The slippery slope of 100% authentic resources

I love authentic resources. I use them every day in my classroom but I have trouble accepting that non-authentic resources (made for learners by learners) are not valuable. I’ll give you 3 reasons and welcome you to challenge them if you disagree.

1. Saying that all language must come from 100% authentic resources devalues ME because I am not a native speaker. I’m non-authentic! I think that good teaching comes from good relationships with students and from understanding how students learn language. The ability to teach language is MUCH more reliant on these things than the background of the teacher! Natives AND non-natives can be equally effective!

2. Superstar students can handle grappling with language/ambiguity in reading, but the superstar language learners are an anomaly. It is so easy to get caught up in the great performance and proficiency of the select few who are natural language learners that we forget they are abnormal! Most students fall in the middle and if we gear our curriculum toward the superstars, we are completely discounting those middle kids and especially their slower processing counterparts. The idea that we will change Americans’ views on language learning is dependent on changing our views on students’ ability to learn language! If we believe that upper level language is only for the select few, we are never going to create a generation of language learners/lovers. (Retention rates in upper levels are so telling of the health of a language program.)

3. We teach emerging L1 readers with materials designed to build their literacy, why would L2 be any different? Good stories, written to recycle key structures and to guide students with reading strategies, are just good practice. Visit a college literature class and ask some of the undergrads how they get through those “authentic texts”… It is with a lot of guessing and heavy reliance on the dictionary. Maybe what they need are bridge texts that teach them to read a novel before they make the full transition? I got my Master’s degree at SIUE and one of my professors (a Spanish native who taught my Spanish Civil War class) is using my novel La hija del sastre with his intermediates to bridge that reading gap!

Whether native or non-native speaker, the push for 100% authentic resources implies that we can’t create curriculum that is appropriate for our learners where they are today. As another tool in our (buzzword) toolbelt, authentic resources are so powerful… but they’re even more powerful when preceded by instruction that makes them accessible to all students!

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7 thoughts on “The slippery slope of 100% authentic resources

  1. These are some excellent points and I agree wholeheartedly. Many authentic resources are beyond the abilities of our emerging readers and only cause frustration that leads to failure rather than success.

  2. I like your point about #1, and that was driven home for me by a candid Sr. Wooly video about a year ago. This is also part of why I kind of prefer writing my own a la Sra. Bex–my kids know my story and my journey to learn the language.

    For #2 I’m gonna have to take you up on the challenge invitation (I know it’s shocking! ๐Ÿ™‚ I think with the proper task and scaffolding, any student can be taught how to grapple, how to approach a problem that without help WOULD seem impossible. Sometimes I just havr kids read words out loud that they understand or write down words they hear then put them together with the context clues to get the main idea. 40 out of 45 kids have been able to do this (I suspect the others could too, but they tend not to turn things in #canofworms.)

    I hear your point on #3 too, but while my 1st grader is whizzing through the reader books, he would not have the drive to keep reading if he didn’t have graphic novels at home that he was trying to achieve on his own. Likewise, our school kids have to see the variety of what’s out there so they have a higher purpose to playing with the language, something they can do with it that they care about (this is kind of the point Krashen was getting at when confronting Greg Duncan in Twitter this past week).

    So yeah, I’m coming around to not 100% #authres, and I have some ideas I’m really excited about trying with a couple of Kristy’s books (if they excite the kids as much as they excite me, of course). Overall, I’m still probably in the *mostly* #authres camp.

    • I don’t disagree at all that we should use authentic resources! As language teachers, we need to have the goal of students who can engage with authentic material, my argument is just that we can combine those authres with nonauthres to create an even more powerful unit!!! We are getting closer and closer in theories!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Hi Carrie,

    I have so enjoyed your posts. I can’t agree with you more. I am a “non-authentic” speaker of Spanish too. The appropriate materials for any given class are what the TEACHER deems appropriate, not any administrator or organization. Authentic materials are wonderful when you can get them (what did I do before the Internet, which was the majority of my career) and when they can fit in to the lesson you are going to teach. It’s not good to use a video that totally baffles the students! Sorry for the rant and rave (you should see my position on the 90%). Good luck!

  4. Sra. B says:

    I could not agree more with your comments in this post! Such an excellent point about you as a non-native speaker being de-valued ~ no time to write more, my room is filling up at lunch!

  5. Pam Wolney (@senorawolney) says:

    Another agreement here, particularly on point #1. As I have been seeing the push for #authres go full steam ahead, I have wondered how I fit into that puzzle, since I am not a native speaker! There are amazing resources out there that are both authentic and also created for students. I think a healthy dose of both is appropriate. The students generally like the challenge of tackling authentic materials, but they also respond well to my dear friend Sr. Wooly. The kids don’t know the difference between an authentic / non-authentic resource and one thing every kid knows how to say thanks to Sr. Wooly is “puedo ir al baรฑo?”…so there is a place for everything. We even discussed this at ICTFL…is it fair to say reading a book like Harry Potter that is translated into an L2 is not an authentic reading? Lots of people around the world have read it in various languages and I bet they would argue otherwise! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thanks for sharing.

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