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Gregory S. Child
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The Language Teaching Puzzle
Gregory S. Child
A portfolio submitted in partial fulfillment
Of the requirements for the degree
Master of Second Language Teaching
Dr. María Luísa Spicer-Escalante Dr. Karin de Jonge-Kannan
Major Professor Committee Member
Dr. Joshua Thoms Dr. Bradford Hall
Committee Member Department Head
UTAH STATE UNIVERSITY
Copyright © Gregory S. Child 2012
All Rights Reserved
The Language Teaching Puzzle
Gregory S. Child
Master of Second Language Teaching
Utah State University, 2012
Major Professor: María Luísa Spicer-Escalante
Department: Languages, Philosophy, and Communication Studies
This portfolio is a compilation of beliefs about effective foreign language (FL)
teaching. The core of this portfolio is a teaching philosophy, in which theories, such as
comprehensible input, teacher and student roles, and activities are explained. The teaching
philosophy is accompanied by a reflection of the authors teaching observed from a video.
Following the teaching philosophy and personal teaching reflection are three artifacts
centered on language, culture, and literacy. The language artifact contains an observational
study in which instructors’ practices are compared with their beliefs. The cultural artifact
is focused on storytelling. Many civilizations employ storytelling in the form of oral
traditions to pass on learning. In the artifact, effectiveness of storytelling as an approach to
FL teaching and learning is examined. The literacy artifact is a proposal for a research
study. In the proposal, questions are raised about the effectiveness of computer-aided
support materials offered to students as they navigate various texts. The final sections of
the portfolio contain a “looking forward” section, an annotated bibliography, and
references. [152 Pages]
I would like to thank Dr. María Luísa Spicer-Escalante, whose enthusiasm for
linguistics and support throughout the program have been inspiring. The direction she
gave was instrumental in the creation of several artifacts in this portfolio. I would also like
to thank Dr. Karin de Jonge-Kannan. Without her support this portfolio would not exist
today. She has also been influential in my decision to pursue a Ph.D. I thank Dr. Joshua
Thoms for opening my eyes to a new aspect of language instruction and learning (i.e.,
CALL). His counsel and support will always be appreciated. I would also like to thank my
colleagues for the time spent discussing the material for each class. Finally I would like to
thank my family for all of the support and encouragement along the way. Especially I
would like to thank my wife Lea, who has been a guiding light to me.
I would like to thank my wife, Lea. She was the driving force behind my
completion of this degree. When things got busy and complicated it was she who brought
order to the chaos that I had created. Lea helped me every step of the way. Thank you!
Table of Contents
Table of Contents…………………….….……..……………………………………….. vi
List of Figures………………………..…...………...….….……………………………viii
Professional Environment….……………………….….…....…...........….....….…..….… 3
Apprenticeship of Observation……………………….……………...….……….. 4
Personal Teaching Philosophy…………………………………………………... 7
Observation of Others……………………………….….….…….…….….……..33
The Communicative Classroom: Insights on Perceptions and Practice.…....…... 36
Storytelling in a Foreign Language Classroom ………………………….…..…...60
Annotated Bibliography………………………………………………………………... 91
List of Figures
Figure 1. The seven pieces of my puzzle…..….….…….….………….…………………8
Figure 2. Variation with puzzle pieces ….………..……………….…………………….27
Figure 3. My puzzle…….….……….….....…..…..…..………………………………...28
Figure 4. Progressive glossing step 1…………………….….…..……………………...140
Figure 5. Progressive glossing step 2………………………....…………………………141
Figure 6. Progressive glossing step 3…………………………………….…….….…….142
Figure 7. Progressive glossing step 4……………………………………….…..……….143
This portfolio is a demonstration of my professional growth as a Master of Second
Language Teaching (MSLT) student. The focal point of this portfolio is my teaching
philosophy. In my teaching philosophy, I refer to language teaching as a puzzle in which
teaching principles, such as comprehensible input, teacher and student roles in the
classroom, implicit versus explicit learning, and classroom activities are described as the
pieces to my puzzle. However, unlike many puzzles, the pieces that I describe can be
manipulated in many ways to create multiple shapes. Once I was able to identify the shape
I was trying to put together (i.e., the goal of my instruction), the pieces fell into place.
Writing my teaching philosophy was a difficult process. I first approached it as if
there were one right answer, an answer that I was unable to find. It took me a considerable
amount of time to realize that I was looking for what I believe to be effective teaching.
Therefore, within my teaching philosophy, I combine research with my own experiences
to illustrate what I believe effective language teaching to be.
Accompanying my teaching philosophy are three artifacts that support my beliefs.
The first artifact deals with reflecting on practices in the classroom. In this artifact, I
discuss a study which I conducted in which I observed that teachers’ beliefs about
language education do not always match their practices in the classroom. The second
artifact is a proposed study on incidental vocabulary acquisition. I believe that using
computer-aided readings in the classroom can facilitate vocabulary acquisition. In my
final artifact, I examine the effects of using storytelling in the classroom along with a
description of how I would use stories to enhance my teaching.
My time in the MSLT program has been valuable to me. I have learned about
myself, my strengths, and my weaknesses. I have learned about working with others,
specifically that I do not have to have all of the answers and that it is ok to ask for help.
And I have learned about language teaching, much of which challenged what I previously
believed. Within this portfolio are the highlights of what I have accomplished, but what I
have gained from being in this program could easily fill many more pages.
I hope to be a university teacher of Spanish, working with Spanish classes of all
levels and types, including both heritage and non-heritage Spanish speakers. In addition, I
want to train future language teachers. I have developed a passion for learning and
teaching foreign languages, which I want to use to inspire and encourage new teachers. I
see myself teaching methods and theories of second language acquisition to help future
teachers develop their own applicable teaching philosophies.
I hope to be instrumental in the development of curricula that fill the gaps that
exist between knowledge about language and the teaching of language (Bartels, 2005). I
want to research and contribute to the profession and not merely consume others’
research. I see myself going to different countries and observing how language teaching is
done elsewhere. Gleaning from the best practices of others, I hope to bring back new
insights into how to better our own educational practices. Our profession is a dynamic
one, always evolving, and I see myself actively involved in making it more effective.
To facilitate my goals I will be attending the University of Iowa starting in the fall
of 2012. While at the University of Iowa I will pursue a PhD in foreign language and ESL
instruction. Upon completing my PhD I will then seek a position as a university professor
where I may achieve my goals.
Apprenticeship of Observation
I never imagined I would be a Spanish teacher, or even a fluent Spanish speaker.
While I had always been told that education is an important aspect of life, I never believed
it. But I was fifteen when I first heard this and, while struggling in high school, it was then
that my father gave me her advice. She said, “I don’t care what you do, you can be a
sanitation engineer if you want, as long as you are the best one out there! Which means
you must get educated!” It was after hearing my grandmother’s words that my educational
journey really began; I would venture to say that it is really just beginning to get
When I was younger, I struggled in school; all schoolwork was a chore not
willingly undertaken. I did, however, have teachers who found ways to make school
interesting to me. My fifth grade teacher, Miss Dickamore, was one of those teachers. Her
class was fun, because we were always on our feet doing some activity. I can hardly
remember sitting in her class. She had us sit down only so she could explain the next
activity and lay out its parameters. I loved her action-packed curriculum.
After leaving her class and making the dreaded transfer to high school, things
became monotonous and flavorless, that is until Spanish class. Of all the classes I had, I
was most proud that I was enrolled in that one. It was difficult, and I struggled to earn a
‘C’. However, when registration came around for Spanish II, there was no question in my
mind whether I would register for it. This is when the most memorable educational
experience of my life came about: the teacher told me “no.” She said that I struggled too
hard in the class, that I would just fail Spanish II, and that she was helping me to maintain
a relatively decent GPA by not allowing me to fail. I was so mad! The teacher, the person
whom I trusted in the classroom, had just told me that I was not good enough to be given
the chance. Looking back now, I should actually thank her; she helped my grades more
than she knows, for no matter what I did or what class I took I was going to prove her
Shortly after graduating from high school, I chose to purse a two-year volunteer
opportunity with my church. I was asked to go to Bolivia and serve among a Spanish-
speaking population. Through immersion and not just memorization, I was able to learn
Spanish. I was in a situation where the goal was communication and not on whether I
could conjugate a verb or not. Being placed in a different situation I was able to succeed
and I think I speak it better than my high school Spanish teacher ever did. When I returned
home I decided that I was going to become a Spanish teacher and help students realize
their goals–be it speaking Spanish or finding academic success–I wanted to be able to tell
my students that taking my class would teach them to communicate. I never want any
student to be told, by a teacher especially, that he or she is not good enough no matter how
dedicated that student may be.
I graduated and found a job as a Spanish high school teacher in Colorado. I arrived
to my classroom abounding with ideas of how I was going to help my students achieve
more than any class before could. However I quickly got stuck juggling my lofty goals
with classroom management and I did not know what to do. As a first-year teacher, I had
worried that I would fail, that students would not learn. So at the beginning of the year I
observed the other Spanish teachers, and like a sponge looking for the “right” way to
teach, I absorbed all that I could. I went back to my classroom with a stack of worksheets
and full of false confidence. I had seen the “success” that worksheets provided my
colleagues and thought that I could copy what I had seen and I would not be a failure as a
teacher. At first, the worksheets seemed to be great; I thought that students were mastering
concepts that before were just out of their grasp. I created an error free environment,
however, I noticed, that I could not get the students to converse with me. I attributed that
to a lack of confidence, the students had not memorized the vocabulary, or they did not
pay attention during class. I placed all of the blame on the students for not being able to
use the language; it was not my teaching. I fell into a pattern of not teaching language use,
but how to succeed on worksheets.
When I noticed what I was teaching the students, and the lack of my ability to
create effective Spanish communicators, I was not happy. I had become the type of
teacher I that I did not like, but I was stuck. I tried to break free and teach Spanish the way
I had intended. I envisioned my students communicating in Spanish by the end of the year,
but I did not know what to change or how to change it. No matter what I tried, the pattern
that I had seen my colleagues use seemed to be the most effective. Lecture, worksheet,
and test–I hated it–I had become a teacher who did not facilitate students’ acquisition of
This brings me to my current endeavors in the Master of Second Language
Teaching program. This time, I am not here to prove my old Spanish teacher wrong, but to
prove that there is a better way of teaching. I believe that every student can learn another
language and should be given that opportunity through effective teaching. And so my
journey continues, every day learning to be better than the last.
Personal Teaching Philosophy
Personal Teaching Philosophy
When I was young, I was introduced to a puzzle game called Tangrams. The
objective of this game was to manipulate seven puzzle pieces in order to create different
shapes (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. The seven pieces of my puzzle.
I was fascinated with the variety of shapes that can be created by manipulating just seven
pieces. As I gained experience with these puzzles, I began to see different uses for each
piece. I learned that with the majority of the puzzles one could use the pieces in different
ways to produce the same picture, meaning that there was not one correct answer. As I
have developed as a foreign language teacher, I have found many similarities with
language teaching and the Tangram puzzles. Lightbown and Spada (2006) state, “the
complexities of second language acquisition…represent puzzles that scientists will
continue to work on for a long time” (p. 50). As a language educator, I am in an exciting
position as one who is allowed to manipulate the puzzle pieces and create my own shapes.
Learning how to manipulate the Tangram puzzle pieces requires gaining
experience through trial and error. Similarly, much of what I have learned as a language
teacher I have learned through trial and error. As I have manipulated the pieces of the
language teaching puzzle, I have come to believe that certain concepts are essential for
language acquisition. The puzzle I am constructing corresponds to my goal of developing
proficient Spanish speakers, listeners, readers, and writers. Following is a detailed
description of the seven puzzle pieces that I believe are essential in achieving my goals.
My beliefs are grounded in current second language acquisition (SLA) research.
Before one can assemble a puzzle it is helpful to know what the shape or the goal
of the puzzle is (see Appendix A). As my goal is to aid students in developing language
proficiency, it is important to know what language proficiency is. Shrum and Glisan
(2010) define language proficiency as, “the ability to use language to perform global tasks
or language functions within a variety of contexts/content areas, with a given degree of
accuracy” (p. 247). The measurement tool which I use to determine student
proficiency/language accuracy is the proficiency guidelines published by the American
Council of the Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL, 2012). Specific guidelines have
been developed for each of the four language skills areas: reading; writing; speaking; and
listening. With respect to their guidelines, ACTFL cautions that they, “neither describe
how an individual learns a language nor prescribe how an individual should learn a
language, and they should not be used for such purposes. They are an instrument for the
evaluation of functional language ability” (ACTFL, 2012, p. 3). These guidelines are a
measurement tool I use to develop the rubrics I use in my classes. Now that I have
explained my goal as a foreign language instructor, namely proficiency development, I
will examine the specific pieces I need to accomplish my goal.
II. Teacher Language Use:
Two important pieces to my puzzle are language use by teachers and
comprehensible input. I will begin with input which many researchers have said is
essential for students to acquire a language (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro & Mandell, 2001;
Krashen, 1987; Krashen & Terrell, 2000; Lee & VanPatten, 2003). ACTFL recommends
that the target language be used in the classroom 90% of the time or more (ACTFL, 2010).
Lee and VanPatten (2003) acknowledge that this is a daunting task for beginning and
experienced teachers alike. When I first entered the MSLT program I was given an
opportunity to teach a Spanish I (i.e., first semester) course. The students in my class had a
range of experiences with Spanish; some had taken high school classes while others had
little or no experience at all. I intended to approach this course the same way I had
previously taught my Spanish courses. I intended to lecture on grammar–in English–and
then practice what I had lectured on by giving worksheets and simple activities. Upon
meeting with my new employer, I was informed that our classes were taught completely in
Spanish. I could use five minutes at the end of class to clarify concepts and homework in
English, but only if absolutely necessary. I originally disagreed with this practice; I
thought it would be impossible to accomplish anything if the students could not first be
taught in English. I had previously read theoretical reasoning for using only Spanish in the
classroom, but I had never successfully been able to implement the practice in my
classroom. Because I did not want to lose the job opportunity I had been offered, I did as
was I instructed. To my surprise, students were able to interact with me and their
classmates in Spanish. I observed as the students struggled at first but gradually succeeded
in conveying meaning to others. I was very impressed, and have adopted the belief that
Spanish must be used in the classroom as frequently as possible.
In support of classroom language use to facilitate language acquisition, it is
necessary to examine the distinction Krashen (1987) made between language acquisition
and language learning. Krashen distinguishes between acquisition and learning by stating
that learning is “conscious knowledge of language” (Krashen, 1987, p. 10). Language
acquisition on the other hand is “a subconscious process; language acquirers are not
usually aware of the fact that they are acquiring language, but are only aware of the fact
that they are using the language for communication” (Krashen, 1987, p. 10). Lee and
VanPatten (2003) expand on the concept of acquisition by stating that language learners
develop an “implicit linguistic system” (p. 15). According to Lee and VanPatten, students
use their implicit linguistic system to determine whether a statement is correct or not in the
target language, although this does not mean that second language learners develop an
implicit system equal to that of native speakers. Lee and VanPatten also recognize that
students who have explicit knowledge about language are able to use that knowledge to
explain why specific language characteristics operate the way they do. Lee and VanPatten
state that language rules are “not the starting point” (p. 16). I believe that, although not the
starting point, there is a time and a place for language rules to be studied.
To further emphasize why grammar should not be the starting point of language
instruction, I refer back to my teaching experiences. As a high school teacher I frequently
lectured on grammar. I quizzed the students on how well they were able to explain
grammatical concepts; rarely did I ask the students to demonstrate the use of grammar. My
students learned the grammatical rules very well and I was proud that they were able to
describe language features with the details they used. However, I ran into problems when
students had to implement what I had taught them. To my embarrassment, I began to get
frustrated with my students because they could not communicate with me. I had taught
them the rules and it was up to the students to apply what I had taught them. It took me a
long time to learn that students do not use explicit knowledge when they speak (Krashen,
1987; Krashen & Terrell, 2000; Lee & VanPatten, 2003), I had asked students to do
something I had not prepared them for.
