Learning bosnian by Brenda Annerl, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  Brenda Annerl 

 
Last Thursday, #langchat was in full swing, Q&A style! @KrisClimer started off the hour, “Let’s get the #langchat rocking!” anticipating “a flurry of ideas!” As always, Langchatters did not disappoint. They rapidly tweeted their thoughts on ways to incorporate more comprehensible input (CI) and authentic resources (#authres) in a “traditional” language program.

Thanks to those who tuned in for another action-packed hour! We extend a big thank you to Kris (@KrisClimer), Amy (@alenord), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), and @CoLeeSensei (Colleen) for moderating a rapid-fire #langchat!

Q1: What exactly makes a world language class “traditional”?

Langchatters began by discussing what constitutes a “traditional” language class. They overwhelmingly associated “traditional” classes with repetition, a lack of innovation, and boredom. @sonrisadelcampo characterized a traditional approach as “teaching how it’s ‘always been done,’ no risk, no creativity, no acquisition, no joy.” @mmecushmore, among countless others, agreed that “[Traditional world language] learning is prescribed, boring, stale, and unconnected. [It’s not] relevant to [students’] lives.” Participants highlighted the salient features of a traditional class, namely, grammar and vocab drills, textbook-based instruction, and the absence of technology.

Grammar and Vocab Drills!
Langchatters generally agreed that “traditional language classes tend to have a grammar backbone” (@SraSpanglish). @CatherineKU72 noted that, “Traditional class tries to teach grammar skills through unconnected vocabulary sets at predetermined time set by a textbook,” and @GaryDiBianca observed that grammar drills and vocab lists are often presented “without context.”

Textbook-Based Instruction:
The traditional classroom was associated with heavy dependence on the language textbook. @SrtaJohnsonEBHS commented that a traditional approach entails blind acceptance of lessons as dictated by the textbook: “Traditional = by the book, teaching units [because] the book said so.” @CoLeeSensei proposed that “[Traditional instruction consists in] relying on the text to determine what you teach and the workbook to reinforce it?”Many langchatters reflected on how using excessive textbook-style worksheets fails to engage learners.

Absence of technology:
@clowningar highlighted another characteristic of the traditional language classroom: the absence of technology. He imagined students from traditional classes in “a non-internet world,” “raising [their] hands instead of tweeting [an] answer” and exchanging with “penpals instead of [communicating through Skype] and hangouts.”

…So, Are Traditional Classes All Bad?
@SECottrell wrote that “traditional isn’t a bad word but in language teaching it’s got 100 years of failure behind it.” Although Langchatters readily voiced criticism, participants did highlight the utility of a traditional approach. @CatherineKU72 said, “This is not to say that some traditional things are not useful for our students, [even with] all our new ideas,” and @SraSpanglish acknolwged “‘Traditional’ is often used as a euphemism for ‘outdated,’ but it can also refer to the ‘tried and true’.” @CoLeeSensei reminded instructors of the comfort a traditional approach can offer new teachers: “It’s where most of us started as language teachers I would suspect – giving structure and security.”

Q2: What things “had to go” in order for you to move towards proficiency based instruction?

Instructors brainstormed what to throw by the wayside in seeking to make a language class less traditional. They emphasized the need to become less dependent on the textbook, isolated grammar-based instruction, translation exercises, vocab lists and charts, memorized dialogues and worksheets.

The Textbook:
An overwhelming majority of Langchatters urged instructors to ditch the textbook! @srtajohnson13 listed it as the number one item on her give-away list: “Number one: Textbook.” @SECottrell agreed “My textbook had to go.” @CoLeeSensei did not focus so much on the book itself but on the limiting structure it places on instruction: “What had to go? The ‘it’s chapter 1 so we can only say these things using these words’ idea!” She added that, while “the textbook did give [her] unit ideas as a new [teacher,] now….the unit gives [her] ideas!” Boredom and rigidity aside, @xianb8 questioned the values contained in textbooks: “[Textbooks are] full of racial stereotypes, [a] weird value hierarchy of styles of [language], [and] content [that is] not relevant to students.” Although textbook critics predominated, a few Langchatters did write in defense of textbooks. One participant said, “I feel like tonight’s chat isn’t for me! I love my textbooks :(.” Another participant chimed in: “In defense of texts, some have good readings/videos/etc.”

