Tomorrow most of my classes will devote one whole day to prepare for the IPA for our health unit. I plan on using Amy Lenord’s interpersonal “Jot Talk” method to warm-up. None of my students (except for one) are pre-speaking, but many of them still struggle with confidence in their abilities. I expect that this strategy will really help my self-conscious teens. Why do they need help? Why are they not clambering to get to Spanish class and speak all hour in the target language? Well, let me just tell you how it is.
Now, I am well aware of all of the research about helping students become effective speakers. We speak the target language 90% or more of the time, I regularly set them up with very structured activities, we communicate interpersonally every day, all lessons and units are aligned with the ACTFL proficiency guidelines and Can-Do benchmarks, class is (for the most part) fun and low-stress, I monitor and modify my own language to help students comprehend the input, and I scaffold the learning process so that they may have success with their output.
There are still many “experts” out there who forget one HUGE, overarching factor in the language acquisition process: AGE.
High school teachers, hear me out. If your students still struggle with interpersonal communication and you have some “expert” breathing down your neck about how there must be SOMETHING you are doing wrong, fear not. Let yourself off the hook and politely remind said “expert” (and yourself) that early adolescence and young adulthood is a totally different game! Teens are not falling all over themselves like primary or intermediate students (talking about schools, not proficiencies) to please the teacher. Teens are not desperate to be the absolute best in the class. Teens can’t always be courted and swayed by super duper engaging activities and a teacher that could win an Oscar for her performances (doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try).
Teens are irregular, at best. The only things that matter to them are themselves and their social life– check the psychology if you question that statement. This means that they are over scrutinizing every tiny move that they themselves make. Speaking in front of peers in a language at which they are little more than Novices? Whoa, now that is asking a LOT. Even if you have done all of the things that I listed above, teens are still going to be terrified of doing any spontaneous oral communication without having some sort of feeling of assurance that they. will. NOT. sound stupid. That is why when you, the teacher, walk to one side of the room, you’ll notice that the other side of the room starts saying random words in the target language, or they just give up all together! Don’t believe me? Hide a video camera!
I know what you’re saying in your head “but the 90%, the affective filter, the structured activities…”. Yes, ideally, it should leave your students wanting more, more, more interpersonal communication. But to those people who have the ideal situation (maybe you teach in a private school, or you have the ideal demographic, or perhaps you just teach in a school or community that has extremely high expectations and standards already in place), I’d like to tell you that it is very different out here in the real world where communities are no longer putting emphasis on education.
Well, now, after all of that “heaviness”, here are the prompts that we will use tomorrow to scaffold our interpersonal communication!
Students will view the prompts, then have just about 30 seconds to jot down a “consejo” (advice) before we move to the next prompts. We will then partner up, and go through the slides, giving our “consejos”. We will go through the prompts one last time with no notes to wrap up the activity.