Students rely on their implicit system to “create utterances, that is, to speak” (Lee
& VanPatten, 2003, p. 132). Therefore it is essential that language learners be given an
opportunity to develop an implicit linguistic system (Wong & VanPatten, 2003). To
provide this opportunity, it is important that students be exposed to input, which contains,
“many subtle clues about the way language works, and it is only by getting lots of input
that learners can build up an implicit linguistic system” (Lee & Van Patten, 2003, p. 16).
Surrounding students with teacher-supplied input facilitates the creation of their implicit
language system, which is the first piece to my puzzle. I believe that students rely on their
implicit language system when communicating; hence I believe teachers must facilitate
the creation of students’ implicit language systems through appropriate language use. The
first piece of my puzzle is teacher use of the language in the classroom, but without the
second piece of the puzzle the first is rendered useless. The second piece of my puzzle is
III. Comprehensible Input:
The quality of input students are exposed to has received a lot of attention from
second language acquisition (SLA) researchers as it is considered by many an essential
aspect of language acquisition (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001; Krashen,
1987; Krashen, & Terrell, 2000; Lee, & VanPatten, 2003; Littlewood, 1996;). Krashen
(1987) addresses input in the monitor model, stating that in order for students to advance
from one language level to the next, it is essential that they receive comprehensible,
meaningful input with linguistic aspects slightly more advanced than students’ current
language level. Krashen states that, “we acquire by understanding language that contains
structure a bit beyond our current level of competence (i + 1). This is done with the help of
context or extra-linguistic information” (p. 21). Lee and VanPatten (2003) agree that not
only must the language be comprehensible, but it must contain a message to which
students must attend. There are two essential aspects from these definitions: first, in order
for students to advance from one language level to the next, they must be exposed to input
that contains features of the next level. And second, input must be comprehensible and
meaningful, and students must have a reason to pay attention to the input they are exposed
To aid in making input comprehensible, Lee and VanPatten (2003), using a list
developed by Hatch (1983), offer several suggestions: a slower rate of speech, simple and
high frequency vocabulary, simple syntax, repetition, and longer pauses. This is not a
comprehensive list as there are many things that instructors do to make their output
comprehensible. In my classes, I frequently act out what I am saying, draw on the board,
and rephrase words that my students do not understand. Häcker (2008), referring
specifically to vocabulary instruction, states that students are typically exposed only to the
language they are given in class. Unless students find another source of comprehensible
input outside of class, they are limited to what teachers provide. This is why I believe it is
the responsibility of the teacher to provide comprehensible input to students, as many will
receive comprehensible input only from the teachers.
To ensure that students are given ample opportunity to be surrounded by
comprehensible input, I will primarily use Spanish in the classroom. I have seen the
benefits of conducting my classes using comprehensible input, and the frustrations of not
using comprehensible input, as previously described. Providing comprehensible input was
difficult at first, but students began to interact with me. I was able to give the students
instructions and they were able follow them. I attribute the interaction I had with my
students to the comprehensible input they received. Therefore the second piece to my
puzzle is comprehensible input.
IV. Student Language Use:
As reported by Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, and Mandell (2001), students who take
a foreign language course do so because they wish to communicate fluently and
comfortably in the foreign language. Krashen and Terrell (2000) state that, “spoken
fluency is not taught directly. Rather, the ability to speak fluently and easily in a second
language emerges by itself, after a sufficient amount of competence has been acquired
through input” (p. 20). Todhunter (2007) says that the “development of interactional
competence is promoted by participation in exchanges that are spontaneous, topically
coherent, and extend over multiple turns, which are characteristic of conversations outside
the classroom” (p. 605). Shrum and Glisan (2010) claim that “learners must be active
conversational participants who interact and negotiate with the type of input they receive
in order to acquire language” (p. 21). In other words, to achieve the communication goals
of students (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001), students must not only be
exposed to comprehensible input, they must also participate in conversations in the L2. To
promote language use by the students, it is important that students are provided with
opportunities and motives for using the language (Long, 1996; Swain, 2005;).
Allwright (1984) called interaction a “fundamental fact of pedagogy” (p. 156 as
cited in Ellis, 1991). When students interact with each other, they help each other acquire
a language. Students support and challenge each other which facilitates language
acquisition. When students help each other to accomplish more than they would be able to
on their own, they experience what Vygotsky (1978) labeled the “zone of proximal
development” (p. 84). While Vygotsky makes reference specifically to advanced students
helping less advanced students, I believe that student interaction fosters the same
experiences as the zone of proximal development. I have observed students who were both
at a lower language level–compared to the entire class–work together to produce
conversations equal to their classmates. Naughton (2006) claims that “learners are seen to
be mutual scaffolders who give and receive support as they interact with their peers” (p.
170). Students learning languages help each other even when there are miscommunication
errors, “requests for clarification (e.g., ‘Pardon’) ‘stretch’ the [learners] by making [them]
clarify what [they] said” (Ellis, 1991, p. 7). Ellis claims, “that the role of input derived
through interaction is primarily that of facilitating the processes of noticing and
comparison” (p. 31). Ellis made reference to the fourth piece of my puzzle which is
Noticing is a process that happens when students are producing language. When
students are producing language they, “notice that they do not know how to say (or write)
precisely the meaning they wish to convey” (Swain, 2005, p. 474). In other words, when
students are pushed to use the L2, they often notice what they don’t know and are
presented with an opportunity to discover how to say or write what is meaningful to them.
In discovering how to convey what they wish, students are also presented with
opportunities to acquire new grammatical structures in meaningful contexts. Sousa (2006)
states that when students attach meaning to information the probability increases that the
information will be recalled. Therefore, when students notice they are unable to convey a
particular meaning, and go on to discover how to say what they wish, they will retain what
they have discovered. I believe noticing is important because once students notice what
they need to express, the students make the language important to them.
In my classes I have observed that students retain words they wish to use.
Frequently, I am asked about terms that students use in their everyday conversations, such
as slang terms. From my own observations of my teaching, I have seen that even with the
large quantity of vocabulary to remember throughout a course, students remember the
words and phrases they have asked about. I believe this is because the words that students
wish to learn have meaning for them, as they are words that the students can use on an
everyday basis. Hence, the fourth piece to my puzzle is noticing, which is facilitated
through student use of Spanish.
VI. Classroom roles:
Because interaction between students is essential for language acquisition (Ellis,
1991; Krashen & Terrell, 2000; Shrum & Glisan, 2010; Swain, 2005; Todhunter, 2007),
classes should not be designed with the idea of covering grammatical concepts. Rather,
classes should be designed with the idea that students will exchange information
(Ballman, Lisking-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001; Lee & VanPatten, 2003). Therefore, the
fifth piece of my puzzle is the roles of the teacher and the students in the classroom. It is
the responsibility of the teacher to become an architect designing the course and activities
to provide ways for the students to construct meaning and exchange information (Lee, &
VanPatten, 2001). According to Brown (2009), students desire to communicate in the
foreign language. When teachers implement activities that require students to exchange
information, teachers are aiding students in achieving their goals.
It is the teacher’s responsibility as the course designer to create an environment in
which students are willing to use the target language (MacIntyre, 2007), afford students
multiple opportunities to communicate, and provide sufficient amounts of comprehensible
input for students to negotiate meaning (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001;
Krashen, 1987; Krashen & Terrell, 2000; Lee & VanPatten, 2003;). Through careful
classroom management and activity design, teachers provide opportunities for students to
use the language.
There is one more skill which I believe is important for foreign language teachers
to develop, that is reflection. Reagan and Osborn (2002) talk about three different
reflection practices: reflection-for-practice; reflection-in-practice; and reflection-on-
practice. Reflection-for-practice and reflection-on-practice refer to the reflection that
needs to happen prior to and after a lesson. Teachers need to be critical about what they
are going to do; a teacher should choose to do an activity not only because it is “fun.”
Rather, teachers need to make sure what they are planning to do has language learning
goals (Reagan & Osborn, 2002). Also, teachers need to reflect on what they have done.
They need to examine the activities they have used and then evaluate if those activities
have enabled students to meet the goals for the day. Often when reflecting-on-practice,
teachers reflect-for-practice as they are able to see where they would make changes that
would improve future lessons (Reagan & Osborn, 2002).
While reflection-on-practice and reflection-for-practice are important, I consider it
essential that teachers learn how to reflect-in-practice. Reagan and Osborn (2002) state
that, “reflection-in-practice involves the teacher’s ability to utilize unarticulated
knowledge about content, pedagogy, and learners in the classroom context” (p. 23).
Teachers who reflect-in-practice are conscious of their classroom teaching and make
appropriate changes to improve the way they are teaching their students. I believe this is a
vital skill for teachers to master. One of the artifacts in my portfolio deals specifically with
teachers’ perceptions of their own teaching. When writing the artifact, I interviewed
teachers about their teaching and then conducted observations to see how the teachers put
into practice what they said they believed. Not all of the teachers were doing what they
said they believed they were doing. I believe when teachers learn to reflect-in-practice,
they will see where they can better incorporate the teaching strategies they believe are
necessary for effective language education.
In my own teaching, I have had activities that I spent a large amount of time
preparing for. Then, when the students began the activities, it has become evident that the
activities I planned were not working the way that I planned. In these situations it is my
responsibility to adapt to the situation, and make the appropriate changes to my activities.
Reagan and Osborn (2002) say, “It is the ability to engage in reflection-in-practice that, to
a very significant extent, distinguishes the experienced master teacher from the novice” (p.
23). I believe that it is impossible for a teacher to plan perfect lesson plans for every class.
This does not mean the teacher is a bad teacher, as long as the teacher makes an attempt
during the lesson to improve the activities planned for the students.
Teachers have many responsibilities, but students are the active agents in the
classroom. Using Lee and VanPatten’s (2001) metaphor of the teacher as architect, this
means that students are responsible for carrying out the plans they have been provided
with. Students need to ask and answer questions, take an active part as interlocutors, and
freely join in conversations (Lee & VanPatten, 2001). It is the responsibility of teachers to
assist students but accountability for activity completion and use of the language belongs
to students. Teacher and student responsibilities are one important piece required to
complete my puzzle.
VII. Classroom Activities:
The sixth piece of my puzzle is classroom activities. As previously discussed, it is
the responsibility of students to be active participants in their learning. To facilitate
student participation, it is essential that activities be designed to guide students in the
completion of those activities. When designing activities, it is important to start with a
language goal. Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, and Mandell (2001) state that teachers who
desire to focus on language use in the classroom should use communicative goals with
each lesson, and that communicative goals should be the starting point of each lesson.
Once the goal is decided upon, it is then the responsibility of the teacher to design
activities that lead to accomplishing that goal. Shrum and Glisan (2010), along with others
(Chun, 2001; Chun & Plass, 1996; Gettys, Imhof, & Kautz, 2001), mention various
strategies for lesson planning, dividing them into top-down and bottom-up strategies.
Shrum and Glisan (2010) define a bottom-up strategy as building up to the final goal:
“students analyze and learn grammar rules and vocabulary, and then later practice using
them in communication” (p. 58). In a classroom where the teacher uses a bottom-up
strategy, the teacher first presents grammar and vocabulary, then the students practice
what they have been taught. The students are expected to transfer the knowledge about
language into their working knowledge of the language. As I have previously discussed,
this is not the most effective way to teach.
The second strategy mentioned is a top-down strategy1. With this strategy,
“learners manipulate language to communicate thoughts using higher-level skills […]
before attending to discrete language structures with the use of lower-level skills” (Shrum
& Glisan, 2010, p. 60). In this type of classroom, the students focus on communication as
it is through communication that students learn grammar and vocabulary. Crawford (2004)
states that the “experience of learning through language is important not just because this
enhances levels of language input but because the very process of learning requires
opportunities to develop negotiation, interpreting, and expressing abilities” (p. 6). When
students use the language, they learn by doing, they no longer think of hypothetical
situations in which the language will be used, but experience situations in which the
language is used.
I believe that a top-down approach is the best approach. When I first began
teaching, I used a bottom-up approach; as previously described, students were not able to
take the knowledge about language and apply it to real-life situations. However, when I
have taught using a top-down approach, I have noticed that students are able to
communicate in real-life situations. Students practice speaking from the very start which
facilitates transferring what is done in class to real-life situations.
In my classroom I implement a top-down strategy by using task-based activities.
Task-based activities are activities that guide students through a series of tasks that lead to
a communicative goal (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001). Tasks are defined as
“[activities] in which meaning is primary, there is a problem to solve, there is a
relationship to the real-world, and […] there is an objective that can be assessed in terms
of an outcome” (Skehan, 1998, as cited by Huang, 2010, p. 32). Students need to be made
aware of the goals for each activity (Ballman, Lisking-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001). As
students accomplish each task, they progressively arrive at accomplishing the overall goal.
In my own teaching, I have seen how task-based activities foster new skills in
students. In one occasion when my students were learning about directions and addresses,
I used a task-based activity. The first task was an activity that required students to recall
vocabulary and phrases that they had studied on their own. After students reviewed the
vocabulary, they were divided into groups of two and each person in the group was given
a different worksheet with a map. The students were required to ask each other the
location of different buildings from their maps. Together the students were required to
create one map that contained all of the buildings from both maps. This however was not
the final goal.
The final goal for this day was that students would be able to give directions and
describe the city where they attended school. The final task for that day was to describe
where different buildings were located in their city (i.e., grocery store, clothing store,
restaurants, etc.). Because the students were given a set of tasks they could follow,
students were able to accomplish the larger goal. In one day, students were able to
describe different locations of buildings throughout the city in which they lived, with
minimal help from the instructor. By the end of the first day of a new chapter, students
were able to use the new vocabulary and phrases in real-world contexts. Task-based
activities allow students to be placed in situations where they can use the language to
accomplish a task in the target language. Activity design is the sixth piece to my puzzle,
but it is not the final piece. In order for my puzzle to be complete we must add the seventh
piece; we must take into consideration anxiety.
VIII. Language Anxiety:
The final piece to my puzzle is language anxiety. Krashen (1987) addressed
language anxiety in the monitor model. He labeled anxiety and other affective factors of
language learning the affective filter. Krashen (1987) said the affective filter is composed
of three points: motivation, self-confidence, and anxiety. When I refer to anxiety, I mean
specifically language anxiety. Using MacIntyre’s (2007) definition, language anxiety
“captures the worry and usually negative emotional reaction aroused when learning or
using an L2” (p. 565). Na (2007) conducted a study on language anxiety with high school
students in China who were learning English for academic purposes. Na concluded that
language anxiety can be debilitating for students. When students experience language
anxiety, they are not able to perform to their true abilities.
Frantzen and Magnan’s (2005) conclusions are similar to Na’s (2007). Frantzen
and Magnan conducted a study in which true beginners and false beginners were enrolled
in the same course. The true beginners were anxious about the way they would be
perceived by their classmates who had language experience. The anxiety caused the true
beginners to participate less in the classroom. Students will elect to save face rather than
speak up and be wrong in front of their classmates (Gregersen, 2003).
Gregersen (2003), commenting on the nature of language anxiety, states that
language anxiety is a cyclical process that students go through. “As errors are made,
learners become more anxious, and the more anxious they are, the more errors they make”
(Gregersen, 2003, p. 29). Anxiety spurs more anxiety. In my own teaching, I have
observed students experiencing what Na (2007) called debilitative language anxiety. I had
a student who appeared to struggle in one of my Spanish classes. Every time I called on
her, she would first be hesitant to speak and then stutter through her response which was
usually incorrect. I thought I was supporting her to help her as she was speaking, but she
started to make more errors and began to wait for my prompt before she would say
anything. I began to observe her more closely during activities to see how I could help her.
When she was working with a partner I would hear her speaking Spanish and would get
closer to determine how well she was using the language. When she became aware that I
was moving closer or that I was listening to her, she began to struggle with the language. I
In this particular class I had a teacher’s assistant (TA). I asked him to try and listen
to her. My TA reported back to me that the student was participating in the group work as
an equal partner, and that her language use was in his words “really really good.” I
realized that my student was able to speak Spanish well, but when I was near she would
become anxious which had a debilitative effect on her language production.