Grammar-Based Instruction:
In addition to the textbook, many deplored isolated grammar lessons common to the traditional classroom. @srtajohnson13 said, “Grammar-based instruction had to go!” because, again, it wasn’t engaging her students. @KrisClimer described grammar instruction as a waste valuable class time: “I HATE grammar explanations in [level one] as part of our devoted time together […] [I find them] devoid of real.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS finds that, alternatively, “Pop-up grammar [i.e. occasional explanations, when necessary] is working just as effectively, with way less boredom (and wasted time).”

Translation:
A staple of the traditional approach, translation also came under criticism. @SECottrell commented, “Because translation is high skill, I think asking for it encourages [the] brain to continue routing through English.” She added, “Translation assessment had to go. All of it.” @CoLeeSensei also questioned the value of translation for the development of communicational skills: “[Translation focuses] a lot on the word for word [analysis] – not a [communicational] purpose I feel. I want them to ‘gist’ and keep talking!”

Vocab Lists and Verb Charts:
Huge vocabulary lists and verb charts also found themselves on the chopping block. @MmePoulet criticized “recitation of word lists out of context,” and @MmeMurphy agreed: “For me, themed units with big vocab lists […] And games that focused on big vocab lists out of context had to go.” Similarly, natural acquisition of verbs through exposure over time was favored over memorization and recitation of verb conjugations out of context. @SraSpanglish said, “I let go of conjugation charts to introduce language–process after repeated exposure MAYBE.” Emphasizing the importance of communicational skills, @alenord added: [I also] gave up [the] need to only have [students] work with one tense at a time after level 1. That isn’t how we talk!”

Worksheets:
Worksheets were also viewed as disconnected from natural language production. @MmePoulet encouraged instructors to cut out “Worksheets,” pointing out their “Non-relevance” and describing them as “Insulated. Not real-world.” Similarly, @alenord wrote that “Fill-in the blank tests had to go!” @SenoraDiamond55 is “currently still fighting the good fight against wordbanks on assessment. What’s the point!? Hate, hate them.” @SECottrell voiced a contrary opinion, pointing out that copying words is a defined ACTFL proficiency skill at novice low level and word banks are often critical for students of character languages at that level.

Q3: What do you do to incorporate more comprehensible input, target language and authentic resources in your instruction?

Instructors discussed ways to make target language input more comprehensible [See the summary on Comprehensible Input here!] and brainstormed how to incorporate authentic resources [See this post to learn more.] They highlighted the importance of getting students excited about class material, the benefit of technology [Check out an old post about technological resources here!], and the support that can be gained from a professional network.

Get Students Excited:
As before, Langchatters strongly encouraged instructors to be aware of student interests in order to get them excited about content. @SenorG said, “[I have always] viewed ENGAGING [comprehensible input] (CI) as key. Start [the] year [with] interest surveys, tailor [the] content to be CI they want to pay attention to.” @CoLeeSensei wrote, “Great idea – I use [Google forms] to create surveys – [Students] love to learn about themselves!” @mmecushmore reiterated the importance of making materials relevant to students, prompting instructors to also: “Have fun. Be silly.”

Technology (Especially Social Media) is Your Friend:
Several Langchatters cited technology, and social media, in particular, as a valuable resource. @SenoritaGilbert said, “[I follow] every blog I can for ideas.” @SenoritaDiamond55 described herself as “a digital hoarder,” writing, “I tag everything as much as [possible] to see how I can fit [it] in [with a] theme or concept.” While authentic resources (#authres) abound online, @CoLeeSensei reminded Langchatters of a difficulty for instructors of character languages: “Keep in mind not all languages are a,b,c’s. [There are] 2000 characters for [a native speaker] in mine [so] my [students] can only use modified [#authres].”

Following comments to make comprehensible input engaging for students, @SenoritaDiamond55 encouraged giving students what they want: “[Students] love media—let’s give it to them!” @MmePoulet echoed the benefit of social media: “[The truth] is that social media is an absolute blessing for [language] teachers! I’d die without it.” @mmecushmore also reminded instructors about the possibility for interaction with target language speakers on social media platforms: “I like social media [because students] can [follow] kids their age in other countries. We had French [students] visit [and] they [follow each other] on Instagram.”

Build a Professional Support Network

Finally, Langchatters stressed the value of a professional development network. @sonrisadelcampo suggested instructors “get together [with] like-minded [teachers] in [their] community [or] state to share ideas[, coach, and] encourage each other.”
@MmeMurphy provided an additional piece of advice: “get on […] the [MoreTPRS] (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling) listserv. It has been an AMAZING resource for me.” To do so, “send a blank e-mail to [email protected]” (Thanks, @CoLeeSensei!) And, of course, #langchat is here every week for instructional support and advice! @KrisClimer voiced the inspiration he derives from chats with fellow Langchatters: “You people make me want to be a better teacher!!!! Thank you.”

