“I took a foreign language for four years, but I can’t speak.”
Some version of this statement is expressed by so many of the students who took a language class in school or university. Some schools and universities are teaching based on coursebooks. Many activities are based on practicing vocabulary, grammar structures, and scripted dialogues that don’t allow students to practice real-life language and express themselves.
How should an ideal WL class look like now?
Textbooks are replaced by authentic resources (riddles, games, stories, poems, songs, cartoons).
Culture integrates into the learning engagements organically.
Learning engagements help students communicate in real-life situations, not just master the different parts of the language.
The learning process should include learning goals, needs, motivation, and reflection.
The challenge is that the kids are ready to discuss a question using sophisticated English, but they do not have the same vocabulary and structures in WL.
DEEP LEARNING TASKS SHOULD HAVE:
Clear learning goals
Rubrics of measuring progress
A place for teacher-students’ collaboration
Technologies are used in the service of deeper learning
Analyzing the WL curriculum in my school, I realized that we have been implementing Deep Learning Tasks. The learning goals in the WL curriculum are transparent and based on ACTFL standards on the following categories (Interpersonal (Person-to-Person) Communication, Presentational Speaking (Spoken Production), Presentational Writing (Written Production), Interpretive Listening, Interpretive Reading and Intercultural Communication. The main goal is to develop a functional use of a foreign language for personal purposes and in an authentic context. There are mini (every lesson) goal(s)) and major targets (a year and/ or course goals). These goals are written in the Can-Do statements formats such as:
- I can say hello and goodbye to someone my age or younger (Novice Mid)
- I can talk with someone about family or household tasks (Intermediate Low)
- I can ask for and provide information about specific events (Intermediate High)
The Can-Do statements help set the learning goals and be used as rubrics for students’ self-assessment and formative/summative evaluations, as evidence of learning and tools for reflecting.
The primary teaching method in our school is a communicative approach. The objective of this approach is to develop communicative competence, which, according to Brandl (2008), is the “ability to interpret and enact appropriate social behaviors, and it requires the active involvement of the learner in the production of the target language” (p. 5). In order to develop communicative competence, teachers are creating real-life tasks to master the following abilities (p. 6):
- linguistic competence (knowledge of grammar and vocabulary)
- sociolinguistic competence (ability to say the appropriate thing in a social situation)
- discourse competence (ability to start, enter, contribute to, or end a conversation)
- strategic competence (ability to communicate effectively and repair problems in the communication)
(BRANDL, K. Principles of Communicative Language Teaching and Task-Based Instruction. Communicative Language Teaching in Action: Putting Principles to Work. Pearson, 2008.)
The activities that we are using in our WL classes require an exchange of information and solving problems in “real-life” situations taking into consideration the learner’s ability, level of knowledge, interests, age, needs, and goals. For example, the goal – to learn how to exchange information will look variously in different classrooms.
In a kindergarten class, we will talk about favorite toys. The students will bring a toy, describe and explain why this toy is the favorite one. In grade two, we will talk about favorite games and sports; the students will explain their choices and teach the other how to play this game/sport. In grade five, we will talk about customs, traditions, and celebrations.
A KG student drew her favorite toy, wrote simple sentences with the teacher’s support, and record herself presenting her favorite toy.
A grade 2 student created a Google slides presentation about his favorite sport – tennis, he explained the rules of the game, added photos, and recorded himself talking about this sport.
A grade 5 student created a Google slides presentation about Holidays in South Korea.
“Technology is just a tool, one that can empower people to change the ways in which education is structured and delivered.”
Technology can be used effectively only when:
- It enables learning with richer content.
- It allows for creating differentiated tasks and assessments.
- It addresses the student’s learning styles, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses.
- It enhances students’ motivation.
- It masters a wide range of skills and knowledge individually.
- It links between in- and out-of-classroom learning.
- It promotes collaborative learning.
- It immerses authentic simulations.
Technology is a tool, and we, as educators, need to know how to use it efficiently. It requires specific professional development; teachers have to learn new skills and content and “unlearn” the traditional teaching method. It does not happen one day. We need to have a bank of resources and digital teaching platforms with detailed guidance, time to explore them, collaborative colleagues ready to experiment with something new, and supportive administrators prepared to make a shift in traditional school culture.