I believe it is the teacher’s responsibility to create an atmosphere in which students
are not overcome by anxiety. Na (2007) recommends that teachers be trained on more than
just the material they will be teaching; teachers need to be prepared to address anxiety. In
my classes I will do two things specifically to minimize language anxiety. First I will
place the focus of the classroom on things the students want to speak about. I believe that
having the students converse about topics they choose will help relieve some anxiety. I
want my classroom to focus on language use and not on grammar; I believe if the students
are focused on meaning they will not be as anxious about getting the structure correct. The
second thing I am going to do is have a lot of group work. Students worry about their
social standing (Gregersen, 2003), however, I believe that as students get to know each
other and as they become more comfortable with each other, they will be less anxious to
communicate with and in front of their friends.
Anxiety is the final piece of my puzzle, but nonetheless an important one. I,
myself, suffered greatly from language anxiety. I remember mispronouncing a word when
I was in high school. The way I said the word was actually another word which was very
embarrassing. The teacher told me I was incorrect then proceeded to tell the class what I
had just said. The entire class laughed at my mistake, I was very embarrassed. I remember
going to great lengths to avoid that and other words that I believed sounded like they
could be “bad” words. I also stopped offering answers freely in the class. I believe my
grade suffered because I withdrew from participation in that course. Language anxiety is a
factor in language learning that cannot be avoided by teachers or students. Teachers must
be aware of and account for student anxiety.
Before concluding my teaching philosophy I would like to mention two things
about technology. I have not yet included technology into my puzzle because I have not
yet had enough experience with it for me to formulate any strong opinions as to how to
effectively implement technology in my classroom. However, researchers have identified
two aspects which I will continue to experiment with through my teaching career. The
following is a brief description of two concepts which I believe may be useful in language
The first concept is the use of technology to provide students with opportunities to
interact in synthetic immersive environments (Arnold & Ducate, 2011). Synthetic
immersive environments (SIEs) are online environments where people interact with each
other in authentic situations (Sykes, Oskoz & Thorne; 2008). SIEs are intriguing because
students are placed in situations where they must use the target language to accomplish
tasks. The interesting thing about this is that students may use an avatar to interact with
others, which protects students and encourages interaction. One of the reasons that
students do not participate in language classes is because of the fear of failure, but when
students use an avatar it is the avatar that is at risk when students use the language not the
students (Sykes, Oskoz & Thorne; 2008). I would like to continue researching the use of
avatars in a foreign language classroom. Researchers have said that avatars improve
student participation in a foreign language, but I would like to experiment with this
The second concept is the use of computer assisted glossing. I believe that
students can learn a lot when they are exposed to authentic literature. The problem with
authentic literature is that it often contains more vocabulary than the students are familiar
with. Therefore, to facilitate student use of authentic texts teachers may use glosses.
Computer assisted glosses provide teachers with a variety of glossing options (Liu & Lin,
2011). I am interested in investigating which type of gloss facilitates both the
comprehension of a text and the acquisition of vocabulary. In my literacy artifact, I
propose a study and provide a gloss type (I labeled this gloss progressive glossing) which I
believe will be effective, unfortunately I have not had the opportunity to implement this
These are the two areas in which I would like to continue to study and implement
into my puzzle. I recognize that technology will play an important role in the future of
language education (Thoms, 2012). With more experience I hope to be able to discover
how I can effectively implement technology into my classroom. Until I have that
experience however, I will not include technology into my puzzle.
I have described what I believe good language teaching looks like. Seven aspects
have been discussed as puzzle pieces that fit together to create what I believe are
proficient Spanish speakers. I recognize that there are many ways in which these puzzle
pieces can be put together. I also recognize that there are individuals who would exchange
one piece of my puzzle for another piece that I have not mentioned. One of the joys of the
Tangram puzzle is that with just seven pieces it is possible to create a plethora of images
Figure 2. Puzzle pieces variations.
Figure 3 represents the image I have constructed; it is the image that I believe best
represents effective foreign language teaching and learning for me. I believe that every
teacher is responsible to create the puzzle that best represents his or her teaching style and
beliefs. It is important to remember that just as I learned to manipulate the Tangram
puzzle pieces, I expect the way I position the puzzle pieces to change as I continue to gain
Figure 3. My puzzle
As an assignment in one of my MSLT courses, I had an opportunity to conduct a
small study examining how instructors put into practice what they believe constitutes
effective teaching. In the study, instructors were asked about their teaching philosophies,
and then their answers were compared to classroom observations. By the end of the study,
I came to the realization that teachers do not always implement the instructional strategies
in which they claim to believe. Upon contemplating what I observed, I recorded one of my
Spanish 1010 classes to identify the extent to which I apply my own beliefs. The class
took place on October 17th 2011, the class began at 1:30 p.m. and ended at 2:20 p.m. The
following is a brief comparison of what I believe good teaching should look like with what
I saw myself doing.
The first thing I noticed was the use of the target language. I used the language
95% of the time. The downside to my target language use was that I did not consistently
implement strategies to make my output comprehensible. In retrospect, I believe I focused
most of my time and effort describing what I wanted the students to do, causing me to
overlook how I conveyed my instructions. When I was with individuals, I matched my
language level to their language level which facilitated student interaction with me. When
I addressed the class as a whole, however, my input became less comprehensible for my
students. Since watching this video, I have placed more effort on using comprehensible
input. I believe I am improving yet I occasionally notice that students do not fully
understand what I say. It is essential that I provide appropriate output for my students. A
large portion of my philosophy is dedicated to providing comprehensible output. I believe
that students must be surrounded by comprehensible language in order to acquire that
The second thing I noticed is that during my task-based activities, the transition
from one task to the next was not done smoothly, meaning that the steps in my activities
were not put together in a logical sequence. I knew what I wanted the students to do and I
saw how each step was connected. However, if I were an outsider looking in, I believe
there would have been confusion. I noticed that several students had to explain to their
classmates what they were supposed to do, signifying to me that they needed more
assistance than what I offered. Some of this might be due to my lack of comprehensible
What I saw that pleased me were interactions between students. Once one of the
students knew how to do what I wanted them to do, that student told another, who in turn
told another until all of the students knew what I wanted them to do. I liked that students
helped each other in this manner helping to understand what was required of them. It
allowed students to take charge of their learning. I was in the classroom to answer
questions but students were in charge, I was merely a facilitator of the activities.
This coincides with my teaching philosophy. As the instructor, I believe I am
responsible to plan activities that allow students to practice and develop language
proficiency. I believe it is the responsibility of students to do the work in the classroom. I
watched students work together to achieve the final goal. I fulfilled my role by offering
support while the students worked to achieve the lesson goals.
The final thing that I observed was a relaxed atmosphere. I believe that providing a
relaxed atmosphere promotes language acquisition. Students did not appear to be
apprehensive when they interacted with me. I believe that the relaxed atmosphere
diminished potential anxiety towards using the language. What interests me is that while
the students will speak with me one on one, it is more difficult to get the students to speak
in front of the classroom. During the report portion of a task-based activity, students were
not as willing to offer answers to the whole class. I believe this is because of fear; students
did not want to make a mistake in front of their peers. Those who spoke in front of the
class made more mistakes than they would normally make when they spoke one-to-one
with me or a single classmate. In my teaching philosophy, I argue that when students are
placed in a stressful or emotionally taxing situation, there is an adverse affect on their
language production. It is my responsibility to create a relaxed environment, as I believe it
facilitates language production.
Having observed the disparity between my teaching practices and my beliefs has
caused me to set goals. First, I am going to start to include notes on my lessons to remind
myself that I need to use comprehensible input. I know that there are occasions when what
I say is not understood by a large number of students. I am going to focus on providing
more comprehensible input. The second change I am going to make is better design the
structure of my task-based activities. I am going to implement backwards planning with
each activity as I believe it will allow me to create smoother transitions between activities.
I believe that task-based activities allow students to achieve more in the target language. I
am going to focus on better structuring task-based activities to allow students to maximize
the greatest gain from each activity. Finally, I am going to have more paired and whole-
class activities. I believe that, as students get to know each other better, they will be less
inhibited when it comes to language production in the classroom. The more a student uses
the language, the more the student will acquire the language.
It has been interesting to observe my own teaching and the extent to which I
applied what I believe. What I thought I was doing is not the same as what I saw myself
doing. I believe that watching myself teach has been beneficial. I have been able to set
goals that will help me become a better teacher. In the future I hope to have additional
opportunities to observe myself teach. This will help me set professional goals and
measure my progress in achieving them.
Observation of Others
Throughout my career as a Spanish teacher I have had opportunities to observe
other teachers and glean from their practices new ideas for my own teaching. Several of
the new ideas are related to classroom procedures while others are centered on practices
which I have or will incorporate into my classroom. The first set of observations comes
from opportunities I have had to observe my coworkers at Utah State University, each of
those observations took place in either Spanish 1010 or 1020 courses. The second set of
observations was conducted during a summer English program entitled Global Academy.
The following is a brief description of several of my observations.
The first thing I noticed during my observations of the Spanish courses was the
examples the teacher provided her students. All of the examples were about her personal
life, including pictures or the places she had visited. When the teacher progressed from
one slide to the next there was an explanation of each picture which did not always
correlate with what the class was focused on. Some of the students enjoyed the pictures
and stories, but others appeared to be bored and disinterested in the stories and pictures.
This made me reexamine some of the pictures and examples I use. I think that teachers
need to be careful with the examples they use, it is fun to share stories from one’s past but
it is possible to share too much and lose focus.
The second observation deals with student feedback. I observed a teacher who
constantly gave very detailed and extensive feedback to her students. At times she would
even complete the task or assignment for the students as a way of answering the student’s
questions. The teacher claimed that her students were able to outperform any of the
previous classes she had taught. When I had an opportunity to interact with her student
however, I found that they were unable to use many of the concepts that she had helped
them with. I learned that it is more important to provide support for students in order to
allow them to arrive at the answer than to give them the answers.
The next change I made from my observations is the way in which I take
attendance. Previously I had called attendance every day to ensure that I had an accurate
role. However, after observing a university Spanish class I have amended my practices.
The observed teacher placed a role on a table, as the students entered the room they were
responsible to mark that they were present. The teacher reported that attendance is a large
portion of the students’ grade, therefore students should be responsible for it. I agree with
the idea the students need to be responsible for their grade, this is a way of allowing
students to be responsible for something as simple as attendance.
The first thing I learned from observing the English teachers was how to
effectively use technology in the classroom. On one occasion I was observing a classroom
designated as low proficiency. The first thing the teacher did when he arrived in the
classroom was open a word document, then using a projector he typed the key words from
his speech for students to read. This was brilliant; the teacher was able to facilitate student
comprehension of spoken instructions by scaffolding with written text. This is a practice I
have not yet implemented in my classroom but this is something that I am excited to use
this in future classes.
The second observation was from a content based English course. The lesson was
on agriculture, specifically irrigation. The teacher presented the concepts of furrows,
which students did not understand. At first the teacher tired to draw an example of a
furrow on the whiteboard, but this only caused more confusion. The teacher then decided
to use the computer and find a picture on the internet and show the students what a furrow
was. Once the students saw a furrow many realized what the teacher was talking about,
some of the students appeared to know what a furrow was. This is a practice I use when I
am conversing in Spanish with my students. I have found that showing the students what I
mean circumvents the need to translate words for my students.
The final observations I would like to mention I saw in an English reading class.
Prior to assigning a reading the teacher went through and identified what she considered to
be difficult words. The teacher then wrote each of those words on the board and taught
them before the students began reading, however the teacher did not teach the vocabulary
she co-constructed meaning with her students. Occasionally she would write on the board
the meaning that was co-constructed with the students. The students were able to refer to
the pre-taught words while they read the text they were provided with. I believe that co-
constructing vocabulary meaning will facilitate retention of new vocabulary. This is a
practice that I am excited to implement into my classroom.
These are several practices that have learned through observation. I am excited to
implement some of them into my current teaching, the practices that I have implemented I
have been happy with. Upon reflecting on my observations of other teachers I realized that
there is a lot that can be learned by observing how others teach. It is my hope that through
observation of other teachers that I may glean from their best practices and become a
The Communicative Classroom: Insights on Perceptions and Practice
This paper was written for Dr. María Luísa Spicer-Escalante in the Linguistics
6800 course. I originally wrote this paper with a partner, Dora Brunson. In preparing this
paper for my portfolio I have made substantial changes to what was originally written. I
chose to include this paper in my portfolio because of the effect it has had on my teaching.
Through observations and semi-structured interviews, I examined how two foreign
language teachers applied their beliefs about effective language teaching in their
classrooms. During the interviews, they were asked about effective teaching practices.
Both teachers described what they believe effective teaching is and how they apply their
beliefs in their classrooms. When the teachers were observed however, I noted that the
manner in which the teachers applied their beliefs in the classroom did not match the
teachers’ descriptions. I noted that the teachers appeared to be unaware of these
discrepancies. From this observation I learned the importance of reflecting upon my
lessons, students, and self within the classroom.
I may one day find a teaching approach or strategy that provides many benefits for
students. However, if I am unable to apply that approach or strategy in my classroom, then
students may not receive those benefits. Reflecting upon my practice is essential if I am
going to improve my teaching. Within the last year I have placed greater effort on
reflecting upon and evaluating my teaching practices.
The Communicative Classroom: Insights on Perceptions and Practice
Perceptions and reality often do not match; often instructors believe that they are
performing one way when in reality they are not. The same can be said about the
application of second language acquisition (SLA) research to classroom practices.
Teachers perceive themselves to be teaching according to guidelines of specific
researchers, in this case a communicative approach (CA), when in reality their classroom
practices do not match what the researchers define as a CA, nor does it match what the
instructors themselves define as a CA. The research questions addressed in this study are
the following: 1) how do the perceptions match the practices of foreign language teachers?
and 2) do those perceptions and practices match current SLA theory? Because of the
complexity of the questions, three specific aspects of CA will be examined: 1) target
language use, 2) student-centered activities, and 3) task-based instruction.
II. Literature Review:
a. Target Language:
Target language (TL) use, by instructors and students alike, is crucial for the
acquisition of foreign languages (ACTFL, 2010; Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell,
2001; Bateman, 2008; Brown, 2009; Lee & Van Patten, 2003;). In line with SLA research,
the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has produced a set
of guidelines recommending that “language educators and their students use the target
languages as exclusively as possible (90% plus) at all levels of instruction during
instructional time and, when feasible, beyond the classroom” (ACTFL, 2010). When
teachers and students use the TL, students are provided with invaluable benefits. First, it
creates an atmosphere in which the students must pay attention to and negotiate meaning
(Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro & Mandell, 2001; Lee & VanPatten, 2003).Second, student
participation will be in the TL which facilitates language acquisition (Swain & Lapkin,
However, TL use by itself is not enough; students need to be able to negotiate
meaning through the language used. Negotiation of meaning refers to processes followed
by learners to establish comprehension of the message conveyed to them by the input
given (Lee & VanPatten, 2003). To facilitate negotiation, it is the responsibility of the
instructor to provide adequate input. Input as defined by Lee and VanPatten (2003) is:
Language embedded in some kind of communicative interchange no matter how
trivial or how important. The role of the learner is to attend to the meaning in order
to respond to the content or perform a task. Embedded in input are many subtle
clues about the way language works, and it is only by getting lots of input that
learners can build up an implicit linguistic system (p. 16).
Hatch (1983, as cited by Lee & VanPatten, 2003) asserts that good input consists of input
that is meaning-bearing and comprehensible. Meaning-bearing input is input that carries a
message of value to the learner (Lee & VanPatten, 2003). Input is made comprehensible
through the use of a slower rate of speech, high-frequency vocabulary, simple syntax,
repetition, and longer pauses. Comprehensible input provides vast resources which in turn
assist students in the acquisition of a language.
Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro and Mandell (2001) state, that language that is not
simplified requires much more effort on the students’ part to be useful for acquisition.
VanPatten (1996, as quoted by Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001, p. 65) labels
students “limited capacity processors,” meaning that students are unable to focus on
multiple aspects of language at once. However, languages are complex systems that
require students to focus on many aspects of each word, “how it sounds, how it is
pronounced, how it modifies other words, how it can be modified, what it means, and
where it can appear in a sentence” (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, p. 65). If
students are required to spread their focus among several different language features, their
attention will be divided, limiting students’ ability to negotiate meaning (Ballman, Liskin-
Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001; Crawford, 2004). It is therefore important that teachers
simplify their output, allowing students to focus on the meaning of the words and
sentences and not on the form.
