Bill VanPatten started it…but nothing seems to be stopping it: science-based visual soundbites.
Amy Lenord started a great Twitter discussion about how one encourages language learners to process language. This eventually led to Martina Bex refering us to her excellent “I am a grammar geek” post, in which she talks about how much she loved– and found effective– the “red ink” from her Spanish profs in Uni. Bex and I very briefly discussed this. (I will bet that when she has a spare moment– and she is a Mom again, congrats!– she’ll discuss this more. Ha!)
Now, anyone who knows Bex knows that the basic deal with her is that what she wants done, she gets done. Bex wants babies? Bex has four (at last count). Bex wants to acquire Spanish? Bex signs a months-long “no English” agreement with her room-mate! Bex wants to master C.I.? Bex does, in like two years of teaching.
So it is not surprising that she acquired a ton of Spanish in very short order in Uni.
Again: she wanted, liked & felt she benefited from corrective feedback in her Spanish classes.
This raises two questions: did the feedback she got actually help her, and, if so, why and how?
Well, let’s take Martina’s word for it, and say, sure, corrections and comments helped. Now, how?
Well, suppose young Bex– or anyone else– wrote this on their Spanish 201 composition:
* Ayer, yo fue al cine con mis amigos, y vimos una película.
This should be “yo fui,” and say her prof writes that on her paper. Now, what happens next?
- Bex notes there is an error.
- Bex re-reds the sentence: yo fui al cine.
Most of our students will not even do #1. Most will go straight to the mark, wondering what did I get? did I get an A?
Some will note, ok, there was an error.
A very few will re-read the corrected sentence, and maybe linger on it, in which case it is functioning as good comprehensible input (albeit not many repetitions).
So, why is the feedback working for Bex? In my view, it is because
a. Bex is majorly motivated which means,
b. Bex wants feedback, and when she gets it,
c. the feedback provides comprehensible input.
Suppose the prof had written “ser takes an -i in the first-person singular.” Would this have done Bex any good? The research says no. Maybe for Bex it did. Maybe she went, hmm, yo fui al cine…
I was also recently talking to Adriana Ramírez and Luce Arsenault about giving corrections in their Sp and Fr classes. Both maintained that their kids got better as a reuslt of having to do corrections. They havn’t obviously had time to do a controlled study, but we noted a few things:
- Both have very motivated, mostly Asian and wealthy white kids, who have been hearing from their literate parents from Day 1 of school, memorise (for many Asian kids, who have had to learn zillions of Chinese characters before coming to and sometimes while in Canada), and edit (for wealthy white kids, whose parents are uber-literate, professional, etc).
- My kids– who are generally Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu-speaking, and have less-literate and generally non-English speaking parents, almost none of whom have any formal experience learning additional languages– have not been primed to memorise and relentlessly improve their work. This is not to say that our parents do not value education– they do, very much– but it is to say that they have not “acquired” some of the academic habits that can sometimes for kids in language classes.
There is a simple lesson here: unless people want feedback, and get it, and the feedback is comprehensible input, it is not going to do any good.
So the teacher should focus not on marking and correcting, but on relaxing and reading and being happy in their spare time, so when they show up in class, they have the energy and mood to provide good C.I.– in story asking or reading or MovieTalk form– for kids. And kids should not be forced to correct work (although if they want to, why not?). Rather, their work should be hearing C.I. in class, and– if they must have homework– reading or viewing comprehensible and interesting target-language stuff.
…is as important as what we do. I mean, if Donald Rumsfeld and Noam Chomsky agree…
Here’s my list of S.L.A. “stuff” we don’t know. Note that
a. just because we don’t know that ____ works does not mean it doesn’t. All this means is, nobody has investigated it and figured it out (yet).
b. science doesn’t prove anything…it makes predictions and (where possible) explains mechanisms, and if these are accurate, data will repeatedly confirm these predictions.