Conclusion

If you want to develop a less traditional language classroom, Langchatters have plenty of suggestions. First and foremost, they advise you to consider ditching the language textbook or setting it aside more often. @SrtaJohnsonEBHS encouraged instructors to take it slow: “Don’t try to change everything at once, or you’ll go crazy. Be aware of pushback from older groups who like old way.” @profekister emphasized that improvement is gradual: “Takeaway ~ we are never done, always changing, always getting better, it is getting easier to find [authentic resources now than before].”

Thank You!

Thank you again to our moderators, Kris (@KrisClimer), Amy (@alenord), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), and @CoLeeSensei (Colleen), and to everyone who contributed to yet another engaging #langchat last week! To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive.

As @SECottrell reminded us that “you -yes YOU- are the one who suggests and decides #langchat topics! What do you want to talk about?” Do send us your ideas for future #langchats!

P.S. Get Your #langchat Gear!

@CoLeeSensei announced that #langchat gear is on the way! Starting September 1st, a #langchat shirt can be yours! Shirts will be available in 7 different colors and will cost $11 plus shipping. Stay tuned for more details: http://t.co/MHX4lfcBjS.

The 2nd graders getting ready for the da by Barely, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Barely 

 
Welcome back to #langchat! The first day of #langchat saw the return of lots of familiar faces, along with many fresh faces. Participants gathered to brainstorm review techniques to “start the year with a bang” (@SenoraWienhold). @dr_dmd reminded instructors that, “When we start the year right, it can affect the whole year.” Langchatters shared advice for a successful transition into a new school year. In case you were soaking up the final days of summer and couldn’t make it last Thursday, be sure to check out the summary of their comments below!

Thank you so much to everyone who participated in the conversation last week. We extend a special thanks to Don (@dr_dmd) and Amy (@alenord) for moderating #langchat’s first session of the school year!

Tips to Create a Classroom Community

@dr_dmd started off the conversation by asking instructors how they start building relationships and foster a fun, stress-free environment: “What do you do to start building relationships? [This is key] to [a] low affective filter! How do you help [students] relax, have fun and get to know each other and you?” Instructors highlighted the need to learn students’ names and interests early on in the school year.

  • Learning Student Names

Participants agreed that getting to know one another early on was crucial, and many instructors emphasized the importance of learning student names. @andrearoja said, “Learning kids’ names is so important! I do some name game the [first] week – [example:] Me llamo ___, me gusta ___.” @MmeFarab echoed this point: “One thing I do actually want to review is [students] learning each other’s names! My kids are SO bad at knowing the other [students] in class!” Some instructors use name games to engage students and introduce them to their classmates. @SenoraWienhold said, “I love name games for [level 1]! The freshman are nervous and need to learn names as much as I do.” She provided one example, in which “each [student introduces him or herself] holding a ball. [The second] round [they] toss [the ball] across [and introduce themselves] again. [Students have] to remember [the] order [and] do [it] again fast.” @AHSblaz shared another name game: “We play Find Someone Who (got a new haircut, met someone famous, etc.). They interview each other [and] sign their sheet if they did it.”

  • Learning Student Interests

In addition to learning student names, games can also make students aware of their classmates’ interests. @SraB_C wrote, “I have students create a [get-to-know-you] slide to share with the class.” @SenoraWienhold offered a less-intimidating alternative to self-introductions: “I have done partner interviews where students then present about new friend. [It’s easier] to stand [with a partner].” @AHSblaz offered another suggestion: “Use a ball of yarn. Say, “I like pizza” and have [students] who do raise their hands; toss [the yarn] to one [of them], they make a statement, and toss [the yarn again], etc.”

Review: Dusting off Last Year’s Concepts

Many instructors pointed out that it’s important to figure out which concepts seem to have stayed with students over a long break and which ones are rusty in order to determine where review is needed. Some instructors give students a short assessment in order to probe for weak areas. Instead of investigating what students have forgotten, @SenoraWienhold prefers to highlight what students remember: “I do not plan a review right out but I plan on starting with lower level novels to remind them of what they know.” @CatherineKU72 also likes to acknowledge and build on retained knowledge:
[I plan] on starting [with] new topics that relate to and build on [those] from last year.”

  • To Review or Not to Review?

