Concept-based additional language classes offer students the opportunity to learn the target language and go beyond vocabulary retrieval, grammar, and pronunciation. Placing emphasis on helping students understand the relationship among the multimodal elements of texts is crucial for them to become able to communicate information to a specific audience.
Middle School students in years 1 and 2 (in the Spanish class) were given the opportunity to report the results of a survey conducted among their classmates through a blog entry. Soon I realised that, despite exploring several examples, students were not making sense of the various language conventions that make a blog entry accurate and relevant. Instead of showing another example, I decided to opt for another strategy.
I considered the visible thinking routine See/Sort/Expand and I grouped students in pairs. Once they were ready, they put all the blog entries they had used as mentor texts on the table. In front of them they had an empty sheet of paper with 3 columns : See/Sort/Expand.
As a first step, students made a list of all the features that every text had in common. After that, students sorted all the features following affinity patterns that were relevant to them, for instance : all the titles, all the sentence starters, or even where these features were placed in the text. Finally, they had to reconstruct the format of a blog entry without using the originals.
So, why should additional language teachers insist on understanding and not jumping to the next topic? Why should we exercise patience to identify what students cannot understand and provide them with tools that can help them achieve this goal? What is there to lose in the acquisition process of a language by slowing down, instead of aiming for coverage?
After taking the time to collect, sort, extend their findings , students were eventually very clear about the requirements of a blog entry. They were the actors of their learning, they came up with a model that works for each of them and even if the language was not yet fully accurate, they culminated the experience understanding the relationships between visible features, language conventions, message and audience.
April 19, 2023