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by Erica Fischer on Feb 4, 2014

A Rainbow of Diversity: Diverse Methods and Styles in World Language Teaching

With over 600 tweets and 50 active participants at last week’s #langchat, it was one of the most power-packed chats we’ve ever had! While part of the traffic had to do with the interest of the world language community on creating and implementing diverse learning teaching methods, some of the popularity of our chat had to do with our fantastic guest moderators: @alenord @SraSpanglish and @senoraCMT.

Planning for Diverse Language Instruction

Although every teacher is different, many #langchat participants agreed that starting with the end goal in mind is the best way to have dedicated space for differentiation. @SraSpanglish said, “We all establish goals, proficiency-related and contextual, then scaffold the vocabulary and communication skills.t” @alenord agreed, sharing her perspective on the perfect design for incorporating diverse methodology. She said, “In order to develop proficiency we have to decide what the goal is. We consider learning targets first, then we design assessments, then we provide instruction.”

The concept of proficiency-based goals as the key element for planning diverse units and lessons was one that came up several times over the night. @SenoraDiamond55 said, “We begin at the end, of course! What do we want the students to do, and what do we need to do to get them there?” @senoraCMT went a step further with idea, saying “It is very important to me that units be applicable to students using language outside classroom! Relevance leads to engagemt!”

There were several great reasons that teachers choose this kind of “backwards design” when thinking about diverse lesson planning.

1. Increases Teacher Understanding. When you create a unit with the end goals in mind, it is easier to see the natural path that students will need to take in order to meet proficiency standards. @alenord said, “Well, I always start with my summative assmt. I have to know the goal and plan backwards.”

2. Better Time Management. Since the learning path becomes more clear with backwards design, it can help teachers better understand what the timing will need to be in order to get students to the end goal in time. @mstort6 said, “Moving backwards from the summative also helps me manage my time for each concept I teach.”

3. Concrete Goals for Students. One of the key goals in proficiency learning is being able to meet certain levels of authentic communication, and a backwards design is built around concrete proofs that students have met these standards. @alenord said, “When teaching proficiency, that is point. We have to know we’ve reached the goal. Kids deserve to know goal, too.”

Teaching to the Test

With so much emphasis on backwards design and assessment-based units, there was some discussion about how “teaching to the test” can be beneficial or detrimental in world language classrooms. While one group of teachers felt that the assessment was meant to only assess what was explicitly covered in the natural course of the class, others viewed assessments as the keystone of the entire language plan, the starting point for creation of the unit. @mstort6 said, “I must ask: why is it so controversial to teach to test? Isn’t that the material we want to make sure kids learn?”

@alenord responded, “I Don’t know if it is really teaching to test. Like a driving test. If parallel parking is one of skills, I have to teach it!” Teaching to the test is a loaded phrase with a lot of negative connotation, but having a clear connection between a final assessment and the rest of the unit is a very supported concept in the #langchat community. @senoraCMT said, “From the assessment down to the unit hook! All activities revolve around that summative assessment!”

So then, why is “teaching to the test” such a hotly debated concept?

@caraluna34 said, “I think it is the high-stakes testing culture. Depending on standards formation, some things get left out.” Unfortunately, when language teachers become so focused on only meeting local and state testing standards, they can lose perspective in their own classes. Instead of a communication-based, proficiency-based classroom culture, test scores can end up driving instruction, causing important experiences to be lightly touched on or ignored altogether.
@senoraCMT said, “Hard but SO liberating when you start to focus on acquisition instead of coverage! You’ll be so happy!”

Measuring Assessments in Diverse Ways

As there are different ways to set up units and lessons, there are a variety of ways to assess these same lessons. #langchat participants had many perspectives on the things that are vital to include when attempting to assess a unit in a differentiated way. One of the key questions that was asked considered how to make the learning process reflect the final assessment, but not give such high grade weight to the final assessment alone. @IteachHola extended the question even further, asking, “How do we change up the work we give them prior to the summative so that’s it’s not the actual assessment?”