It is also argued that students involved in immersion programs, where they are
surrounded by meaningful input, acquire the language with greater ease (Rifkin, 2005).
However, this does not necessarily mean that an immersion program must be located in a
county where the TL is commonly spoken. Through consistent use of the TL, instructors
can create an immersion-like environment that facilitates language acquisition(Anthony
Brown, 2009). Instructors should create environments in which students are able to step
into a role, such as that of a school teacher or a shop keeper or any other situation that
would allow learners to interact in ways that native TL speakers interact in the real world
(Coleman & Klapper, 2005; Littlewood, 1996).
b. Task-Based Activities:
Much like an immersive experience, activity design can facilitate language
acquisition (Anthony Brown, 2009; Willis & Willis, 2007). When students participate in
well-structured activities, students improve their language skills, allowing them to
accomplish more in the TL. Effective activities such as task-based activities (TBA) can
provide appropriate structure to expand students’ skills. TBA are activities composed of
multiple tasks. Researchers define tasks as “[activities] in which meaning is primary, there
is a problem to solve, there is a relationship to the real-world, and … there is an objective
that can be assessed in terms of an outcome” (Skehan, 1998, as cited by Huang, 2010, p.
32). According to Skehan (1998, as cited by Nunan, 2004), tasks have five characteristics:
first, meaning is primary. Second, learners are not to recite memorized phrases created by
others; they need to create their own meaningful output (Long, 1996; Swain, 2005). Third,
tasks must have a connection to the real-world. Fourth, completion of a task must be a
priority. And fifth, assessment of the task is accomplished by looking at the outcomes of
the task. Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro and Mandell (2001) provide a series of characteristics
similar to Skehan’s. One major difference is the inclusion that teachers must guide
participants through a series of predetermined steps which lead to a communicative goal,
meaning tasks should be organized in steps leading to the tasks’ completion (Ballman,
Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001). Language instructors assign tasks to slowly expand
upon the students’ language skills until the students are able to perform tasks that they
would not have been able to accomplish without the structure of a TBA. Task design is
key. The purpose of each activity needs to be made clear to students, as does a specific
time limit to accomplish each step of a task (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001).
It is important that each portion of the activity require meaningful exchange of
information between students. Students must have a reason for seeking information from
their partners (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001).
Effectively designed TBA allow students to accomplish tasks with minimal
dependence on the instructor. “Task-based instruction is learner-centered in that successful
completion of a task is only possible as a result of student-to student interaction”
(Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001, p. 76). TBA force students to use the TL to
communicate. Savignon (1983, as cited by Lee and Van Patten 2003) states that, “those
students who [have] been given the opportunity to use their linguistic knowledge for real
communication [are] able to speak [the TL]. The others [are] not” (Ballman, Liskin-
Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001, p. 50). Students are able to expand their language skills once
tasks are broken into manageable sections. Use of TBA provides opportunities for students
to see that they are able to break down large tasks and accomplish them. The goal of
communicative language teaching is, “to teach students to express themselves, understand
others, and to request clarification or express lack of comprehension to others all in [the
TL]” (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001, p. 62). Teachers using TBA provide
opportunities for students to interact in the TL in real-world situations, which achieves the
goal of communicative teaching.
In my own teaching with TBA, I have observed students accomplish tasks that are
above their language level. For example, when students were presented with a topic that
related to university studies, I set a goal that students would be able to converse about
their university class schedules. At that point in the course, students had just learned how
to describe objects. On the first day of with this new topic, I told the students that by the
end of the day they would be able to interview another classmate and identify what time,
where, and which classes he or she was taking. The students expressed their concern about
accomplishing this task as they had only been in the class for approximately five weeks.
The first task required students to identify college courses offered at their university. The
second task was to identify the courses they were taking and to write them down in a
schedule. The students had been exposed to Spanish question words previously, but in
order to assure that students would be able to complete the task, question models were
provided. Students then found a classmate and began to ask questions about their class
schedules. The questions and answers were simple; nevertheless students were able to
accomplish the task. I observed how TBA facilitated student interaction in the TL. My
students were able to accomplish a real-world task having only mastered basic descriptive
skills in the TL.
c. Student-Centered Activities:
To facilitate language acquisition, it is important that teachers place the focus on
topics that interest students, which they know about and want to talk about. This is part of
a student-centered classroom (Lee & VanPatten, 2003). By contrast, teachers who use a
teacher-centered approach view instruction as passing information and skills to their
students. In a teacher-centered classroom, students are “receptive vessels” (Lee &
VanPatten, 2001, p. 6), their role, “is to watch, listen, write down, and understand”
(Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandel, 2001, p. 7). Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, and
Mandell (2001) relate this to Reddy’s “conduit metaphor” which, “implies that knowledge
can be transmitted from one person to another like a platter of food being passed at the
dinner table” (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001, p. 6). The burden of learning
is placed on the teacher and how well the teacher can explain the information (Ballman,
Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandel, 2001).
In contrast to a teacher-centered classroom is a student-centered classroom. In
student-centered classrooms, the responsibility of acquiring language belongs to the
students. The instructor provides an environment of support and opportunities that aid in
language acquisition. “Students [should] use all of the resources at their disposal, both
internal and external, to create and express meaning” (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, &
Mandell, 2001, p. 8). This relates to instructors’ responsibilities as defined by current SLA
researchers: facilitating and planning student learning. It is the teacher who designs the
coursework but the students who do it (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001; Lee
& VanPatten, 2003; Littlewood, 1996; Sung, 2010).
Sung (2010) states that implementing student-centered activities produces positive
reactions from students. Students believe that activities focused on them are fun.
According to Sung (2010), student-centered activities provide opportunities for students to
express their individual personalities, promoting real-world communication. Utilization of
student-centered activities hence promotes TL use and acquisition.
In a study by Lee (2000, as cited by Lee and VanPatten, 2001), it was observed
that student-centered classroom activities engaged the entire class. Lee compared teacher-
led discussions and activities to student-led discussions and activities that took place in
small groups. Students who participated in student-led discussion and group work were
able to, “[recall] almost twice as many ideas as did those who participated in the [teacher-
led] discussion. The finding was true immediately after the learners did the discussion or
activity and one week later” (Lee & VanPatten, 2003, p. 58). Lee concluded that teacher-
centered activities allowed only the students called upon to participate, leaving the
majority of the students without practice. However, students in student-centered
classrooms not only use the TL but have higher retention rates of the material covered in
As indicated above, there are numerous benefits provided by TL use,
implementation of TBA, and a student-centered classroom. This study therefore examines
how teachers’ perceptions of foreign language teaching match their practice in the
classroom, and if their perceptions and practices are in accord with current SLA research.
The research questions addressed are: 1) What do teachers believe about TL use and how
do they apply what they believe in their classrooms? 2) What do teachers believe about
activity design, and how do they apply their beliefs about activity design in everyday
classroom activities? and 3) What do teachers believe about student-centered activities and
how do they apply their beliefs about student-centered activities in their classrooms? This
study was conducted at a large university in Utah. The following is a report based on six
in-class observations and a series of four in-person interviews of two female language
teachers; one who taught Chinese and the other who taught Spanish. The observations
were conducted in classrooms and followed by interviews outside the classroom. The
Chinese observations were conducted in two classes—levels one and two—and were
taught by the same teacher. The Spanish observations were carried out in a level one class.
Both teachers were asked the same set of questions, topics covered in the interviews were
teaching materials, teacher and students roles in the classroom, communicative language
teaching, and activities in the classroom (For a list of the questions see Appendix A); the
teachers were encouraged to expand on their answers as they saw fit. The interviews were
recorded and transcribed. Bartels (2005) mentions that observations are effective in
determining how teachers apply their knowledge about teaching in their classrooms.
Bartels emphasizes the importance of interviews, which allow teachers to explain why
they do what they do, providing the interviewer with explicit information about beliefs
and attitudes towards specific concepts. The goal of this study is to compare perceptions
and practices of the communicative approach, hence these two data collection techniques
were considered the best approach for attaining the desired information.
After the interviews, the instructors’ stated beliefs were compared with their
teaching approaches. Both instructors articulated what they believe about TL use, TBA,
and student-centered activities. However, one of the teachers supplied definitions that did
not match how the concepts were applied in her classroom.
a. Target Language:
Both instructors were asked how they used the TL in the classroom. The Chinese
teacher explained that it is very important that the TL be used in the classroom. Using the
TL achieves what she has declared as an aspect of her teaching philosophy, “[helping]
students achieve their communicative [competencies]; the four skills (reading, writing,
listening, and speaking).” She continued, “depending on [students’] current levels, my
goal is to help students to reach i + 1, to help students achieve the next level of language
learning.” The Chinese teacher believed that using the TL will develop the students’ TL
From the observations it was determined that the TL was used in the Chinese
classrooms 60% to 70% of the time in the first-year class; the language was used in
student-to-student and teacher-to-student conversations. In the level two class, the TL was
used 95% of the time, which exceeds the 90% recommendation from ACTFL (2010). The
interactions in the level two class consisted mostly of student-to-student interactions; the
activities the students participated in fostered the use of the TL. The use of the TL in the
Chinese classes reflected the belief of the teacher. The teacher, when speaking about
student-centered activities, mentioned that a student-centered classroom includes using the
TL as frequently as possible.
The Spanish instructor, when asked about TL use, responded that using the TL is
requisite if one is to acquire a second language. The Spanish instructor emphasized the
importance of the TL several times during the interview. When talking about classroom
roles, she mentioned that it is the responsibility of teachers to create opportunities for
students to use the TL. However, the observations of the Spanish classroom demonstrated
that what happed in the Spanish classroom did not match the teacher’s responses.
The Spanish instructor used the TL 85% to 90% of the time with all students,
nevertheless when interacting with each other, the students did not use the TL with the
same frequency (the percentages of language use were generated from the classroom
observations). From the observations it was estimated that student-to-student interactions
occurred 15% to 20% of the time in the TL. According to the interview, the Spanish
teacher believed that the TL was being used appropriately and frequently by all students.
However, while the teacher used the TL with high frequency, the students did not.
One of the reasons that students may not have used the TL in class is due to the
lack of comprehensible input. The teacher did many things to be understood, yet not
everything she did falls under the umbrella of best practices (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro &
Mandell, 2001). The instructor frequently used Total Physical Response (TPR), and
scaffolded output – often the scaffolding was in English – yet students appeared unable to
negotiate meaning. Scaffolding is “providing temporary contextual supports for meaning,
including modeling, visuals, and hands-on experiences” (O’Malley & Pierce, 1996, p. 28).
When employing difficult lexical variations, the teacher only simplified output when
interacting with individual students. When addressing the entire class, the instructor spoke
as if she were speaking to more experienced TL users. Often the instructor spoke faster
than the students were able to process. Whether the teacher was aware of her output is
unclear; there were several instances when the teacher said something, then sighed when
realizing what she said was not understood. When the teacher noticed that what she had
said was not understood, she rephrased and repeated what was said, employing the
mentioned characteristics of comprehensible input (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, and
Mandell, 2001). The teacher did this only when a misunderstanding was noticed, normally
the teacher addressed the students as advanced TL users.
The Spanish teacher believed that the TL was being used by all students in the
classroom. It was observed that as the teacher moved throughout the room, the TL
followed; when the teacher was close to a particular set of students, those students
frequently used the TL. As the teacher got farther away, the amount of TL used by those
students began to decrease. Because of this phenomenon, it is possible that the instructor
believed that all the students were using the TL, contributing to her belief that the
frequency of TL use was high.
However, the Spanish teacher was not altogether unaware that the students were
unable to negotiate meaning. In her interview the Spanish teacher spoke about motivation,
linking TL use with motivation levels of students. The teacher stated that students, when
able to operate in the TL, are more motivated to study the TL. It is when they come to a
foreign language classroom and cannot negotiate meaning that students become frustrated.
It is with the lower-motivated students that the instructor stated, “maybe it is the target
language [that prevents students from being motivated], maybe I have to say it slower and
it seems like you have to repeat it and do more.” The teacher recognized what she could
do to improve student motivation; however, she did not connect these practices with
providing comprehensible input for the whole class, nor did she provide opportunities for
them to practice and to use the TL in a meaningful way.
Both teachers valued using the TL with high frequency in the classroom, and both
teachers used the TL in the classroom with high frequency. The difference is that the
Chinese instructor used the language that students could negotiate and provided
opportunities for students to interact in the TL with each other. The Spanish teacher on the
other hand provided some scaffolding, but mainly when she noticed that the students were
unable to understand her. Students in the Spanish classroom were not surrounded by
comprehensible input, which if properly used would allow students to acquire the
language more effectively (ACTFL, 2010; Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001;
Bateman, 2008; Brown, 2009; Lee & Van Patten, 2003).
b. Task Based Activities:
Both teachers were asked about activity design, specifically TBA. The Spanish
teacher was able to describe what makes a TBA and even gave examples of how teachers
could structure TBA. She described the importance of taking the final communicative goal
and breaking it down into steps that facilitate that goal’s completion. During the
observations, the Spanish instructor used TBA. The activity was centered on a worksheet.
Students used demonstrative adjectives to label vocabulary terms and identify their
location on the worksheet. The activity was divided into two steps. In the first step,
students wrote the vocabulary terms wherever they wanted on the worksheet. In the
second step, the students asked each other questions using prepositional phrases and
demonstrative adjectives; their goal was to create a worksheet identical to their partner’s
based on the questions and answers. The teacher modeled the second step with a teaching
assistant, the students then followed the model. The teacher made the activity successful in
regards to the day’s objectives, but the students appeared to struggle between step one and
step two. It appeared that while the tasks were equal in their degree of difficulty, they did
not build on each other. Students could not complete the second step without having
completed the first; however, doing the worksheet did not seem to help much with the
conversations that students were asked to have. In fact, students began to memorize the
question and answer forms that allowed them to complete the required work. While the
teacher believed this activity to be task-based, according to her own description of TBA,
the activity cannot be classified as such. The two steps were only slightly related.
Moreover, it was noted that there was no communicative objective to this activity.
The students were not interacting in a meaningful way; their goal was to complete an
assignment. The activities’ goals that were implicitly conveyed to students were strictly
grammatical. The teacher may have had a communicative goal, but it was not made
explicit to the students. Because students want to know why they are doing the things they
are asked to do, teachers needs to provide that information. Students must know how to
apply what they are learning in real-world contexts (Brown, 2009). Students need to know
the goals for an activity to know when they have successfully accomplished what is being
asked (Willis & Willis, 2007).
When asked about TBA, the Chinese teacher stated that these activities are a key
element of communicative language teaching. The teacher then mentioned an article
written by Sung (2010) entitled Promoting Communicative Language Learning through
Communicative Task and indicated that her goals matched those stated in the article;
“[her] goals for the communicative task include developing human relations through the
exchange of information, thoughts and feelings, and completing an action” (Sung, 2010, p.
705). Furthermore, “Activities are what learners are expected to do with the input for the
task. Three characteristics are emphasized for activities in a communicative task. First, the
activities must be authentic in terms of reflecting real-world tasks. Second, the activities
should stimulate learners to apply newly acquired linguistic knowledge to real
communication. Finally, the activities are designed to help develop the accuracy and
fluency of learners’ target language” (Sung, 2010, p. 706).
In the Chinese classrooms, TBA were frequently used. The teacher gave the
students in the second-year class an article to read. The students then formed groups and
began to read aloud in the TL. In the same groups, students discussed the content and how
it related to their everyday lives; their goal was to discuss their views on vegetarianism.
They expressed opinions, and had the opportunity to defend their individual beliefs based
on content from the article and personal opinions. In the third observation, the students’
focus was on introducing significant others to their family. The teacher taught a new set of
vocabulary that would aid in the students’ success of the cumulative goal. Students were
then asked to write a story using the new vocabulary. After having written the stories,
students were asked to role play what they had created in front of the class. The students
were able to choose how to address this situation, and using new material, created
authentic stories that were shared with the class through role play.
c. Student Centered Classroom:
When asked about their role in the classroom, both teachers stated that teachers
need to be facilitators of learning, architects who design activities with students doing the
work, which follows closely with what SLA researchers have said (Ballman, Liskin-
Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001; Lee & Van Patten, 2003; Littlewood, 1996; Sung, 2010).
