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by Erica Fischer on Jun 11, 2016

How to Help Students Make the Shift from Traditional Instructional Practices

Last week, langchatters joined in a great conversation about how to help students adjust to, and make the shift from, familiar instructional practices such as worksheets, quizzes, etc. Participants discussed what characteristics of familiar practices they feel need to be changed, what’s been pushing students out of their comfort zones, and how to develop effective learning tools. Chatters also discussed how to help students adjust to new assessment practices, and then finished off the hour discussing what’s been helping them replace practices they found unhelpful with better ones.

Thank you Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell) for leading the Thursday night chat along with help from Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), and also thank you John (@CadenaSensei) for moderating the #SaturdaySequel with some help from Laura (@SraSpanglish). And as always, thanks to everyone who participated in this week’s chats, new and old #langchat-ters alike! These chats wouldn’t be nearly as beneficial without all of your great input.

Question 1: What characteristics in a familiar practice need to be changed?

There are a lot of characteristics of familiar teaching practices that don’t quite work in the language classroom. Traditional tools like worksheets, quizzes, written tests, etc., don’t always lend themselves to real language learning so in order to make the world language classroom experience relevant and effective, there are many “familiar” practices that have to be changed. Suggestions included conjugation, too much reliance on set vocabulary/grammar, things that don’t foster actual communication, one lump grade instead of judging separate skills, teaching something just because it’s in the textbooks, verb charts, calling units by grammar topics, multiple choice options, and many more.

The general feel for the overall answer to this question was that anything being used in a classroom that causes you to teach about the language instead of helping you teach how to use the language to communicate shouldn’t be there and needs to be change. As @CoLeeSensei pointed out, it’s good to get rid of the “Old stuff I have that I used [for studying] about the language not using the language to communicate.” Similarly, @MlleSulewsksi pointed out, “And also…forgoing the [target language] to use [language 1] and talk about features of [target] language.” The best summary of how to think about this switch came from @langladies, who pointed out that the best way to approach making changes to your familiar practices is to, “Try not to focus on form but instead [focus] on communication.”

Question 2: What’s been pushing your students out of their comfort zone?

The comfort zone is that unfortunate area of any world language class where students want to stay (effort wise) so that they don’t “get it wrong” or “look silly” in front of their peers – and getting them to branch out of that comfort zone is one of the harder battles that teachers face. Langchatters discussed the various things they’ve been doing to help push their students out of the comfort zone, such as having to guess meaning from context, real world homework, IPAs, no “official” grades, knowing that there isn’t “right or wrong” answers, any speaking assignment that doesn’t let them memorize ahead of time, oral worksheets instead of written ones, and lots more.

@SraStilson summed up the “comfort zone” challenge best when she said, “Anything that goes beyond [an explicit] “do this” [assignment]. Kids want to know EXACTLY what to do EXACTLY when. I want them to be independent & creative.” Many participants felt the same, and @tmsaue1 agreed when he said, “I see this all the time. When students have to be active participants (instead of playing school) they become uncomfortable.”

At the end of the day, most of what you ask world language students to do is going to get them out of their comfort zone when compared to what they are asked to do/risk in their other classes. @Srta_bradway summed up the overall goal for getting them out of that comfort zone when she said you have to work to get them to, “Be okay with not being able to communicate the same way you would in English.” It’s not English and they won’t express themselves in the exact same way, formula, etc. The earlier you can get them on boards with that knowledge, the better!

Question 3: How do you develop an effective… whatever you want to call it?

Developing effective anything in a world language classroom is a tough job and participants had lots of good wisdom to share on the best way to go about creating their own versions of “worksheets”, “quizzes”, “assessments”, and/or whatever they choose to call a particular learning tool in their classroom. Tools that allow you to sequence and scaffold learning are always good, and making sure to keep everything focused on a communicative outcome is really what it’s all about.