  • @alenord said, “I create all kinds of prompts, change the tone of convo, give stimuli, vary type of practice.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “I do a lot of #PBL to engage students in active and deeper learning, but I still give proficiency assessments AFTER the presentations.”
  • @emilybakerhanes said, “Also when planning I try to incorporate community events, holidays…can help with thematic planning.”
  • @alenord said, “@caraluna34 @mstort6 I would argue that in developing proficiency, less is more. Not all concepts are vital to communication.”
  • @CoLeeSensei said, “Although I don’t do #pbl as such, I always link my ‘summative’ writing to the oral task.”
  • @CecileLaine said, “@SraSpanglish @mstort6 Integrated Performance Assessments do a great job at assessing “as close as possible” real life skills.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “@SenoraDiamond55 #LangChat I tailor rubrics to all units – there is no one rubric since all units have divergent outcomes”
  • @caraluna34 said, “Target language proficiency has to go beyond one sum assess. You can’t cram proficiency. You have to work to stay there and improve.”

Legacy Teaching

One of the key concepts that many teachers wanted to talk about was the idea of legacy teaching and how it conflicts with more proficiency-based instruction. @senoraCMT explained her interpretation of “Legacy Concepts” as things “we teach because it’s what has always been taught (i.e. chores, backpack).”

@alenord expressed her opinion that the new style of teaching language must, “focus on the must-haves for communication rather than legacy concepts.” Instead of teaching concepts in isolation, such as grammar or singular concepts, the new proficiency-based standards supports communication as the number one goal for every lesson. Since legacy concepts are often comfortable, and require less preparation and personal engagement than more comprehensive strategies, many teachers continue to pattern their classrooms in this legacy-style learning environment.

Because of this clear dichotomy between legacy-based teachers and communication-based teachers, it can be difficult to merge the styles. #langchat participants gave some great ideas on how to support legacy teachers in making the transition towards comprehensive communication classrooms.

Lead By Example. @SRTAJohnsonEBHS said, “I’m by myself, but encouraging others by example. ‘Look at these amazing results!’ is powerful.” @CoLeeSensei said, “The power of leading by example is amazing… some colleagues are led to change by the ‘buzz’ they hear from students.”

Understand Their Fears. @trescolumnae said, “One key is to find out what they’re afraid of and what keeps them holding on to the “old familiar.” @alenord said, “The day to day is what intimidates teachers hesitant to convert. Their legacy practices don’t work in this type of instruction.”

Show Them Student Success. @trescolumnae said, “Another key is for them to SEE and EXPERIENCE what proficiency-based teaching and learning looks and feels like. @CecileLaine said, “Start a class blog showcasing the great real life stuff your students do!! Share with parents.”

Highlight Weaknesses in Legacy Tools. @mjosey1 said, “I try looking at our standards with them and saying old text only doesn’t meet them.” @CoLeeSensei said, “Comfort can also equal ‘boring’ – for the teacher – I know its what sent me on a new path!”

Work as a Team to Compromise. @alenord said, “Work as team to develop team rubric that all agree to use. Slowly work towards more communicative rubric.”

Does Method Affect Acquisition?

Although this seems a simple question, there didn’t seem to be a real consensus among the group. There were quite a few, though, that believed methodology effected the final acquisition of the target language. @MCanion said, “I think the method can greatly affect the outcome. Grammar versus translation, ALM, TPRS, etc. are different in focus.” @SenoraDiamond55 agreed, saying, “Definitely in the short term. Diff styles may lead to different “a-ha” moments in terms of rate of acquisition, but once it’s there…”

On the other hand, there were teachers who believed that a proficiency-based classroom, regardless of methodology, would produce effective long-term learning. @trescolumnae said, “If the focus is on proficiency, the method is less important; if not (e.g. gr/trans), there is little or no proficiency.”

This led to a further discussion of whether different methods really matter in the long run, and which method is the most effective overall. While some teachers prefer to stick with one or two tried-and-true methods of teaching that work for them, the #langchat consensus was that most teachers are “mutts” @CoLeeSensei said, “I love the ‘changeups’ that the ‘mutt method’ (new name?) brings to my teaching!” @senoraCMT repsponded, “In MY classroom, it didn’t affect the learning of the best students when I switched methods. It allowed more students to be successful.”

@crwmsteach summed up the feeling of many #langchat teachers: “I’m glad for variety of methods as long as communication is the goal. Allows for teacher and student diversity and mutual respect.”

