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by Erica Fischer on Sep 28, 2015

Keepin It Real — In Every Mode! #Langchat Talks Authentic Classroom Experiences

Last week, Langchatters were all about authenticity! They started off by defining an ‘authentic’ classroom experience in their own words. Participants then reflected on how to design authentic experiences for interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes. Finally, Langchatters shared some tips for assessing authentic tasks. As @magisterb480 noted, “ [An authentic experience] is about [students’] needs (to discover, to express, to share). School sometimes quells authentic [learning].” Not to fear, for participants had a wealth of suggestions about how to keep things real in the classroom!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to last week’s chat, and to Thursday’s moderating team: Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Laura (@SraSpanglish), Colleen (@CoLeeSensei), and Kris (@KrisClimer)!

Question 1: What makes a class experience ‘authentic’?

Langchatters characterized authentic class experiences as involving real language in real situations with real relevance!

  • Real Language: Participants pointed out the importance of using authentic language. @KrisClimer wrote, “[For] me, [this means using] actual, non-contrived, non-discrete-point-in-isolation [language for] communication.” @MmeCarbonneau agreed, encouraging “[real] life language (not textbook) jargon used in meaningful ways not contrived situations.” Similarly, @ProfeCochran said, “Authenticity is [about] communicating with words, structures, [and] ideas that you would really use in the real world.”
  • Real Situations: @LisaShepard2 wrote that an experience is authentic if “[it] replicates an experience that a student would have in a target language environment.” @SenoraLauraCG echoed this point, writing that keeping things authentic means “doing the types of activities that prepare [students] to have ‘I can do this!’ moments when using the [target language] in the real world.” @natadel76 added that students might even practice interacting with target language speakers: “Authentic class experience involves providing [students with] opportunities for meaningful real interactions [with the target language] community.” @LisaShepard2 noted that making contact with the target language community can be tricky: “The authentic source is easy, the audience is more difficult,” but @la_sra_hinson pointed out that such connections are easier than ever before: “I disagree! [With technology] and globalization rising, no matter what [language you] teach [you] have an audience at the touch of [your] fingers.”
  • Real Relevance: Langchatters also acknowledged the importance of real-world relevance. @kballestrini noted that an authentic “task is done for the sake of learning … not for a grade, compliance, or other mitigating factor.” Others described personal relevance as central to authentic experiences. For example, @doriecp wrote, “If it’s relevant and meaningful to the students, it qualifies as an ‘authentic’ learning experience in my book.” @VTracy7 also cited personalization as a feature of authentic activities: “All I’m coming up with is [relevance]. It has to matter to the [students] for them to be [or] feel invested.”

Question 2: How can we make interpreting (reading and listening) an authentic experience?

Many participants highlighted the importance of “choosing authentic texts in relevant situations” (@kltharri). In the words of @MmeCarbonneau, this means “using material created by natives for natives, [and] adapting the task not the material.” Langchatters shared some of their favorite authentic sources for interpretive tasks. @profepj3 wrote, “I use online news [and] news videos for interpretive [mode because] they’re shorter [with] wide appeal. Plus [students] can connect to other contents.” He added, “I love using [20minutos] @20m in my classes—[They publish a] variety of articles [and] videos that [students] can relate to.” @Lwbespanol suggested podcasts as another option, writing, “[Materials] must be culturally-related. [I use] ‘Radio Ambulante’ podcasts and transcripts.” @SlocumBeth recommended “reading tweets” as yet another alternative. As an added benefit, @KathTomi pointed out that interpretive tasks can lead to critical reflection on one’s home culture: “Reading [and listening] to what those from [the target language] countries say about [students’] country allows [for an] increased intercultural awareness [or] perspective.” @doriecp added that instructors should not do all the searching but could “…[encourage] students to be on the lookout for [the second language] in the wild and bring examples to class for interpretation,” adding that this “[increases] motivation.”

Others pointed out that stories need not come only from major news sources, but could originate in the classroom. @VTracy7 suggested “[using] class stories or info about [students] to make stories.” @magisterb480 described how he shares oral stories with his Latin class as an interpretive task: “Present only vocab on board [that students] don’t know. Tell the story orally. Have them negotiate [for] meaning without seeing [the] text itself,” adding, “[This] strategy … has helped Latin 1 [students] become not only good listeners but also has developed their writing skills.”

Question 3: How can we make interpersonal communication an authentic experience?

