Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
After hearing Dr. Beniko Mason present last weekend, I knew I had to set up a Free Voluntary Reading (FVR) library. Before I can launch it (which I'm planning on doing next week), I have to answer two questions: What will my students read? and How will I hold them accountable for reading?
For the first question, I'm drawing on a number of resources with increasing difficulty. At the easiest level, I am making the stories my classes have co-created available on my student website along with embedded readings (and audio recordings) for them. It sounds like a lot of work, but if each class only has one story or so per week, the payoff is huge because I end up with four original stories of similar proficiency levels along with embedded readings. The students are doing all of the work to create our stories and the illustrations - I'm just organizing them and simplifying them for the easier levels! And, in future years, all of the past stories will be available for additional reading. Our class story library will be HUGE, at an appropriate level with increasing difficulty, interesting, and I don't have to pay a single penny to build it.
There are also a number of other resources available, such as some readings I have personal access to. For example, I do have a few students who are advanced enough to begin reading Martina Bex's weekly "Mundo en tus manos" Newsletter. I organized this along with other reading materials into a Google Drive folder. I also included in the folder Bryce Hedstrom's reading log information, including why we read, how to choose a book, and useful reading strategies (he also has novice-level handouts for free on his page!). Finally, they can check out novels from my class library.
For the second question about how to hold students accountable, I found another use for our Google Classroom! I set up a weekly assignment with the requirements to read 30 minutes per week (my students are novice 7th graders, so I felt this was a good place to start) along with a Google Form that they fill out to receive credit for their reading. They must include their name, the date, the title of what they read, the number of minutes they read (they can get 1/4 extra credit point for each extra minute they read), and a brief summary of what they read in English. Why in English? First, it makes the reading less painful. Second, it's backed up by research. Dr. Mason did a study where students summarized their reading in a cloze format, L2, and L1 - and the students who summarized their reading in L1 actually wrote better in L2 than either of the other two groups even though they'd never written in L2. It's also important to note that I'm merely holding the kids accountable for their behavior (reading something with the intent to understand), but not assessing their comprehension through artificial questions. The students don't need to prove that they gained any particular knowledge, but rather just show me that they are getting the input that they need.
I'm launching my reading program next week - I can't wait! I'm hoping that I've provided enough free choice so that students can find something at the i-1 reading level AND something that they find interesting. I will be sure to report back!
Although I felt like my prior posts on using Kagan with CI caused a bit of a stir and a fair amount of conversation, I didn't realize just how much those ideas might endure and be attached to me until someone approached me at a Conference this weekend and asked me about using Kagan. Due to this, I feel like I need to post an update about my current position on Kagan Cooperative Learning in the CI classroom:
Due to my experiences over the past few months, I've had a "rebirth" of sorts into the CI world. Because of this, I have taken some significant steps away from using Kagan as a main method in my classroom and instead focusing on simply storytelling and communicating compelling and comprehensible methods. However, Kagan and the underlying principals of cooperative learning do still have their appropriate places and are used often in my classroom - just not as extensively and not in the same way that I was using them before. I do still feel that cooperative learning is essential in my classroom for a few reasons - it demonstrates my faith in students to figure something out on their own, allows them to build relationship through supporting one another, adds variety to the classroom, and especially because it gives me an opportunity to hear how they verbalize their internal processing of the language - I occasionally realize that the class was "understanding" something in a different way than I intended, and this gives me a quick break from instructing to monitor and adjust instruction as we move forward. I generally use teacher-centered instruction for co-creation of stories, which forms the backbone of the language that we use in class. The cooperative activities (including Kagan) come into play when students are processing input together, such as re-reading a story that we co-created. There are excellent structures beyond Kagan that utilize cooperative learning, such as the "Running Dictation" or any variation thereof. As long as students are engaging in Positive Interdependence, have Independent Accountability, have Equal Opportunities to participate, and are Simultaneously Interacting, then all of the benefits of true cooperative learning are present and valid.
