Author Archives: madameshepard

Unpacking Common Ground: Second Language Acquisition Theory Goes to the Classroom by Florencia Henshaw and Maris Hawkins

Like many of you, I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of my copy of Common Ground: Second Language Acquisition Theory Goes to the Classroom by Florencia Henshaw and Maris Hawkins.  After interacting with these two amazing women on Twitter for the past few years, I couldn’t wait to read this book. I am happy to say that it far exceeded my expectations, as high as they were!  Although I am honored to be part of the team that will lead a #langbook discussion of the book on Twitter this fall, I didn’t want to wait that long to start unpacking this fabulous book. In this post I will focus on Chapters 1 and 2, but look forward to unpacking additional chapters in the future. For another point of view on the book, I highly recommend this comprehensive blogpost by Martina Bex.  

Chapter 1: Guiding Principles

As the chapter title suggests, the authors begin by presenting reader-friendly definitions of the important terms that will be used throughout the text. While these terms may be familiar to many of us, the simple, clear definitions ensure that the readers will not become lost in jargon as they devour the rest of the book. For example, language acquisition is described as “the process of building a linguistic system by making form-meaning connections from the input” and as “what happens to you while you’re busy understanding messages.” (p. 3). I know that many readers will appreciate this simple, comprehensible definition for a complex process!

In addition to providing working definitions, the authors clarify some important aspects of acquisition. On p. 4, they remind us that it is input that builds acquisition and output that helps learners get better at accessing the system. Therefore, “We don’t acquire a language by learning its rules and applying them.” 

Henshaw and Hawkins then turn toward an explanation of communication, which they define as “the purposeful interpretation and/or expression of meaning” (p.6). Unlike Van Patten, they do not espouse the unalterable communicative context of the classroom,  but maintain that “communicative practice” in the classroom most certainly contributes to students’ ability to communicate outside the classroom. I, for one, appreciate their contention that I can go beyond the classroom context in designing communicative tasks for my students.

Next, the authors turn their attention toward the modes of communication. One of the highlights of this section is an excellent table on p. 8 which outlines the role of both the teacher and the students for each mode of communication. I also appreciated their explanation of interpersonal communication as having, at its core, “an information gap between interlocuteur” (p. 10). While I have used several different descriptors when defining this mode, I think this one might clarify even further why a performance, such as a memorized skit, does not exemplify interpersonal communication.

After additional discussion of first versus second language acquisition and the role of teachers, chapter 1 (like the succeeding chapters) ends with examples that illustrate the chapter topics and a list of excellent discussion and expansion questions. 

Chapter 2: Goals and Assessment

Henshaw and Hawkins begin this chapter with a basic explanation of proficiency levels and their role in setting goals.  I especially appreciate the content of the “In case you’re wondering…” box on p. 32, in which they state that “Differentiated instruction is almost impossible if the proficiency differences among students are staggering.” I know many of us will be showing this section to administrators who insist that we teach various levels in one class since “It’s all French.” 

The authors continue this discussion by addressing the often misunderstood distinction between proficiency and performance. They remind us that “proficiency is what a person can do with the language in spontaneous, real-world context, whereas performance is used to describe what a learner can do after having had the chance to “practice” similar communication activities or tasks in the context of the classroom.” (p. 33). They clarify this distinction further by stating that performance “doesn’t mean memorized or scripted” but that “learners have completed activities to help them acquire the language and develop the skills necessary to perform similar (not identical!) tasks.” (p. 33). It seems clear that an important part of the role of teachers is to provide our students with tasks that will allow our students to both acquire language and develop their language skills.

In the next section, “Planning for Proficiency through Performance,” Henshaw and Hawkins provide a clear framework for curriculum design.  I was relieved that their ideas were closely aligned with the process that I use when working with teachers. In a nutshell, they recommend 1)establishing a proficiency target for the course, 2) setting course and unit goals and 3)planning daily lessons around specific communicative goals.  They emphasize the importance of evidence in this goal-setting and provide great examples in the table on p. 35. This table provides a great format for those teachers who are interested in creating communicative can-do statements for their lessons.

