Teaching similar concepts

Laura Terrill made another very interesting point on Saturday that affirms both my personal experience and the strategies that TPRS and CI teachers use.

She said that similar concepts should never be taught together. When students reach into their brain to retrieve that piece of information, there is no guarantee that it will be the correct one because they are grouped together in the student’s brain. This is why CI teachers do not teach our students grammar by giving them verb charts–we teach new structures as vocabulary, and use short pop-ups to highlight them. For example, my students know that “quería” means “wanted” even though we’ve not learned the imperfect tense explicitly. They know that “dije” means “I said”, even though we’ve never gone over irregular preterite endings.

I, personally, however, continue to find great value (okay, some value) in giving students verb charts after they’ve learned all of the pieces that fit into it separately. I am thinking right now of one student (and he is absolutely the exception, not the rule) who was completely struggling to put together logical sentences because his verbs were a total mess. When I gave them the -AR verb chart last week, a switch flipped and he is KILLING it now! I am amazed at how well he is doing! All that he needed was a formula (subtract ending add new ending), and so I continue to provide that formula for the few students that really do benefit from it. For everyone else, it’s an organizational tool. When I asked Laura about this practice, she agreed that it is best practice as long as the students are the ones that fill in the chart. Let them give ME the information that goes in it. I have a lot of grammar notes posted on this site, and when it comes time to fill in the verb charts on them, I do ask my students to give me the information (ex: “What letter at the end of a verb tells us that “I” am the one doing it?”). It is nice to be affirmed!!

Another example of my experience that affirms this assertion is opens/closes. My students are always switching the two (even though it seems obvious to me–cierra starts with a ‘c’ like closes) because we learned them at the same time AND the gesture was similar. In fact, I wrote about that in the official reflection for my evaluative observation!

Some other things that should not be taught together are saber/conocer and ser/estar. Teach the verbs at separate times, and then ask students to explain to you the difference. This affirms what she and other brilliant minds have said many times in many different ways–there are two ways to come to know things: making intellectual sense of it or making meaning of it. Making intellectual sense (knowing the rules, the facts, the charts) results in 20 percent retention, while making meaning of something allows for up to 90 percent retention. WOWZA! Therefore, we must teach what language means, not how it works.

Furthermore, we must always ensure that our students comprehend what is being read/said because they cannot retain it if they do not understand the meaning! I’ve been ruminating on this over the past few days as I reflected on some things that Laura said about using authentic resources as well as reading some different blog posts and articles on the same topic. My conclusion is that authentic resources are only valuable if they are comprehensible. If I want to use an authentic resource, I need to build a scaffold so that my students can understand it. Otherwise, I don’t see how it helps them learn the language. They can pick out some words, interpret some images, and pat themselves on the back for getting the gist of it…but how has that helped them to further acquire the language?? I would contend that it has not.

I should say that I still do some things just because they are fun, and that you will not find educational value in everything I post. Sometimes, we learn a song just because it’s a fun song, even though we won’t end up taking the time to decipher all of the lyrics. In those cases, though, I strive to build a lesson around the style of music, the singer, the themes, etc. so that it is not total fluff. And…sometimes I just let the fluff be fluff. We all need some fluff in our lives every now and again 😉

10 comments

  1. “My conclusion is that authentic resources are only valuable if they are comprehensible.” You’re brilliant. Case closed.

    Like

  2. “similar concepts should never be taught together”
    Duh! No wonder the kids never understood the difference!

    A comment on authentic resources. Comprehensible? Yes! 100% comprehensible – not necessarily. I agree, if you plan to use them to the fullest extent, building little steps to get there is of ultimate importance. But it also depends what meaning do we want our students to get out of the resources. Looking at the chart with details about school vacations in France and then comparing the data to the vacations in the US is absolutely doable by beginners. They don’t need to understand every single word, and yes, we discussed how many, when and for how long we have vacations during our school year. I’ve also used the same authentic cartoon with captions as an assessment for all levels; however, the type of questions and the depth of expected responses varied from level to level.

    After all, if we don’t expose the students to authentic resources of any kind, we’re keeping them in a vacuum. If they are not asked to evaluate, compare, contrast, analyze, derive meaning from context, take guesses (reading), or just listen for a few particular words, main idea and a supporting detail (listening) we’re robing them from experiences with natural TL and applying/figuring out strategies to make it more comprehensible. Of course, choosing an appropriate resource is always a challenge more so in listening than reading, but that’s our job to find something suitable and design an activity which will be successful for our students.

    Like

  3. I follow your blog religiously, as I get so many ideas! So, first of all, a big thanks to your hard work which is valued by so many. I teach French and Spanish in Maine to sixth, seventh and eighth graders. This year it’s only French. The topic here is one I am struggling with this year: the connection that students have to their class-created stories vs. the knowledge/appreciation they get using authentic materials. I am trying to find the balance between the two. I have been reading Shrum and Glisan’s “Teacher’s Handbook for Contextualized Language Teaching.” It promotes using authentic materials but changing the task to suit the level of the students. I just get concerned that students’ connection to French will be “doing silly stories” . It takes a long time indeed to find something suitable. Our “cultural backdrop” in our second trimester in seventh and eighth grades this year was French-speaking Africa. I used a video about a family in Gabon who sold manioc and other staples at a market. The video piece was above the level of the students, but there was enough in it for me to ask them to listen to numbers and the structures we had used in stories. The video clearly had a beginning middle and end. So after watching the video we created a story about the family to mirror what we saw in the video. In polling the students at the end of the trimester several of them mentioned the video and the story as a memorable moment in class. Yet the stories we create in our class are compelling and memorable. So my struggle continues…

    Like

    • So I’m not the only one! I am working right now on finding cultural pieces that fit into one of the six AP themes and can be discussed using target vocabulary from the stories that we use in class so that I can pair them together for more culturally rich units…much like how you did with the unit you described. It sounds like you scaffolded it very well–while they may not have taken away very much from the video itself, your scaffolding allowed them to understand the content, and they still had exposure to the authentic resources, pulling out what they could. I think that this is ideal: they go through the exercise of extracting information from an authentic resource (developing the skill of surviving outside the padded walls of our classrooms). but still come to know the content fully AND develop their language skills using our normal strategies.

      Like

  4. I want to “ditto” what Jody said.

    And I agree about keeping kids in a vacuum, as Natalia said, if we don’t offer authentic texts (written and aural), but I think that’s more to help kids know what to do when they do run into native speakers or texts. It’s a valuable exercise, but we have to seriously limit the time we spend on it. If they can’t comprehend it through scaffolding, as Martina says so beautifully, the exercise of figuring it out is not one that leads to acquisition. I can only say that because I am guilty of offering up those texts (usually song texts) and getting frustrated when eyes glaze over, even though I have the translation right there. It’s too much, and is therefore not getting in. Good reminder!

    This is a gem of a post, Martina!

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s