I got a new toy this year when I learned that my new district provides us unlimited Google Drive space and access to Google Classroom (note: Google Classroom is something your "organization" must provide access to, both for you and your students). Prior to this year, I'd never used Google Classroom. To be honest, it really wasn't on my radar. However, the district's new teacher orientation put it front and center when they used it to teach use, and I knew I could use it in my own classroom. I'm feeling pretty happy about it now and I've barely even scratched the surface! Here's how I'm using it thus far:
If you've never used Google Classroom before, the best way I had it explained to me is that you have all of your files in your Google Drive (like your "My Documents" folder on your computer). Google Classroom is how you share those files with your students and how they interact with them. You can make announcements, create assignments, distribute handouts, host discussions, complete quizzes, and a host of other activities in your classroom.
If you're new to Google Classroom, I recommend creating a "test" classroom and playing around with it before you launch it with your students. Click buttons, create things, delete and edit them, etc. That's the best way to get to know the lay-of-the-land.
Your "Stream" is like your home page. This is where new posts appear (assignments, questions you pose to the class, and announcements). While you cannot create an announcement and instantly post it to all of your classes (I have separate classrooms for each class), you can "re-use" a post from another class. You create these posts by clicking the "+" sign on the bottom right-hand corner. Other things that appear here are Topics that you've assigned to various posts (like blog post categories), items that are due soon, and any comments that people make on the posts. Remember that the "Stream" tab organizes posts by date - old information will move down while new information will appear at the top. Anything that you want to "park" in one location for the entire course should go under the "About" tab.
The second tab is "Students". Here, you can get the class code for students to join your classroom (they do so by going to classroom.google.com, logging in, and clicking the "+" sign, then entering your code). You can see the students who have "joined" your class and send them an email (click the three dots on the row with their name). You can also set posting and commenting permissions for the entire class (drop down arrow at the top-right) as well as remove, email, and "mute" selected students (check the names you want, then click the "Actions" button near the top). I haven't played around much with the "invite guardians" button, but I've been told that the email has to be exact - if you're copying and pasting, be sure not to include any spaces before or after the email
Finally, there's the "About" tab. This is for anything you want to have in one place during the entire course. Edit your course description, see where the folder is with any class-specific documents (this is automatically created for you), and you can see the calendar of due dates (I need to play around with the calendar more). For me, the most important item is the "Add class materials" box. Here, I can park any information that I want my students to be able to access at any time. Like the "Stream", new boxes are added at the top of the screen, so if you want your sections of materials to appear in a specific order, be sure to add the sections you want to appear on the bottom first and create the sections you want to appear at the top last (I would love it if Google made it so you can re-organize this page without deleting and re-posting). Each section can have multiple items added to it, but these are added to the bottom of the list - so add individual items in the order you want them to appear. These can be file attachments (uploaded or linked from Google Drive), media, or links. My About tab currently has the following materials:
I'll finish with an explanation of how I use this every day with my students:
There are so many possibilities with this kind of technology. I cannot wait to explore more, and I'm lucky to have a Google Classroom expert in my building. I would love to hear your ideas as well and will continue to post more as they evolve!
I've had a yet another transformative experience this weekend when I attended the COFLT-WAFLT Fall 2016 Conference this weekend. And while it would be easy to chew on the information for a while and continue class as normal in the meantime, for the sake of my students I feel obligated to march into class tomorrow and make significant changes that I feel are necessary NOW.
First, I realized at a fundamental level how not only our instruction needs to change, but the system itself needs to change. As the only teacher in a brand new program that I am laying the groundwork for, I have a high degree of autonomy within my middle school program. If I can shoot for the stars with my 7th and 8th grade students, why settle for anything less? And why wait? While I cannot control what happens to my students once they leave my classroom and move on to the high school (and therefore I have an obligation to ensure that they are ready for the different system there), there is still a lot I can do in my own classroom, and my grading needs to change. Right now, I am using standards-based grading and expecting my students to achieve a certain amount of proficiency by the end of the year. They are held accountable for reaching certain benchmarks by the end of the grading period. However, one of my first ah-hah moments of the conference came from Dr. Beniko Mason when she said
Wait, what? Shouldn't students be held accountable? Well, yes. Of course. But not for what I (and I suspect others) thought. I wanted to hold them accountable for the end result of language acquisition. But, there's one major problem with that:
STUDENTS CAN'T CONTROL THEIR RATE OF ACQUISITION.
