I do not know what your Thursday afternoon routine is during the school year from 3:00-4:00 EST, but for me, that hour is devoted to listening to the live, online, call-in radio show Tea With BVP, which is dedicated to a discussion of second language acquisition. On most days, I will leave work by 3:00, but on Thursdays, I will stay an extra hour so that I can listen to the show uninterrupted. The funny thing is that Rachel Ash, one of my Latin colleagues at my school, also listens to the show after school in her classroom, which is right next door to mine (and we never listen to it together)! One time, I called in to answer the Diva Challenge Question, and I am sure that Rachel was quite shocked to hear me on the show, considering I was in the adjacent classroom! Miriam Patrick (another one of my Latin colleagues at my school) and Meredith White (a CI Spanish teacher in my district) also listen to Tea With BVP. There are so many world language teachers throughout the country who listen to the show - there is something very communal and bonding about listening to a live, online show together. It is so much fun when listening to the show to hear someone call in and to say, "Hey, I know that person!" As I am now on summer break, I am binge-listening all of the past episodes.
One of my takeaways from listening to Tea With BVP surrounds communicative tasks, a topic which Bill Van Patten has addressed on numerous occasions. In a nutshell, BVP states that if we want our students to communicate in our language classrooms, there needs to be a meaningful purpose for it, i.e. students need to have a true reason for communication. So many times teachers rely on oral exercises or textbook dialogues as examples of communication, but these actually do not have any true purpose nor is anything really being accomplished. While teachers may view the exercises as necessary language practice, students can quickly see through these activities, view that there is no real purpose behind them, and rather see them as empty, meaningless activities - in many ways, is it necessary for students to practice with a partner? Could they not just instead read the questions on their own and write down their answers? When communication is being utilized for the completion of a task, then that communication has a purpose, i.e., the language becomes secondary to the task itself. This still means that LOTS and LOTS of input are needed in order to get students to this point; input is still the name of the game! In addition, not all tasks focus on output, as there are both INPUT-BASED and OUTPUT-BASED tasks.
I am currently reading Tasks and Communicating in Language Classrooms by James F. Lee (the book which Bill Van Pattern talks about much on his show) and Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen by James F. Lee and Bill Van Pattern, and both books are really blowing my mind with how we should be presenting and using language in the classroom. An important component is distinguishing between exercises, activities, and tasks:
- Exercises – focused practice or something that gets learners to manipulate vocabulary and grammar in a controlled way. Examples are fill in the blank, translations, transformation drills, repeating after teacher, read-alouds, and multiple choice. These are non-communicative in nature.
- Activities – events that get learners involved in the expression and interpretation of meaning. Examples are circling and "ask and answer" partner activities. These are partially communicative, as while communication is occurring, the focus tends to be on vocabulary, form and comprehension, and nothing is done with the information afterwards for a greater purpose.
- Tasks – like activities in that they get learners involved in the expression and interpretation of meaning but they have the added focus of purpose unrelated to language learning or practice. We learn something about ourselves and the world in which we live and use the language to achieve that purpose. The added component is now application of learned information. These are fully communicative.
Topic - Asking others their names, stating one's name, introducing someone
- Exercises - teacher says target language phrases aloud and students repeat the phrase aloud, students read target language sentences aloud.
- Activities - teacher tells TPRS story with circling, students read TPRS-based story involving phrases, teacher asks students' their names, students in partners ask each other their names, teachers project pictures of celebrities and ask students what their names are in the target language.
- Tasks: In the target language, introduce to the teacher three students in the class whom you do not know. This will require students asking each other "what is your name?," responding "my name is _________", and telling the teacher "his/her name is __________" based on prior input-based scaffolding. This is a task, because in the partner activity where students exchanged information about their names, there was no larger purpose for that information; the information ended there. Here in the task, the information gathered is gathered and applied for a bigger purpose: in order to introduce the student to the teacher.
For those interested, Rachel Ash and Miriam Patrick have created their own podcast series discussing Tasks and Communication in the Language Classroom.
So the big question for me: how does this apply (if at all) to a Latin classroom? To be addressed in my next post...