However, the application of this idea was different for both teachers. The Chinese teacher
achieved a student-centered classroom, but the Spanish teacher, believing her focus was
on the students, appeared to have done most of the work.
When the TL was used, as mentioned above, it was observed that the Chinese
teacher focused language use and classroom activities on students’ everyday lives.
Students were not given many constraints on their choice of topics; activity guidelines
were made clear and students were allowed to create meaning according to their own
interests. The Spanish class on the other hand had many constraints; the Spanish teacher
gave the students specific objectives that were to be met through each activity. The
conversations and the interactions did not allow students to create their own meaningful
output or develop their own ideas. The Spanish teacher was specifically asked about the
activities used. She said that the course was designed by a different person, and, when that
person designed the course, the only directive had been to follow the textbook. In order for
the teacher to meet pre-assigned benchmarks, activities that she did not fully agree with
In both classes, the cumulative goals of each activity were not made explicit, yet in
conversing with the teachers it became clear that they had goals for each activity. The
Chinese teacher mentioned to the students how the activities they were doing were
applicable to real-world situations, but did not convey a specific goal for the activities in
the classroom. The Spanish teacher knew what she wanted the students to accomplish, but
failed to express any real-world application of the materials covered in class. The goals of
the Spanish teacher were however expressed in her interview, along with ways in which
the students would be able to use what they had practiced in real-world situations. The
teacher had goals, but those goals were not made known to the students.
A student-centered class will foster student-to-student interactions. In the Chinese
class, the students were actively participating in meaningful conversations for a large
portion of class time. The Spanish class spent almost the same amount of time in different
activities; however the language was not used for meaningful purposes. Activities in the
Chinese classroom focused on students’ personal interest; as most of the students are
young, single adults in Utah topics such as dating, careers, marriage, family, school, and
even religion dominated conversational themes as decided upon by the students. In the
Spanish classroom, activities were focused on practicing new vocabulary and grammatical
concepts. Students were given limited opportunities to create meaningful output that they
would use in real-world contexts.
Activities observed in the Spanish classroom were designed to practice specific
grammatical concepts that were being studied. There was limited freedom to create
meaningful output. While students were not required to memorize scripts, they were
nevertheless required to employ specific forms to achieve success in each activity, which
caused several students to memorize and recite one or two question and answer forms.
Katz and Watzinger-Tharp mention that, “the focus on form approach attempts to create
ideal conditions for grammar learning by drawing students’ attention to a linguistic form
in a real communicative context” (Katz & Watzinger-Tharp, 2009, p.8). This statement
accurately reflects what the Spanish teacher believed. The teacher said, “I really like [the
students] practicing the grammar in the activities and not necessarily the grammar
principle. I want them to practice the grammar not focus on the grammar. I want them to
use the concept in the activity without the grammar looking over them the whole time.”
The activities used in the classroom, however, reflected a focus on grammar approach.
These activities did not permit the students to create meaningful output.
In a student-centered classroom, grammar instruction is not the focus but a
byproduct. Katz and Watzinger-Tharp (2009) claim:
Students who engage in communication invariably experience moments when they
need a particular form or construction to express their message. The teachable
moment arises whenever a student realizes the gap between his or her
communicative need and his or her limited linguistic repertoire. It is at the ‘ah ha’
moment that a linguistic form becomes cognitively salient (p. 8).
Grammar is not the focus, but when the students notice a gap between what they are able
to do and what they need or want to do, teachers are there to support students by offering
the required grammatical instruction. Student-centered courses are not designed around
grammatical principles; they are designed around communicative activities that focus on
students. This is what was observed in the Chinese classroom; students were allowed to
choose their topics and the teacher then constructed communicative activities around what
the students had chosen. When the need for help arose, the teacher was there to correct and
help the students. The Chinese teacher did not focus on grammatical structure; the focus
was on student participation in activities. The teacher was there as a resource and a
facilitator to help students succeed (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001; Katz &
It has been shown that although teachers believe they are using communicative
practices, their teaching practices may not match their beliefs. The ability and willingness
to apply what one knows about SLA play a critical role in the way classes are conducted.
Teachers need to evaluate their practices to determine if the activities and practices used
are meaningful to students, and that the teachers’ beliefs are accurately portrayed. The
ultimate goal is that teachers apply theory to practice, as they foster in students the ability
to speak the language with confidence (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001)..
The observed teachers both used their TL in the classroom; both stated that it was
important for SLA. However the Chinese teacher used the language in effective ways. The
teacher used the TL in a manner that required her students to listen in order to obtain a
message. According to SLA researchers, using the TL for meaning-bearing exchanges is
essential to facilitate language acquisition (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro & Mandell, 2001;
Lee & VanPatten, 2003). The Chinese teacher also constructed activities that fostered
student-to-student communication. Student use of the TL is another important factor in
SLA (Swain & Lapkin, 1995).
While the Spanish teacher also used the target language, she used it at a level that
was beyond her students. Students were not able to negotiate meaning from what the
teacher said. The teacher failed to use the suggestions provided by Hatch (1983, as cited
by Lee & VanPatten, 2003) to simplify what she said. Using advanced-level TL provided
too much linguistic complexity for the students (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell,
2001). Students could not focus solely on the meaning of the message, but instead were
required to focus on the form and the message that was being conveyed to them. This
counters what the Spanish teacher said when speaking about grammar. The teacher said
she wanted the students to be able to focus on the meaning of the language and not have
the grammar, “looking over them the whole time.” Inadvertently, the Spanish teacher
caused her students to focus on the form due to her use of more advanced language. In the
Chinese classroom, the TL was used according to the beliefs of the Chinese teacher. In the
Spanish classroom, the teacher believes the language is being used appropriately, but in
reality the language is not used with the frequency or quality the Spanish teacher believes
necessary for language acquisition.
When comparing the activities used by the teachers, it was observed that both used
TBA. Both teachers recognized the advantages of using TBA but both teachers deviated
from what researchers have emphasized regarding TBA. Neither teacher established
connections with the classroom goals and real-world applications of what they were
practicing. The Chinese teacher told the students how they could apply the current activity
in the real-world but failed to express the goal for each activity. The Spanish teacher in the
classroom did not establish any goals, nor did she mention any applicable situations where
students would be able to use what they were practicing. SLA researchers have stated the
importance of conveying goals to students (Brown, 2009). Making goals known to
students provides benchmarks against which students can assess their own progress
(Willis & Willis, 2007). Neither teacher provided any goals.
SLA researchers have also stipulated that TBA are designed with predetermined
steps that lead to the cumulative goal (Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro, & Mandell, 2001). In
other words, tasks build upon each other. The Chinese teacher’s tasks built upon each
other. The students were first given an article which was read in small groups. The
students then had the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions, during which the
students participated in a meaningful exchange. The Chinese teacher’s practice in this
situation matched what she believed.
The Spanish teacher, however, did not apply her beliefs to her practice. The TBA
that the Spanish teacher used had two tasks, which did not build upon each other. There
was limited meaningful exchange of information. The teacher modeled the activity with a
teaching assistant and then the students copied and memorized what they had been shown,
thereby not creating output but reciting memorized phrases.
In the observed student-centered activities there was a large disparity between the
two classrooms. The Chinese teacher allowed students to choose the topics they wanted to
converse about. The activities that the Chinese teacher used were focused on the chosen
topics which follows what SLA researchers have said about student-centered activities
(Lee & VanPatten, 2003). On the other hand, the Spanish teacher, who mentioned the
desire to have students practice language use without being concerned with the grammar,
used activities that focused on grammar principles. The Spanish teacher stated that
according to her superiors she was required to meet certain benchmarks regarding
grammar. Whether or not meeting those benchmarks determined which activities the
Spanish teacher used is not clear. What is clear is that in the Spanish class students were
focusing on form and not on the meaning.
Addressing the first research question, how do perceptions match practice, it was
observed that teachers may not teach according to their beliefs. The Chinese teacher was
more aware of what was happening in her classroom. The aspects of CA that were
important to her were observed and they matched her stated beliefs. The Spanish teacher
believed she was effectively implementing what she believed. The observations of her
class revealed that in fact she was not effectively doing what she believed. For example,
she believed the TL was being used by all students, when in reality not all students were
using the TL in meaningful ways. The Spanish teacher also believed that she was using
TBA effectively. However, the TBA that the teacher had her students accomplish were not
in accord with her own description of what TBA should be like. The same pattern is seen
with student-centered activities: the Chinese teacher focused the activities on what the
students wanted to talk about, while the Spanish teacher focused on grammatical
The answer to the first question is therefore inconclusive. Some teachers may be
more aware of what happens in the classroom than other teachers. This study is however
limited in that only two teachers were observed. To derive any conclusions about
perceptions and practices would require that more teachers were observed and
interviewed. Moving on to the second question, do perceptions and practices match
current SLA theory, through this study it was observed that they do. Perceptions of
teachers matched current SLA theory. During the interviews both teachers made
references to theories they believed essential in the classroom. However the application of
those principles varies according to teacher as previously discussed.
The third question, what do teachers believe about student-centered activities and
how do they apply their beliefs about student-centered activities in their classrooms, is
also inconclusive. Both instructors recognized the importance of student-centered
activities. The Chinese teacher created activities that focused on the students’ real-life
situations. The Spanish teacher expressed a desire to do the same, but she was not in
control of the course she taught. She was required to cover specific material with a
specific timeframe. The first part of this question can be answered; both teachers
recognized the importance of student-centered activities. Nevertheless, due to course
constraints and the inability of the Spanish teacher to use activities she preferred, it is not
possible to conclude whether the Spanish teacher would have used student-centered
activities. As a result, it is not possible to make a conclusion about how teacher use
Teaching languages is a world profession, and teachers worldwide have the same
goals, wanting their students to use languages in an effective manner (Holliday, 2005).
Therefore it is important that teachers implement practices that develop students’ language
proficiency. To that end, teachers need to become aware of their teaching practices. Being
aware of their practices, in turn, aids teachers’ application of theory to practice; improving
language instruction, and fostering in students the ability to communicate in real-world
Storytelling in a Foreign Language Classroom
An earlier version of this paper was written for Professor Schroeder in the
Linguistics 6900 course. I first wrote this paper after a class in which we discussed
multiple aspects of culture, including the phenomenon of oral traditions. I became
fascinated with the idea of using stories as a means of instruction. This paper started as a
report on oral traditions. Through extensive editing and rewriting, it has become an
analysis of storytelling in a foreign language classroom. I conclude this paper stating how
I would incorporate stories into my classroom.
Over the course of writing this paper I have learned two important lessons; one
about teaching and the other about writing a paper. In regards to teaching, I realized that I
am the one who chooses how to implement teaching strategies in my classroom, which
means I do not have to follow steps set forth by others. During my studies as an MSLT
student, I have been introduced to many teaching strategies, some of which I have
disregarded because of one or two things I do not agree with. In writing this paper, I came
to recognize that I can pick and choose what I like from a variety of teaching strategies to
create something that I believe is effective.
What I learned about writing papers is that sometimes I just have to start over with
a blank sheet of paper. When I was in high school, I took a photography class in which the
teacher would frequently tell us that we could not turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse. I
originally started this paper off on the wrong foot and in place of starting over, I tried to
create a masterpiece. It was not until I started over with a blank piece of paper that I was
able to write something that I am pleased to add to my portfolio.
Storytelling in a Foreign Language Classroom
As a child, I was often entertained by stories. When I went to my grandparents’
house, I frequently would listen to old records that contained the stories my mother
listened to while growing up. As I got older, I never lost my passion for a good story.
However, the stories I was told served different purposes. Through some stories, I learned
about my ancestors and the hardships and trials they faced along with how they overcame
those challenges. Some stories were used for mere entertainment such as the stories about
the crazy things my father did as a child. My favorite stories, however, are stories that
were used to teach me something. For example, my father and grandfather are avid
fishermen who have endeavored to teach me all they know about fishing, and they teach
me through stories. Fishing stories usually begin with being told about the fish that got
away and ending with a lesson on which knot should have been used and the appropriate
way to tie it.
My family, however, is not the only group of people to use stories for more than
entertainment. In fact narratives are present in all cultures and are the most studied literary
genre (Spicer-Escalante, 2012). Throughout the world, many cultural groups have relied
on stories, commonly referred to as oral traditions, to preserve their identity (Čvorovi,
2009), teach their children (Ishengoma, 2005; Thao, 1970, 2006), and to interpret the
world around them (Einhorn, 2000). As a language teacher, I wish to follow the examples
set by cultural groups and incorporate stories into my language teaching. In this paper, I
will discuss the benefits of using stories for language teaching as well as methods used to
incorporate stories into the classroom. I conclude this paper describing how I plan to
incorporate storytelling in my classroom.
II. Stories in the Classroom:
Storytelling is a powerful teaching tool that has been used for centuries (Tsou,
Wang & Tzeng, 2006). According to Isbell (2002), storytelling encourages the listeners to
get involved with what they are hearing; many times listeners will even retell the story.
This would lead one to conclude that storytelling fosters storytelling. Once students
become active storytellers, their oral proficiency as well as their attitude toward the
language class improves (Tsou, 2005). Because of the potential that stories have to
improve language acquisition, it is important to investigate how stories have been
implemented in classrooms. It is important to note that storytelling has a variety of
definitions, with little consistency throughout the research literature (Roney, 2009). For
the purposes of this paper, storytelling refers to stories shared orally. Within this
definition, I include personal narratives as a form of storytelling.
Narratives have many uses in the classroom. For example Roberts and Cook
(2009) argue that narratives should be used in the classroom as they are more authentic
than many activities provided within textbooks. They claim that narratives are frequently
used throughout authentic discourse, specific reference is made to job interviews, but they
emphasize that narratives are frequently used in a variety of situations. They assert that,
“narrative telling is a fundamental human activity which is essential for creating and
maintaining a sense of ourselves and our communities” (Roberts & Cook, 2009, p. 635).
Using narratives in a classroom allows students to express themselves the way one would
outside of a classroom. Narrative use therefore facilitates authentic language use.
Van den Branden (2006, as cited in Nicholas, Rossiter & Abbott, 2001) adds that,
“stories like other tasks, ‘invite the learner to act primarily as a language user and not as a
language learner” (p. 252). Nevertheless, according to participants in a study conducted by
Nicholas, Rossiter and Abbott (2001), “telling and listening to personal stories provided
opportunities […] for enhanced language learning” (pp. 263-264). Stories transform
students into language users. However, Nicholas, Rossiter and Abbott (2001) claim that in
order for stories to be used effectively in a classroom, students must first be instructed on
how to structure a story.
Sauvé (2002) claims that interactions between interlocutors are occasions in which
people share their stories. “One person starts and the other takes the cue and adds a story
of her own. You laugh, commiserate, share concerns, reflect on decisions, and in so doing
you come to know one another” (p. 89). Telling stories switches the focus from learning a
language to sharing personal experiences, which, as previously stated, converts students
into language users. However, when students share personal stories caution must be taken
not to trivialize what it being shared (Sauvé, 2002).
One way in which students may share stories without putting themselves in
threatening situations is to create stories similar to the way Rowe (2011) creates stories
with her students. Rowe’s students begin the semester with a blank poster, upon which
students attach a picture of themselves. As students learn how to describe themselves they
add their descriptions to their poster. As the course progresses, students add more
information to their poster until, by the end of the semester, students have filled their
poster with information about their family, friends and educational/occupational goals. At
the end of the class students share their stories with each other, using their poster as a
guide for what they share. This type of project allows students to slowly develop a story,
which, in my opinion, can help prevent students from encountering threatening situations.
III. Storytelling in My Classroom:
The preceding has been a description of the usefulness of storytelling in the
classroom. The following describes two teaching methodologies that I will combine to
incorporate storytelling into my classroom. Each of the teaching methods will be
described along with changes that I will incorporate before implementing them into my
classroom. I believe the changes I make will improve storytelling in my classroom, and
make it a valuable tool for language learning. The first method that I will describe is the
PACE teaching method.
