Ever since I did one of those Escape Rooms earlier this year, I've been thinking about how to incorporate something in my classes. I wasn't sure if I could really engage students with the target language, since the level of critical thinking and problem solving is so high - my novices just don't have the language for this. Then I started thinking whether I had the skills to sequence the tasks - that's not my skill set! Fortunately, someone else was thinking this too - Breakout.edu
I got one of their boxes and used one of their pre-designed games with my methods students today. After using them as guinea pigs, it helped me really see how to use this in the classroom. So this is what I learned:
It shows natural roles when working in a group. Y'all, I love the TV show Survivor. Before you roll your eyes, it's because I love the social dynamics and the psychology behind everything. I see all the group archetypes play out right there on the island. So involving my methods students in a collaborative activity where they had to solve a problem (break into the box) gave me so much insight into who they are as individuals and team members. There was the leader, the follower, the cheerleader, the thinker, the risk taker....all playing out right there in front of me.
I also learned that it takes me an 1.5 hours to put it together, even with VERY DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS. Was it worth it? I think so. I also thought they could finish sooner than the recommended 45 minutes. Uh, no. They finished in 38 minutes because they got the lock off by accident but by then, had already used up 2 hints.
I learned that I could use this with Spanish students, but the objective would have to be very different than what I envisioned. I think teachers could use the target language for various clues, but it is probably unrealistic to expect students to maintain the TL the whole time. Those who know me well know that this goes against ever fiber of my being - 90%+ baby! But I think the TL clues or cultural aspects would be secondary; the primary goal is seeing how students work together. Having students reflect on the experience would give teachers a lot of information about how to arrange future collaborative tasks and teams, would help students self-reflect on the roles they are most comfortable playing so the teacher can gently move them a little past their comfort zone during the year. It is also a fun team building exercise.
I also learned that one box is good for about 5 people so teachers with classes larger than that (uh, everyone) would need several boxes.
Final thoughts: I think it is worth it, but not sure how many times you'd do it in a year. Teachers - have you incorporated any type of escape or Breakout Box activities with your World Language students? Tell me about it!
Do you wonder if all the time you spend correcting written work matters? This is a perennial question. Many teachers have a variety of ways to give corrective feedback on written assignments and have equally as many reasons for doing so. This video cast explores a study by Dr. Nina Vyatkina on the "effectiveness of written corrective feedback" with Novice German language learners.
Disclaimer: no red pens were harmed in the making of this video ;-)
After reading several blog posts and #langchat responses, it felt appropriate to talk about "Learning" and different theories associated with learning. I think teachers have very good intentions about what they do in the classroom, and they often have beliefs that they feel very connected to. Where I think a disconnect occurs, however, is understanding the basis for those beliefs. In "Learning Theories, An Educational Perspective" Schunk (2000) quotes an oft-used definition of learning by Shuell (1986): learning is "...enduring change in behavior, or in the capacity to behave in a given fashion, which results from practice or other forms." So let's take a look at learning from the point of view of a couple of well-known theories. My hope is that teachers will recognize where they fall in their beliefs and be able to articulate why they do the things they do.
Behavioral Theories: seeing learning as a change in "rate, frequency of occurrence, or form of behavior or response" in response to associations between stimuli and responses (think Skinner but don't be scared). This theory focuses on the behavior within an environment and less on the mental part. Some frameworks that are based in behavioral theories include connectionism, classical conditioning, behaviorism, operant conditioning, and such.
Cognitive Theories - "stress the acquisition of knowledge and skills, the formation of mental structures, and the processing of information and beliefs." This theory really focuses on the mental part of learning and less on the behavior. Who might you look up to see these? Bandura, Dweck, Pajares, just to name a few.
