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by Erica Fischer on Oct 20, 2014

How can we move students from “novice-mid” to “novice-high”?

Last Thursday, Langchatters were so eager to discuss how to move students to a “novice-high” level that they were already tweeting on the topic before the first question was posted! In this Q&A #langchat, participants covered lots of ground. After establishing the distinguishing characteristics of the “novice-high” level, they discussed the role that scaffolding can play in pushing students to higher proficiency levels. They then reflected on how instructors can move students to a higher level in the interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes.

We extend a big thank you to everyone who contributed to last week’s lively discussion and to our moderators, Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Kris (@KrisClimer), Amy (@alenord), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), and Laura (@SraSpanglish), for structuring the discussion.

Question 1: What characteristics distinguish a “novice-high” from a “novice-mid” student?

Instructors discussed signs that students were developing a “novice-high” level. They mentioned the ability to make “complete sentences and attempts at real discourse” (@SrtaJohnsonEBHS) and understand more complex ideas. @SrtaJohnsonEBHS also cited use of “even more advanced connectors.” @hewalleser added that students at a “novice-high” level “share information and experiences without relying totally on memorized patterned responses, play more with language.” @SECottrell acknowledged that while “[novice-mid and high levels] will both be supported by memorized language, but [a ‘novice-high’ student] can reach into [their inter language and begin] to create.” For this reason, instructors characterized language of “novice-high” students as marked by more variety and less repetition. @ms_kdub wrote, “If every sentence follows the same pattern with only minimal changes, they’re not there yet.” Finally, @JenniferSolisj added that attainment of a “novice-high” level can be accompanied by an increase in student confidence: “My [novice-high students] tend to have more confidence or feel more confortable to try and produce language.”

With regard to “novice-high” understanding, @JenniferSolisj noted that “[‘novice-mid’ students] tend to get less information with [an] authentic listening activity, [while ‘novice-high’ students] understand more details [with the] same activity [with] less repetition.” @SECottrell phrased this idea differently: “In interpretive [tasks], [‘novice-mid’ students] can distinguish words, [while ‘novice-high’ students] can more often get the main idea.”

Question 2: How does scaffolding play a role in a move to higher proficiency levels?

Langchatters discussed the important role played by scaffolding. @SrtaJohnsonEBHS wrote that scaffolding is key to any movement: “No proper scaffolding, no movement. [Students] will be lost without proper guidance! Passages should be i+1.” @SECottrell added that scaffolding can work to build student independence and success as they increase in proficiency: “[Scaffolds] build student tools so they can work through learning and communicating processes independently and successfully.” @MmeFarab agreed that scaffolding “provides necessary practice for students to learn structures [and] take risks on their own!” @MmeMurphy added that scaffolding can additionally help to lower affective filters: “I think students have to feel successful in the language so scaffolding is important. Lower the affective filter!”

Question 3: How can we push learners to the “novice-high” level in the interpretive mode?

First and foremost, instructors stressed the benefit of daily exposure to authentic resources. @SrtaJohnsonEBHS wrote: “Listen, read, listen, read, listen, read, listen more, read more [with] comprehensible input.” Langchatters also noted the importance of follow-up by teachers and peers. @KrisClimer said, “Ask about details more and more.” @MmeFarab has adopted @alenord’s strategy of “listening in layers!”, calling students’ attention to particular layers of detail at a time. @CoLeeSensei observed that teachers need not be the only one asking questions: “I’ve been asking them to create the [questions] to ask other ‘reading teams’ – [They] must dig deeper to do so.” When responding, @hewalleser highlighted a variety of ways for students to illustrate their understanding and respond to questions, suggesting “drawing, captions, retelling [a] story, [or writing] summaries.” @JenniferSolisj encourages students to try and make sense of aspects of content that they don’t understand, urging them “to always use what they know to help decode what they don’t [or to read] like a detective.” Finally, @natadel76 emphasized the importance of highlighting what students do understand, and several instructors heartily agreed: “I always end [interpretive activities] with ‘Anything else you understood?’ [This allows students] to show off.”