The first method I adapt and incorporate into my storytelling is the PACE teaching
method. The PACE teaching method is intriguing because it requires that students work
with authentic literature and stories from which they acquire a language (Adair-Hauck &
Donato, 2002a; 2010). Authentic texts are texts “produced by members of a language and
culture group for members of the same language and culture group” (Galloway, 1988 as
cited in Shrum and Glisan, 2010, p. 85). The following is a brief description of a PACE
lesson. Following the description I will highlight the changes I will make to PACE
PACE activities are carried out in four steps: presentation, attention, co-
construction, and extension activities (Adair-Hauck & Donato, 2002a and b, 2010;
Groeneveld, 2011). The presentation step is subdivided into two parts: pre-reading
activities and the presentation of the story. Adair-Hauck and Donato (2002b) say that a,
“[teacher] needs to set the stage for the storytelling” (p. 281). To prepare students for
storytelling, pre-reading activities need to take place. Adair-Hauck and Donato (2002a,
2002b, 2010) emphasize that when teachers present stories to students, they need to be
comprehensible; preparing students before the story is presented aids in creating a
The second part of the presentation step is telling the story. Adair-Hauck and
Donato (2002a, 2002b) emphasize that the focus of the story be on its meaning. In some
cases, this means that teachers need to edit the story. For example, in place of using future,
present, and past tense in a story, it might be more beneficial to use just the present tense
(Adair-Hauck & Donato, 2002a). To ensure that students understand the story, it is
suggested that comprehension be checked throughout the storytelling process;
comprehension checks can be simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down questions (Adair-Hauck
& Donato, 2002b). It may even be necessary for teachers to retell the story to ensure that
students have comprehended its meaning. Meaning is essential. As Celce-Murcia (1985)
claims “one of the best times for [the students] to attend to form is after comprehension
has been achieved and in conjunction with their production of meaningful discourse” (p.
301). This is why meaning is crucial, for it is after establishing meaning that students
should focus on grammar (Adair-Hauck & Donato, 2002a).
The second step in a PACE lesson is to call attention to a specific grammatical
concept (Adair-Hauck & Donato, 2002b, 2010; Groeneveld, 2011). It is in this step that a
shift from meaning to grammar is made. In this step, teachers call students’ attention to
grammatical structures being studied. The attention step can easily be accomplished.
Teachers present to students example sentences from the story that have grammatical
structures to be studied clearly marked (Adair-Hauck & Donato, 2002b). Although this is
a short step in a PACE lesson, it is very important. “The attention phase is a necessary
instructional detour from the main stream of meaningful language in order to call attention
to some salient parts or linguistic elements” (Adair-Hauck & Donato, 2002, p. 283). Once
students’ attention is called to specific grammatical structures, students can begin to infer
grammar rules. It is important to note that PACE lessons work only with general grammar
rules; if there are exceptions to any rule, PACE lessons are not effective in addressing
those exceptions (Adair-Hauck & Donato, 2002b).
The third step of a PACE lesson is co-construction (Adair-Hauck & Donato,
2002b, 2010; Groeneveld, 2011). In the co-construction step, students examine the parts of
the story that their attention has been called to. The purpose of this step is for students to
discover how the language works. Working together, students examine the function of the
language and work together to infer grammatical rules. It is important however that
teachers be available to guide students, and to assure that students infer accurate
grammatical rules. “By paying close attention to the learners’ contributions during the co-
construction phase, teachers can determine how much assistance is warranted to help the
learners attain the grammatical concept” (Adair-Hauck & Donato, 2002b, p. 286). Adair-
Hauck and Donato (2002b) also suggest that students be grouped together during the co-
construction step to allow all class members the opportunity to infer grammatical rules,
this prevents one student from consistently shouting out answers.
The final step in PACE lessons is extension activities (Adair-Hauck & Donato,
2002b, 2010; Groeneveld, 2011). The extension activities provide students the
opportunities to put together the previous steps and create their own output. Adair-Hauk
and Donato (2002b) state that the possibilities with extension activities are, “endless” (p.
286). The types of activities that students do in this step are left to the discretion of
teachers. However, Groeneveld (2011) says that it is important that extension activities be
connected to the presented story. When teachers link the extension activities to the story,
students are inspired to, “use meaningful language based on the content or form exposed
in the presentation” (p. 28). Students are able to create output using the presented words
PACE provides a model that uses stories in place of textbooks, and that the focus
of each story be primarily on meaning. The criticism that I have of PACE lessons is that
they require that students are forced to use outside materials. Using authentic literature as
a means to acquire a language is intriguing, but in my opinion, allowing students to create
their own stories, and then using those stories to discover how language works would be
more effective. Nicholas, Rossiter and Abbott (2011) claim that, “stories and storytelling
in the language classroom can provide the means for learners to find their own voice in
their new language, first by listening to others’ stories and then by telling their own” (p.
255). Using stories from authors outside of the classroom exposes students to the target
language but takes away the opportunity for students to create and use their own stories to
discover how languages work.
I recognize that Adair-Hauck and Donato (2002b) state that there are many things
that can be done as extension activities, which includes having students create stories of
their own. My argument does not reflect what can be done in the extension activities. I
argue that the original story that students use should be one of their own creation. This
means students must first be taught how to create a story. One manner in which teachers
can facilitate story creation is by using an abbreviated form of Total Physical Response
TPRS, as describe by Ray and Seely (2008), is a teaching method that is focused
on the creation of stories. TPRS activities are teacher-led activities. The teachers ask a
series of questions about a story that they narrate for their students. TPRS activities are
three-step activities. The first step is to establish meaning (Beal, 2011; Gross, 2007; Ray
& Seely, 2008). This is done with pre-reading activities to prepare students for the story to
come. The second step is asking a story (Beal, 2011; Gross, 2007; Ray & Seely, 2008). To
ask a story, students must first be prepared for the questions and statements they will be
When asking a story, teachers can elicit student output with questions or
statements. They may ask questions to which the answers are known or that require the
students to guess answers or they may offer a statement of fact (Gross, 2007; Ray &
Seely, 2008). Each type of prompt requires students to respond in a predetermined
manner: stating the known answer, guessing an answer, or expressing interest in the new
fact. The story is created by using the answers to the questions in this step; essentially
teachers structure a story and the students create the details.
The third and final step in a TPRS story is to read a story similar to the one created
in the second step; students should translate the story paragraph by paragraph (Beal, 2011;
Gross, 2007; Ray & Seely, 2008). It is here that TPRS has a major flaw, which is the
necessity to translate everything (Beal, 2011; Gross, 2007; Ray & Seely, 2008). Ray and
Seely (2008) claim that “teaching methods that establish meaning by gestures or pictures
often leave students wondering exactly what the teacher is trying to say. Even though the
teacher gestures the meaning or uses pictures, students often don’t understand since the
picture or gestures can have multiple interpretations” (p. 21). It is this statement that
translation is justified as necessary. Researchers of TPRS also claim that translation
should be used specifically in the third step, but also whenever students may not
understand the target language (Beal, 2011; Gross, 2007; Ray & Seely, 2008). From
personal teaching experiences, I have seen how translation can hinder students’ language
acquisition. Therefore, due to its requirement to translate everything, TPRS, as described
by Beal (2011), Gross (2007), and Ray and Seely (2008), is not a teaching method I will
use in my classroom. However, I will use aspects of TPRS in my classroom as will be
The final criticism I have with TPRS it is that it requires teachers to ask the story
from students, TPRS is a teacher-centered approach. However, if students were taught
how to ask stories then this would become a student-centered activity. Once students learn
how to ask stories from others, there are situations in which this would be effective. For
example, asking a story would be useful to guide students in creating a story.
Combining to my criticism of PACE lessons with my criticism of TPRS, I believe
that story analyzed should be of the students’ own creation. I recognize that it may be
difficult for students to create a story with the grammar structure to be studied; therefore, I
would use the second step in TPRS to help my students create a story which could be
analyzed to help students infer grammar rules. Well planed, a teacher can ask a story that
contains the desired grammatical structures. As Ray and Seely (2008) describe TPRS, the
teacher is the person in charge of the overall story. Students provide details through their
answers to questions that keep the story progressing, but the teacher is in charge. The
combination of PACE and TPRS allows student-created stories to become the medium of
The drawback to a teaching method as I have described is that students may not yet
be able to create a story in the first few weeks of beginning-level classes. Asher (2006),
the originator of TPR, claims that students must have at least three weeks of practice with
TPR before students can begin storytelling. In the first few weeks, I plan on creating
stories with my students in the same manner that Rowe (2011) does with her students. I
will have my students create stories that will serve as an introduction to the target
language, and as a way of aiding students to introduce themselves to the class.
Stories are more than sources of entertainment. As has been described, stories aid
in developing a rich language learning environment. Storytelling among students
transforms language learners into language users. I believe that by making the mentioned
changes to PACE and TPRS, and incorporating those changes into storytelling lessons,
that stories will facilitate the creation of a language program that is student-centered.
Furthermore, designing a course in which students provide the content for the language
course will enrich my teaching and promote their negotiation of meaning.
Just as I am entertained by stories, I believe that students will also be entertained.
The students will no longer focus on learning the language and will place more effort into
sharing stories. It is my hope that students come to class excited to share their stories with
each other, and that as a product of sharing stories students will acquire the target
language. I believe that involving students in creating the materials that will be used in
the classroom will invest the students further in their learning. Once students are invested
in their education, I believe they will be active participants in their learning.
This paper was written for Dr. Thoms in Linguistics 6520. It is a proposed study
on incidental vocabulary acquisition, specifically through the use of computer-assisted
glosses. In this study I examine current glossing practices, from which I create a new type
of computer-assisted gloss which I call progressive glossing. I speculate that using
progressive glosses would allow vocabulary to be developed efficiently by reading
authentic texts. If the process of teaching vocabulary through reading is perfected, that
would mean that students no longer have to use lists for vocabulary acquisition, but can
use content in its place.
I chose to include this paper in my portfolio because it was the first paper I wrote
of its kind. Previous to this paper, I had been assisted by professors in creating papers of
this type. However, this was the first time I was allowed to choose and develop a topic
which I wished to study. This was a difficult paper to write as I was specifically worried
about the research design and statistical processes that I would propose for this study. I
was surprised as I did my research that I was able to glean from others the solutions to my
concerns. One important lesson I learned from writing this paper is that I do not have to
re-invent the wheel. This means that I do not have to discover new ways in which I should
design my experiments. In seeking advice from several of my professors, I was told to find
a research paper that asks similar questions to mine and then look at how the researchers
designed their experiments and then base my design on what they did. I followed this
advice and found a design that I liked. Moreover, upon finding what I was looking for, I
was able to design this study. Replication studies, if designed and implemented
thoughtfully, have much to contribute to our field.
SLA theorists recognize that language learners are “limited capacity processors”
(Ballman, Liskin-Gasparro & Mandel, 2001; Lee & VanPatten, 2003). The act of reading
in a second language (L2) requires that students simultaneously pay attention to multiple
aspects including, but not limited to, vocabulary, syntax, morphology, and comprehension
(Gettys, Imhof, & Kautz, 2001). Students’ ability to divide their cognitive processes is not
innate, rather, it requires training and “[without] special training most humans are able to
pay attention to only one thing at a time” (Gettys et al., 2001, p. 92). Therefore, one may
ask when providing support for an authentic text, what can instructors do to take
advantage of the limited processing power of students?
To answer this question, instructional strategies should be examined such as top-
down and bottom-up strategies (Gettys et al., 2001). Instructors who use top-down
strategies focus on global tasks and not on the steps required to achieve tasks (Gettys et
al., 2001; Shrum & Glisan, 2010). Instructors who implement bottom-up strategies look at
all of the requirements needed to complete a task and then separate each requirement and
teach it individually, building up to the final goal (Gettys et al., 2001; Shrum & Glisan,
2010). When teaching reading, instructors may use a top-down strategy, reading for
comprehension (Chun & Plass, 1996), or a bottom-up strategy focusing on structure and
vocabulary (Chun, 2001; Chun & Plass, 1996; Gettys et al., 2001). Both strategies are
beneficial, but reading to acquire new vocabulary in the L2 in addition to comprehending
a text requires that instructors expose students to a balance of top-down and bottom-up
strategies given that “neither alone is sufficient” (Chun & Plass, 1996, p. 195). In the
following study proposal, I examine the relationship between cognitive load and incidental
vocabulary acquisition. The literature review begins in the following section starting with
authentic texts, followed by cognitive load theory. The literature review concludes with
current gloss practices.
II. Literature Review:
a. Authentic texts:
Although not agreed upon by all SLA researchers (Badger & MacDonald, 2010;
Widdowson, 1998), authentic literature, as defined by Shrum and Glisan (2010) as texts
written by native speakers for native speakers of a target language, can be used as a tool
for foreign language instruction (Abraham, 2008; Gettys, Inhof, & Kautz, 2001; Hulstijn,
Hollander, & Greidanus, 1996; Kern, 2003; Louchy, 2010; Nagata, 1999; Taylor, 2006;
Yoshii, 2006). Furthermore, some researchers advocate that authentic literature is essential
for students to acquire, “linguistic skills” (Liu & Lin, 2011, p. 373). As access to authentic
material has become easier with the aid of the internet, implementation of authentic
materials for language learning has increased (Liu & Lin, 2011). Authentic literature
exposes students to new ideas through the content of what they read and also gives
students the opportunity to acquire more vocabulary (Liu & Lin, 2011). As stated by Kern
(2003), “given that language learners in academic settings have limited opportunities to
use the language, it is incumbent on educators to provide learners with the broadest and
deepest exposure to the language that we can with the limited time we have available” (p.
42). Authentic literature provides an avenue through which students may be exposed to a
wider variety of language. The difficulty with authentic texts is that they are frequently
beyond the linguistic level of students (Gettys, Imhof & Kautz, 2001; Yun, 2011).
Glossing, however, is a tool that students can use to help make authentic texts
comprehensible. According to Gettys, Imhoff and Kautz (2001), “on-line glosses allow
instructors to increase students’ exposure to authentic learning materials that are beyond
the learners’ linguistic level, thus challenging students to read authentic, unabridged texts.
Thus, instructors can use on-line glossing to significantly increase comprehensible input –
an important condition of successful L2 acquisition” (p. 91). Using glosses can therefore
facilitate the use of authentic texts in the L2 classroom setting. However, there are a
variety of gloss types to incorporate when exposing students to an authentic text in an
online environment. Therefore, instructors should choose an appropriate gloss type for
specific pedagogical goals.
b. Cognitive Load Theory:
Before an analysis of the effect of gloss type can be undertaken, it is important to
understand why some glosses are more effective than others. The theory that will be
examined to explain this is the cognitive load theory (CLT) (Sweller, 1988). CLT theorists
propose that the more cognitive effort one exerts towards acquiring a particular concept, in
this case L2 vocabulary, the better the concept will be acquired (Hulstijn, 1992; Liu &
Lin, 2011; Nagata, 1999; Paas, Renkl, & Sweller, 2004). Each person has a set quantity of
attention resources that can be dedicated to tasks (Abraham, 2008; Kuiken & Vedder,
2008; Lee, & VanPatten, 2001). Cognitive loads can be categorized into groups ranging
from the cognitive effort required when learning to the required effort when processing
and filtering outside distractions (Liu & Lin, 2011; Paas, Renkl & Sweller, 2004; Paas,
van Gog, & Sweller, 2010). Because each person has limited processing resources, it is
important that instructors use materials and methods that allow students to process the
information effectively. Any task that requires too many or too few cognitive resources is
detrimental to student learning (Paas, Renkl & Sweller, 2004). One of the purposes of this
proposed study is to provide varying cognitive load to students and observe how that load
variation affects incidental vocabulary acquisition. This leads to a discussion of incidental
c. Incidental Vocabulary Acquisition:
Vocabulary that students use extends beyond the vocabulary that they have been
explicitly taught (Hulstijn, Hollander, & Greidanus, 1996). Some researchers have
explained this by saying that students pick up new vocabulary as they are exposed to it
(Hulstijn, Hollander, & Greidanus, 1996; Liu & Lin, 2011). This is known as incidental
vocabulary acquisition. Hulstijn, Hollander, and Greidanus (1996), define incidental
vocabulary acquisition as, “the accidental learning of information without the intention of
remembering that information” (p. 327). Researchers agree that incidental vocabulary
acquisition facilitates lexical development (Hulstijn, Hollander, & Greidanus, 1996; Liu,
& Lin, 2011; Paribakht & Wesche, 1999; Pellicer-Sánchez & Schmitt, 2010).
