You see, it isn't enough to find a resource that relates to the theme of our unit to make the students read / view / use for whatever our purpose may be. Think about it. Most of our students are teenagers between the ages of 13-18. They don't seek out high volumes of information on their own. Theirs is a generation of simplification, condensation and "just think for me!"
So, what we really want from our students when we have them work with an authentic resource is really a list of things:
We want them to...
1. Interact with authentic language.
2. Apply critical thinking and problem solving skills to using the resource.
3. Learn something they didn't already know about the subject (not the language).
4. Think about the subject matter in a new way.
And if we are really good...
5. Make them change their own thinking / experience after having interacted with the resource.
So, at this point I bet you are asking, "Ok Amy, what's the trick?"
It is pretty simple really, but like I said before, so often overlooked. We have to get them to personalize the content they read or view in some way. Our mistake is that we often just ask our students to view / read/ listen and report, but how do they see themselves in the content? What makes them care about what the authentic resource has to share with them anyway? And furthermore, what makes them want to speak the target language about the darn resource?
So frequently we choose authentic resources solely based upon their topical connection to the units we teach, but how often do we (especially in the lower levels of language instruction) think like the AP teacher and find the personal or emotional connection that really gives rise to the reactions we want them to have using the target language?
I am teaching a unit about travel in my level 2 class. I want them to use a subway map, but many of my students have never had to read, much less navigate their way around any place with a paper map before. So, how do I get them to use the map AND communicate in the target language about the map? If my students are like me, using this kind of a map makes me nervous, so since travel nerves are a commonly shared human emotion, maybe this is the starting point of my lesson using the map. Maybe my job is to host and facilitate the conversation about how scary it is to use a map, what other things they would need to know and look out for, survey the room and ask other students about their own experiences using trains, subways and public transport and find out who the "experts" are in the room. THEN, my students will be ready to start playing with the map.
I am teaching my level 1 class about how to describe people, places and things and their likes and disilkes, but we have focused mainly on describing people. I also want to expose them to music from the countries that speak the target language. Rather than choose one song to play for them, have them complete a gap-fill or lyric scramble, maybe I have them have a listening party. In other words, maybe I host a listening party of the latest singles on the Latin Billboard Charts and give them a checklist survey listing a variety of describing words related to music. Then, I play all the songs to them and just have them listen and check off their own choices in the descriptions of the music. Then, I have them prepare some questions to ask each other about the music they heard. Now, my students are ready to have a personalized conversation about Latin music that I only have to monitor.
I want my level 2 class to deepen their thoughts about healthy choices by reflecting on their own choices, so I use an infographic about the effects of drinking soda pop to the body. Rather than have them answer interpretive questions about the infographic, I decide to have them discuss their own soda drinking habits and whether or not they have felt any of the physical symptoms mentioned in the infographic either after drinking soda or as a result of stopping their soda drinking.
The trick to effectively using authentic resources in the language classroom is not using them merely as interpretive activities, but tools for enhancing their interpretive skills while gaining new language and applying the content to their own worlds. We have to use the authentic resources as a mirror we hold up to their faces to take a hard look at their own practices in order for them to compare those practices to how things are done, seen, thought in another corner of the world. We then use the reflection of themselves in that mirror to inspire their interaction in the target language. In this way, an authentic resource becomes more than an activity. It becomes a lesson, or better, a learning experience that stays with our students much longer than answering questions or reporting facts ever would.
Happy Coaching, Friends!