1. How many repetitions does it take for a student to “acquire” something? I’ve read one study which got implicit mental representaion after ~160 input reps…but we do not know for sure. We also don’t know if aural or “read” repetitions work better (although we do know that reading helps language acquisition a lot in the long run, and probably because readers can slow down, re-read, etc). VanPatten et al got mental representation of Japanese word order in learners of Japanese after exposure to 80 Japanese sentences…but this is far from acquisition in its fullest sense.
Bottom line: students need many, many reps in many, many contexts.
2. In a second-language classroom, what is acquisition? Blaine Ray’s definition is something like “being able to automatically spit the item out quickly and properly.” But it’s well-known that the thing the kids “master” on Tuesday seems to go out the window in a week (at least temporarily– TPRS works very well in the long run). Bill VanPatten says acquisition has two components: having gut-level, automatic recognition of the item or “rule” (and of errors), and being able to use it in real time. However, in a S.L. class, we can often get a lot of recognition and less production (which is normal)…so it could be “partly acquired” so to speak. What about various verb tenses etc? A kid may spit out juego al baloncesto without thinking, but could fumble the past tense version.
Bottom line: mental representation of vocab, grammar “rules” etc improves over time with repeated exposure. We will likely never produce “perfect” or native-speaker-like acquisition in a second-language class.
3. What is the order of acquisition of ____ language? We know bits of it– e.g. when in English the third person -s comes online, or how using negation in sentences is acquired– but we do not have an overall picture. We do know that it can’t be changed (see VanPatten, Keating & Leeser, 2012). We also know that while vocab is under the teacher/environment’s control, grammar is not.
Bottom line: students should probably be exposed to a variety of grammar from Day 1 so that when their brains are ready, they can pick up what they need, in the same way that children hear only natural language (albeit “rough-tuned” to their level of understanding) from their parents from Day 1.
4. Does instruction in metacognition– knowing how to learn/acquire and being self-aware enough to use this knowledge– aid acquisition? Metacognitive skills include things like
- being aware when meaning breaks down
- knowing– and using– strategies to repair meaning (asking for help, repetition, etc)
- knowing how to figure out cognates
- predicting and checking for confirmation of meaning of words, what happens in plot, etc
While we know that better learners of all kinds have— and use– metacognitive skills, the role of the effectiveness of teaching these to improve S.L.A. has not been explored (to the best of my knowledge). There are also strict limits on the effectiveness of metacognition in second-language instruction, namely, that nothing is going to help if the meanings of words are not clear. And I have not seen research showing that metacognitive interventions improve language acquisition.
Krashen’s guru, UVic’s Frank Smith, has noted that the relationship between reading and metacognitive skills (or language skills) may in fact work the opposite way we imagine. Rather than having these skills make us better readers and language acquirers, it is likely that these skills emerge as a result of reading and acquiring language.
Bottom line: Students should be explicitly taught some strategies (eg look for cognates, slow down, pause and reflect, ask questions, etc) to up comprehension. These won’t hurt and will probably help.
5. Is teaching with sheltered (restricted) or unsheltered (“everything at once”) grammar more effective? I have not seen research either way. We do know that competent C.I. practitioners get good results either way but there’s no data (that I know of) on this.
6. Is massed or distributed practice best in a language classroom? We know from practicing music and baseball, and from various kinds of studying, that you are best off learning something by practicing it a bit at a time over many times (distributed practice), rather than practicing it a zillion times/for hours once (massed practice).
In other words, if you need thirty minutes to master that Bach partita’s 39th bar, or that Irish jig, you are best off spending five minutes a day over six days than you are doing thirty minutes at once. I have not seen research suggesting one or the other is best in the language classroom.
Bottom line: this doesn’t really matter in a C.I. class, where recycling– a.k.a. scaffolding for those who like edubabble– is constant, provided the teacher is organised enough to shelter vocabulary.
Well that’s my list of don’t-knows. Feel free to comment!
