It’s been years since I stopped thinking about my language units as ‘my unit about festivals’, ‘my unit about food’, etc. I’ve never been fond of having a lesson for each day of the calendar: a lesson for Valentine’s day on February 14, or a lesson about 5 de mayo on May 5. I have never understood the point. It’s not like having that class and showing students some vocabulary and sentences about the day will contribute to making them better citizens.
I have always preferred to think about how the explorations in my class adds to students’ experience as citizens. I have always made an effort to design experiences in which students will produce something that has a place in the real world. Even when students find themselves at the beginning levels of language learning, I have strived to help them see they use the language they know to create.
Asking students about what they were able to produce after a unit of inquiry and hearing a list of products that emulate communication elements of authentic texts always encourages me to keep looking for possibilities. For this reason, one of my mantras has always been: if the way I teach and explore language in a unit does not allow students to produce something that is connected to their age-appropriate reality, then it may not be worth pursuing.
I have been guiding a group of grade 6 learners for over a semester now. We have created a very strong partnership and I enjoy seeing how the way they investigate language and find patterns in the model sentences I ask them to imitate helps them to use language without “guessing”. What makes me most proud of them is how producing text for them has also become a multimodal endeavor.
In our classes, we do not produce isolated text that will spend its last days forgotten on a notebook page or digital word processor page. They have understood and embraced the culture of drafts; they continue to learn how to respond to feedback to better communicate their ideas; and above all, they are becoming great communicators in a language that is new to them.
The image below showcases a few samples of students’ work that were produced upon studying a variety of structures with the verb “gustar” (like). We explored word form inductively and they found the connections between pronouns and word form (the word ‘conjugation’ is not a word we use in our class).
We followed these steps:
- We explored a variety of examples showcasing the form for 1st person singular. This helped students follow the model and imitate the sentences.
- We explored a variety of examples showcasing the form for 3rd person singular. This helped students to notice differences and to imitate a different sentence pattern.
- We explored the structure of questions with this verb, and students were able to retrieve what they learned.
- We used the vocabulary of the IB LP attributes and made connections with different activities. This supported students to understand how to justify appreciations.
- We looked at a variety of posters: some used 1st person and some used 3rd person. Students were able to understand both.
- I have students 3 choices: inform, entertain, persuade, to tell me what the poster wanted to do, and to justify.
This simple exercise helped students understand the relevance of word choice (adjectives) when producing a poster like this, and adding details linked to such adjectives enhances the message.
In order for students to achieve conceptual understandings in the language class they need to experience the construction of such understanding; they need to observe, find patterns, and apply that understanding to create messages. They need to interact with concepts as if they were ingredients in a recipe so that they know how understanding the relationship(s) among them allows them to create content for the world of the language they are learning.