Scaffolding is a topic that several of my colleagues and I are chatting about lately. It is the unsung hero of the language classroom because it is so essential no matter what levels we teach, yet so often gets forgotten until calamity strikes and our lesson plan falls apart. Then, we stand there scratching our heads wondering what went wrong. In my opinion, when the listening practice we provide for our students fails it is because there was a lack in necessary scaffolding to support the results from that practice that we want. So, before having our students listen to something we should ask ourselves a question:
What do I want my students to get out of this listening?
Oftentimes, the answer was simply: practice. But, shouldn't our goals for their listening be more complex than that? Maybe we should go back to the performance descriptors for interpretive proficiency and see what kinds of goals we can set for our students based upon what ACTFL says.
If you think about it, our traditional (and maybe even current) methods for implementing listening in our classroom have been very inauthentic and disconnected from whole language. When in life are we only allowed to listen to something twice? When we listen to something, when do we ever put pictures in order or listen to match the audio to pictures? I would argue that even the listening practices designed for level 1 students are too simple and very inauthentic in comparison to the interpretive proficiency we really want to develop in our students. This doesn't mean that the audio programs from textbooks that many of us have are obsolete, just our methods for using them and our choosing to use only that type of listening with our students.
My suggestion is something I like to call listening in layers and so far it has worked for any language and any level of student.
CHOOSING THE APPROPRIATE AUDIO
It works especially nicely with audio that is more of a chunk or paragraph style so our students have to listen for more than just one sentence a time which is more authentic to the communicative experiences they will have in the real world. Also, it is very important to choose something that has some type of connection to the theme of your unit, but maybe extends beyond that theme as well. The listening practice can still serve as a great source of new input rather than just an informal assessment of their interpretive skill on a familiar topic because the speaker will often include details that fall outside of the context of the unit we are teaching. And how wonderful is that since speaking to a real human being will almost always include more information than we actually expect to receive!
LAYERING THE LISTENING
As you prepare the listening experience for your students, listen to the audio and try to find at least 2-3 layers of detail that you can ask your students to attend to. What I like to ask for is:
1. the superficial information related to the context of the unit
2. additional details to support that superficial information and then
3. anything students can pick out besides what is connected to our thematic context.
I do not ask for this information all at one time, especially with novices. Instead, I instruct them to listen for the first layer and I play it for them 2-3 times to make sure that most of my students get down most of the first layer of information. Then, I use the TL and comprehensible language to ask questions to confirm that they heard what they should have. At this point, I will instruct them to listen for the next layer of information I want them to attend to. I can do this either in English or the target language depending on the complexity of the listening. I play the audio again 2-3 times or more if my students request it. I believe that if it is practice and I am training their interpretive skill, I should not limit the number of times they can hear the audio. Again, after listening for the second layer of detail we discuss to confirm what they heard. This discussion also helps students who are not picking out the details because they can jot down what they should have heard and focus more carefully in the next round to see if they can pick out that information. Finally, I instruct my students to listen for the last layer of detail or anything else they can pick out about what they are hearing.
For example, in this audio Maria will be talking about her family. My instructions to my students would be:
Layer 1: Who are the members of Maria's family?
Layer 2: What are the names and ages of the family members?
Layer 3: What more can you learn about these people?
A FEW OTHER THOUGHTS
I like to use webbing and graphic organizers to help with this, and I will pick the organizer or information gathering strategy based upon the type of information the students will hear in the audio.
Another option for after you have done this with your students a few times would be to omit the discussion part to confirm what they heard and organize an interpersonal activity in which students converse in the TL to share and confirm with each other the details they should have heard.
After doing all this listening a great follow up is to have students write a summary, response or reflection in the TL to demonstrate what they heard and all the details they were able to pick out.
You might think that your students will be bored listening to a single audio that many times, but in my experience I have seen that this type of listening is a real confidence builder. They are excited to see all they can make out on their own and they have fun with the different accents they hear.
Let me know how it goes for you and your students!
Happy Coaching, friends!
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