Language acquisition is like physically growing children. For instance, let's take those strange little middle-schooler bodies. We know that they will get bigger, taller, stronger, and more adult-looking as long as they are provided the things they need. If we put the things in their bodies that they need and help them learn healthy habits, they will grow no matter what. Will they grow at the same rate? No. They can't. Those ladies shoot up in middle school and leave their male peers feeling like children. Well, except for the one or two star athletes that happen to be taller than even some of the teachers by 8th grade. But, we know that the boys will eventually grow as well. It can be awkward, and the students can worry about it, but as adults we know that it'll pretty much all work out eventually. We just have to be patient, because there's really not much else we can do about it. And if we want to know how tall someone is right now, we simply tell them their exact height along the established scale. If you're in the United States, it will probably be in feet and inches. If you're in the rest of the world, this information will likely come in meters. But even though that might cause temporary confusion, we can easily and reliably convert from one system to the other and re-establish understanding.
But, say we started grading them on height. The students who "achieve" a height of 5'6" get an A, the students who achieve a height of 5'0" get a B, and so-on. In this system, some of my students get an A+ while I, the "full grown" adult, would get an A-. My mom barely gets a B-, and many of my students would earn a C or lower (I wouldn't be able to pick them out of a crowd of fourth graders). Is this fair or even necessary? No? Why? Because students can't control how much they grow, we know they're going to keep growing as long as their needs are met, and we already have a clearer and more informative method of communicating their growth. The same is true about language acquisition. The nutrition comes in the form of comprehensible and compelling messages. The exercise is what students do to interact with those messages and ensure that they are comprehending (indicating to the teacher by various means when they do and don't understand). Under these conditions, they will grow.* We know this, but neither students nor teachers have any control over the rate at which they grow, and consequently whether they will reach a certain "benchmark" by an artificial and external deadline. And the measurement tool is proficiency level. Conversations about credits and grades must be replaced by conversations about proficiency and real-world application of skills in authentic and unpredictable settings. Already, high schools, colleges and universities, and jobs use proficiency levels to award credits and establish requirements. We want credits and grades because, in theory, they represent what we "learned." But, we all know that it's a flawed measure at best. In any case, we don't really want credits and grades - we want proficiency and real-world skills. So why are we using some nonsensical measurement tool when there is something better out there already?
It's worth stating again, though, that students cannot be held accountable for this proficiency. So, then, what should they be held accountable for? And what should teachers be held accountable, if not the achievements of their students? The answer is BEHAVIORS. Are teachers providing the nutrition in the form of comprehensible and compelling messages? Are students doing their exercise by listening and reading with the intent to understand, and letting the teacher know when that isn't happening? If so, everyone is doing their job and deserves a great grade or evaluation for performance. (Objectively measuring the answers to these questions can be quickly twisted into something it wasn't meant to be, but that is a topic for another post.
So what am I telling my students tomorrow that will make their day? I'm going to tell them that we will continue to do the mini-proficiency assessments that they're already doing, but they won't be going in the grade book. Instead, I'll be grading that they did them at all, that they measured their progress, and that they set goals for future growth. I will continue to collect the data in my classroom to see who needs what, but there is no accountability for mastery on my students' part - I'm just asking them to exercise, and I'm using this data to figure out the right nutrition to give them. Their grades will be based on whether or not they do their exercise (in the form of the Interpersonal Mode Self-Evaluation Rubric). I was also inspired by Dr. Mason's discussion of extensive reading to require it outside of class, although I am going to wait until we come back from Spring Break in order to ensure that my students have enough comprehension in order to ensure that all are able to read at a level that feels easy. I am also going to provide a plethora of scaffolded reading so that all students can find an appropriate text at the (i-1) comprehension level. Students should not held accountable for what they read in the form of comprehension quizzes or questions, but rather just that they are reading, likely via an online form for them to summarize in English about what they read, as Dr. Mason showed was more effective for language acquisition than completing cloze exercises or summarizing in the target language. I'm not going to tell them about the reading yet, but I WILL be talking to administration about adding appropriate Spanish readers to our school libraries.