Favorite Teaching Strategy? Be Yourself!

Despite all of the fantastic ideas that were shared at the chat, there was an underlying current of individual methodology being shaped by communication-based learning. One of the most important elements of this concept is the unique gifts and talents of each teacher. @SECottrell said, “It bothers me when someone says “X methodology is the answer to everything” when sound principles can be anywhere. Knowing your style is ESSENTIAL!”

@senoraCMT responded, “I agree! I think trying to be someone else is what frustrates many teachers! You are most effective when you are you!” @alenord said, “Mainly just be willing to listen and learn from each other. Not all methods are good for all students or situations.”

@dr_dmd closed the night’s chat with an eloquent summation of the entire diverse methods concept: “No matter what methods appeal to you, remember we all strive for communicative proficiency as the outcome!”

Tips for Daily Planning for Diverse Lessons

  • @alenord said, “I DO plan my week, but review plan each day and adjust for next. Students drive my teaching.”
  • @senorafitch said, “Constant revision even on the spot to lesson plans is necessary. I think this is one of the marks of a good teacher.”
  • @jasoncummings1 said, “Plan the months and weeks, leave the day-to-day flexible and spontaneous. I’m willing to scrap just about any lesson plan if the opportunity to connect with real people via Skype or otherwise pops up.”
  • @alenord said, “Try to create entire lessons rather than activities. Rather than counting units, think about the focus for the year. In Plano Year 1 = present, Year 2 = past tense.”
  • @senoraCMT said, “@alenord I start the week w/ new structures. Use them asking lots of questions. Day two build a story. Day three read, add more structures.”
  • @SrtaJohnsonEBHS said, “I like the freedom to come in and play a game/tell a story/whatever that takes little planning, but is spontaneous, in TL, and FUN. (By little planning I mean, no copies to make, no ppts, no worksheets… just talk or watch a video or whatever.)”
  • @alenord said, “I look at day to day more as: Me modeling, students parroting the first few days, then I take some scaffolding away, ask them to personalize. Every day pulling more scaffolding away, increasing type of lang I want them to produce until I feel we’ve met desired outcomes.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “Less is better right? I like 8 units a year, each one with a PBL-aligned unit to explore and go deeper.”
  • @EstudiaCuba said, “Think about using readlang and google play to make longer texts more accessible.”
  • @dr_dmd said, “Love to use CI approaches, TPRS stories to provide input and L2 practice, but then pull together w/21st Cent skills in #PBL.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “CI comes from my scaffolding like adapted collaborative rubric, simplified framing questions, anticipated responses.”
  • @jeanrueckert said, “I try to align #authres to theme and Can-do statements. Helps me ‘curate’.”
  • @SraSpanglish said, “I use music as a starter 3/5 days, sing (threaten to sing) dance, sing-alongs.”
  • @suarez712002 said, “Students love when I use something personal like text messages.”
  • @mme_henderson said, “I use authentic resources daily for current events segment of warm-up. Everything doesn’t always fit neatly into the unit I’m teaching.”

Thank You

We want to thank @dr_dmd, as well as guest moderators @alenord @SraSpanglish [email protected] for taking us on such a resource-rich journey! There were so many amazing things that we didn’t get to cover in this summary, so please read the full transcript here. Hot topics included a discussion of appropriate grammar teaching methods and ideas for authentic resources to use for diverse learning styles.

We are so excited that our #langchat PLN is growing! We’d love to have you share your thoughts with us, each Thursday night at 8pm EST. If you’d like to just share and idea for a future topic, drop us a line at the #langchat forum page. We’d love to know what you are struggling with and thinking about in your world language classroom.

Additional Resources

Every language teacher’s biggest mistake
My Class PBL Projects
Establish PBL Vocabulary in the TL
21st Century WL Teacher
Genius Hour Agenda, part 2: Research
Student Interpretive Days of the Week
5 tips for using #authres
Do you know someone still teaching from the textbook?
Juventud en Cifras
The Facts About Population

Elementary in Spanish
Erica Fischer
Erica is the founder and CEO of Calico Spanish. Her passion for teaching her own children to speak Spanish led her to create Calico Spanish. Our mission is to give all children the opportunity to learn to speak real Spanish for life.

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