Although a couple of instructors insisted on setting aside time for review (One instructor advocated for “Lots and lots of review!”), the majority of participants did not favor review sessions at the start of school, preferring to integrate previously studied concepts throughout the year. @MmeFarab said, “Personally, I hate review! I’m thinking that this year we’ll review as we go.” @alenord wrote, “Rather than ‘review’ old concepts [or vocabulary, they] become [comprehensible input] for [target language] teaching. [There is no] need for review.” @dr_dmd questioned the value of isolated review sessions in foreign language acquisition, asking, “What REALLY IS review? Do we expect [students] to ‘have it’ and ‘know it’ when natural [language] acquisition is NOT like that?”

  • Review Can (and Should) Be Fun!

    Participants offered a myriad of ways to embed review in fun and interactive games. Their suggestions centered on integrating technology, getting students up and moving, playing games, and using stories to recycle material.

  • Integrate Technology: Some instructors use technology to make review more engaging. @CatherineKU72 wrote, “We might start off with an Instagram challenge in the [first] week to ‘review’ Categories [taught] in pictures.” @profetech115 turns to Kahoot!, ‘a game-based classroom response system,’ writing, “no review is complete without Kahoot!” In this ‘game,’ instructors ask students questions, they respond on electronic devices, and their scores appear on a leaderboard. For more technological resources, check out the summary of the May 1 #langchat, “Technology in the Classroom: the Right Tool at the Right Time.”
  • Get Students Up and Moving: Some participants encouraged instructors to get students out of their desks to move around and interact with others. @AMor3liana said, “Stations simplify the [review] process. Get those kids talking!!!” @dr_dmd suggested incorporating “[a] QR code scavenger hunt. [Students] scan [codes] and reply in pairs to solve the puzzle.” @alenord recommended ‘Interpersonal Blitz’, a kind of speed-dating that gets students up and talking to their classmates.
  • Play Games: Instructors observed that games are a great way to review old material while fostering relationships among students. @CatherineKU72 shared a game that she uses in class: “We play a scattegories type game with categories instead of letters: [example:] Name an animal that can’t swim. [This is a] Great review, [and form of] team building.” She added, “ I like these game ideas for the beginning of the year. It gives a sense of confidence, yet a reminder that there is more to learn.”
  • Use Stories to Recycle Material: Participants acknowledged the value of stories that reinforce old material and incorporate new concepts. @MmeFarab said, “I’m thinking that a few good embedded readings can recycle old language while focusing on new.” @crwmsteach added, “I love using children’s books! Especially if they are familiar stories, it allows more focus on language.”

@dr_dmd reminded instructors to seek out authentic materials when looking for stories: “PLEASE #langchat peeps! Make your stories culturally authentic! […]
We have access to more [authentic resources] than ever before in the history of humanity. It takes little time to find them.” For more on #authres, or authentic resources, have a look at this summary! @crwmsteach commented that stories with images can facilitate comprehension, sharing this example: https://t.co/QPOHMBc93k, and added that students can also draw and narrate their own stories. Finally, @dr_dmd suggested that students make ‘travel journals,’ student-created textbooks, which serve as good review and facilitate community building: http://t.co/CyErobfqF0.

No matter what approach you take, @SenoraWienhold reminded Langchatters of the importance of getting students excited about language learning from Day 1: “For me it is not so much about review, but getting them excited about Spanish with music, dance [and] high energy.”

Setting Goals: New school year resolutions? Consider setting goals with your students. @alenord said, “I am thinking a lot about goal setting. I have heard lots of teachers talking about it the last few months.” @AHSblaz commented, “I have [my students] fill out a Can Do chart for that year: it helps them set goals [and helps] me see needs.”

Conclusion

As #langchat and the school year get back in swing, instructors are eager to get language learning up and running again. While they provided a variety of review strategies, most participants felt that “review is continuous, not just at beginning of year [and] before tests. Language builds!” (@MmeFarab). They also touched on the importance of reminding students of what they already know and encouraging them to expand on their knowledge. @alenord summarized this point, encouraging instructors to “get kids thinking about what they CAN DO.” Finally, in the words of @SenoraWienhold, participants were urged to “start the year with a bang! Find ways to sneakily review while moving forward in a fun way.”

Thank You

Thank you again to Don (@dr_dmd) and Amy (@alenord) for moderating an engaging return to #langchat! Due to space limitations, many tweets had to be omitted from this summary. To view the entire conversation, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive.

If you have any comments or questions that you would like to share with the #langchat community, do not hesitate to do so. Send us your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!