But what about the idea of "unpacking" learning targets? Or, having learning targets that are broad enough to encourage reuse across communicative contexts and proficiency levels? And on that note, how can we keep the language learning achievable, while honoring the cognitive level of our students, especially in secondary programs? From the first time I ever saw her present, Laura Terrill has posed that question, and it continues to resonate with me almost to the point of haunting me. In order to actively consider the question, I recently decided to fully embrace that it to see how I can concretely answer it in my lesson design. I think the answer is to allow learning targets to drive the language development, but something else is needed to frame and encourage that higher order thinking I want my students to do. To bridge these two things together, I am stealing, as any smart teacher should do. This is how. As a part of the new planning method I am using this year, I am purposefully starting with a focus or driving question for the daily lesson. This is an element I am taking from project based learning because, while I am not implementing PBL due to time constraints and having a very structured, pre-written curriculum, I have decided that a focus question for the day can be a way to make the daily progression towards our unit learning targets something more concrete and measurable to students, while treating the content of my course similarly to other courses they take. The questions I plan are broad, but I try to make them things my students will be able to answer in the target language by the end of a lesson cycle. My hopes are that through these driving questions I am taking the communicative elements of my unit and framing them in a way that seems less artificial, less canned, and not like elementary school. I want our language learning to feel like we are learning the same types of things students learn in History, English, Humanities, etc., but just doing it in Spanish.
Another benefit to using daily driving questions is that the they are adding some context that didn't exist before. For example, the question What is Culture? was my first DDQ (daily driving question), and it might not normally be considered a part of initial conversations between one of my students and Spanish speaker from Spain or Chile, but it could lead my students to be able to answer something like How is American culture different from Spanish culture? or What do you miss about your culture? or even What do you like about Spanish culture? if a student was traveling or studying abroad, or even if I bring in a guest speaker for them to interview. On another note, my students may not have the opportunity to travel or study abroad, so that question What is culture? leads us to examine our own cultures as preparation for reading and hearing about an unfamiliar culture. In this way, their minds are ready to actually see differences they might not have before and analyze them to determine whether they are cultural or not, and THAT challenges assumptions or misrepresentations they have about Spanish speaking cultures as well as the cultures of their classmates. Win - win.
Additionally, what I can already see is that now class is not just about language. It is about many more things. Thursday and Friday my DDQ was How does life in Barcelona compare with life in our city? I love this question because it is still true to the Novice-Intermediate descriptors in that it is about them. At the same time, it is not JUST about them. They have to consider another person's or another culture's way of life and decide the advantages and disadvantages of both ways of life. For American students this is so important because they often believe that American = Better and American = Normal. I love the idea of challenging their ideas about what good and normal are. Good and normal can be more than one thing. Love it!
So, what does input and output have to do with all of this? First, the DDQ helps me plot the course of the input I am going to provide my students, and it provides a lens for my students to look through as they listen to or read the input I provide. This way, the input is more than just words and structure to first comprehend, then acquire, but also challenges their thinking about things. Another point is, if I do a good job in planning my DDQ, it should lead to their own inquiry about whatever topic we are studying at the moment. If they feel compelled to ask their own questions they have a reason to communicate, and now a reason to use the target language that before they didn't have. To me, THIS is amazing. At a more basic level, the DDQ can be the pathway from input to output because I can now embed opportunities for reflective writing in the TL throughout the course of the lesson, or pre-speaking activities such as planning questions and/or thoughts, opinions and reactions that can then be shared in mini-conversations with classmates. After that, I can ask students to share out to me and the whole class those reflections or powerful thoughts from the conversations with their partners so we all benefit from their thinking.
As a side note and instructional strategy, when I have offered my students those reflective writing or pre-speaking prep moments I have encouraged them (in English) to use that time as practice. I have invited them to ask me their questions, for new, self-selected words, for coaching, or even to be a pre-reader of what they are trying to communicate. I've told them that time is for them to hash out the language, and I have made myself available for whatever they need to help them complete those mini-tasks. In essence, I am training them to really take advantage of all the moments when they are not being assessed, and I hope that in doing so I am shaping in them a mindset that "not yet" is okay, mistakes are necessary, and I am not there to judge them in any way. I want practice time to be practice, and practice is never perfect. When those moments occur, and a student asks me to help, I am making the habit of asking their permission to give them an upgrade on what they have already done that is great. Being a generation of kids that have always been connected to devices, the idea of "upgrade" is so much more positive than "correction".
Finally, the DDQ can move students from input to output by serving both as the opening question and the formative assessment at the end of the lesson. I can have students end the lesson by responding to the question in writing or speaking to prove their learning for the day. How awesome is that? How telling is that feedback to me?
I have committed to this process and will be using DDQs during every lesson. I will also continue to blog out what I learn or what my mind is processing about it throughout the year. I hope you will share your feedback, questions and comments because I am sure they will direct my learning on all of this as well.
Happy Labor Day! Enjoy your long weekend!
And as always...
Happy Coaching, Friends!