It is in the next section, “Assessing and Evaluating Performance,” where my own understandings and experiences most diverge with those of the authors, especially regarding Integrated Performance Assessment. On pages 38-40 they discuss several challenges to implementing IPAs and I’d like to address each of these individually.

The first challenge they describe is the time-consuming nature of the “unique” type and format of the feedback given throughout the IPA process. They state that this feedback is “co-constructed by the instructors and the students through guiding questions, self-assessment, and reflection.” (p. 38). While these are lofty goals, this type of feedback cycle is impractical, if not impossible, for classroom teachers with 30+ students, several of whom may be absent on a given day.  I would never have been able to co-construct feedback in this way, considering that it was sometimes weeks before all of my students had completed an IPA.  In my opinion, it would be unfortunate if teachers hesitated to implement IPA’s, simply because they could not adhere to this feedback cycle. 

The second challenge that Henshaw and Hawkins address is the difficulty in finding multiple authentic resources for novice earners. While I recognize that finding resources for some languages is more challenging than others, I have personally been able to curate appropriate resources for each of the languages taught by participants in the dozens of workshops I have facilitated. Many types of highly-visual texts, such as infographic, catalogs, menus, flyers, emergent reader texts, etc. are readily available for most languages and can be used as the basis for a novice IPA.  In my work with teachers, I suggest that curating pertinent authentic resources is an appropriate first step in creating a unit. The content of the available resources can then guide them in developing an essential question, learning goals, an IPA and the communicative tasks that will comprise the thematic unit. 

As a third challenge, the authors assert that “In most sampe IPAs, the interpersonal and presentation portions appear to be less developed or specific than the interpretive portion.” (p.39). While I agree with this conclusion, I do not find the difference in these tasks to be problematic. In my experience, the “myriad of questions” in the interpretive task of a typical IPA help guide the learners through the process of showing literal comprehension to demonstrating inferential interpretation. In addition, these question types allow all students to show what they can do with a text, regardless of whether they are fully meeting the targeted proficiency range for the course. Furthermore, because some of these question types have right/wrong answers, the teacher is more likely to be able to provide whole class feedback on this section in a timely manner. 

I find the more open-ended interpersonal and presentational prompts to also be vital in assessing the heterogeneous classes that most of us teach. The general nature of these tasks allows all students to experience at least partial success, and also provides the instructor with important data related to each student’s communicative proficiency. As a result, the teacher can provide the specific, individualized feedback needed to help the student to “level up” on the next assessment.  

In describing the fourth challenge, Henshaw and Hawkins explain that “Creating interpersonal communication tasks that resemble real-word use of the target language and are relatable to all students in the class might be somewhat paradoxical.” (p. 40).  In fact, I would say that designing a task that would be 1) authentic to the students in our classes, 2)completed in the target language, and 3)does not involve assuming the identity of a member of the target culture is darn near impossible. I do not, however, think that we should avoid assessing our students’ interpersonal proficiency.  It has been my experience that students are willing to adopt a suspension of disbelief in order to complete interpersonal tasks in the target language even when it is extremely likely that they would do so in the real world. Likewise, there may be instances in which it could be appropriate for a student to demonstrate their understanding of cultural products, practices and perspectives gleaned from authentic texts by responding to interpersonal prompts as a member of the target culture might respond.  

As a fifth challenge to the implementation of IPAs, the authors suggest that “given the fact that novice learners are exclusively reactive” we might “question the merits of having two novice learners perform an interpersonal communication task based on a relatively open prompt.” (p.40).  However, a Novice Mid example from the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements states “I can request and provide information by asking and answering a few simple questions on very familiar and everyday topics, using a mixture of practiced or memorized words, phrases, and simple sentences.” (italics mine). Therefore it seems to me that a prompt, such as “Discuss what you like to do with your partner in order to identify three activities you both like.” seems to be entirely reasonable for Novice Mid learners. In fact, it is my experience that it is often during a conversation between two novice interlocuteurs that “the magic happens.”  As these students use various strategies (repetition, gestures, binary questions, etc.) to negotiate meaning, they gain confidence and become more proficient communicators. Furthermore, speaking with a classmate rather than the teacher may also reduce the affective filter for many learners, enabling them to demonstrate higher levels of proficiency. 