So today I was going to continue asking my road trip to Coachella story…but as Mike Coxon says, it’s when I’m not doing what I planned that I get the most done. I was doing some PQA and I asked Amneet what she did last night. When she said “nothing,” I said “where did you go? California?” and she said “yes, to Beverly Hills.” I then asked “who did you see there?” and she said “Scooby Doo.”
When I asked her what he was doing, another kid said “buying a bikini!” and we were off. Here is what we came up with. I’m interrogating the actors in present tense and past tense. We use unsheltered grammar. I didn’t actually have a bikini to use. The _____ indicate where we created details.
BTW Deadpool (the film) is simply brilliant and the character is great for stories as he doesn’t take himself very seriously.
Scooby Doo Y El Bikini Pequeño
- quería impresionar
- no le gustó
- se puso
Scooby Doo es un perro famoso que vivía en Hollywood. ________
A Scooby Doo, le gustaba una chica famosa que se llamaba Jennifer Lawrence. _______ Quería impresionar a ella.
Scooby fue a La Vie En Rose y compró un bikini azul para Jennifer. Costó 10 Scooby Doo Snacks. Fue a la casa de Jennifer __________. Jennifer vivia con su novio ___ que era muy serio _____.
Tocó en la puerta. Jennifer abrió la puerta.
— Hola. Quiero hablar contigo. ¿Quieres un bikini?
— Quién eres? ¡Eres loco! No quiero hablar contigo.
El novio serio de J.L. dijo
— Mi novia no quiere hablar contigo.
Jenifer se puso furiosa con Scooby. Scooby Doo se puso muy triste, porque a Jennifer no le gustó el bikini, y él quería impresionar a la chica.
De repente, Scooby vió a Deadpool _______________ y fue hacía él.
— No estoy feliz. No tengo un bikini.
— ¿Por qué quieres un bikini? ¿Es para tu novia?
— ¡No! Es para mí.
— ¿Cómo? ¡Tú no eres una chica!
— Soy Deadpool. Soy loco. Me gusta llevar los bikinis.
— Tengo un bikini extra. Quería impresionar a Jennifer Lawrence. Pero a ella no le gustó el bikini.
Scooby le dió el bikini a Deadpool. Deadpool se puso el bikini.
— ¿Te gusta este bikini?
— Sí, me gusta mucho. Voy a impresionar a mi novia.
De repente, entró la novia de Deadpool, Vanessa. ___________. Ella se puso muy feliz y se rió mucho cuando vio a Deadpool.
Deadpool le dijo: ¿Te impresiona mi nuevo bikini?
Vanessa le contestó: Sí, me impresiona mucho. ¡Tú eres muy cómico!
Deadpool: Y tú eres muy guapa. ¡Te amo!
¡Vanessa se puso tan feliz que llamó a su amiga Jennifer Lawrence! J.L. se puso muy celosa, porque Vanessa tenía un novio muy comico.
Dictation is old as the language-teaching hills. I remember doing this in my various français classes and also in Cherman viss Frau Satcher, ja.
Now, dictée is like running, weightlifting or learning music: if you do it wrong, the results are frustrating, painful or non-existent. Like everything else in language teaching that we still do from 60 years ago, dictado has been tweaked.
- teacher reads 5-10 inter-related and meaningful sentences aloud
- these sentences should use the most-recently-taught vocab
- students write down what they hear.
- teacher can repeat each 2-3 x
- Ben Slavic suggests then projecting the sentences on the overhead and having kids correct their spelling.
- I always finish with translate into L1.