To wrap this up, the only thing I have to say is that I'm going to school tomorrow with a happier heart than I did last time I walked through those doors - and that's saying something. I am relieved of holding myself to student achievement of proficiency standards that I know not everyone will reach. Some students will acquire at slower rates than others, and that is ok - for both myself and my students. They don't have to worry about how it will affect their grade anymore - I will be relieving them of that pressure and simply ask them to exercise. Have fun. Get lost in the story. Be yourself. And be happy with whoever that is as long as you're making an honest effort to read and listen with the intent to understand. Help me help you understand. And that is all that you will ever have to worry about - the rest will come.
*Of course, there are exceptions in extreme cases where students may have learning disabilities that impede their ability to acquire any language, including their first language
After taking a year off from my program, I am re-applying to earn my Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Leadership. I plan to focus my dissertation on targeted and non-targeted instruction. Here is the "Professional Interests" section of my official "Statement of Purpose":
My academic and professional interests center on increasing student achievement by inspiring, supporting, and increasing the value of teachers as they inspire students and the community. In particular, I am interested in increasing the effectiveness of foreign language instruction through using Comprehensible Input. Traditionally, language has been taught using discrete word lists and grammar rules. Conversely, Comprehensible Input involves simply having students listen to and read messages in the foreign language that they can understand, while their brains subconsciously acquire the vocabulary and grammar along a natural order (Krashen, 1982). Currently, the majority of what we know about second language acquisition relies on the work of two researchers, Dr. Stephen Krashen, who is the most widely recognized researcher on second language acquisition and is the founder of modern theory, and Dr. Beniko Mason, who has researched the benefits of extensive free voluntary reading as the primary means of language instruction. While most teachers have moved away from using only rote memorization and drills for language instruction, many teachers blend these traditional methods and their derivatives with Comprehensible Input methods, creating an “eclectic” approach. However, both Dr. Krashen and Dr. Mason argue that Comprehensible Input is the only thing that works, and that anything else is either ineffective or inefficient (Mason, 2016). Further complicating the issue is that many teachers who believe that they are using Comprehensible Input are merely drilling vocabulary and grammar through reading and listening, sometimes referred to as “targeting”, which results in teachers and students regressing back to conscious effort to master vocabulary and grammatical forms and eroding the effectiveness of their teaching and learning. Instead, Drs. Krashen and Mason propose that teachers should simply focus on communicating comprehensible and compelling stories are so interesting to students that they forget that they are supposed to be learning a language and instead simply experience it (Krashen, 2016). Grammar and vocabulary lists, which currently form the backbone of most foreign language curricula, should be replaced by observable behaviors that indicate student proficiency in authentic communicative interactions (C. Ensor, personal communication, October 14, 2016).
This poses a major philosophical and practical challenge for most foreign language teachers, especially those who work within our current system of education. If students acquire language subconsciously at at different rates in unpredictable interactions, how can we assess what they learn and assign grades as our system dictates? What we know about how students learn requires a complete overhaul of our foreign language programs as well as re-training the teachers who deliver the instruction. Rather than measuring student mastery by artificial grading deadlines and percentages, students should simply be provided opportunities to experience the language. Since it would be unfair to hold students accountable for mastering skills that they cannot consciously control, conversations about grades and credits must be replaced by conversations about proficiency levels and real-world application of skills.
At the present time, there is enough compelling evidence about language acquisition to support exploring these systematic and revolutionary changes. However, little to no research nor resources exist to help teachers and administrators apply this information to real-world classrooms and programs. There is a certain sense of security in adhering to lists of items to be mastered by the end of the year, and many teachers either cannot eliminate these “targets” due to outside pressure from departments, administrators, or other sources, while other teachers will not eliminate them due to fear. Dr. Krashen recently proposed that instead of targeting chunks of language, teachers can achieve similar or superior results with completely non-targeted and unpredictable language experiences, even within the limitations of our education system (Krashen, 2016). I wish to test this hypothesis.
Krashen, S.D. (2016). Keynote address. 2016 COFLT-WAFLT Fall Conference, Portland, OR.
Krashen, S. D. (1982). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.
Krashen, S.D. (2016, July 26). Targeting 1 and Targeting 2: Working paper [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://skrashen.blogspot.com/2016/07/targeting-1-and-targeting-2-working.html
Mason, B. (2016, October) The power of comprehensible input. Conference presentation at the 2016 COFLT-WAFLT Fall Conference, Portland, OR.
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