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by Erica Fischer on Apr 22, 2012

Expected Participation for Novice Learners

We had a fantastic and informative chat via Twitter this past Thursday as our educators discussed oral participation in language classrooms for novice students. More specifically, how much participation should we expect, and how do we assess oral capabilities?

Thanks to all of our participants of the discussion, and a special thanks to Kristy Placido (@placido) and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell (@SECottrell), who moderated the chat.

Input Vs. Output

One question stands prominent when teaching novice learners—how important is output compared to input? Beginners require time to soak up new information as well as repetition in order to ingrain the knowledge, so how involved should their oral participation be?

@dwphotoski said input is more important than output in beginning levels, and while several others agreed, many of our participants voiced that some output is needed as well.

Letting Learners Speak

Many educators require output ranging from Yes/No answers to short conversations involving target language. Below, you can find some of the inspiring strategies and practices of our participants.

  • @klafrench expects some output in speaking in her classroom with plenty of scaffolding, including mostly reactions to simple questions.
  • @SECottrell introduced the “silent period,” a stage in language learning in which learners do not speak yet actively listen and process the language.
  • In response to @SECottrell, @placido states: I believe the “silent period” is important in lowering the affective filter. But if they are ready to speak, let them.
  • Use it or lose it, says @esantacruz13, suggesting that secondary languages will be forgotten if not practiced in output.
  • @pamweseley prefers short responses to indicate comprehension of the language and subject matter.
  • Another participant, @profesorM, likes to teach language and skills that lead to simple conversations. For example, the students will discuss shopping, classes, and family, and each conversation requires students to practice five utterances.
  • In @Sra Hildinger’s classroom, the students begin with Yes/No responses and move to one-word answers. Once that is mastered, students craft short sentences for various topics.
  • @klafrench suggests starting the year with proficiency goals, so students know what is required to reach the goals and have something to work toward.
  • @pamweseley takes a fun approach to output, encouraging the learners to write silly skits and play with the language. This educator believes letting students play with language is underrated, and such activities can stir up interest and better participation.
  • @profesorM suggests teaching topically. For example, after teaching house vocabulary, students should be able to speak about their houses.

Assessing and Grading Oral Participation

Although some curriculum might require oral assessments and grades to be given, many educators have the choice of whether or not to assess oral skills. Take a look at the different types of situations below.

A Classroom Free of Oral Assessments

@dwphotoski does not pressure early learners with speaking assessments but encourages them through communication activities and other practices such as reading stories. This educator also assures students that mistakes are part of learning a language.

This approach allows students to relax, encouraging them to speak freely without pressure. Students may also be more likely to play with the language and become comfortable with the second language.

A Classroom with Oral Assessments

At the other end of the spectrum, @msfrenchteach tests learners’ speaking abilities in many ways. During one assessment, this educator gives mini quizzes, where the students pull scenarios out of a bucket and speak on the fly with a random partner.

While students may feel more pressure with this strategy, they are forced to speak and use the knowledge they have gained. Shy learners especially may need this little nudge toward practice and more confidence.

Somewhere in the Middle

@julieeldb00 challenges her students to one oral summative assessment at the end of every unit. Although it takes a few days, this educator says the time is definitely worth it.

Reviewing the unit’s material with an oral assessment is also a good way to check your students’ comprehension.

Oral Expectations

With so many different ideas on proper output and assessment for beginning learners, is there a set expectation on oral participation? After @placido asked our educators what each of them expects, we received a variety of answers.

@esantacruz13 requires students to use the concepts taught in class through forming sentences and being able to communicate at a basic level. Concepts can easily include easy grammar structures, forming answers to simple questions, and vocabulary words for topics such as family and school.

Meanwhile, @msfrenchteach expects students to speak the target language from day one. This educator has also turned their classroom into a French-only zone, creating a rewarding environment.

In the end, we all have different expectations of our students and their speaking skills. Clearly novice learners are capable of output. It is up to each teacher to determine the best strategies, motivators and opportunities to allow students to produce output in the target language at the appropriate time in the language learning process.

Thank You!

Once again, thank you to all of our participants who took part in this enlightening discussion. We touched on many useful strategies and ideas that could be useful during your next class.

For the full archived chat and a further look into the discussion, visit our Google Docs page. Stop by and join us next Thursday at 8 p.m. EST for the next exciting discussion! If you have a topic you’re especially interested in, just propose your idea at our suggestion page.

See you next Thursday on #langchat!

#LangChat is an independent group of world-language education professionals who come together every week via Twitter to share ideas and discuss pressing issues in the world of education. Check out the #LangChat wiki for more information about our goals and the team behind it all here. These weekly discussion summaries are sponsored by Calico Spanish as a service to the world-language community.

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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