Category Archives: Unit planning

Get Real!: Cultural Literacy through Authenticity – Part One: The Whys

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“Culture is an abstraction; it cannot actually be seen or touched…. We see people acting in agreed-upon ways in the face of similar situations…we notice people moving their bodies in certain ways – making choices in their lives about where to live, what to eat, how to learn, how to work and love – in response to similar events and experiences, and  say: “oh, these people belong to the same culture”.  (H. Ned Seeyle)

Our recent #langchat inspired me to blog about something which I am truly passionate, using authentic texts in the world language classroom.  We discussed the definition of culture and how to teach it.  Because culture is fluid and amorphous, it is difficult to define.  The website http://coerll.utexas.edu/methods/modules/culture/ expands upon culture as a skill.

I like the term “cultural literacy” which includes:
  • The ability to perceive and recognize cultural differences.
  • The ability to accept cultural differences.
  • The ability to appreciate and value cultural differences.
In my experience, the most effective way to teach culture is through the use of authentic texts.  They can teach cultural literacy because they contain authentic cultural information and give students exposure to real language.  Ned Seelye writes: “Learning a language in isolation of its cultural roots prevents one from becoming socialized into its contextual use. Knowledge of linguistic structure alone does not carry with it any special insight into the political, social, religious, or economic system.”

What is an authentic text?
A “text” isn’t limited to something written down. A text can be a film, an artifact, anything in a language and culture that conveys meaning.  Authentic texts are print, audio, and visual documents created and used by native speakers. Examples include books, web sites, articles, artwork, films, folktales, music, advertisements, videos, posters, news, songs, food, commercials.  Think of any experience you go through during a normal day in a foreign country. Read the rest of this entry

Voice Thread as an Assessment in the World Language Classroom

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Voicethread is a fabulous tool for a world language teacher for several reasons.
1. It is a performance assessment.
2. It can be differentiated to varying levels and needs.
3. The student is the creator and the audience.
4. It can be viewed publicly.

In my French I class, we completed a unit on the children’s story, Il y a un Alligator Sous Mon Lit (There is an Alligator Under My Bed). The students learned the rooms and furniture of the house, prepositions, fears, and how to compose a message before reading the story. Then they listened, read, watched, and acted out the story through various activities. There were many formative assessments along the way to test acquisition of vocabulary, and the summative assessment was to create a unique story based on the format of Il y a un Alligator Sous Mon Lit.

This assessment showed me what the students are able to do with the language. Rather than testing the students for discrete information, in a test or quiz that shows what they don’t know, they took what they learned and produced the best product they could at their proficiency level.

This class is extremely varied in needs and proficiency level and, I was able to modify the requirements to fit each student. Some students had more requirements than others. I provided templates for certain students, while more advanced students were given less direction. I compacted the past tense for one extremely advanced student and she wrote he story using the preterite and imperfect complete with irregular verbs!! Voicethread allows individual needs to be met on both ends of the spectrum!

After the student creates the Voicethread,they were required to view and comment on all of the other students’ Voicethreads. Because they know their project is public and viewed by their peers, the quality is better.

Using this tool in the classroom enables students to become better equipped to use Web 2.0 in a productive and responsible manner.

Below I have included a few examples of varying proficiency levels:
http://voicethread.com/book.swf?b=1908951
http://voicethread.com/book.swf?b=1908915
http://voicethread.com/book.swf?b=1908915
http://voicethread.com/book.swf?b=1893226

Who dictates what is taught?

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My students look forward to a Mardi Gras party all year, so they can eat in class.  I might as well take advantage of it! I created holiday unit in French II. The students learned all about the 14th of July (la fête national) and how Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout the world. In this way, I let the students dictate what is being taught. I will not just take a day out of the year to have a party, but I will create a unit based around an authentic cultural experience.

The summative assessment for the section on July 14th is a performance task using Voicethread.com.  The students create a scrapbook summarizing how they celebrated the holiday in France, being “invited” by another student who happens to be “studying abroad”.  An opportunity for interpersonal communication is generated as students ask the “host” what they will be doing, seeing, eating, etc.,  Some of my students during this section of the lesson asked me, “Can we review how to form questions.  I feel like not everyone is doing it right.  We need to go over it.”  Imagine my marvel…. “Sure I’ll teach you the interrogative!!!!!,” I say.  Retention of a grammar point desired to be taught by students because they “need” to know it will always be higher than that of a discrete grammar point which has no meaning.

We need to teach grammar as a function of the language, and language as a means to communication!  Let the students and the desire to communicate dictate what “needs” to be taught!

Café d’Amour

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The past month, I have worked with my French I students on a café unit. We made comparisons between French and American café and restaurant customs, looked at pictures online, previewed and then interpreted menus, and completed interpersonal activities to acquire vocabulary with many formative assessments along the way.

Today was the culminating activity, le Café d’Amour, as chosen by my students. They created the menu offerings and prices, and rotated through, playing the client, the server and the back of the house. This class varies immensely in their capabilities, more than any class I have taught in 7 years, and has quite a few behavioral issues. I was, needless to say, nervous how this would work being an unscripted interpersonal activity.

I was thrilled at how successful the activity was, all students using as much French as they were capable, being kind to each other, and smiling and enjoying the experience. My pleasure came from the fact that they had fun with the assessment, not simply because they were eating (something that all students enjoy..), but because they were using their French!  They all succeeded according to my interpersonal rubric, and all the while hardly conscious of the fact they were being assessed.

This task was effective because they chose the menu, and had stake in the activity. It was also successful because we spent time comparing American and French cafés. When we were setting up the parameters of the activity, I found many of them saying, “Noooo..they don’t do that in France!”  The final reason for the success of this activity was that it was appropriately scaffolded, something I will continue to reference and feel is one of the true secrets to achieving proficiency in a world language classroom!

My students were thrilled to be eating in class, and I was thrilled that they could eat, acquire and apply the language all at once!

Thanks for reading and bon appetit!!