I took a break during the past few months to read and catch up on many of the blogs, articles, books and social media sites for language teachers that I could only glance at while teaching. There are many excellent ideas out there and I felt I had nothing more to add. But a New Year nudge and seeing comments from teachers who were feeling a sense of exhaustion or burn-out prompted me to resume sorting through my accumulated French materials to see if there was anything I might contribute to support and connect with other teachers.
In my reading I noticed some growing trends in language teaching:
- To move beyond the textbook or abandon it all together.
- To use authentic texts and materials to present students with “real-life examples of language.”
- To request specific lessons and materials prepared by other teachers on social media sites.
A couple of years back I gave a presentation that provided some of my experiences with leaving aside my textbook, along with units that I created for my students. They are available on this Padlet2: Padlet – Teaching Outside the Book.3
As a general rule textbooks are useful as they provide structure and a cyclical approach to thematic units where students learn and build on skills and vocabulary topics in subsequent chapters and levels. This is especially important in light of the AP course where the units expand vocabulary and language complexity to scaffold the sub-topics into to the six overarching themes. It is convenient to have the skills, teaching and learning activities all mapped out and to have access to the choice of ancillary materials. This can help teachers who have several classes and levels.
Textbooks take a long time to create and the some information can quickly go out of date (ex. musicians, fashions, and sports stars) by the time the textbook becomes available. Students take great pleasure in pointing out the anomalies!
Textbooks in middle school
Textbooks are expensive and often the same textbook is available for level I at the middle school level, the high school level and even the college level. The vocabulary and the pacing are very different for each group and teachers are left with having to select and modify as a “one size fits all” does not work for the separate experiences. Such was the case for me with my middle school students and as a result, I used the book less and wrote more of my own materials and worksheets based on the standard themes that focused on the basic skills that should be learned (thoroughly) in a level I course with enhancements from additional materials I sourced. The emphasis on creating a communicative classroom remained so many activities to focus on acquisition of language patterns stayed the same.
What to do?
There is a vast array of authentic resources in videos, reading and audio excerpts, and infographics, in addition to teacher created materials at the fingertips of language teachers. Many of these are very creative and can be used to develop lessons and units that can be used to engage students with meaningful language experiences. With the guidance of a good plan, it is possible to determine skill areas and communicative requirements with the assistance of the ACTFL Can Do Statements and then select specific resources to achieve the desired results.
One caveat is that it is easy to become overwhelmed and lost in the search for the perfect materials in an attempt to emulate the gurus and the experts in the profession. It also doesn’t take long to discern that, despite the abundance of resources, not all of them are useful. I think serious teachers recognize resources that are cute but have no useful purpose for teaching a skill, and others that might be useful but that don’t match the levels of our students and would therefore frustrate both them and us. To be honest, I’ve been guilty of trying to fit a linguistic square peg into a pedagogical round hole in the effort to please students or create a more than memorable language experience that, unfortunately, has not achieved the desired result and left me scrambling to rethink the lesson. However, it is also deeply satisfying to produce lessons tailor-made for one’s students!
- There is no single way to teach language. Sometimes the textbook / a textbook will provide a suitable lesson and sometimes it will be useful to create a separate lesson or unit that more effectively suits the needs of the students. The teacher is also a resource for authentic language in the classroom. Often the book will provide an idea that can be developed or changed to make it more relevant to the students.
- It is good to have the freedom to choose materials and not to be obliged to sign on to the latest trend. I felt most comfortable in my classroom when I could see the students growing in their language skills and understanding the materials that were at their level.
- To experiment with teaching beyond the book, try one lesson and prepare it to achieve the goals you have selected. We all recognize a lesson that has gone well and it is very satisfying for both us and our students.
- I discovered it was easy to develop units for my small group of talented and fast learners in line with their interests to enhance their communication skills. In doing so, I always started with the question “What should the students be able to do and understand at the end of the unit?” to guide the choice of language skills and activities. The challenge is always with the less-motivated students!
I love to create lessons but it takes time (and some make-overs) to achieve the desired results. This is perhaps what I miss most since I have retired! Fortunately I still get to work with some teachers from time to time! I look forward to seeing more discussion on these trends in the language magazines and to see how they continue to impact teaching.
A note about Padlet
I like how it is possible to gather all the information – documents, sites, videos – for a specific topic or project all in one place. It therefore makes it easy to share a lot of information in one place.
Lessons on Padlet attached:
- Le passé composé – a journal approach to having students learn and use the patterns of the tense. (To be updated soon- ugh, I noticed a couple of mistakes.)
- Webquest- Destination: Paris – learning about differences between life in France and the US for beginner students. (We still use F for temperature and lb. for weight!)
- A unit (4th quarter review of level I material) – Voyage à Paris (Padlet Destination: Paris 4 with all resources attached).
- L’éducation des filles: for the advanced level II students (all girls) to compare their lives with those of others around the world.
- L’éducation des filles: single lesson (Marthe – les tâches ménagères – I used this after my students told me they didn’t do chores! Touches on social justice connection.)
- Les migrants – using special booklet https://www.1jour1actu.com/grand-dossier/special-migrants/
Other resources attached were used for pictures for discussion or other units (la technologie). I hope to update or rewrite the plans to make them more accessible as Word or Google docs.