performance based!
Have you ever offered a choice board that offered students several options of final product? Have you ever allowed for multiple topics that yield the same product?

Step 3- How will instruction look as they acquire the language they’ll need to perform well on the summative assessment?
Reading, acquiring necessary vocabulary, film, and art… There are so many things to think of when planning instruction! Every step of the way, plan to use authentic resources along side your classroom materials! Authres are all the rage and their value to language learners is clear but don’t discount non-authentic resources that are produced for language learners. The greatest thing about using comprehensible input to teach language is that it levels the playing field! Where grammar and spelling might force slower processors out of traditional programs after a year or two, CI gives them the confidence to continue into upper level classes where they NEED reading designed for language learners to help them build skills just as they had readings designed for them learning L1! I read the classics but I love a good old YA fiction book the most! #pleasurereadigisagatewaydrug

Step 4- How do I know when they are ready to move on?
Assess formatively! Not as a grade in the grade book, assess them to evaluate where you go next! Follow the NBPTS architecture of accomplished teaching: if they aren’t progressing, go back and hit the concept again!

Two recommendations: ACTFL’s keys to Planning book offers some great lessons (and in French even) ready to adopt!!!
ACTFL’s Keys to Planning app in the App Store is an easy way to have a record of your units and a ready made template to plan them with!!

Here are the basic ideas of planning your first UbD unit (let me know how it goes):
1. What are you going to teach them? Is there a novel that accompanies the theme? Are you thinking big (theme not topic)? What authentic resources can you find to accompany the unit?
2. What is your essential question? Think big! This should be an “enduring understanding” in the words of Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe! “What is in my backpack?” This isn’t what I want to “endure” for my students! If you love school supplies (we ARE teachers after all) think of a good context… “What are students around the world in need of as they start the school year? How can I help?”
3. How will I assess? Filling in blanks has no depth! What can we do to get students thinking critically and using language in real world situations? While they have a “small basket of vocabulary” in the words of Donna Clementi, they have strong cognitive ability and can understand a lot of serious topics!
4. What do students need to know (facts) and what do they need to know how to do (language)? Plan instruction around meeting all of these points!
5. How will I ensure that they’ve acquired the new language? Formatively, how will they show you that they’re on target!?

So I challenge you, find an authentic resource or a novel that gets your mind churning! With that piece in mind, apply the steps and create a unit that will draw on other authres, teacher created resources, and lots of CI!

No D’s allowed… Radical Ideas from Laura Terrill at ICTFL’s TALL-IL

Not even out of the workshop but I am having a moment… Laura Terrill has been challenging us for four days to change our paradigms in the classroom but today, a real eye opener for me….

Laura’s rubric?  10/9 for an A… 10 obviously is that student that is amazing and 9 still allows for an A that has room for growth.  Her rubric is designed around questions rather than teacher terms like “language control”… ex. How well am I understood?  She has an 8 for a B and a 7 for a C but NO D or F columns. 

What?  No Ds and Fs.  This was a challenge to everyone.  We’ve never thought of it this way!  On top of the idea that people differ in opinion about the 0% or 50% as lowest failing grade, now considering not letting students fail?  It is a fascinating idea.

Laura allows retakes.  Students need to master each set of structures in order to be successful in upper level language.  If we allow Ds and Fs, we are encouraging another generation of “I took two years of X language and I can’t say anything.”  It makes SO much sense… A C is the lowest grade… what parent will argue when you say that their child needs to get some work retaken, needs to come in before or after school, needs to hand in missing work because you want them to be successful???  Holy cow!  Revolutionary!

It requires a lot of changes:

1. accepting late work… it is hard, but we need to consider that we often extend deadlines..

2. retaking assessments… students will be less likely to abuse this if they have to make up on their own time!

3. communication with parents… we’ll have to make sure that the parents know what we expect because this is radically different.

4. everyone can be successful in language… gone are the days of “language learners are college bound students!”

This is on the top of my list of changes for the new school year!  Would you consider a no-fail policy?  I sure wish everyone would consider the idea of retakes… having students feel like they can continually strive for mastery of concepts would be a great movement in education!  No more students giving up and becoming part of the classroom furniture!