Choice. It’s a key tenet of many teachers’ approach to language teaching. Spurred on by #langchat colleagues such as Amy Lenord, I have worked hard to provide choice in the vocabulary that my students use. Although I maintain a ‘base set’ of words for each unit – after that it’s up to them. Our motto is “you can use any word you want – as long as you can help someone else understand it.” To support this we practice expressing not understanding and how to assist someone when they don’t.
But I’ve also been thinking about choice in early presentational writing and initial interpersonal speaking. How do I give choice options, beyond just the ‘words’? How do I also begin to build an awareness of achieving expectations? How can a student start to develop a feel for ‘fully meeting’ and ‘meeting’? This is not easy with lower novices who have, really, basically memorized language at their disposal. (Keep in mind that my Japanese students have to learn a completely new orthography so it’s not a case of just learning to ‘put the words together’. This takes time and a great deal of ‘literacy’ work as many learn to read something not written with ABC’s.)
This semester I’ve tried something with my Yr1’s (the ‘never had any of the TL before’ group). In the early months of the course they are speaking and writing with mostly memorized phrases, substituting their information into the structures. On the second unit test preparation sheet I gave them the type of questions they needed to be able to respond to, both in writing and in speaking. Then I gave them a sample answer to look at – and gave them a “M” (meeting) and “FM” (fully meeting) option. It looked a bit like this…
- Where are you from? M= “from Korea” FM= “I am from Korea.”
- What do you think of sushi?” M= “it’s good” FM= “I think it is really good.”
- How often do you drink tea? M= “often” FM= “I drink it often.”
I stressed to them that they could choose what/how they wanted to express themselves and it is their choice in trying for the FM option. We also discussed that you could get ‘in-between’ with your answer. The choice in achievement became theirs. Some just wanted to get the basics. Others went for the more FM option – and the vast majority of those did so successfully. In subsequent units I have introduced these M/FM choices – some without much fanfare – and see some gravitate to the more ‘complex’ option.
Why do this? I want to:
- build in an awareness of choice in expression
- provide a challenge to those who are seeking to extend or push their learning/expression
- establish for them that there are always options in expressing themselves
- ultimately have them be aware of the concept of ‘meeting’ or ‘fully meeting’ as they continue on in their learning
Today we were working on a ‘choice’ writing piece. One of my more hesitant students called me over to ask about one of her sentences. She had used the unit book resources and opted to use some FM phrases. These actually involved a complex piece of grammar “I like to listen to music” instead of just “I like music.” (for Japanese teachers おんがくをきくことがすきです。 instead of おんがくがすきです。) . It was perfect – and she was proud that she took the risk to try the fully-meeting option. And I am pleased that providing options allows students to ‘choose’ and that in that choice they are beginning to develop a feel for ‘meeting/fully-meeting’ expectations…