For those readers who hesitate to fully implement IPAs, the authors do provide suggestions regarding assessment, as well as a discussion of rubrics and grading.  They also introduce terms and ideas related to intercultural communication in this chapter.

I hope this post has whetted your appetite for reading this important book. If so, you can order your copy from the publisher using this link or from Amazon using this one

Halloween Hexagons

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been having all the fun researching various strategies that we language teachers can use to develop our students’ critical thinking skills for my upcoming ACTFL presentation. One new activity that I discovered via this post, is called Hexagonal Thinking. For this activity, students work in small groups to discuss and move hexagonal shapes (manipulatives or Google Slides) to show connections between words or concepts. In this example, Vampire and Chauve-souris are both touching Sang because both may drink blood. Maison Hantée is connected to Vampire, Effrayant, Sorcière and Loup-Garou because all might be seen at a haunted house. Loup-Garou and Sorcière are both Déguisements and if someone is dressed in a Déguisement as a Loup-Garou or Squelette, they might receive Bonbons. There are, of course, a myriad of ways to connect these words and the longer students spend on the task, the tighter their web will be (and the more interpersonal speaking they will have done) !

Click here if you’d like a copy of the activity to use with your students. For additional Halloween activities, I have added a French I Halloween Mini-Unit, French 2 Halloween Mini-Unit, French 3 Halloween Mini-Unit and a bundle which includes them all to my TPT store.

Joyeuse Halloween !

3 Critical Thinking Strategies for Language Learners

I’ve taken a quick break from working on the second semester of my French I curriculum to finish up my presentation for this year’s ACTFL conference. Because I wrote a proposal for a topic that I’ve never presented on, I’m starting from scratch this time around. Talk about overwhelming! After a period of utter terror as I stared at a blank Google Presentation, I did some research and started filling in those slides.  Here are three of the strategies that I’m including in my presentation along with some French examples. 

#1: Debate Team Carousel

This particular strategy is one that I had been introduced to during a professional development workshop in my last teaching position.  While so many of the school-wide PD sessions I have attended seemed to lack relevance for language teachers, in this case I found that I could apply many of the strategies to my own classroom. I especially liked this one, as it was a great way to incorporate interpersonal writing and can be used alone or as preparation for a class debate. 

Here are the steps for implementing this particular strategy which is described in detail here.

  1. The teacher creates a prompt that requires students to take a position and passes out this graphic organizer
  2. Each student fills in the first box with their position and a rationale.
  3. Students pass their paper to the right and add a rationale to support their classmate’s position, even if they don’t agree. 
  4. Students pass their papers to the right, read the first 2 boxes and add an opposing rationale to the 3rd box.
  5. Students pass the papers to the right and add their own opinion, supporting it with a rationale.

Here’s an example I created on the topic of grades: 

#2: Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) 

This strategy was a new one to me, but I thought it was a great way to encourage students to think critically when interpreting authentic resources. Here are the steps to implementing this strategy, which is described here.

  1. The teacher presents a question.
  2. The students write a 1-sentence claim that answers the question. 
  3. Students look for evidence in the text to support their claim.
  4. Students write a conclusion to support their claim by citing and explaining the relevance of the evidence.
  5. Alternative: Students identify Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning in a text they are given

I decided to incorporate this strategy in my recent Bon Appetit unit, but adapted it slightly for Novice learners.  Rather than having the students write a claim, I gave them a list of possible claims from which to choose. I also gave them sentence starters to guide their writing in the conclusion. Click here for the activity, which is based on a reading about breakfast in France. I’d love to have feedback about how this activity works with students!

#3: Always, Sometimes, or Never True

Although very simple, I think this strategy (described here) could be used in a lot of different ways.  In this example, which I created for a unit I’m working on for the second semester of my French I curriculum, I used it as an interpretive task over an infographic about the French school system. I think this strategy can be a great alternative to the True/False with Justification task that I so often fall back on.

I hope to see some of you during my ACTFL session where I’ll be sharing a couple dozen additional strategies!

