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by Erica Fischer on Apr 14, 2015

Who leads in your classroom? Balancing Instructor Input and Student Inquiry

 
Welcome back to #langchat! Last Thursday, participants took part in a lively debate on the place of teacher input and student inquiry in the language classroom. They discussed teachers’ and students’ respective responsibilities in terms of content. Participants also reflected on the place of student-centered inquiry models, brainstormed how teachers can help students negotiate meaning in student-centered tasks, and considered strategies to help teachers be more student-centered. This topic triggered yet another fruitful, fast-paced discussion, and @MlleSulewski was not alone when she wrote, “I need about 3 assistants to keep up with #langchat.”

Thank you to all those who participated in last week’s chat, and thank you to Thursday’s moderating team, Laura (@SraSpanglish), Sara-Elizabeth (@SECottrell), Amy (@alenord), Kris (@KrisClimer), and Cristy (@msfrenchteach)!

Question 1: What is the TEACHER’s responsibility when it comes to content in the language classroom?

Participants began by reflecting on the responsibilities of the language teacher in terms of content. @MlleSulewski wrote that instructors are expected “[to] provide input, first and foremost!” @Marishawkins qualified this statement, adding that teachers are responsible for providing input that is comprehensible: “I think a [teacher’s] responsibility [is] to deliver content that is comprehensible and within bounds so [students] do not become frustrated.” @SraSpanglish also highlighted the importance of moderating tasks to avoid frustration and foster confidence: “Teachers also need to set up sufficient scaffolding to make students BELIEVE they can take on the language.” Additionally, @TPSLatin wrote that instructors should connect content to their students: “[Teachers] need to make content relatable. There are too many ways to present content to allow for a disconnect [between] content and [students].”

Question 2: What is the STUDENT’s responsibility when it comes to content in the language classroom?

In terms of student responsibilities, instructors emphasized participation in the target language. @MrDMureno wrote, “First of all, [students have the responsibility] to USE the target language. My [students] ALWAYS want to speak in English,” and @rlgrandis said, “Participation first and foremost.” Langchatters were divided about how much control students should have over content. Some instructors favored a mixture of content chosen by instructors and students. For example, @KrisClimer wrote, “ONE [student] responsibility is to ENGAGE with content they haven’t chosen; another is to CHOOSE content they want, too.” He added, “[Students] must be allowed to be more than empty vessel into which we pour content, but so much of school is [and] has been this.” @axamcarnes takes student level into consideration in deciding how much control over content students should have: “[For Spanish 1 students], I provide most content. [In Spanish 3 Honors], I provide a foundation but they also search for what they need.” Other instructors do not view content as students’ responsibility. @rlgrandis wrote, “We are responsible [for] providing content and [students] have responsibility to soak it up by listening and following interests.” Some also expressed misgivings about student selection of content. For example, @SECottrell wrote, “I do not often let my students find their own content. [It almost] always leads to huge discouragement. No matter what level, when I put my students in charge of finding content, they [use] the [first] thing [they find] and it’s ALWAYS i+17.” @azamcarnes replied, “Same here OR [the content] is in English.”

Question 3: What place do student-centered inquiry models have in the language classroom?

Next, Langchatters talked about the place of student-centered inquiry models. @SECottrell offered a brief description of ‘inquiry models’ to get participants started: “Inquiry models include Problem [or] Project-based Inquiry [or] Learning (PBI, PBL),” and @SenorLuna shared an article to provide participants with “a common understanding of student-centered inquiry models”: http://t.co/qyurigOKJ9. @SECottrell was not alone when she wrote, “I gotta be honest, I have been a slow, slow latecomer to the idea of inquiry models in [the language] class.” Nevertheless, she recognized their potential: “[The] bottom line is [that] research says inquiry models help children learn much more, much better, more permanently.” @SraSpanglish has seen the positive benefits of student-centered inquiry in her classroom: “I’m telling you the words [students] remember at the end and USE are from their passion projects at the beginning!” Some felt that that project-based inquiry is “not [given] enough” of a place in the language class (@tmsaue1), and @SenorGrayNVD wrote, “[Project inquiry is] slim to none as our curriculum is archaic and we give departmental exams. [It is very] frustrating the limited freedom I have.” Some instructors believed that student inquiry has a place at all levels, but they added that it should be expanded at higher levels. For example, @rlgrandis said, “Student-centered inquiry models have a place in every class but more in the upper levels when [students] have that foundation.” @camccullough1 agreed, writing, “[Student-centered] inquiry models are important when [students] have [language] to inquire. [They are less] appropriate for novice [students] who lack [language].” @LisaShepard2 also noted that at a given level, inquiry works better towards the end of a unit: “So far in my class inquiry works better later in a unit, after I’ve given [students] content to develop background knowledge.”

Question 4: How can teachers help students negotiate meaning in student-centered tasks?

Instructors reflected on ways to facilitate student negotiation of meaning. @LisaShepard2 highlighted the importance of modeling: “One idea is to provide modeling. My [students] have begun to use forced questioning when communication breaks down on [interpretational tasks].” @MmeFarab also encouraged instructors to “model the circumlocution that you expect from your [students],” and @RyanWestBoss said, “[Circumlocution] is such a crucial [language] skill. : ) I’ve had advanced [students] who don’t have it and they just break down.” Some instructors suggested providing students with useful vocabulary from the start to support subsequent student-centered tasks. @SenoraDiamond55 wrote, “Provide SOME useful, familiar structures, key words, transitions. [This should be enough] to help [and] still focus on inquiry but not do all work.” @SenoraWienhold said, “[Front] load [vocabulary] before [the] task.” She added that instructors could also “constantly circulate to keep [students] on track.” @MmeFarab agreed, writing, “I think circling is key here.”

Question 5: What strategies help teachers be more student-centered at different proficiency levels?

While participants set out to discuss strategies for more student-centered learning, this question quickly turned into a space for reflection on control over content. @alenord presented her action plan for students undertaking inquiry: “Here’s your question. Here’s your expected performance. Here’s your resources. Go in order! And GO GO GO.” While this may seem fairly straightforward in writing, many instructors reflected on their reluctance to hand over control to students, putting them in charge of content at times. @SenoraWienhold said, “[Well] I am discovering tonight [that] I am not very [student] driven… I need to give up the control!!” @KrisClimer relied, “A LOT of us are guilty of this, myself included. That’s why we are here to get inspired!” @ADiazMora added, “I need to get away from feeling that [because] I am not talking, I am not teaching- [It’s] ok to have [students] do the work sometimes.”

Conclusion

The ‘input versus inquiry’ debate (@tmsaue1) generated a lively discussion. While some instructors expressed their view that instructors should control content, others favored finding a balance between input and inquiry. By the end of the hour, some participants realized that input and inquiry need not be opposed to one another. @rlgrandis said, “Activities that balance teacher [comprehensible input] and [student]-centered inquiry make the two not as mutually exclusive as I once thought.” @tmsaue1 added, “[It’s] not so black and white. [Teachers] can be part of a student-centered learning model.”

Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined us last week! You can find us on Twitter every Thursday night for the weekly chat, and now you can also #langchat on Saturday at 10 a.m. ET – Same questions, more chat time!

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!

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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