What Diktation should not be:
- a way of introducing new vocabulary and/or grammar
- a way for students to “practise” spelling
- isolated meaningless sentences (e.g. sentence #1 is “the boy is tall” and #2 is “it is raining”)
- to any degree incomprehensible
- graded for spelling to any significant extent
I use dictation as assessment, not as a vocab-acquiring activity, and I follow the 80/80 rule: 80% of class needs to get 80% or more for me to move on. Scores are usually quite high, as I do dictation after asking a story and doing readings of the story, or other stories using the same vocab. The kids don’t complain, it is a zero-prep activity, and it is 90% C.I. as the kids know the vocab. This is mostly how I get listening marks. Although it looks like output, mostly it’s input– listening– and the output is in L1. As James Hosler says, dictation while being assessment is another way to deliver C.I.
Here is what I am going to do for dictation on Monday in Spanish 2.
- There was a grandmother who wanted to give her grandson money.
- She told him “you must win a a dance contest”
- He said “I don’t like to dance, because I am lazy.”
- The grandmother wanted to give her money to Donald Trump.
- Donald Trump did not want her money.
You could also
- project a picture and describe it
- describe a character from your novel or story
- project bits of a clip from a video, narrate a sentence, and have them write that
This awesome, simple, zero-prep activity came to me via Martina Bex, from Jason Fritze originally, and was recommended by Victoria B.C. teacher Martha McKay. It was fun, physical and a great way to get through another reading of the story.
(Edits are at the bottom of this page)
If you have tried it, or changed anything, I would love to hear about it. This is a post-story activity. I.e., you have already asked a story, and your students have read the story (or a similar version of it), and they understand it. This is not for introducing new vocab. The story should be say 25-30 sentences so the kids have to actually read more than they write.
You have to use a story for this, as the whole thing depends on reading, predicting meaning, confirming meaning etc (order is essential).
- Divide students into teams of two. They make a “portmanteau name” for their group. E.g. if their names are Simrowdy and El Chapo, they become SimChapo or El Sim.
- Put half the teams on one side of the room, and half on the other. There should be a no-go zone in the middle.
- Each group needs one printed copy of the story, one sheet of paper, and one pen or pencil.
- Each team picks one sentence from anywhere in the story.
- Each team translates that sentence into English, writes it onto the sheet of paper, and then writes their portmanteau name.
- Each team then makes their sheet into a simple paper airplane, and throws it across the no-go zone to the other side.
- Each team picks up one airplane, unfolds it, and reads the sentence written there.
- They figure out what it means. Then, they have to find it in the target language in the story.
- Each team then picks another sentence that comes within 1-3 sentences after the one they have just read, translates into English, writes it down, signs their group name, and throws across the no-go zone.
- If an airplane doesn’t make it across the no-go zone, the throwers have to retrieve it by picking it up…but they cannot use their hands, heh heh, and then they throw it again.
- If the sentence they read is at the end of the story, they can make their next sentence the beginning.
The objective is to read and translate as much as possible.
I assessed (reading category) very simply. I collected the airplanes after about 25 min. There were 13 teams = 13 airplanes. I got the kids to unfold the airplanes, we laid them out in a row, and I told each team to count the number of sentences they had written, and come and tell me. The differences between the speedy kids and the slower ones was not very great. E.g. Manta had 11 and Anbas had 9. I probably won’t assess next time.
I don’t think you actually need to mark this if the kids are engaged (but I tell them I am going to because a few need the er-hem “focusing power” of the grade). The kids liked it. I figure this takes 20-30 min.
Some variation/additional ideas from other teachers:
- write directions on board in target language
- put one person (start with teacher) in the middle of the room, all kids throw their airplane at the person, they they scramble to pick up a plane not theirs (Alina Filipescu’s idea)
- make them do one simple line drawing to go with each sentence (e.g. a stick man holding a stick dog– quick & easy)
What I would do differently next time.
- I would make each pair of kids throw to the same set of kids. E.g. Marya and Minali will be exchanging airplanes only with Hassan and Jaskarn. This will keep people more focused.
- If the plane lands in the no-go zone, it has to be retrieved without using hands or feet. heh heh
- Make sure that the same sentence is not written twice on each airplane.
- I would use TL vocab: make, throw, pick up, write, airplane.