Here’s what I wrote to flteach:
Here’s the assignment:
postal de mi vacacion! Imagina que tu y tu companero/a hicieron un viaje a
Costa Rica… Escribanle una tarjeta postal a un(a) amigo (a) sobre tu
vaccion a Costa Rica. Usa verbos en el preterito para escribir de tus
actividades y para hacerle preguntas sorbre sus activitdades.
The document should be formatted to landscape view, to look somewhat like a
postcard, one side picture and one side note. (.5 pt.)
On the other side should be a picture (.5 pt) (drawn) of your vacation!!
The picture(s) should match the activities that you did (.5 pt)
There is a greeting and a salutation. (.5 pt)
AT LEAST 5 sentences using 5 different VERBS in the past tense/preterito
2 of the 5 verbs must be irregular. (hacer, ver, dar, ir, or ser) (1.5 pt)
ALL 5 different verbs MUST be underlined or [illegible, probably
‘highlighted’] (.5 pt)
At least 3 forms of the verbs are to be used. (Yo, Nosotros, ellos, etc.)
THE FIRST SENTENCE STARTS “DURANTE MI VACACION….” (.5 pt.)
The followoing words are used to transition from sentence to sentence:
primero, luego, entonces, despues, y por fin. (1 pt.)
There is a question at the end for your friend to answer. (.5 pt)
You can see the teacher’s struggle to nail kids down, very understandable.
My granddaughter’s assignment sheet has items tallied or crossed off as she
carefully fulfills the requirements, just as for an assignment in graph
making or the causes of the Civil War. She used bucear and peces, etc. but
needed help with them. Her initial trial turned out quite decent,
comprehensible to a native speaker, but with errors expected of a learner.
The problem with this assignment, of course, is……………
And I’ll continue this on my blog b/c I think I’m beginning to irritate
people. I’m not saying any of you give assignments like this, but the real
question is what is the purpose, goal, etc., but even deeper: what is the
mechanism by which writing out this assignment with careful attention to
irregularities installs Spanish into my granddaughter’s brain when she
cannot put a three word sentence together orally and composes in writing
very slowly and painfully? I’ll discuss these issues on my blog
Two positives: I’m reading a book in response to a discussion on another
listserv re attention and there seems to be little movement among SLA
academics away from early output activities and a focus on form, so while
assignments like this may not be perfect, they are acceptable as a way of
making students aware of structures and of practicing them. Second: I’m
guessing that her teachers from last year and this year have some fluency in
Spanish due to the practice around here of hiring returned missionaries to
teach FL. Now if only the teacher would actually speak Spanish in class.
Here is what I think the thought process is of those who follow cognitive code psychology as an underlying learning theory (BTW, it must be said that EVERYONE has a theory even though they say they hate theories and are just pragmatic, etc. If you expect students to learn, you have an underlying notion of how people learn and that is a theory of learning).
So what would be expected of this assignment? Vacation, drawing a picture, friend, foreign country, etc draws the student in – it evokes fun and the belief is teenagers are interested only in fun, not work or study.
The site as Costa Rica brings in what fl teachers call culture (geography, actually, but culture is included in geography to some extent). And even the greeting should be culturally appropriate, like mi querida tia Molly.
Although sentences are called for, it’s clear that the focus is on verb forms. Interestingly, irregular verbs are stressed even though research shows that irregular forms are often acquired first – but that’s in the natural environment.
In a move toward another method of fl teaching, the teacher uses contrasts with English, urging students to use the various person forms of Sp., but incidentally encourages the continued use of personal pronouns with verbs by listing the pronouns, as if the student is to use those pronouns.
One thing I did like was his inclusion of transition words. Even an outright assignment using output might – I say, might – set students up to use such “little words” that make discourse smooth and lively.
The problem I see with the assignment is that it is very “micro-managed” (I know, perhaps that is needed in a High School classroom, BUT by doing so, it makes it a lot less “authentic”. If the presumption is that this is a “Summative” assignment, perhaps the use of “Can Do” statements to the students of what the “goal/objective” is of the assignment would be better as students would then have an opportunity to use the language in a “fun” (whatever that means) way, demonstrate that they are in the process of mastering the preterite tense, etc.
Just a thought.
We can massage this assignment in al sorts of ways. Not everything this teacher has done with this assignment is bad. From a strictly CI pov, output at this early stage is useless b/c the learner does not have enough L2 internalized to draw on. Other approaches posit that consciously manipulating grammar features i.e. practice, does get the language into the brain to be drawn on later.
However, the upshot for me is that my granddaughter isn’t learning and, from my experience, neither are her classmates.
I can be easily shot down and have absorbed a few ‘descargas” in the exchange, but I stand by my 61year history of interviewing casually hundreds of fl learners and the same picture emerges decade after decade. If we don’t admit our students walk out of class after two years and insist on pointing to the few who at least appear to have “learned” some of the language as signs of success, then we will continue the ugly pattern attested to by so many members of flteach over the years, “When I finished my four years of French, I found I could not engage in any meaningful conversation nor read at any significant level.”
Personally I like the assignment itself, with some small edits to it. BUT, I also only like it if it is a summative assessment in which there have been sufficient formative activities/assessments leading up to it. Since you make the comment that the teacher does not speak Spanish in the classroom, well, that would be a concern for me because it would lead me to believe that possibly there is not, as you state, enough L2 for the students to draw on.
I do think that output at this stage is possible with enough comprehensible input. (You and I do not necessarily agree on what CI is, but that’s for another day!) But, for an activity like the one above, students need to have the foundation to be able to succeed at the task and if they are not hearing any language, well, it is possible that they are not giving the input foundation that they need.
As you say, Debbie, we can find areas of agreement and areas of disagreement over this particular assignment (and without a fuller picture of what goes on in the classroom, even that would be fraught), but the fact we can discuss the matter without fiats and stonewalling is a good sign. In the past, I’ve had severe disagreements on a listserv with someone only to find that they live in the Phoenix area and we get together over coffee and within minutes find that 75-89% area in which we have agreement. So thanks for the discussion.
Thank you, Pat! I do have to say that your FLTeach posts are ones I always read, knowing that I may or may not agree 100% but knowing that the posts will definitely give me food for thought!