Global Competency: Refining Hypotheses

We had a great Alaskans for Language Acquisition (AFLA) conference last weekend in Seward! The only bummer was that Cynthia Hitz didn’t join us this year 😦 Michele (the Alaska Language Teacher of the Year!) has already blogged about it, and you can read her post here. I have found it nearly impossible to carve out computer time while we settle into life with three kiddos…but I’ve been THINKING about blogging a lot!!

Our Keynote speakers this year were Bryce Hedstrom and Paul Sandrock. If you have been around the TPRS®/TCI world for awhile, you will definitely recognize Bryce’s name. I have many wonderful things to say about Bryce, but they will wait for another post. Today, I want to write about Paul Sandrock. ‘

If you are active in ACTFL and read their publications, watch their webinars, or attend their conferences, you have probably seen Paul’s name before. A former Spanish teacher, he is now a figurehead for our national organization and serves on the board of directors. What you may not know about Paul is that he is a truly delightful human being! I was impressed on numerous occasions throughout the weekend with his kindness, humility, and adaptability as he suffered through more than a few technical and logistical snafus…and even helped us to survive them with tools from his incredible tech-emergency-preparedness kit! And in a kind and patient manner! What a nice man.

Not only was Paul a nice man, but he is a nice man with a wealth of knowledge! While I was unable to attend all of Paul’s sessions because I was either presenting myself or had a 10-day-old in tow that liked to start crying as soon as I entered the room, the few snippets that I was able to catch were enough to give me a whole list of ideas for activities, lesson plans, and blog posts.

The first of his presentations that I was able to attend was on Global Competency. Paul defined Global Competency as knowing “how, when, and why to say what to whom”. Teaching culture to my students through comprehensible, compelling input is my passion! My takeaway from this session was to challenge myself to find ways to build global competency with each of my cultural units. Instead of settling for learning about a cultural practice, product, or perspective, I want to apply that knowledge and examine what it teaches us about global competency–how that practice, product, or perspective informs how, when, and why we should say what to whom in the target culture. Sandrock explained that as students investigate the world, they must recognize that their own culture influences their perceptions of other cultures’ products, practices, and perspectives. Taking those perceptions into account, they must learn to communicate effectively with people from diverse cultures and possibly take action to understand and act on issues of global importance.

Since that’s a little hard to follow, let me give you a small example–in one of my units, my students learn the target structures lives aloneworks, and needs, and then we use those structures to learn about the Argentinian gaucho. Students read a quick description of the gaucho, in Spanish, and then they learn more about it through several videos, songs, and other activities. At some point, we compare the gaucho to the American cowboy; discussing similarities and differences. However, global competency is not targeted in the unit [yet]. We learn about the gaucho, and we learn about a similar aspect of our culture, but we don’t explore how our understanding of the American cowboy might affect our understanding of the Argentinian gaucho and, even further, how that [mis]understanding might affect our communication with an Argentinian. So…how do we go about that exploration?

This train of thought led me back to my methods class, when I was still a wee baby of a Spanish teacher, and a lesson on hypothesis refinement. Hypothesis refinement is a process that students can use to identify and analyze their perceptions on the products, practices, and perspectives of other cultures, then synthesize those perceptions with new information about the topic at hand to form new, modified perceptions. Since discovering comprehensible input, my appreciation for hypothesis refinement has grown because there the process provides many opportunities for comprehensible input and comprehensible output. While quite a few educators and researchers have written about hypothesis refinement as a way to study culture, I am particularly fond of the work of Crawford-Lange and Lange because of the connection that they made between language learning and cultural learning. Their process for hypothesis refinement consists of seven steps, and I have changed the seventh step slightly and added an additional, eighth step:

Hypothesis refinement

When I wrote my sample hypothesis refinement lesson plan in my methods course, I based it on the penitentes of Semana Santa. It was an obvious sample lesson because of the similarity of their wardrobe with that of the KKK. However, I’ve since realized that a hypothesis refinement lesson need not focus on a misperception; the process can be applied to any cultural product, practice, or perspective, even when its significance seems obvious. Our own culture influences the way that we view everything in a target culture, and it is wise to examine even the most subtle of its influences.

As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a great website to find topics for hypothesis refinement today! OFLA shared a link from Larry Ferlazzo on its Facebook page. The Ferlazzo article shared a really neat website called “Fasten Seat Belts“, in which students can click on a country and read short articles that describe cultural practices in that country that might differ from the cultural norms in their own country of origin. The website even has an app, which would make it perfect for use in BYOD classes! The articles are written in English, but the vocabulary is fairly simple, so students could most likely transfer the information into the target language without much difficulty.

But how to ensure that this process provides comprehensible input and opportunities for comprehensible output? Here are some strategies:

  • Discuss the students’ initial perceptions as a class. This allows the teacher to guide the discussion. The teacher can use circumlocutions, provide translations, clarify, and circle key structures during the discussion so that students are well prepared to state their perceptions using opinion statements.
  • The teacher provides information about the concept at hand. This can be through the creation of comprehensible readings or the scaffolding of authentic resources on the topic. Either way, the teacher helps present the topic to the students using comprehensible language.
  • The teacher leads a class discussion that critically analyzes the information. The teacher must formulate comprehensible questions to ask the students and then gather and discuss responses from students. The students can discuss the questions and share their responses using cooperative learning structures (such as fan n pick) either before or after the teacher-led discussion so that they can practice output, but it is important that the teacher guide the discussion at some point so as to provide comprehensible INput, which builds TL proficiency.
  • Students work individually, in pairs, or in small groups to identify related products, perspectives, and practices in their own culture (output), and then they share them with the class so that the teacher can guide the discussion (input).
  • Students formulate their own ideas about how the changed perception should affect how, when, and why they say what to whom in the target culture. They can share these ideas in a formal assessment (writing or speaking), informally with a partner or in small groups (consider using the Team Windows structure, then doing a gallery walk), or with the class in a  teacher-guided discussion.

What are some cultural practices, products, or perspectives that you’d like to give your students an opportunity to explore using the hypothesis refinement process? And what are some other strategies that you use to build global competency in your students?


  1. Hi Martina! I have to create a trimester long culture electives starting in two weeks and thought fasten your seatbelts site would be awesome. I visited it and saw the youtube video but could not find the map where students could click on the countries. Could you help? And if you have any suggestions for topics for a culture class I would love to hear them – (this is my second year teaching…) I am trying to come up with two week units (6 units) – film, literature, food, music, pop culture, famous person? Thinking I could present a lesson for one week then they could have a week to research something on their own and present to the class (trying to get a little 20% time vibe since it is an elective – and spring!) Any suggestions appreciated!


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