Incorporating Authentic Resources – Do We Really Have To?

   In the past few weeks I have notice that several of my virtual colleagues have questioned the necessity of using authentic materials for interpretive tasks in their World Language classrooms.   Many fabulous language teachers have expressed their uncertainty about whether it is imperative to limit themselves to those materials that were written “by members of the target culture for members of the target culture”.  Reading the blogs, Tweets, and Facebook posts of teachers whom I respect enormously led me to reflect about my own choice to rely almost exclusively on authentic materials in my classroom.

One of the concerns that my colleagues have expressed is that finding appropriate resources is overly time-consuming. I can’t disagree with this one.  It does take a considerable amount of time to find just the right authentic document that will be accessible to our students, but still have the cultural and linguistic content that we are looking for.  Although I don’t have any magic fixes, I do have a couple of suggestions.  Firstly, and most importantly, I think it’s important to find the authentic resources FIRST.  I suggest that before you write your Can-Do statement (or objective, standard, or goal), create a vocabulary list (if you do), create a vocabulary-building activity (if you do), prepare a grammar lesson (if you do), or write a quiz (if you do), etc., that you select the resources your students will read or listen to during the unit and on their Integrated Performance Assessment.   It is much easier to design lessons around the vocabulary and structures in an authentic text than it is to find resources that happen to have those items you had chosen in advance to focus on.  This was a really scary paradigm shift for me.  I was so afraid that I would accidentally “leave something out” if I didn’t find a way to incorporate certain level-appropriate structures in each unit that I teach.  I have slowly realized, though, that if a structure is important enough for students to know, it will usually appear in those materials which are appropriate to their proficiency level.  My second suggestion for reducing research time is to establish a Pinterest board (or similar forum) for each thematic unit in your curriculum.  Hundreds of other French teachers have spent endless hours looking for exactly what I need for each unit I teach and I’m eternally grateful to them for archiving their resources in a way that allows me to benefit from all of their hard work.

The second criticism that I have seen addressed is that students may become frustrated by having to interpret authentic texts.  I think this is where the teacher’s role is vital.  We have to select texts that are appropriate to the proficiency level of our students.  Novice learners need lots of pictures, and only short sentences.  I have found that infographics and picture books can be interpreted within a few weeks of language study.  Secondly, we need to choose appropriate tasks.  The template designed by ACTFL (http://www.actfl.org/publications/guidelines-and-manuals/implementing-integrated-performance-assessment ) works really well in my classes.  Although I don’t use every section for each lesson (reserving the full template for IPA’s), the open-ended nature of the tasks, as well as the focus on both top-down and bottom-up strategies have helped even reluctant readers to be very successful.  I can honestly say that my students seldom complain about reading tasks that I assign and I think this is because of the confidence they’ve gained by using the same strategies to approach increasingly complex texts.  As a matter of fact, a level 1 student who has an IEP for a reading disability recently told me that she “likes reading in French” because she’s “good at it.”

The third reason that many teachers give for not relying on authentic materials is a belief that it just isn’t necessary, especially at lower levels.  In my opinion, it is vital to expose students to authentic language from the beginning of their language study for the following reasons:

  1. Authentic materials help students to understand the connection between what they’re learning in class and the real world. When they read a text that was written for members of the target culture, they understand that French is not just an academic discipline that only exists within the classroom walls. When some of my French I students responded to post on a keypal site that I had assigned as an interpretive task, they made a connection that would never have happened if they had read descriptive paragraphs from a textbook.
  2. I think that authentic materials are necessary to ensure that students are being exposed to relevant cultural content. As an American, I am not always familiar with the “products, practices, perspectives” that are pertinent to a unit of study. However, when the authentic resources that I choose will often provide the direction I need to introduce relevant cultural knowledge to my students.
  3. In my opinion, students need to be exposed to language which is not entirely comprehensible. Each time we present our students with teacher- or publisher-created texts, we deny them the opportunity to develop the skills they need to interpret the non-familiar language in an authentic text. As I see it, there is little value in asking a student to demonstrate comprehension of a text that contains only previously-learned vocabulary and structures. Instead, the purpose of interpretive tasks is to use the context provided by the presence of some familiar language to acquire additional vocabulary and structures.

In closing, while we don’t have to rely exclusively on authentic resources when designing our curricula, I think we owe it to our students to do the best we can to incorporate these materials whenever possible.

7 thoughts on “Incorporating Authentic Resources – Do We Really Have To?

  1. D

    Why not enlist students’ help in finding resources?! Have them use a target-language site (you can change yahoo, for example, by changing the prefix…..from http://www.yahoo.com to fr.yahoo.com, qc.yahoo.com, fr-be.yahoo.com and so on). Have THEM find a restaurant menu or somewhere to buy clothing or a vacation rental apartment, etc.!! THere are online groceries, party supply stores…lots of options!
    This year we got Chromebooks and I am excitedly exploring the options.

    Reply
    1. madameshepard Post author

      Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. I’ve had lots of success with using google.fr to find what I need on a variety of topics. I find that for me, the time-consuming aspect of selecting authentic resources is combing through the search results to find a document that contains the vocabulary and cultural content that I’m looking for, but that isn’t too difficult, especially for my Novice students. I really enjoy the process, but I empathize with people who are hesitant to rely entirely on authentic resources because of the amount of time required. I’d love to hear more about how your students have contributed by selecting the materials that you use in class. Do you assign this task as homework? Do they also prepare the interpretive tasks to accompany the resources?

      Reply
  2. D

    Mostly I give bonus for students who find good ones for me.
    Or, I give them an “order form” and they find a restaurant and fill out the form (and give me the URL) ….or a “fiche” like the one I filled out to find an apartment when I lived in Grenoble (what I was looking for, cost, etc.) and have them fill it out and include the info on the apartment they found, and so on.
    OR, they list what they need for a party, and go online (fete + decorations) and find a good site. And I make note of the good sites….They have to find everything on ONE site.

    I rarely give homework (except on snow days)

    Reply
  3. Jo Dougherty

    Bonjour, Mme Shepard! I’m currently trying to locate authentic materials for the interpretive listening/reading section of our level 1s’ semester final and I thought that rather than recreate the wheel, I’d check to see what you’ve found, as you have been so generous to share with all of us! I’ve searched and see that there is something related to “le calendrier,” but I’m having difficulty navigating the archives in order to locate it. We’re looking specifically for interpretive activities related to weather/seasons/free-time activities. Can you help direct me to that post? Merci d’avance!

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