Constructionist - although not a theory, it affects learning theory. In constructivism, learning is about interaction with others; this theory sees learners as active, not passive, who must construct their own knowledge. A focus here is integrated curriculum, where students are exposed to something in multiple ways. This theory is not wholly unified but instead, has several frameworks under which it operates. Vygotsky's sociocultural theory falls under constructivism ideology. A
In addition, many things affect student learning, such as motivation, prior knowledge, development (think Piaget), self-efficacy (what learners believe about their abilities), memory, etc. The difference is how each theory looks at these variables. For example, behavior theory will look at motivation in terms of probability of something happening from repeated responses to stimuli and things like reinforcement; cognitive theory views motivation and learning as related but not identical (Schunk, 2000, p. 13).
Transfer is how newly acquired knowledge or skills can be applied in a novel way. Behaviorists will want to see this with identical features (stimuli) in different situations; cognitivists will see transfer as the ability to apply knowledge to a completely different setting. This is a biggie when it comes to assessment practices! I've seen arguments about performance, proficiency, dynamic, tests, IPAs - all are good and all are based on learning theories. Instead of arguing which is best, let's try to figure out how to use them effectively for our students.
So what does all this mean for a world language teacher? Well, instructional implications are many. If you lean to the behavior theory side, you are going to approach SLA, learning, teaching, and assessment very differently than your cognitive theory neighbor. It's important to view your techniques and methods and approaches through a theoretical lens so that you can make informed choices and support what you do. Your approach to teaching speaking or vocabulary may be based in behavioral theory and your co-teacher is strongly cognitive. This doesn't mean that one of you is "right" and the other is "wrong" - it just means you are coming from different theoretical backgrounds. Teachers need to recognize that some practices are inherently tied to different theories. How we choose to embed standards, proficiency, performance assessment all come down to our core beliefs about learning.
The good news is, that learning theories generally hold several commonalities that can be shared across the board. These include:
Here is something to think about... if we are going for proficiency-oriented teaching, do any of these theories hold true for the different levels and sub-levels? Do you think what works for novices may need to change for Intermediates? So I challenge teachers to reflect on their practices and examine the theories behind them. Analyze what you do and why you do it! What I think you'll find is that sometimes the lesson calls for behavioral approaches and other times it needs some cognitive ones. Begin to develop your own eclectic theory of learning that works for you and your students.
Schunk, D. (2000). Learning theories: An educational perspective (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.
*Note: there is a newer, 6th edition (http://www.amazon.com/Learning-Theories-Educational-Perspective-Edition/dp/0137071957)
As I mentioned in my last post, I'm super excited to be a part of the Black Box Video Cast series - a collection of media resources intended to form an easy-to-access, easy-to-understand bridge between Second Language Acquisition research and teacher practice in the world language classroom. Mine is #4 and focuses on Sociocultural Theory and SLA. I hope you enjoy it!
Archives of Videos
To view other Black Box Videocasts, follow the links below:
Why Your Method Doesn't Matter
Grammar Drills Aren't All in Your Head...Or in your Head at All!
All They Need is Accurate Input Right? Wrong!
The Inescapable Case for Extensive Reading
If you are enjoying the Black Box Video Casts, consider supporting the project: http://www.gofundme.com/tds8g84
I think it is so important to get research into the hands of teachers, so I am super excited to be a part of a new project sponsored by Musicuentos.com and Indwelling Language!
Ready to help? Visit our GoFundMe project now! The Musicuentos Black Box is a collection of video podcasts and other media resources designed to address the great disconnect in world language teaching: the lack of effective communication between researchers investigating how people learn language and the teachers working to help those people develop communicative language skills.
These resources are developed by a team of five world language educators:
Karen Tharrington is a Foreign Language methods instructor for education majors and a Spanish Lecturer at North Carolina State University She has an M.A. in Spanish Language and Literature from NCSU, where she conducted research on Dynamic Assessment, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Digital Learning and Teaching. Her research interests include leveraging technology for second language acquisition, both online and in the classroom, teaching for cultural competency, and foreign language teacher preparation and support. She is a believer that great teaching and sound pedagogy go hand-in-hand. Her dream job would be as a photographer for National Geographic Traveler.
Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell is an independent world languages consultant, the blogger behind Musicuentos.com, and the founder of the Musicuentos Black Box Podcast. She has an M.A. in Linguistics with an emphasis on Second Language Acquisition from the University of South Carolina. Her research interests include individual differences like motivation and aptitude, comprehensible input methodology, and interaction/output theories. Her dream SLA conversation would happen over DQ blizzards with Catherine Doughty, Rod Ellis, and Susan Gass.
Justin Slocum Bailey, operator of IndwellingLanguage.com, trains learners and teachers worldwide to maximize their joy and success. Himself a gung ho learner and teacher of both modern and classical languages, Justin has also conducted research on Second Language Acquisition and Bilingualism at the University of Michigan. These days, his inquiries focus on learner habits, mental representation and processing, and content selection. After hours, Justin enjoys practicing JuJutsu, playing basement soccer with his kids, and watching mysteries with his wife.
Albert Fernández is a K-8 Spanish teacher in Central Florida, the Social Media voice of Calico Spanish, and the person behind the FLES CI blog senorfernie.wordpress.com. He has an M.A.T. in Foreign Language Education from the University of South Florida. His research interests include student motivation and success, proficiency-based assessment, second language acquisition, curriculum development, and bilingualism/biliteracy. Outside of foreign language teaching and research, his interests include reading Spanish novels, playing music, and cooking.
Trish Arnold has been in love with languages since she can remember. She holds Master’s degrees in Information Systems and Spanish and recently earned a certificate in Instructional Technology Integration for World Language Teachers. She has taught Spanish at universities around the Washington, DC area and loves to hear back from students when they’ve used their skills outside the classroom. Currently she works full time at The George Washington University, supporting faculty in their efforts to teach partially- and fully-online. In the meantime, she also is diving into linguistics, which she finds absolutely fascinating. The best part of Trish’s day is getting home to her lovely little family. She also enjoys rainy days curled up with her cats, watching BBC programs or reading a good book.
Why raise money? With the Musicuentos Black Box resources, we want to meet the need educators face for learning about quality research without spending money they can’t afford on expensive journal articles they can sometimes barely comprehend. Even trade organization periodicals that sometimes distill this research for us cost money or involve memberships that cost money. The Black Box resources will never cost a teacher anything.
But they will cost us something, and so we’re asking, if you’re able to help out the project in any amount, to contribute via our GoFundMe project page. Funds raised in this way will pay for two things:
1) a one year’s subscription to DeepDyve, where we can access otherwise very expensive research articles to summarize and illustrate for you.
2) a one-year 5-user license with VideoScribe.co, the software we will use to make the video podcast.
Any excess funds will be kept for future year’s subscriptions. None of the five language educators collaborating to bring you the Musicuentos Black Box will receive funds for personal use.
Ready to help? Visit our GoFundMe project now! And then watch and wait.The first Musicuentos Black Box resources are scheduled to appear on June 1, and should be released at a frequency of about every two weeks after that.
Van Patten. Chomsky. Krashen. Terrell. Vygotsky. Lots of names, lots of theories. Lots of research about those theories. Although theory explains the whys of language acquisition, it is important to remember that they consider optimal environments for acquiring languages; there are realistic variables that enter every WL classroom that affect learning. So what does SLA look like in practice? How can teachers weave theoretical ideas into practical methodology? And do teachers have to choose just one? Let's examine a few well-known names:
Bill Van Patten says that if you want to teach for proficiency, you must understand the nature of SLA, and that research results are not making their way down to publishers and teachers. If you'd like to learn more about what Van Patten has to say, watch his presentation "What Everyone Should Know about Second Language Acquisition" (delivered at the Michigan World Language Association annual meeting), which you can watch for free here: http://learninglanguages.celta.msu.edu/sla-vanpatten/
Linguist Noam Chomsky is the Language Acquisition Device guy, or better known as LAD, which posits that every child has an innate ability to learn languages. Although he did not study SLA, his theory served to birth others, such as Krashen's monitor hypothesis. Which leads us to....
