One year ago I became a member of ACTFL and began receiving the Foreign Language Annals as part of my membership. I meet monthly with the coordinator of modern and classical languages and ESOL here, and we use a bit of that time to discuss research that might direct the ways teachers and students use technology in presenting and learning a second language. I use the FL Annals as a starting point for my part of that conversation, and I suppose the highest praise I could give here would be this: I can’t imagine canceling my membership.
The FL Annals have inspired technology integration ideas, connected some dots in my understanding of second-language acquisition, and given me greater confidence that the work I do with teachers is helping students. Below is a summary of a few articles that have inspired me this year. Though there were many, I’ve selected only two per issue.
Authentic Tasks and Choosing NOT to Grade
In Horst and Pierce’s article, Foreign Languages and Sustainability , two things stuck out at me – the important role an authentic task plays in motivating language production and the conscious decision of the professors to AVOID correcting student errors in discussion board forums where students were communicating in an informal register, albeit still in the target language. When integrating technology , the principals of authentic task and a conscious approach to content created in the informal register are important aspects that I’ve seen work in the classroom. This article provides some support.
Building Better Self-Assessors
In Weyer’s article, Speaking Strategies , I found a wonderful strategy to offer teachers who wish to help their students better self-assess: the process of transcription. Though Weyers focuses on how the intentional transcription process pushes higher education students into upper levels of proficiency, the approach can be tailored to secondary education students as well. I’m most excited to promote this technique using the Nanogong module we recently embedded in Moodle, a product that allows students to record their own voice easily and then transcribe the contents in the same web interface.
Though it may only have a tangential connection to the use of engaging activities with technology, Conchran, et al., contributed a thoughtful article on what internal elements of our students contribute to their proficiency in a language – their attributions, attitudes, or aptitude? Their conclusion (from the abstract):
“The best predictive model was attitudes leading to aptitude leading to exam grades.” (566)
It seems to me that one reason to include some of the dynamic technology now at our disposal is that, when combined with meaningful, engaging tasks, it has the ability to influence the attitudes our students bring each day to class. While it’s at times easy to dismiss the idea of having “fun” in class, this article seems to support the idea that the relational environment we create in our classes has a great deal of impact on the production of language we see there.
Write More, Grade Less
In Armstrong’s article on graded and ungraded writing , she makes this summary statement:
“ Findings suggest that grades had little affect on student writing, and therefore more frequent and more varied ungraded writing assignments may be a productive pedagogical tool for improving the form and content of student writing” (690)
Earlier in the year I had been able to work with a teacher using TodaysMeet to do just that — provide students structured but ungraded opportunities to write about a topic that interested them. As more language teachers attempt the use of Moodle discussion boards, I’ll continue to promote this approach as one way to strengthen student writing.
Your Answer Doesn’t End the Conversation
In Miao and Heining-Boynton’s discussion of IRF and RTI , they include a nice table of response strategies teachers can use regardless of a student’s answers to an initial question, the goal being to mandate participation and promote engagement whether an answer is correct or incorrect. Whether used in face-to-face learning or online, awareness of these strategies can aide teachers as they create a culture of participation among their students.
With Assessment, Context Matters
The role of assessment – both for quantity of writing as well as quality – is investigated in an article by Brown, et al. where the authors point out a tension in motivating students to take risks as well as strive for accuracy.
The findings of this article, paired with those of Armstrong above, seem to indicate that each student learning activity must be contextualized in order for students to succeed. If the goal of the activity is rapid, experimental construction of language, these activities are best ungraded. The results of the same activity, though, may be examined later as students find errors and attempt to fix them. Incorporating both tasks while learning language is an important step to ensuring that students attempt more complex language tasks as well as evaluate how effectively they have succeeded at the same.
And, a selection of quotes I found valuable:
“Current psycholinguistic research suggests that, as students begin to use more complex syntactic forms, their accuracy decreases until they have fully acquired the new forms” Horst and Pierce (Fall 2010, 373)
“Seeking broader and more diverse paths to mastery of a foreign language, students find the current two-tiered configuration [“language instruction” in early levels and “literature instruction in advanced courses] to be both stifling and largely irrelevant to major tracks emphasizing the sciences and business” Neville (Winter 2010, 446)
“Teaching is a matter of providing the learner with the right data at the right time and teaching him how to learn, that is, developing in him appropriate learning strategies and means of testing his hypotheses” Corder, 1988, cited by Mojica-Diaz and Sanchez-Lopez (Winter 2010, 473)
“Clearly, a need for striking a pedagogical balance between activizing new content and focusing on accuracy exists and, perhaps, has an analogy in the anecdotal two steps forward, one step back.” Brown, et al. (Spring 2011, 116)