I also wanted to take this chance to thank all of you who have purchased my French I First Semester Curriculum.  When I set the goal of creating this resource over the summer, I had no idea whether there would be any interest.  I was so thrilled by the response to the resource that I created a Facebook page for teachers to ask questions, provide feedback and share ideas.  Here’s the link for those of you that have purchased the curriculum: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1794760194060624 

My First Curriculum Project

I hope that all of you have had a restful and relaxing summer! While I have enjoyed a few road trips and spending time with friends and family, I also spent a lot of time on a new project. Based on the feedback I have received from readers and visitors to my TPT store, there was a need for Novice resources for French teachers that were interested in incorporating more authentic resources and focusing on communicating across the modes with their beginning students. While I had created a few lessons for these learners, I hadn’t devoted the time to creating a comprehensive curriculum that could be used by beginning teachers, long-term subs, teachers new to teaching for proficiency, teachers in districts that have recently adopted new standards, or any other teachers interested in reducing or eliminating their textbooks.

With those needs in mind, I decided to build a curriculum that French I teachers could use. I was able to create the first four units over the summer, and have created a bundle with all four units on Teachers Pay Teachers. Each unit includes a teacher’s resource with directions, answer keys (or rubrics) for each activity, and a Google Slide presentation that can be copied and shared with students. The slide has links to each activity and any necessary materials. As always, I’m grateful for any feedback (you might notice the new comment form on the right side of the blog!). Here’s a link to the bundle: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/French-I-First-Semester-Curriculum-7065802

Teach Grammar as Concept and Use in Context: A Sample PACE Lesson on Adjective Agreement

When presenting to groups of language teachers, I often structure my presentations around the ACTFL Core Practices.  However, I have to admit that I have my favorites when it comes to these tenets of language teaching.  “Guiding Learners Through Interpreting Authentic Resources” ? Yep, I think that could be my middle name. “Designing Oral Interpersonal Communication Tasks”? You betcha! “ Plan with a Backward Design Model”, what else is there???  

The peskiest core practice for me has always been “Teach Grammar as Concept and Use in Context.” I admit that it has taken me awhile to fully deconstruct what this means (and I’m probably not all the way there, yet!).

Fortunately, the PACE model, described in Shrum and Glisan’s Teacher’s Handbook, provides a meaningful framework for addressing this core practice. 

For those unfamiliar with this model, PACE is an acronym for these steps that one might take to teach grammar in a contextualized way:

P = Presentation of meaningful language

A = Attention

C = Co-Construction (Explanation as Conversation)

E = Extension activities

I recently revisited the PACE model in preparing a new mini-unit on the language function “Giving Compliments.”  Having selected adjective agreement as the target structure for this unit, I presented a series of authentic texts (a cartoon video and list of Tweets) that were rich in adjectives. At this stage, the focus is on meaning, rather than form, so I created a series of interpretive tasks for these resources. 

Next, I designed a series of activities designed to draw students’ attention to the adjectives.  In this case, I broke the structure down into four mini-lessons: 1)A sample regular adjective (grand), 2) Regular adjectives , 3) Adjectives whose masculine form ends in “e” 4) A few common irregular adjectives. For each mini-lesson I created a slide with a series of Tweets containing the target structure, which I drew attention to with a purple frame.

I then created a series of questions for each mini-lesson that teachers can use to co-construct an explanation of the structure.

Finally, I provided a series of extension activities.  In addition to the short short practice exercises included in the presentation, I created a graphic organizer for the video, a 20 Questions game and a Presentational Writing task that will provide opportunities for students to use these structures. 

If you are interested in using this PACE lesson on adjective agreement, click here for the Presentation and here for the corresponding document. 

The entire mini-unit is available for purchase here

Bonne Fête de Saint-Valentin !

After a very busy holiday season, I found a few days here and there to create a series of mini-units for Valentine’s Day. Each mini-unit includes interpretive, interpersonal and presentational tasks based on authentic resources. Each mini-unit is organized onto a Google Presentation to which the resources are linked. A teacher’s guide with directions, keys and rubrics is also provided. As always, your feedback is appreciated!

Here are the links to the individual mini-units, as well as the bundle for those of you who teach several levels.

