In my last post I wrote about my goal of ‘traction’ for my students. But the key for me is “Is the lesson on how to communicate/what to do if there are challenges?” getting through.
My Year4’s do a group interactive oral based upon a taste test. In the past I would not have been too strict on it but this is the new me and I asked that they do their 2-day preparation for the activity all in the target language (gasp! yes – I didn’t used to think they could!). It took some time – and some work to give them what they needed – and many ‘support/needed phrases’ went up on the whiteboard. Afterwards I asked them to reflect on how it went using my usual activity rubric. More importantly I first asked them to write their answer to the following prompt: “What were the challenges in doing this – and how did you overcome them (or did you?)”. Their answers tell me that many of the skills we try to acquire to communicate are there… and also that there is some work to do.
“Personally I do not think that I completely overcame the challenges I faced, but the use of hand gestures and examples helped me through…”
“Speaking Japanese for the whole time was a big challenge. I wasn’t sure how to connect the words to make sense at items but I tried to use language that we had learned in the past. This totally helped me to go on and talk with my partner.”
“I honestly got stuck several times with my partner – at a loss for vocabulary – but I got through this by (like Lee Sensei said) finding other words to get out of the ‘hole’ and use words I do know.”
“We used body language to express what we were trying to say (when we didn’t know) and to be honest its a good thing to do – it worked!”
“It was a challenge to ask something that the other person would be able to understand – I overcame this by testing sentences until they understood what I wanted to say.”
“To overcome this I tried to use similar words, and then rephrasing to make my point get across.”
“Yesterday when I was stuck I resorted to English – but today we learned from yesterday’s mistakes and used actions and simple words – instead of English to overcome the language barrier.”
“I can converse in a conversation but planning I tend to need to use more complicated sentences and that was more difficult. I tried to overcome it by trying out different sentence starters, rewording as I needed to..”
“When my partner and I worked together I felt more comfortable to overcome the challenges of not knowing certain words”
“It was very uncomfortable at first but I focused on only using Japanese and it worked okay and I gained some confidence (in using it)”
“I think we didn’t really have a clear strategy in not using English except that we both tried our best not to and that really helped us overcome the challenge of not using it! In the end it was the effort that did it!”
“It was difficult to talk completely in Japanese – we used our unit book notes etc. to help – but it was do-able.”
And what did I learn from this?
I learned that all the work we do with assisting, circumlocuting and rephrasing is sinking in.
I learned that they will commit to using the TL only if they think it is worthwhile to do so.
And I learned this should be the norm – they should be able to plan (and do) in the target language (do I see the influence of PBL @sraspanglish?). BUT this means I start them doing this in earlier years – with lots of language support they will need. Then I can scaffold up my expectations of their language use as we ‘raise’ the bar in their TL use while planning/preparing.
It was a great to see them ‘digging in’ to do this and to learn how I can support them more as they try to move forward with language use.