Question 4: How can we push students to reach for “novice-high” in interpersonal mode?

One instructor acknowledged from the start that “[interpersonal] is haaaaard.” In order to facilitate and improve student proficiency in interpersonal mode, @JenniferSolisj recognized the “[need] to provide [students] with lots of opportunities to [talk with] each other and lots of different things to talk about.” @SrtaJohnsonEBHS felt that “the most daunting part is having interpersonal practice that isn’t teacher-centered,” and @KrisClimer observed that “[controlling] one side of the [conversation (with a teacher or stronger partner)] helps [‘novice-mid’ students] become [‘novice-high’].” Even when instructors are not on the other side of a conversation, they can “[explicitly teach] how to react if [a student is] not understanding [their partner] and how to engage [with] others” (@natadel76). @natadel76 added that instructors should “[push students] to ask [follow-up] questions that are not just one word.” @alenord suggested “[starting] with a control topic: [i.e.] “Ask your partner about your family [and] respond to [questions] about your own” before adding layers of conversational complexity [i.e. “Ask your partner why their family A. is annoying B. is dependable C. is fun”]. @profesoraparker commented that while instructors provide structure, they should also “[keep it interesting,” adding, “My [Spanish 2 students] love to play improv comedy’s ‘The dating game.’” Finally, @JenniferSolisj shared that it’s “[great] to record [students’] interpersonal conversations and play [them] back for [students] to reflect on what they said.”

Question 5: How can we push students from “novice-mid” to “novice-high” in presentational mode?

In the words of @alenord, “Teach’em not to talk like Siri.” She elaborated on this point, writing, “This is the best time to integrate transitions, connectors, flavoring words, rejoinders, etc.” To playfully get away from short, simple “Siri” language, @alenord suggested the “Longest sentence challenge,” in which instructors “[give students] a topic and see which [student] can create the longest most comprehensible sentence.” @SraCastle commented that the same activity can be completed in groups: “[Students can] work in groups to make [a ‘longest sentence’]. [This forces] flavor and connectors!” Speaking of lots of words, @SenoritaBasom added that instructors should encourage circumlocution: “[Have students] use what [they] know, describe it in [their] words to get to what [they] are trying to say.” In terms of content, @bleidolf67 reminded instructors to allow students to choose their own topics: “Give students the freedom to show proficiency with a theme [or] topic that interests them.”

Langchatters observed that we should not always focus on working on modes in isolation. @JenniferSolisj pointed out that interpersonal mode can be developed along with presentational mode when students provide each other with feedback: “Provide more opportunities to peer edit and peer evaluate. They really can pick up one [another’s] errors.” @KrisClimer echoed this point and added that interpretive mode can also be developed: “I also weave in [interpretive mode] so the [audience] asks follow-up [and interpersonal mode] so [the] presenter [answers].”


Langchatters began by discussing features distinguishing “novice-high” from “novice-mid” students. They emphasized the value of scaffolding in increasing students’ proficiency and confidence, while encouraging them to take more risks. They also discussed the importance of providing students with tools to ask each other complex questions and respond with increasing complexity. Once again, instructors also commented on the value of using engaging content, connected with student interests.

Thank you!

Thank you again to all those who joined us for last Thursday’s #langchat and to our moderators, Sara Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Kris (@KrisClimer), Amy (@alenord), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), and Laura (@SraSpanglish), for directing an action-packed conversation. You are all the reason that “#langchat PLN is the best and most inspiring PLN that there is” (@MmeFarab)!

There’s still time to order your #langchat T-shirt! 36 more orders and we ship again! Only $11 plus shipping!

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 a topic you’re eager to discuss, send in your ideas for future #langchats so that our weekly discussions can become as relevant and inclusive as possible!

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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