Can my novice learners interpret authentic text?

Can my novice language learners interpret authentic text?  This is a question I have gotten quite a bit lately.  Most language educators are very comfortable with exposing intermediate and advanced level learners to authentic materials from the target language culture(s).  Their level of confidence is rooted in the fact that students at the intermediate and advanced proficiency levels, through their learning experiences, have acquired enough language and a sense for how discourse is organized in the target language to be able to handle the challenge.

But, when it comes to novice level learners, there is real hesitation.  Let’s explore some of the challenges and possible solutions to them.

  1. Do novice learners have the skills to interpret text, particularly if it contains words and phrases with which they are unfamiliar?

Novice level learners benefit from being taught routines and procedures for approaching text.  These routines should be modeled for learners as they are guided through the processes.  Some examples include:

  • using text features such as visuals, titles, and captions
  • looking for cognates
  • using context to derive meaning

2.  What can I expect novice learners to do with text?

In speaking with educators about unsuccessful attempts at having novice learners interpret authentic text, my standby response is: “Is what you were asking them to do aligned with what the ACTFL-NCSSFL Can-Do Statements and the ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners tell us novices can do?”  Here’s a screenshot from the Can-Do Statements:

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When interpreting authentic text, novices can:

  • list words with which they are familiar
  • make a guess about a word that looks/sounds like one they know
  • categorize ideas into simple categories
  • write a short summary sentence describing the purpose of the text
  • answer choice questions
  • complete cloze activities
  • complete more complex tasks with modeling and sentence framing

(You can download a copy of the checklist above by clicking this link.)

When designing interpretive tasks for your novice learners, use the Can-Do statements and the bulleted list above to guide your planning.  Ensure that the tasks you are giving the students are in line with what learners at their level can do.  Asking students to demonstrate interpretive skills too far above their ability level may cause frustration, disengagement, and push back from students.  It may also perpetuate the students’ belief in their inability to read, write, and view authentic text in the target language and derive meaning from it.

3.  Where do I begin?

Start small.  Opening a class with a meme or quote that reflects the current thematic unit can be a great confidence builder.  Memes are visual and can engage students through humor and interest.  Memes and quotes can also provide an example of language structures in context.  Here are some resources for you:

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French memes and quotes

German memes and quotes

Italian memes and quotes

Spanish memes and quotes

4. Believe that novices can interpret authentic text.

Using the ideas in this blog post, I challenge you to begin to incorporate authentic text into your lesson plans for novice level classes.  And as with all new strategies, after having implemented them, reflect on the impact the interpretive tasks using authentic text had on student learning and student engagement.

 

How do I build my students’ skills to prepare them to interpret authentic text?

As language educators, we understand the merits of exposing our students to authentic resources.  So far in this blog, our focus has been about finding, selecting, and storing authentic resources.  Now let’s turn our attention to what can we do as teachers to intentionally build skills with our students for the interpretive mode.

What do readers bring to the interpretive task?

From the Teacher’s Handbook: Contextualized Language Instruction (2010) by Shrum and Glisan, they suggest the following list of what readers bring to interpretive tasks:

*Their knowledge of the target language

*Their background knowledge and world experiences

*Their knowledge of how discourse is organized

*Their ability to hold information in short-term memory

*Their ability to use a variety of strategies to help them arrive at meaning

(adapted from Shrum & Glisan, 2010, p. 183)

What are some ways I can build students’ interpretive skills?

Next, let’s consider some practical ways we can build students’ interpretive skills on a daily basis in our language classrooms:

1.Integrate authentic texts into instruction on a regular basis.

2.Provide opportunities for students to explore an authentic text in order to glean either the main idea or specific details, but without having to demonstrate an understanding of the entire text.

3.Prepare students for the task by activating their background knowledge and engaging them in anticipating the main idea of what they will read.

4.Provide students with strategies for comprehending authentic texts such as:

*Using contextual clues

*Using word families as clues to figuring out the meaning of new words

*Identifying key words that provide meaning clues

*Using titles and visuals that appear with the text as clues to meaning.

5.Use interpretive tasks as the basis for interpersonal and presentational communication.

6.Design interpretive activities that include pair and group collaboration.

7.Assist students in moving from literal comprehension (key word, main idea, and supporting detail detection) to interpretive comprehension (word and concept inferences, author/cultural perspectives, organizational principles of the text).

(ACTFL Integrated Performance Assessment Manual, 2003)

If you are interested in completing a self-assessment around the seven points above, click here.

Resources for building interpretive skills:

On my wiki, A Recipe for Rigor in World Languages, I have created a page called “Addressing the Interpretive Mode.”  I have linked there many resources in multiple languages for building students’ listening, reading, and viewing skills in the target language.

A. Building students’ confidence with text

Talking about what successful language learners do will emphasize to students how not knowing every word and making mistakes are both part of the language learning process.  The image on the right (below), is a poster that gives students a protocol for encountering unknown words in their reading of authentic text.

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There are also many resources and tools available online in multiple languages that support students’ listening, reading, and viewing skill building.  Here are a few examples below (each is hot linked to its source):

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B. Before, During and After Reading, Viewing, and Listening Activities

Mirroring the routines and processes students use in their language arts classes reinforces their interpretive skills.  Here are some examples below:

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C. The Power of Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are handy tools to support learners as they view, listen, and/or read.  In addition, graphic organizers provide students with a visual way to organize notes and information.  In many cases, you can find graphic organizers on the web in the target language.

