Is it communication? Don’t miss the mark!

Posted by Megan Smith on October 6, 2016 in 1 Planning, Proficiency, Teacher Talk, What's New

Thanks to ACTFL for teaching us about the all important 5 C’s. Communication, Culture, Community, Comparison, and Connection. (I feel like there should be six, because who teaches without coffee?!? I’ll see what I can do!) We have been focusing on these a lot during workshops lately. Although we as teachers know they are the foundation for a balanced lesson, many teachers admit to focusing on only some of them while the others fade into the background.

Communication tends to be the easiest for teachers to cover. We’re teaching a language class – it better be happening. Here’s the tough question… IS it happening? Are students really communicating in our classes?

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 I think teachers’ hearts are in the right place. I know mine was. Sometimes, though, we need to take a look at what we are doing and make sure we’re on track. I’m grateful to leaders, frustrated students, and colleagues who weren’t afraid to question some of what I was doing to help me be better.

Does the lesson have a communicative goal?

 Our district caught the “can do” fever a while back and wanted our daily objectives to be student-friendly and something the student could actually DO by the end of the class. This was an important step and helped both teachers and students know what the purpose of the class was… but just because you put the words “I can” in front of something does NOT make it communicative.

I can count to 10.

I can name 10 places in the city.

I can tell the date/time.

I can conjugate in the past/imperfect tense.

I can answer questions about a story.

When’s the last time you did any of these at a party, the gym, or over dinner. Could you have a conversation with a native speaker about them? Most of these are skills that you may need to do another task – probably something much more realistic – but on their own result in almost NO communication. They are mostly words (Novice Low) and most students would have the same memorized answers. If these are your goals then class time is probably spent practicing (drilling) these isolated skills because they aren’t about communication.

Let’s look at goals that use the same skills in a context you might see in real life.

I can tell my phone number. (numbers 1-10)

I can find out what someone likes to do and recommend places they should visit and explain why. (places)

I can ask/tell when certain Day of the Dead events are happening. (dates/times)

I can compare events in my life with the life of Frida Kahlo. (past/imperfect)

I can summarize a weather report and give my opinion about it. (instead of comprehension questions)

Students are able to complete these tasks in phrases, sentences or paragraphs, depending on their proficiency level. No one can walk into your class without room to improve. Notice, there really isn’t one correct answer. Most of these could be done in different ways.

“My number is…”

“Here is my number… Call me!”

“# is my phone number – text me! What is your number? Do you have Snapchat?”

“Hey girl, I lost my number. Can I have yours?”

The other sweet side is that you don’t have to expect students to totally master the skill before moving on. You can practice it (and push them just a little farther) in a different context during different units.

Numbers

I can tell prices of school uniforms in other countries (numbers 1-1000 depending on currencies).

I can give basic information about Hispanic athletes (height/weight in metric measurements, jersey number, years of experience, ages, salary)

I can ask for and give directions/addresses.

Past/Imperfect

I can celebrate the life the Celia Cruz.

I can compare immigrants’ journeys to the United States.

I can compare different versions of “La Llorona.”

I can interview artists about how they started their careers in art.

If communication is your goal – start by making sure your daily objective matches that. I found that once I started to improve my “can dos” to be more communicative, my lessons got richer (and included more culture, connections, comparisons, and community).

In the next post, Kara will talk about how to use authentic resources to lead into authentic communicative tasks. Don’t miss it!

2 comments for “Is it communication? Don’t miss the mark!”

  1. Robyn Matus says:

    HI Megan.
    Very interesting post. I certainly had to ask myself whether I was encouraging real communication.
    Thanks for sharing.

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