Fêtons la Saint Valentin: A Mini-Unit for Novice French Students

On fête la Saint Valentin: A Mini-Unit for Intermediate Low French Students

La Saint-Valentin dans le Monde Francophone: A Mini-Unit for Intermediate Mids

Valentine’s Day Bundle for French Teachers

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Fetons-la-Saint-Valentin-A-Mini-Unit-for-Novice-French-Students-6464940

World Language Teacher Summit 2020

I’m pleased to announce that I will once again be presenting at the World Language Teacher Summit.  If you’re interested in seeing my video, “ Interpretive Tasks for In-class and Distance Learning” or any of the videos submitted by these fantastic language teachers, click here for your free registration. (Note: This is an affiliate link and if you purchase anything I might receive a commission.) The conference starts on Monday, so register soon!

Les Vêtements Francophones: A Project for Novice French Students

I have to admit that I was never a huge fan of projects when I was in the classroom.  There were several reasons for this.  The first was that the class time spent on research and preparing a presentation took time away from the types of communicative tasks that I felt would lead to progress toward proficiency. Of course my upper level students could do research in the target language, but it was very difficult to ensure that they did.  Likewise, although I could have had the students prepare their visual aid at home, I found that some students would not prepare anything and others spent an inordinate amount of time making something pretty that did not in any way reflect their ability to communicate in French. This created a real dilemma for me, as my grading system was designed to reflect language proficiency rather than workmanship, effort, artistic talent, etc. 

Finally, I questioned the value of having students, especially Novices, present in French. Because their ideas (many of which came from research in English) were incongruous with their language proficiency, their presentations often involved reading Google-translated text aloud. It is hard to say whether listening to this type of presentation was more painful to me, the presenter or to their classmates, who didn’t understand a word of the language they heard.

Of course there are many advantages to assigning projects, too.  In fact, there are rockstar language teachers out there who have designed entire curriculums around project-based learning and their students are speeding down the path to proficiency.  Other esteemed colleagues are designing fabulous projects that motivate their students, provide opportunities for independent learning and will be remembered fondly by their students for the rest of their lives.  I applaud all of you!!!!

As for me, in spite of the previously-mentioned challenges, I did find myself assigning projects from time to time.  While I was not able to resolve all of the issues I mentioned above, some students did learn both language skills and content knowledge from their projects and I benefited from having a few days in a row that did not require a detailed lesson plan.  This was important to me then and it would be even more vital if I were teaching via remote, hybrid or socially-distanced face-to-face learning, which is why I recently found myself designing a new project. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have begun creating mini-units based on some of my favorite Troto episodes.  Each mini-unit includes several communicative activities based on the cartoon and then a series of extension activities designed to develop the students’ vocabulary and cultural competence on a topic related to the episode.  Because I had selected Trotro s’habille for my most recent mini-unit, I decided to focus on introducing students to clothing in non-European regions of the Francophone world. After all, as cute as Trotro is, a diet of donkey cartoons alone is not going to introduce students to the diverse and fascinating cultures that make up La Francophonie.  (Although they’re a great way to provide comprehensible input and a context for communicative tasks!)

Of course, there were some challenges inherent in introducing this topic.  Even Novice High/French 2 students would struggle on most authentic texts relating to clothing styles and with so many French-speaking regions in the world, there was no way I could introduce them all. Fortunately, I found an infographic on clothing in Africa that I thought would be at least partially comprehensible at this level and was able to use it to create an interpretive task that was appropriate for Novice High students.  This seemed like a pretty good start, but I wanted to provide students with exposure to additional cultures (I used only the Francophone African countries in the infographic on my interpretive task.) and to provide the teachers with additional lesson plans in the mini-unit.  It seemed like it was time for a project.  

As you can see in this project guide, the project I designed is highly-scaffolded will hopefully prevent many of the pitfalls I identified from previous projects.  The first step of the project will be for the students to select the article of clothing that they would like to research. They will fill their names in on the sign-up list (provided) and then begin researching. Unfortunately, in spite of the many hours I spent researching traditional clothing around the world, I was not able to find comprehensible authentic texts for the majority of the clothing items. Therefore, I would invite students to research in English, or use our frenemy Google Translate to find out some basic details about the article of clothing they have selected.  As you will see on the sign-up list, I did curate one or more authentic texts for each topic that could give the students something to translate or could be used by teachers of upper level students who would like to assign a more in-depth project to their students.