Pellicer-Sánchez and Schmitt (2010) conducted a study in which students read an
authentic text for pleasure. Students were introduced to a novel that contained a series of
Ibo words; Ibo is a language that is spoken in Nigeria. The text was chosen because any
acquisition of the Ibo words would be due to reading the story; none of the students had
previous exposure to the language. The students were given a month to finish the novel
after which testing accompanied by interviews was conducted to determine which words
had been acquired. As a result of reading for pleasure, students were able to spell,
recognize, and recall the target words from the novel. Pellicer-Sánchez and Schmitt
conclude that reading promotes incidental vocabulary acquisition (Pellicer-Sánchez &
Schmitt, 2010). Lin and Liu (2011) posit that glossing an authentic text may facilitate
incidental vocabulary acquisition and comprehension of the text. An authentic text is a
text which is, “written to be read by native speakers of the language” (Maxim, 2002, p.
20). The objective of this study is to combine both authentic texts with glosses to
investigate incidental vocabulary acquisition.
d. Current Gloss Practices:
The importance of having access to a gloss is shown in Abraham’s (2008) analysis.
He conducted a study to identify the effectiveness of glosses with computer-mediated
glossing programs. He reviewed eleven studies and discovered that learners who had
access to glosses did much better with text comprehension than those without glosses;
incidental vocabulary was also reported to be higher. Along with the previous finding,
Abraham stated that glosses were not effective for beginning-level students. He posits that
novice learners need more than vocabulary glossing, which might have affected the
effectiveness of the glosses he tested.
There are a variety of gloss formats, many of which have been studied in an
attempt to identify which is the most effective (Acha, 2009; Chun, 2001; Chun, & Plass,
1996; Gettys et al., 2001; Hong, 1997; Hulstijn, 1992; Hulstijn, Hollander, & Greidanus,
1996; Liu, & Lin, 2011; Louchy, 2010; Nagata, 1996; Peters, 2006; Peters, 2007; Taylor,
2006; Yoshii, 2006; Yun, 2011). In the following I will examine several gloss formats
along with studies that have been conducted with each format.
Dictionary or traditional glosses have been studied by many researchers. Hulstijn,
Hollander and Greidanus (1996) compared the effectiveness of dictionary glosses against
marginal glosses and no glosses. A marginal gloss is a gloss that provides a definition of a
target word in the margin of a text; a dictionary gloss refers to using a dictionary to look
up any unknown vocabulary terms. Hollander and Greidanus found that student retention
of marginally glossed words was better than dictionary glossed words. Similarly, Lin and
Liu (2011) compared computer-mediated glosses with dictionary glosses to see which
better facilitated vocabulary acquisition and text comprehension. Lin and Liu concluded
that students who had access to a dictionary had to process too much information, as the
dictionary provided more information than students required. Students were unable to
maintain focus on the text. Therefore, students who used dictionaries had poorer
comprehension than those who had access to computer-mediated glosses. Using a
dictionary is better than having no gloss at all but dictionaries have been shown to be the
least effective in comparison with other glossing methods.
The second type of glosses examined are multiple-choice glosses which offer the
reader a set of possible word meanings. Readers must then choose which option best
represents the glossed word. Watanabe (1997) concluded that multiple-choice glosses are
more effective for vocabulary retention than single-word glosses alone. Hulstijn (1992)
discovered that multiple-choice glosses were effective in word retention due to the
cognitive load placed on the readers when inferring word meaning. While word retention
was higher, Hulstijn noted that if students are not given immediate feedback, then it is
possible that students recall the word-meaning they inferred and not the correct meaning.
Nagata (1999) conducted a study using multiple-choice glosses with the assistance of a
computer. Using a computer allowed the students to receive instant feedback on their
inferences of vocabulary terms. All three researchers concluded that multiple-choice
glosses are more effective than single-word glosses for vocabulary retention.
The next type of glosses examined are multi-media glosses, of which a variety has
been proposed and tested. Chun and Plass (1996) compared several types of these glosses:
text and picture, text and video, or text alone. They concluded that text and picture glosses
were the most effective for vocabulary acquisition. The researchers were somewhat
surprised at the text and video results as they originally hypothesized that text and video
glosses would better facilitate vocabulary acquisition. They offered two explanations for
their findings. First, the text and video required that students focus on too many things at
once. The second explanation was that, due to the short length of each video, students did
not have enough time for the acquisition and retention of vocabulary.
Acha (2008) also used multimedia glosses, specifically pictures, to teach
vocabulary younger students. Her results contradict those of Chun and Plass (1996). In her
study, students who had access to pictures and text during vocabulary instruction did not
perform as well in vocabulary retention as did students with access to direct text
translations. However, Acha does mention that multimedia programs may help facilitate
vocabulary acquisition by allowing students to learn the words according to their preferred
The final glosses examined are single-word glosses. Many studies have compared
different variations of single-word gloss formats (Gettys et al., 2001; Hong, 1997;
Hulstijn, 1992; Liu & Lin, 2011; Nagata, 1999; Yoshii, 2006; Yun, 2011). Hulstijn (1992),
Nagata (1999) and Liu and Lin (2011) concluded that students prefer the single-word
glosses over any other gloss format. They also conclude that single-word glosses are the
least effective for vocabulary acquisition and retention, although single-word glosses do
promote comprehension of the texts (Hulstijn, 1992; Liu & Lin, 2011; Nagata, 1999).
Researchers have found that computer-mediated glossing aids in language
acquisition. Different glossing types have been studied in an effort to discover which type
is the most effective (Abraham, 2008; Acha, 2009; Chun, 2001; Chun, & Plass, 1996;
Gettys et al., 2001; Hong, 1997; Liu & Lin, 2011; Louchy, 2010; Nagata, 1996; Peters,
2006; Peters, 2007; Taylor, 2006; Yoshii, 2006; Yun, 2011). It has been observed that
glosses requiring cognitive effort from students are more effective in vocabulary
acquisition and retention than glosses that provide L1 equivalents (Gettys et al., 2001;
Hong, 1997; Hulstijn, 1992; Liu & Lin, 2011; Nagata, 1999; Yoshii, 2006; Yun, 2011).
What is not known about glossing is whether varying the cognitive load of each gloss
facilitates vocabulary acquisition and text comprehension.
III. Rationale for this study:
Researchers have claimed that authentic texts provide opportunities for students to
acquire more vocabulary (Kern, 2003; Liu & Lin, 2011). The difficulty with using
authentic texts is that many of them are beyond the language ability of language learners.
For this reason, glosses have been implemented to allow students to work with authentic
texts and gain the benefits from using these kinds of texts, such as incidental vocabulary
acquisition and the acquisition of linguistic skills (Liu & Lin, 2011). The question that
remains to be answered is: Which type of gloss is the most effective? Research has shown
that there is a higher probability of retention when students are required to carry a higher
cognitive load (Hulstijn, 1992; Liu & Lin, 2011; Nagata, 1999; Paas, Renkl, & Sweller,
2004). This potentially means that if students have to use more cognitively demanding
processes to infer the meaning of a vocabulary term, they are more likely to retain that
vocabulary. One method of increasing cognitive load is by implementing progressive
glosses. Progressive glossing is a form of computer-mediated glossing. Progressive
glossing works with the principles of cognitive load (Liu & Lin, 2011; Nagata, 1999) in
that students are offered a series of glossing options. Each option in the series
progressively requires less cognitive effort for the selected word meaning to be inferred or
understood. Thus, according to cognitive load theory, students are allowed to infer
vocabulary meaning, which encourages vocabulary retention. Yet if students are not able
to infer vocabulary meaning, they are provided more options to infer meaning until they
are eventually given a definition of the glossed word, which allows students to maintain
focus on the meaning of the text.
Progressive glosses provide an opportunity for students to focus on the meaning of
the text and to infer vocabulary meaning. Thus, the questions this study addresses are the
1. Does progressive glossing facilitate incidental acquisition of new vocabulary?
2. Does progressive glossing facilitate retention of new vocabulary?
For the purposes of this study, incidental vocabulary acquisition refers to students’ ability
to infer the correct meaning of the glossed term. Retention refers to students’ ability to
retain the meaning of the term over a period of time. I hypothesize that progressive glosses
will facilitate incidental vocabulary acquisition as well as promote comprehension of
The participants of this study will be university students in an introductory Spanish
literature course. The students’ proficiency level is not critical for the results this study, as
long as the proficiency level is similar which is expected in an introductory literature
course. This study will be carried out in two phases. The first phase will be a vocabulary
identification phase. Similar to Liu and Lin’s (2011) procedure, ten students from an
intermediate-level Spanish literature course will be invited to read the two Spanish fairy
tales that will be used in phase two. The ten students who read the fairy tales will be
instructed to mark unfamiliar words. Once the students have finished reading, the stories
will be collected and a list of words that have been marked by many as unknown will be
constructed. From the list of unknown words, the top ten from each story will be selected
as the glossed words used in the data collection phase of this study.
Fairy tales were selected due to their repetitive nature. Tatar (2002) points out that
one of the characteristics of a fairy tale is repetition, stating that fairy tales repeat key
words usually three times. As previous studies have indicated that students experiencing
only one occurrence of unfamiliar words are less likely to recall these words for their own
use (Chun & Plass, 1996; Nagata, 1999; Hulstijn, 1992; Hulstijn, Hollander, & Greidanus,
1996), repetition is desirable for incidental vocabulary acquisition.
The second phase begins with a new set of thirty students. The new set of thirty
students will begin with a pretest. The pretest will be similar to the posttest in that it will
contain a vocabulary matching section and comprehension questions about the stories
students will be reading. The purpose of the pretest is to eliminate the words that the
students already know, thus ensuring that there be no false positives on the post test
(Gettys et al., 2001). Because comprehension and incidental acquisition will be measured,
it must be ensured that the students are tested on new information, not on prior knowledge
(Gettys et al., 2001; Louchy, 2010; Nagata, 1996).
After the pretest, students will be randomly divided into two groups of fifteen and
taken into two different rooms. Following the crossover study format as described by
Kuehl (2000), students will read two stories, one with a traditional gloss and the other with
a progressive gloss embedded in the texts. Once the students are divided into groups and
taken to two different locations, they will be instructed on how to use the glosses available
to them. It is necessary that students know how to use the glosses they have at their
disposal to eliminate the possibility that the glosses will not be effectively used (Louchy &
JoGakuin, 2010; O’Bryan, 2006; O’Bryan, 2008).
The first group of students, group A, will begin with story 1. These students will
only have access to traditional pop-up glosses. A pop-up gloss is a gloss that students
access by moving the mouse over a given word and clicking on that word; upon clicking
students are provided with a direct translation of the unknown word (Liu & Lin, 2011).
When students in group A read story 2, the glossing format will be progressive glosses as
will be described below. Group B on the other hand will begin story 1 with access to
progressive glosses. With story 2, group B will have access to a traditional pop-up gloss.
An important aspect of crossover studies is that all treatments are, “administered to an
experimental unit for a specific period of time after which another treatment is
administered to the same unit. The treatments are successively administered to the unit
until it has received all treatments” (Kuehl, 2000, p. 520). Each student who participates in
this study will be exposed to both gloss treatments. Students will also be given a thirty-
minute time limit to read each story.
Progressive glosses gradually lessen the cognitive effort required for students to
infer word meaning while facilitating the reading of an authentic text. Glossed words will
be italicized. The gloss will appear when a student clicks on a selected word. In place of
offering only one gloss format (i.e., just a direct translation, or just an audio file),
progressive glosses provide multiple gloss formats. The progressive gloss starts with the
target word in a different context (i.e., the context will construct the same semantic
meaning as in the current text). If the students are able to infer the meaning of the word
from the first gloss provided, then they may return to the reading by clicking “return to
story.” However, if the students are unable to determine the meaning of the word, they
will be given the option of additional glossing. This will be done by clicking a “next”
button. The student will then be provided with a picture representation of the word. If
students are able to infer meaning from the picture, they may return to the original text. If
not, then students may continue with additional glossing. The students will have one more
opportunity to infer meaning; this will be a multiple-choice gloss. The students will be
presented with the word and then allowed to choose from four different text options. If
they select the correct word, they receive a message indicating such and will be returned to
the reading. If they choose incorrectly, they will be taken to the final gloss which is a
direct translation of the target word (an example of progressive glossing can be seen in
Students will be informed before they begin the readings that they will be required
to recreate the story in writing. After a story is read, two tasks will follow immediately.
Students will first be asked to summarize the story they have just read. Along with the re-
creation of the story, students will be presented with an unannounced vocabulary post-test.
The post-test is the instrument that will be used to measure incidental acquisition of new
vocabulary. The quiz will be unannounced because of the study’s focus on incidental
vocabulary acquisition (Hulstijn, 1992). Peters (2006) found that directing students’
attention to an upcoming task caused students to perform better on that given task.
Specifically, if students are told before carrying out a reading activity what they will need
to do before carrying out a reading activity, students focus on that information during the
reading. If students in this study were told before they began the readings that they were
going to have a vocabulary test, then the students would pay more attention to the glossed
vocabulary. Prior knowledge of a vocabulary quiz would compromise the validity of the
results when looking at incidental vocabulary acquisition. To measure vocabulary
retention, students will be given a delayed post-test two weeks later. This test will be the
same as the post-test taken immediately after the reading. This follows practices
established in previous studies (Abraham, 2008; Acha, 2009; Chun & Plass, 1996; Peters,
2007; Yoshii, 2006; Yun 2011).
To fully record student actions, screen recording software, specifically Camtasia2,
will be used. How students use the provided tools has the potential to directly correlate
with student scores on both the immediate and delayed post tests (Lie & Lin, 2011). The
recordings will be observed and the different gloss steps annotated to compare with
student scores. The story summaries will also be collected and will be reviewed by two
2 Camtasia is a program that can be purchased from the following web site:
raters. The raters will be looking for accuracy in the re-creation of the stories. The raters
will use the rubric found in Appendix C. The rubric is adopted from O’Malley and
Pierce’s Authentic Assessment for English Language Learners (1996, p. 152). Other
mechanics of writing will not be examined in this study.
V. Future Implications:
With the results from this study, I plan to identify which gloss type students used
with higher frequency. That information will allow me to compare the high frequency
gloss used with the post test results and quality of the story summaries. I recognize that
progressive glosses are not practical for every teaching situation since they are time-
consuming to create. I plan to conduct further investigations to see if the high-frequency
glosses used by students are applicable to a wider variety of authentic materials. My goal
is to identify the most beneficial type of gloss that adequately challenges learners and does
not burden their cognitive load while reading an authentic text in Spanish. This can, in
turn, lead to a high probability of incidental vocabulary acquisition and the comprehension
of an L2 text.
After completing the MSLT program I plan to pursue a PhD, for which I will focus
on teaching and learning languages. As a Spanish teacher, I have noticed that many of the
available materials are not communicative and are limited to certain teaching styles. I am
going to create materials that teachers who ascribe to communicative teaching styles can
use in their classes.
I am also going to continue to study second language acquisition. I am fascinated
by the complexities of language learning. In my professional career, I will develop
materials for classroom use. One of my professional goals is to teach future foreign
language teachers. I am going to teach them how languages are learned and how this
knowledge about language acquisition can be applied to classroom practices. I am going
to help future teachers discover and develop their own teaching philosophies. Language
teaching is exciting and I want to foster that excitement in future teachers.
Finally, I am going to continue teaching Spanish. My passion for teaching has
developed as I have taught Spanish. I do not want to lose the connection I have with the
teaching field, especially since Spanish teaching is what first sparked my teaching passion.
As well, I wish to stay connected to the teaching field so that I may discover gaps in
teaching practices and use those gaps to develop research questions. I specifically wish to
teach introductory Spanish classes. It is exhilarating to observe students as they begin to
speak Spanish. I am going to stay connected to the teaching field as a way of assuring
myself that the research I will be doing is applicable to actual teaching situations.
I have already taken steps towards accomplishing these goals. I have recently been
accepted to a PhD program in the University of Iowa, which I will enter in the fall of
2012. The focus of my PhD program is foreign language and ESL education. While
attending Iowa I wish study program and course design along with language assessment.