Suggestions included making sure that whatever you’re doing is based on an authentic resources and/or an authentic task, start with giving it a clear/communicative-based purpose statement, work to make any activity focus on doing something with the language rather than just fill-in-the-blank, use lots of images and graphic organizers, and always make sure that anything you’re doing/using is designed to get them to help them achieve an end goal of language usage, not just for completion. Like @bjillmoore said, make sure you make it clear that “It is never [just] a handout, never [just] a worksheet; it is a task with a purpose and a step relating to the end product.”

And as @SECottrell pointed out, there are absolutely ways to make “worksheets” work for you when she said that, “The thing I love about (worksheets) is making them ask [students] to DO something meaningful WITH something meaningful.”

Question 4: How do we help students adjust to new but better assessment practices?

Students are very invested in traditional assessment practices as that is all they have ever known – to help them adjust to new (and better) assessment practices in the world language classroom, #langchat participants shared a lot of great ideas. Suggestions included allowing for lots of conversation until students understand the ‘why’ behind each given new assessment, making sure to give students something concrete that will help them feel grounded in the new process, and mirroring the assessment to the assignment so that what’s being graded for makes sense with what they’re being asked to do. Like @mmeshep said, it’s important to give “Lots of feedback so that they learn we’re looking for what’s comprehensible/interesting/relevant/etc., rather than what’s wrong.”

There was so many more good ideas shared that a summative list is below: (For a full printout, read the full tweet archives – link at the end of the summary.)

  • Reassure students that “Yes, I AM the expert here, I KNOW what’s best. Trust me, and you’ll see, too.”
  • Educate parents and admin as well so we are not lonely Don Quixotes.
  • Provide plenty of tier-ing/scaffolding.
  • M your assessment similar to your class activities – test how you teach and how the students learn.
  • Focus on a growth mindset and how that relates to language class.
  • Build trust in the classroom, practice & practice more, reflect, practice like the assessment.
  • Always share the why, not just the how of changes. Understanding why it’s better FOR THEM and not just you.
  • Set new expectations from the beginning. Explain & answer questions. Ideally if done right, you won’t have many.
  • Constantly remind them of the process and that it will take awhile; doesn’t happen overnight.

@SraSpanglish summed up the answer for this best when she said you have to make sure students understand that the changes are happening to help them, first and foremost. Because “If they see they can succeed your way, they’ll trust you more. Build trust AND SUCCESS.” And that’s really the whole point of world language learning.

Question 5: What’s been helping you replace practices you found unhelpful with better ones?

While replacing unhelpful practices can sometimes be slowgoing, participants shared the things that have been helping them make the changes happen. Suggestions includes things like #langchat, educator blogs and blogging themselves, support from colleagues, technology tools like Zaption/Edpuzzle/Edmodo, making games to help teach difficult concepts, finding like minded teachers to collaborate with, online communities, asking for/using the feedback from students, and lots more.

Taking advantage of other teachers experience and ideas, whether via face-to-face interactions or online communication, was the number one response this question produced – like @SenoraRamsey said, “I could not have done what I do without an amazing mentor at school and UNREAL help/advice from u guys on #langchat.”


Last week, langchatters had lots of great ideas about helping students adjust to moving away from traditional instructional practices. A much-liked takeaway stated the fact that teaching language is oftentimes messy and hard, and that you sometimes experience a spectacular failure but the growth, outcome, and language use that comes out in class is worth it. Another takeaway was that it’s important to keep fighting the “good fight” as it’s what’s best for your students because they are “good at playing school”, and you have to push them. And @bjillmoore summed up the overall takeaway when she said, “Just when you think you have got it… [there is] always room for new ideas and practices. Keep perfecting!!!”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined in #langchat this week and shared their thoughts on how to help students make the shift from traditional instructional practices. We hope that you continue to join #langchat as often as you are able – if the regularly scheduled weekday chat time on Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET doesn’t work for you, try joining the #SaturdaySequel, every Saturday at 10 a.m. ET instead!

Our weekly #langchats are getting busier and busier, so due to space limitations, the summaries always focus on the main themes and takeaways from each week’s conversation. Many tweets have to be omitted but to read the entire conversation from this week, you can access the full transcript on our tweet archive. Have a topic that you’re impatient to discuss?! Send us your ideas for future #langchats!

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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