After researching a few basic details about their garment, the students will prepare a script for their presentation. In order to discourage the use of an electronic translator for this portion, I have provided sentence fragments that the students can use to write their scripts. I have then directed students to create a visual aid, but intend for teachers to expand on these directions based on their own expectations.  For example, you may or may not allow the students to have text on their slides or to use notecards.  Lastly, you’ll find a rubric for the presentation itself and a document that the audience members can use to take notes on the presentations.  I think this will help keep their attention and make it more likely that they retain some cultural knowledge.  

I hope that this project might be helpful for some of your clothing units and would be grateful for your feedback.  If you’d like to access the rest of the mini-unit, it’s available here

Ready-Made Mini-Units for Novices

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Trotro_(cropped).jpg

Based on the comments I’ve seen on the French Teachers in the US Facebook page, #langchat, etc. I know that the work of teaching via distance, hybrid, in-person-but- socially-distanced-learning has not gotten any easier since the school year began. While I wish I could do more to help my colleagues that are doing the real work of teaching, I have spent some time creating a few more lessons that can be used regardless of the version of pandemic teaching that your school district has devised. Since my previous work was geared toward the Intermediates, I’ve decided to focus on the Novices for a while.

Each of the mini-units below incorporates a series of activities related to a Trotro video as well as additional activities using authentic texts on the same topic. A short lesson on a relevant grammatical concept is also included. The resources include a Google Slides presentation to which the activities are linked, keys, and rubrics. Everything is editable so you can modify for your students. Here are the mini-units I’ve created so far:

Click here for link.
Click here for link.
Click here for link.

As always, I’m grateful for your feedback on these resources!

Assessing Writing During Distance Learning

As I work with teachers around the country, I continue to be in awe of the work that you are doing! While I am very grateful that I am not navigating the demands of distance, hybrid, and face to face but socially distant learning, I have spent considerable time thinking about how I might have modified different aspects of my practice to accommodate these challenges.  

While I previously shared some ideas about using graphic organizers for assessing interpretive reading, I really struggled on how I might have assessed presentational writing.  I have always had students do their writing assessments in class, so that I could be confident that the work I was evaluating reflected their actual level of proficiency.  Based on the assessment and my thinking at the time, I sometimes allowed access to paper dictionaries, online dictionaries, drafts, nothing but their brain cells, etc.

Distance learning, of course, presents a whole new set of challenges as we cannot physically prevent students from using Google Translate. While I agree with others that there is an appropriate time and place for using GT, when I was teaching I wanted to avoid having students write entire paragraphs in English and then plug them into any translation program. Like all of you, I could easily identify when students had done so, but this realization just created additional obstacles. Firstly, I preferred that my students’ grades reflect their proficiency rather than their behavior, so I needed to provide an alternate assessment  rather than simply give them a zero.  Secondly, the disciplinary measures that I was sometimes required to take did little to improve my relationships with students who already lacked the confidence to do the work as directed.  

As a result of these challenges, I decided to turn my attention to how I might make it more difficult, rather than less difficult, to complete an assignment using translation software. Here’s a link to a Google Presentation with the steps I came up with.

  1. On Slide 1 the students brainstorm the vocabulary they will use to complete the task (a message about a typical day in their life.) While they might use a translation program for this step, I am somewhat confident they will have made these words their own by the time they complete the assessment.
  2. On Slide 2 the students write simple sentences about their day using the vocabulary they have selected.
  3. On Slide 3 the students rewrite (or copy/paste) their simple sentence but add additional details.
  4. On Slide 4 they organize their sentences, add transitions and proofread.
  5. On Slide 5, they submit the final draft.

It is my hope that by following these steps, the students will be much less likely to resort to Google Translate. In fact, I’m not even sure what that would look like.  In addition, I think this writing process could lead to increased proficiency in presentational writing even for students who are learning in a classroom environment.  

I’d love to hear back from any of you who use a similar process. I have so much to learn from you that are doing the work!