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D. Tech Tools for Supporting Listening, Reading and Viewing Skills

There are so many web-based applications that pair well with listening, reading, and viewing activities in the language classroom and technology-enhanced classroom activities are highly engaging to students.  Click on the image below to access the links to the various web tools.

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Finally, almost all of the resources in this posting can be found on my Pinterest page called “Reading in World Languages.”

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How do I select authentic resources for my language classroom?

My previous post addressed the ways you can search for authentic resources for use in your language classroom.  Now, let’s explore criteria by which you might select the resources that are the best fit for your learners, your learning targets and your lesson plans.

One model I can offer is the four “A’s”.  Those four overarching themes for choosing authentic resources include:

  • Authentic
  • Accessible
  • Appealing
  • Aligned

Authentic:  Authentic resources are prepared by and for the target language users, not for language learners and are created solely for the use of target language speakers for pleasure or information.

Accessible: Authentic resources should be appropriate to the students’ age and proficiency level and at an appropriate level of rigor or challenge.  They should be rich in visual support, cognates, and known words and should be linked to students’ background knowledge.

Appealing:  Authentic resources should be connected to real life, be interesting to students, and grab their attention.  They may be novel, humorous, and tech-based.

Aligned: Authentic resources should be matched to learning targets, offer opportunities for students to practice interpretive skills, and can act as springboards for interpersonal and presentational tasks.  They are sources of comprehensible input and are examples of vocabulary, language structures, and culture in context.

 

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You can download a PDF of the document above by clicking here.

It’s all about choices

Over the last several years, I’ve been doing a lot of work in the areas of student engagement and differentiated instruction.  Once aspect that stands out in both areas is the power of student choice.  According to Kanevsky and Keighley, in their article entitled “To Produce or Not to Produce: Understanding Boredom and the Honor of Underachievement” (2003), choice ranks among the 5 characteristics of an optimal learning environment that students seek along with the aspects of control, challenge, complexity and caring.  Choices are motivating to most people and we often make choices based on our personal preferences.

In the world of differentiation, choice also plays center stage and no other strategy illustrates this more than Choice Boards (also called Learning Menus, Think-Tac-Toes).  Choice boards offer a menu of options for students that can vary in content, process, or product.  They are most often constructed with varied learning styles and interests in mind.  Choice boards can even be tiered so that advanced learners are steered toward more challenging choices and struggling learners toward more scaffolded choices.

Here is a link to my wiki called Dare to Differentiate where you will find a plethora of examples of choice boards in various formats (one of my favorites is the dinner menu) for various subject areas and levels.  Also check out a new type of choice board I’ve recently found called the 2-5-8.  On the wikipage, I have also linked to or uploaded examples of rubrics for choice boards along with multimedia examples of ways to deepen your knowledge on the topic.

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Power in Numbers

Teachers like to be in control.  And because of that character trait, we like to talk a lot.  We have so much to share.  But, are we making sure that students are having multiple opportunities to talk about the content they are learning?  There is a quote that I’ve heard many times in the world of education, “The person doing the most talking is doing the most learning.”

So, how do we step back and allow students to take control?  One way is through flexible groupings.  Pairs, triads, random and assigned.  Based on readiness, mixed readiness, interest, or learning preference.

21st century skills highlight collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and problem solving.  What better way to practice those skills than in groups?

In the 1990’s, Spencer Kagan came up with a vast array of structures for cooperative learning in small groups.  These structures are just as powerful today as they were almost 20 years ago.

Some of my favorites are:

  • think-pair-share
  • jigsaw
  • inside-outside circles
  • placemat
  • four corners
  • talking chips

As far as grouping strategies, some of my favorites are clock buddies and grouping cards.  Here’s a set of 36 cards that have a multitude of uses:

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For more resources on the topic of flexible grouping and grouping strategies, go to:

http://letsgetengaged.wikispaces.com/The+Power+of+Us

 

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Happy Grouping!

 

Student Engagement: A Hot Topic

It seems everywhere you look, student engagement is a hot topic.  Engaging students in learning in the 21st century is very different from the way we engaged students in the past.  We know that many students are “cooperating” and “complying” in our classrooms, and some are downright angry about how disengaged they are.

If you are interested in exploring the topic of Student Engagement, I would like to direct you to a wiki I created called “Let’s Get Engaged.”  On that wiki, I have accumulated a considerable amount of resources on topics relating to student engagement, originally based on a multi-session workshop series.

On the page called “What is student engagement?,” I include a variety of resources in multimedia on the topic.  One of my “go-to” resources on the topic is the Schlechty Center.  You may know Phil Schlechty from his popular book, Working on the Work.  Schlechty describes several levels of engagement:

  • engagement
  • strategic compliance
  • ritual compliance
  • retreatism
  • rebellion

For a pdf description of the levels of engagement, click here.

I have created a tool I call the “Engage-O-Meter” for teachers to use when reflecting on activities they plan for their students.  No one activity is likely to meet all of the qualities of engagement.  When teachers try out a new activity with a class that students do not seem to engage in, the Engage-O-Meter can give some direction to the teacher as to how the activity might be re-engineered to increase student engagement.  Here is that tool:

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An important point of discussion is the difference between engagement and entertainment.  Do I have to wear a clown nose and juggle to get my students to engage?  Not at all.  Quite simply put, entertainment is what the teacher is doing, engagement is what the students are doing.  Engaging with each other, engaging with the content, engaging in discussions with the teacher.  How do your lessons measure up on the “Engage-O-Meter?”