Langchatters noted that making interpersonal activities more authentic can entail handing more control over to students. @SenoraLauraCG wrote, “[Give students the] overall theme, but let them pick how they talk about the theme and let the [conversation] unfold.” @learnsafari also advocated for personalization: “Get students talking about something real and current to their lives, [things] that matter to them. It’s ok if they make mistakes.” Several participants underscored the importance of spontaneity. @alisonkis said, “To make it interpersonal, spontaneous conversations should be considered.” @kltharri agreed, writing, “[No] scripts! Life doesn’t come with a script!” Participants acknowledged the value of teaching students how to engage (somewhat) spontaneously with their interlocutors, sharing information but also asking questions. @doriecp noted, “Also, we shouldn’t be the only ones asking questions. Teach [students] how to express curiosity and ask questions.” A few Langchatters offered ways to get students to interact with native speakers outside of the classroom. For example, @CecileLaine wrote, “[In] French 1 we interview [native speakers. It] is not ‘[spontaneous]’ conversation but it is a step towards it.” @SraSpanglish added, “[One] time I took kids to Plaza Latino and had them find out about shopkeepers! #semiscriptedisok.” As for @JessieOelke, she has her “[students] go to [a Mexican restaurant] and order in [Spanish] with [Spanish-speaking] staff.” @SraSpanglish commented, “I think [semi-scripted] conversations are an important scaffolding tool, especially [with] authentic audiences.” @kballestrini observed that such interactions can be a “challenge in Latin,” but he has found a “partial solve by creating [a] multi-year roleplaying epic. Students think, act, read, write, speak like Romans.” He added, “[As] a result, students (as their characters) are interacting with other characters (me), and each other inside imaginary space.”

Question 4: How can we make presentational writing and speaking an authentic experience?

When it comes to presentational mode, Langchatters had lots to say about audience choice. @kltharri wrote, “[Oh] man, [it’s] sooo important to have an audience other than [the] teacher.” Many participants suggested having students present to penpals. @AHSblaz said, “[Really], pen pals (Keypals) are the answer to all 3 modes of expression and [are] highly motivating.” Some instructors have students communicate with penpals abroad. For example, @SraWillis wrote, “Throughout the year my [students] send videos [or] padlets to [a] sister school in Argentina.” @CatherineKU72 commented that penpals might also be fellow learners: “Even if students connect [with] other students in North America, [they are] great audiences for opinions, comparisons. We´re all learning.” @SraSpanglish added that penpals can be highly motivating: “[Yep], and if [students] have a ‘little buddy’ to tell about themselves, they’re SO much more into it.” In addition to penpals, Langchatters cited other possible presentational outlets. @LisaShepard2 noted that “[social] media–Twitter, [YouTube] comments, etc., provide authentic contexts [and] audiences for [novice presentational] writing.” @profepj3 mentioned blogs as yet another option: “I have [had] my students keep blogs … for a few [years] now. [I want] to expand their audience to include more interpersonal [interactions].” Speaking of interpersonal interactions, participants noted the value of feedback on presentations. @SraWiemiller recommended “[having students] ask questions of the speaker or writer.” @MmeBlouwolff echoed this suggestion: “I think it’s about looping the presentation back into the interpretive [and] interpersonal cycle, with [students] listening and responding.”

Question 5: What tips do you have for assessing authentic experiences?

When it comes to grading an authentic experience in the classroom, @CecileLaine recommended doing so “[à] la Standard Based Grading, [using whole] grading, [or using [rubrics] for each mode.” Others also suggested use of rubrics. For example, @SraWiemiller said, “[I use good] ol’ rubrics, but recently [I’ve been] doing more ‘I can’ statements – [like] ‘I can get my point across and be understood!’” Since there had been lots of talk about spontaneous communication, @VTracy7 asked, “Can spontaneity be a rubric category?! Good, gracious, what they might share!” @alisonkis shared a link with lots of ways to perform formative assessment, drawing on different modes: Finally, @kballestrini questioned whether activities can still be considered authentic once grading is introduced: “[I recommend using] your teacher listening skills and professional [judgment to evaluate]; formal assessment, [in my honest opinion], kills the ‘authentic’ nature [because of the] grade.” He added, “[The] minute you introduce a reward [or] punishment (grade), the authentic nature of the task drops away; there’s a new purpose.”


If you’re looking to keep it real in every mode, #langchat has got you covered! Participants first shared what an ‘authentic’ classroom experience means to them. Then reflected on how to design authentic experiences for interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational modes. Finally, instructors shared some tips for assessing authentic tasks in all modes.

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who contributed to yet another productive #langchat! Remember, now you can get your #langchat on both Thursday nights at 8 p.m. ET AND Saturday morning at 10 a.m. ET!

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. As @CoLeeSensei reminded participants: “Got a topic to suggest? #langchat gets its ideas from teachers like you! [Yes,] you!” Send us 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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