Random Notes from Conferences

I’ve decided that it’s time to get rid of some of the clutter in my home à la Marie Kondo. I came across a large number of notebooks in which I took notes at various conferences I attended in the past four years. Before I toss them, I decided to save some of the most important takeaways here in this blog post. In no particular order, here are some of the big takeaways I have from those events.

Notes from a TPRS workshop with Craig Sheehy and Mike Coxon

  • Authentic texts are not necessarily good sources of comprehensible input if they have too many unfamiliar words, especially for Novice students (read more about this here).
  • The best comprehensible input is RICH (Repetitive, Interesting, Comprehensible and full of High-frequency words).
  • Language is only input if it is used to communicate a message. Language used as practice is NOT input so it does not lead to gains in acquisition (research on that can be found here).
  • Dr. Bill VanPatten says that in language acquisition, there are no language errors, just different stages of language development (see more about this here).
  • Dr. Bill VanPatten also says that explicit correction of so-called student “errors” will not accelerate acquisition or increase accuracy (see more about this here).
  • For teachers, delivering input is like a friendly game of catch. Teachers should use nice, easy language with no fastballs (talking too fast) and no curveballs (using too much unfamiliar language).
  • Teachers who teach gestures along with high-frequency words can then use those gestures as non-verbal prompting when students try to produce language.
  • If it’s at all possible, teach students, not curriculum, meaning that it’s inappropriate to move on if students haven’t mastered current material.

Notes from a Classroom Management Workshop with Jon Cowart

  • Students need explicit instructions about when they’re expected to use the target language, when they can use English, and what to do if they don’t understand. These instructions will most likely need to be repeated frequently.
  • For accountability, have students self-assess their engagement and behavior.
  • If you give students directions but some are slow to comply, praising and/or thanking the students who have already followed the direction may be the catalyst needed for other students to comply, thus eliminating the need to repeat the direction or singling out students who haven’t followed it yet.
  • If the majority of a class is not following a certain rule, do a whole class reset. Stop teaching, review class rules, practice the correct behavior, discuss why the class follows rules, and try again to get back to the lesson.
  • If one or only a few students are not following a certain rule, try norming the error. Stop teaching, explain what went wrong, state what should have happened, and give the students a chance to redeem themselves once you start teaching again.
  • When praising students for good behavior, be SPECIFIC with your praise. Name the desirable action the student is doing.

Notes from a Classroom Jobs Workshop with John Sifert

  • Classroom jobs create a better sense of community, relieve and reduce teacher stress, and can improve classroom management.
  • Jobs in a CI language class fall into three categories: classroom management, story jobs, and language management jobs.
  • Classroom management jobs include: materials distributors/collectors; people in charge of the door, phone, and lights; attendance takers; nurse (in charge of Band-Aids and Kleenex); and boss (reminds people to do their job, recommends firing or promoting people).
  • Story jobs include: actors, quiz writers, illustrators, colorists, and Professor #2 (the person who gets to decide things when the teacher doesn’t).
  • Language jobs include: timekeepers (tracks how many minutes can the class stay in the target language), English police (politely reminds students speaking in English to try to talk in the Target language if possible).
  • Make sure to post jobs (preferably in the target language) so it’s easier for people to remember what they have to do.
  • Take volunteers for jobs first and try only to assign them if you don’t have enough volunteers.

Backwards Planning with Jessica Haxhi

  • Backwards Planning refers to creating units starting with the end goal in mind.
  • The first step in Backwards Planning is to identify the goals students should meet. Teachers should set realistic goals based on the students’ proficiency level and they should be able to write 2-3 Can-Do Statements based on the goal.
  • The second step in Backwards Planning is to create an assessment to measure how well students can meet the goal set in Step 1. Jessica suggests that students have a choice in how they wish to be assessed and the opportunity to demonstrate proficiency in all three modes (Interpretive, Interpersonal, and Presentational).
  • The third step in Backwards Planning is to determine what vocabulary and language structures students need to demonstrate proficiency and reach the desired end goal.

Unit Planning with Arianne Dowd

  • When planning a unit, choose the topic based on your passions or interests.
  • If you can’t think of a topic, visit other teachers’ blog posts or Pinterest accounts, such as Leslie Grahn’s Pinterest page, grahn for Lang.
  • Base your unit on an authentic resource you love. Then determine what vocabulary students will need in order to make the resource accessible to students.
  • If possible, include a cultural comparison in your unit, where students compare what they see in the resource with their own cultural products, practices, or perspectives.

Teaching With Comprehensible Input with Gary DiBianca

  • Students are prepped for success if they feel that they are in a safe environment (Safe environment = low affective filter = greater chance of acquisition)
  • If you teach with comprehensible input, its important to talk to students about second language acquisition and how the way you teach facilitates it.
  • Set expectations quickly and be consistent in enforcing them.
  • Show students that you care about them and their success.
  • Check often to see that students understand.
  • Gestures, word walls, visuals, and props can all aide in comprehension.
  • Levels of chunking language: single word, word pairs, word with prepositions, full sentences.
  • Try to change activities every ten minutes to keep students engaged.
  • Steps for Total Physical Response: Say and model, Say but don’t model, Say two commands in a row, Say two commands in a row with students’ eyes closed, Say three commands in a row, Say and add details.
  • A TPRS story only needs 5-6 sentences.
  • Classic TPRS story frame: A character has a problem and tries to solve it in three ways.
  • Follow up a TPRS story with a pre-written text of with a Write and Discuss activity.
  • Novel ways to reuse language: Songs, Picture Talk, videos, fairy tales, simple biographies, legends, and games.
  • Rereading activities: Choral translation, pair reading, drawing comics from a reading, true/false questions in English, comprehension questions about the text.
  • 5 ways to assess: Simple translation, listening comprehension, dictation, story retells, and timed writing.
  • Before starting a novel, plan prereading and post reading activities ahead of time for each chapter.
  • If you do Calendar Talk, lead students in conversation at the beginning of the month and fill out a calendar for the month based on what students say (one calendar for each class).

Equity and Social Justice in Lesson Planning with Dr. José Medina

  • Everyone has unconscious biases which find their way into lesson planning if teachers are not careful.
  • Whether teachers acknowledge it or not, lesson planning is a political act based on what teachers choose to amplify or ignore in their units.
  • Teachers need to examine their practices through a social justice and equity lens.
  • When lessons planning, plan with a content, language, and culture target in mind.
  • Try to connect the culture learning target to self, community, and the real world
  • The language target is the most important target.