Stephen Krashen is best known for his hypotheses: acquisition-learning, natural order, monitor, input, and affective filter. Krashen acknowledges that the classroom is never going to replicate the "outside world" but the goal for teachers should be to prepare their students for that world (p. 59). A summary of his hypotheses follows:
SLA theorist Tracey Terrell (1986) advocates for “binding” when learning languages, a term used to describe the brain’s process of linking meaning to forms (ie. vocabulary). This occurs when learners connect a new word with its meaning, not a translation. Binding is something that is influential in our learning of our L1; for beginning (novice) learners, nothing is more important for communication than building a vocabulary base (Terrell, 1986). Second language learners use a variety of strategies when acquiring their new language and cognitive strategies such as binding, help link new information to existing schema. This can be important when teaching new vocabulary, where novice learners use compensation strategies, such as guessing, to overcome gaps in language knowledge (Oxford, 1990).
Vygotsky is another well-known theorist to whom we attribute sociocultural theory and Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Sociocultural theory explores the relationship between language and mind (Antón, 2003). In the field of education, Vygotsky argued that “educators needed to rethink how to connect teaching with development in a systematic and meaningful way” (Poehner & Lantolf, 2005, p. 235-236). A major element of this theory deals with external mediation, external activities in which a learner participates (interpsychological) which are transformed to mental activities (intrapsychological). One of the foundational concepts of sociocultural theory is that the mind is mediated, primarily by language (i.e. collaborative discourse), and relies on “tools and labor activities” (Antón, 2003). Learners may use tools from a variety of sources: texts, experts, peers, etc. When students work together in meaningful activities, learning and development emerge. Effective mediation occurs in the learners' ZPD where there are two levels: what learners can do on their own and what they can do with assistance (Curtain & Dahlberg, 2014). The connection between actual and potential performance in ZPD is that independent performance on a task demonstrates a learner’s actual level of performance, while mediation allows examiners to see a learner’s future (potential) for development (Poehner & Lantolf, 2005). Scaffolding is the giving of assistance; In a scaffolding situation, the "expert" is constantly assessing the novice to determine if help is needed and providing that assistance, withdrawing it once it is determined that the novice can function on his or her own accord. Assistance does not necessarily focus completely on communication breakdown, but instead, draws the learners’ attention to the L2 lexical, syntactical, or morphological nuances (Foster & Ohta, 2005). This can have a profound impact on the way in which we assess our students as dynamic interactions are more reflective of real life discourse learners may have with native speakers when they leave the classroom bubble.
To return to the initial questions posed at the beginning of this entry, what does SLA look like in practice? I think it is safe to say that SLA in practice probably looks eclectic and messy, with students actively trying out their language and teachers choosing when to focus on form and when to focus on meaning. Carefully placed error correction also has to occur for acquisition to take place. How can teachers weave theoretical ideas into practical methodology? Well, understanding the historical value of the theories and reflection of your own teaching practice is a good start! And do teachers have to choose just one? What do YOU think?
Anton, Marta. "The Discourse Of A Learner-Centered Classroom: Sociocultural Perspectives On Teacher-Learner
Interaction In The Second-Language Classroom." The Modern Language Journal (1999): 303-18. Print.
Curtain, Helena Anderson, and Carol Ann Dahlberg. Languages and Learners, Making the Match: World Language
Instruction in K-8 Classrooms and beyond. 4th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2014. Print.
Foster, P., & Ohta, A.S. "Negotiation For Meaning And Peer Assistance In Second Language Classrooms." Applied
Linguistics: 2005. 402-430. Print.
Krashen, Stephen D. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon, 1982. Print.
Oxford, R. (1990). “Language learning strategies: A synthesis of studies with implications for strategy training.
“System,” 12(2), pp. 235-47.
