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.