The answer you would probably give me if this were a face to face conversation is, yes, maybe not to each of these scenarios, but to many of them. Hewett also reminds us that communication theory teaches us that communication is essential to human development and even our health. So, if all of those things are true, how to we create the same sense of need and enjoyment in our world language classes to encourage rich interpersonal communication between our students?
To answer this question I would like to challenge you to look at the basic objectives or learning targets within your curriculum. If they are like mine, they outline a variety of communicative needs, but how enjoyable or emotionally engaging are they? Do those learning targets make our students excited about using the target language to communicate or are they an extension of the obligations they have to fulfill during their time in our classes? How can we interpret the curriculum goals in such a way that we design learning experiences for our students that illicit their emotion first and convert that into rich target language interactions? My answer to this question is communicative tone.
Let's take a look at a common learning target in a level one course.
I can describe people, places and things.
Here are some very common ones:
- Describe yourself
- Describe your family
- Describe your best friend
- Describe your house
- Describe your favorite holiday
We often ask our students to describe different people, places or things in hopes of giving them lots of opportunities to use different vocabulary, but what often happens is the vocabulary our students know the best is the vocabulary most closely associated with themselves. What would happen if rather than just change the who or what they are talking about we change the tone in which they talk about that topic. Consider this diagram:
Do we only want our students to describe these boys and state the obvious or do we really want more than that?
If we change the tone of our students' communication then we are also
- forcing them to connect their emotions to their learning
- asking them to attend to a wider variety of vocabulary
- recycle and connect vocabulary learned in other contexts
- control their emotions and harness them through the target language
- look at situations from different view points
- involving more that just a few students in the
- putting them into situations to create with the language, so then...
- we are pushing them into the next level of proficiency
And isn't developing higher and higher levels of proficiency are true goal?
Next time you are developing a lesson or communicative activity consider adding different tones to the scenarios to enrich your students' communications. Let me know how it goes :).
P.S. Thanks to Laura Sexton (aka: @SraSpanglish) for the inspiration to write this post.
The Nature of Human Communication by Dave Hewett - http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/43992_9780857024916.pdf
The Power of the Image by Laura Terrill - http://lauraterrill.wikispaces.com/file/view/Power+of+the+Image+Handout.pptx.pdf