Poehner, M.E., & Lantolf, J.P. Dynamic assessment in the classroom. Language Teaching Research 9(3), 2005,
...there were languages. And approaches for teaching languages. Which changed. And changed again. Then again. Learning languages become something to be studied. Words were tossed around, new acronyms were developed. What is a veteran teacher to do? Understanding the history behind why people learned other languages helps us modern teachers see why certain approaches were adopted in the first place. From a historical perspective, Classics were a way to define what it meant to be educated, with many students receiving instruction from private tutors or Latin Grammar schools. A great deal of importance was put on learning how to read Latin or Greek, many times with the goal of understanding scripture. Today we still associate Latin and Greek with "classical learning".
As people began noticing the roundness of the earth and how that made it conducive to trade, foreign languages emerged in schools as fluffy extras (author's side note: electives, specials, the name may have changed but the mentality toward languages has not). During the 18th Century students learned "modern" languages using the Latin model - grammar translation and reading. This eventually became known as the Grammar-Translation Method.
Hello 19th Century - the boom of the Industrial Revolution. As everyone was trying to find a better way to make a widget, methodology about teaching languages joined them. Latin began to fall by the wayside as modern languages such as German and French gained traction. In 1883, the MLA (Modern Language Association) was created to provide "...opportunities for its members to share their scholarly findings and teaching experiences with colleagues and to discuss trends in the academy ("About the MLA"). This began making serious research out of learning languages. Psychology was also coming into being as a science, so all those 19th century intellectuals paved the way to what is now known as the "Direct Method", no translation, no L1, always a dialogue (Berlitz, anyone?)
As we moved into the roaring 20th Century, languages became part of educating more than just the members of the highest social classes; languages were now for those college-bound students. Some psychologists made headlines and we got the Audio-Lingual Method (sequenced skills, drills, manipulation of language but devoid of meaning). You all know it: I have a blue shirt. I have a red shirt. No, I have a yellow shirt but Pablo has a green shirt. The sixties were all love and peace, so language approaches reflected that. Enter community/counseling learning, the Silent Way, Suggestopedia. I'm not making this stuff up. Oh, and Russian became important because of, well, you know, Sputnik and that Cold War.
Asher ushered in Total Physical Response (which looks similar to Suggestopedia but better). Reducing the importance of grammar as a stand-alone in languages came about after this. Practical uses of the language dominated and research started influencing methods and approaches. A focus on proficiency began in the 1970s. Yes, that's right. Those crazy hippies wanted us to be proficient. New approaches emerged such communicative language teaching and functional-notional syllabi, and for all of you Krashen fans, there is the Natural Approach.
So where does that leave us, 15 years into the 21st Century? (Did I really say 15? Oh. My. Goodness.) Words like "Global Readiness" and "21st Century Skills" pave the way to approaches that are proficiency-oriented for meaningful and relevant instruction. Students no longer want to learn to decline nouns but rather do something with their language skills. We have national standards, P21, and the coolest technology to access languages in ways our grandparents couldn't.
We methods instructors often use the term "eclectic" to describe today's methods and approaches; mixing the good parts of historical approaches and bringing them up to date. No one approach works as the end-all and be-all of teaching, and no one method does the job effectively by itself. Although current SLA (second language acquisition) research has changed the way we approach teaching and learning, the goal here is to look at each one in terms of "how can I use or tweak this to add to my toolbox?" and "when is an appropriate time to use this method?" What is YOUR Eclectic approach?
Jill Kerper Mora has done a fantastic job at describing each of the more popular methods on her website here: http://moramodules.com/ALMMethods.htm
A briefer version can be found from Frankfurt International School: http://esl.fis.edu/teachers/support/method.htm
"About the MLA." About the MLA. Web. 29 Jan. 2015. <http://www.mla.org/about>.
"Second and Foreign Language Teaching Methods." Second-language Teaching Methods. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.
"Teaching Approaches: Total Physical Response." Onestopenglish. Web. 29 Jan. 2015.