After completing my PhD program I will teach courses for future foreign language
The following is an annotated bibliography that contains the most important articles and
books I have read while in the MSLT program. It was difficult to decide which items to
include in this bibliography as I read many things that have impacted how I view language
education. While I do not entirely agree with what the researchers have said, I believe
there is valuable information to be gleaned from each reading. The bibliography is
organized thematically, the themes include: activities, classroom, computer-aided
language learning, culture, glossing, language learning theories, and students. Each
annotation contains the bibliographic references, a brief description of the article or book,
and a reaction.
Adair-Hauck, B., Glisan, E. W., Koda, K., Swender, E. B., & Sandrock, P. (2006). The
integrated performance assessment (IPA): Connecting assessment to instruction
and learning. Foreign Language Annals, 39(3), 359-382.
The authors of this article reviewed a study that was conducted by ACTFL in an
effort to improve assessment procedures; this study was a response to a call to
reconceptualize language testing. The authors mentioned that far too often educators do
not adhere to current research, perhaps because multiple-choice tests are easier to grade.
The use of open-ended questions, however, allows stakeholders (e.g., learners, teachers,
parents, program coordinators, administrators) to see the effectiveness/usefulness of
student learning. IPA assessments are conducted through task-based instruction; each step
takes learners through the interpretive, presentational, and interpersonal modes of
communication. Keys to this assessment approach are: the students must have a complete
picture of what they are going to be doing, students must have examples and models of
what is expected of them, students must have a rubric that details what is required to be
successful in each task, and quality feedback must be given throughout the assessment.
Tasks must also be related to each other and have an important part in the completion of
the final cumulative goal.
Creating an assessment from a task-based activity is an interesting approach to
assessments. Using activities that students would be accustomed to allows students to
demonstrate what they are actually able to do without having to learn a new method to
demonstrate their knowledge. This is also something that could be done as part of an
everyday activity which would not create the anxiety that is associated with taking a
written test. IPA tests also allow instructors to test students in real-life situations. IPA
however, requires a lot of planning to effectively assess what the teachers want to assess.
If the instructors are going to assess a certain linguistic skill, then it is important that the
activities focus on the desired skill. The authors also called for quality feedback, which
takes time. Teachers need to plan time when they can sit down and give quality written
Elola, I., & Oskoz, A. (2010). Collaborative writing: Fostering language and writing
conventions development. Language Learning & Technology, 14(3), 51-71.
The authors of this study examined the effectiveness of collaborative writing for
language learners. Two assignments were given to a group of students. One assignment
was completed on their own and the second was completed in a group. The authors
discovered that then individuals worked together they were more conscious of their own
grammatical errors in the L2. This resulted in constant revisions of their work before and
after they submitted it to their partners. Also when students worked together they
developed a structure for their paper and did not deviate from that structure. Conversely
when students worked alone they used a different writing process altogether, grammatical
errors were the last things identified and fixed. The structure of their writing was not as
rigid. When working on their own, their work was guided by a thesis statement and not by
a predesigned plan. Learners reported liking individual work more than group, as it
offered an opportunity to bring their own voice to the paper. However, learners also
recognized that when working with others each individual did have something different
contribute to the final product. The authors concluded that while a very useful tool,
collaborative writing should not replace individual writing, because both approaches
complement each other.
It is interesting to note that students focus on grammar when writing
collaboratively. There are advantages and disadvantages to this depending on what
communicative goal the instructor has for each assignment. In a communicative classroom
I believe this is a good thing because students will be consciously looking for the correct
way to express what they choose to say. I believe this promotes gap noticing, and
facilitates independent learning; students actively seek out answers to their own questions.
Also, writing in groups exposes weaker writers to different writing processes and styles
that could improve the skills of weaker writers in the L1 as well as the L2.
Lantolf, J. P. (2009). Dynamic assessment: The dialectic integration of instruction and
assessment. Language Teaching, 42(3), 355-368.
The author begins with the claim that assessment and instruction are the same
process. Along with this, he posits the universal acquisition hypothesis (UAH), which
states that there is an order in which learners acquire language naturally. He urges teachers
to make sure things are presented at the ‘right time’ in order for students to fully acquire
what they are being taught. The author states that “effective instruction must precede and
indeed lay down the path for development to follow.” Then he presents two forms of
dynamic assessment. The interaction form is conducted through predetermined steps for
error correction, starting with implicit error correction which gradually become explicit
clues until students are able to correct their error. The second type of assessment, the
mediated learning experience, enables students and teachers to work together to achieve
success in a conversation. Both of these approaches have their benefits, and can happen
naturally in a conversation. The author asserts that instructors need to assess what the
students will be able to do and not what they can do now. In closing, the author questions
which is more important: the test or language acquisition.
The first topic the author introduces is interesting, assessing our students to know
what they will be able to do. Is it then more important that we have tests that measure
students’ current abilities, or that we measure the probability of success in a real-world
context? I believe that measuring the probability of success is important if we expect
students to use the language outside of the classroom. But, if by measuring probability of
success, we have to question grades, do we grade students on our predictions or their
current abilities? I believe there is a disconnect between what the stakeholders want and
what using dynamic assessment can provide. Stakeholders want to have the students’
abilities graded now; in contrast, using dynamic assessment helps teachers predict what
students will be able to do later. Until stakeholders and instructors agree on what they
want to know, assessment practices will never satisfy all interested parties.
Ray, B., & Seely, C. (2008). Fluency through TPR storytelling: Achieving real language
acquisition in school (5th ed.). Berkeley, CA: Command Performance Language
Ray and Seely begin their book by describing the evolution from Total Physical
Response (TPR) to Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS). Ray
said that TPRS is a combination of Asher’s TPR and Krashen’s theories of
comprehensible input. Ray combines the two concepts together to create TRPS. Ray and
Seely then describe the theory behind TPRS lessons. Emphasis is placed on making the
class 100% comprehensible, which means that teachers needs to translate almost
everything into the native language of the students. The authors then describe the process
of a TPRS lesson. First, the teacher must establish meaning of a story, in this step the
authors state that translation should be used. The second step is to ask a story. In this step
teachers ask a series of questions, all in the target language, to create or recreate a story.
Teachers use the answers that students provide to continue to create a story; the authors
suggest that teachers use the most creative answers as a way to keep the story interesting
and to keep student involved with the story. The final step is reading a story that is similar
to the story that was created by the students. The authors finish the book by describing
how one could implement a language program using courses taught using TPRS.
The authors of this text describe how TPRS should be used. I do not agree with the
authors that this is the only teaching methodology that should be used in a classroom, nor
do I agree with translating in a classroom. Nevertheless parts of the TPRS methodology
can be used separately as a supplementary activity. The second step of TRPS, asking a
story, would be effective on its own. When asking a story students are working together to
create a unique story. In this type of activity students are responsible for their learning, the
teacher is the facilitator of the activity. The downside to this text is the that the authors
frequently made references to other materials which they produce, stating that in order for
one to learn how to use TPRS effectively one must purchase these other materials.
Willis, D., & Willis, J. (2007). Doing task-based teaching. New York: Oxford University
The book is divided into three sections. In the first two sections the authors
describe task-based instruction and provide many examples of how task-based instruction
can be implemented in the classroom. In the final section, the authors address commonly
asked questions about task-based instruction. The authors begin their discussion on task-
based teaching by identifying what makes a good task. They caution that any activity that
is preempted by any mention of grammar becomes an activity that focuses on grammar.
To prevent grammar focus, teachers must use tasks that elicit natural discussions. Each
activity must also have an engaging introduction that grabs the students’ attention. The
authors finish their explanation of task sequence stating that after a task is completed
teachers should focus on form, meaning after the students have done the activity teachers
should teach about grammar. The authors stated that a focus on form at the end of the task
helps students to reflect upon and make sense of the language they have just used. The
authors dedicate the remainder of the book to examples of different tasks. The tasks
demonstrate various ways in which teachers can manipulate texts in order to engage
students in conversations.
The authors provide a detailed overview of task-based teaching. The examples are
effective in demonstrating the variety of activities that can be done with tasks. The authors
also compiled an extensive list of examples to illustrate the effectiveness of task-based
teaching. The downside to the example tasks provided is that each task is accompanied by
a required text. The authors emphasize that task-based activities should be used with texts.
The second downside is the suggestion that students focus on form at the conclusion of
each task. I believe that students should be given a chance to ask questions, but that does
not require that the class focus on form.
Sykes, J. M., Oskoz, A., & Thorne, S. L. (2008). Web 2.0, Synthetic Immersive
Environments, and Mobile Resources for Language Education. CALICO Journal,
The authors begin by demonstrating the importance of web-based communication
in everyday life. The authors then discuss several WEB 2.0 tools and their usefulness in
foreign language classrooms. The first tool discussed is wiki pages. The authors state that
in order to adopt this wiki pages, the instructor must agree that L2 learning can take place
during collaborative projects. The authors also recognize that learning to use this type of
tool is difficult and time consuming. That said, the benefits outweigh the negatives.
Students can collaboratively create documents that are of higher quality than if they had
worked alone. There are features that allow both instructors and students to view the
changes to each document and see who made those changes. As students track changes
they are helping each other acquire a language. The second tool discussed is blogs. When
students write and participate in a blog, they are writing to a wide audience. Many people
read and comment on blogs, making students feel more like authors and empowering them
to say what they want others to read. The authors finish by discussing the implications of
virtual environments on L2 acquisition. The opportunities to use the language are limitless
in a virtual world. Students can be placed in situations where they are able to acquire
communicative competencies that would be difficult to acquire in a classroom.
The potential for technology use in a language classroom are limitless. Willing
educators are able to achieve more through wise implementation of technology. The skills
that blogs and wikis require of students are skills that can be used in more that the
classroom setting. As students work together on these projects they help each other
produce something that on their own they would not be able to produce. Technology
offers tools that would otherwise be inaccessible in a classroom. Students can enter virtual
environments, some of which are designed to mimic actual locations in the world, and
gain real-life experiences. The downside to internet use is the inability to know with
whom students are interacting, therefore instructors must take precautions to protect
students. However, the ability to enter a digital environment and acquire language is
astounding. No longer does it require thousands of dollars in travel to gain authentic
experiences with a second language; authentic experiences can now be had in a classroom
Todhunter, S. (2007). Instructional conversations in a high school Spanish class. Foreign
Language Annals, 40(4), 604-621. doi: 10.1111/j.1944-9720.2007.tb02883.x
Interpersonal communication is achieved by practicing communication with
others. This type of communication is characterized by its spontaneity, and the various
topics that students choose to speak about. It is virtually impossible to practice
spontaneous conversations in a classroom as communicative conversations are planned
and tailored to practice specific concepts; classroom conversations will never truly mirror
what happens in the real-world. The author of this article studied the use of real-world
conversations in foreign language teaching, the conversations were labeled “instructional
conversations.” Instructional conversations were originally developed for language
minority students and generally focused on literary texts. Instructional conversations are
useful because to participate in them, students need to link complex thinking skills with
linguistic abilities. Instructional conversations are different than other types of
conversations because they are dependent upon the responses of participants to keep the
conversations going. The teacher must not use the IRE (initiation-response-evaluation)
approach when using these conversations; in place of evaluation teachers must ask follow
up questions. The author states that these are high-risk conversations as students are
expected to maintain the conversation throughout its entirety. Teachers must be taught
how to conduct these conversations in order for students to benefit from them.
Instructional conversations need to be used more; they promote proficiency, real-
world communication, and motivation. This is the type of communication that the students
want to do and it is the type of conversation I, as an instructor, want my students to take
part in. In instructional conversations students share power as they ask each other real
questions. Some communicative activities, although intended to be student-centered, are
designed to have students practice what instructors want them to practice, they
occasionally lack authenticity. Teachers need to be taught to notice when an instructional
conversation is starting. Once an instructional conversation has begun, teachers should be
willing to postpone their lesson plan and let their students communicate. The author of the
study admits that these conversations are difficult to maintain, but I believe that once
students are taught how to be an effective interlocutor these conversation will become
Wehner, A. K., Gump, A. W., & Downey, S. (2011). The effects of Second Life on the
motivation of undergraduate students learning a foreign language. Computer
Assisted Language Learning, 24, 277-289. doi:10.1080/09588221.2010.551757
The authors examined if using a virtual world is effective for motivating learners
of a second language. The authors mentioned that, despite all the things that an instructor
is able to provide, motivation must come from the student. A virtual world, Second Life,
was introduced as a medium that has the potential to facilitate language acquisition by
providing opportunities to use the language in an authentic manner. The authors state that
virtual worlds provide a way for students to explore different countries, interact with
native speakers and do so without leaving the classroom. In this study, two groups of
students were tested to see if motivation improved with virtual worlds. All students were
in the same course taught by the same teacher. When the course was over, motivation tests
were conducted. It was seen that there was a positive, while not statistically so,
improvement with students who participated in the online environment. The authors
acknowledge that this may come from the anonymity offered by creating an online
character that acts as a mask for students trying to produce language. In closing the
authors state that virtual environments are a tool that, if/when used appropriately by
instructors, offers many opportunities to foreign language learners.
This is an interesting concept. There is so much that students could be exposed to
by using online environments like the one mentioned in this study. The ability to virtually
take students to places where they could practice authentic language is very exciting.
However, the concerns I have would be the quality of the input that our students would be
receiving. If the input is not comprehensible to the students then it is going to be a
frustrating experience. Also I would be concerned about distractions that can be found in
the virtual environments. Left on their own, what would students be able accomplish?
Major concerns aside, I believe that carefully structured task-based activities could be
accomplished in these types of environments. Virtual environments are an avenue which I
will further research.
Ballman, T. L., Liskin-Gasparro, J. E., & Mandell, P. B. (2001). The communicative
classroom. Boston, MA: Heile & Heinle.
The authors focus on developing teaching skills that will help students become
more proficient in a second language. They cite a survey that states that students desire to
develop oral proficiency. The authors suggest that teachers ask their students why they
want to learn the language. When a foreign language becomes more than a school subject,
it becomes a way to connect with the people who speak the language. To begin the
discussion, the authors first discuss what communication is. They state that
communication is divided into three parts, presentational communication, interpersonal
communication, and interpretational communication. The authors describe how different
activities and assessments should work in a communicative classroom. They assert that
grammar should not be the focus of classroom activities, the focus should be on
accomplishing communicative goals. The grammar that is taught should be in “support of
communicative activities” (p. 34). The authors stress that activity construction is essential
for language acquisition. If the students are presented with activities that are sequenced
appropriately, students will learn the grammar by completing the activities. Several
sample activities are provided such as information-gap activities, task-based activities and
interview activities; each activity type allows the teacher to focus on language production.
One of the final sections is on language assessment. The authors state that teachers should
assess the same way they teach.
Students want to speak the language being studied. I believe that teachers need to
be cautious that they do not focus explicitly on one of the four language skills; speaking a
language is important but being proficient in a language entails more than speaking. The
authors present an approach to teaching a language class that I was not familiar with, thus
challenging the way I had previously taught my classes. Until I read this book, I had
taught grammar and then had the students do activities that I thought would have them
practice what they had been taught. As I have experimented with the approach to teaching
presented in this book, I agree that grammar in support of activities allows students to
focus on activities that aid them in the real-world. Real-world activities aid students when
they are using the language outside of the classroom.
Lee, J., & Van Patten, B. (2003). Making communicative language teaching happen (2nd
ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
The authors begin their book by describing the how languages have traditionally
been taught. The Atlas complex, a teaching approach in which instructors are responsible
for relaying information to students, was introduced as a common model used in many
educational fields. A version of the Atlas complex exists today in language teaching, it is
known as the audiolingual method. The audiolingual method is based on memorization
and drills; students in this type of classroom are no more than passive learners repeating
what they have heard or memorized. After presenting the audiolingual method, the authors
change their focus to the communicative method. Within the authors’ discussion of the
communicative method, they describe a variety of topics, two of which will be described
briefly. First, classroom roles of students and teachers are described as the teacher being a
facilitator of learning, an architect who designs classroom activities so students are able to
accomplish what is asked of them. Students are the active agents in the classroom.
Classroom focus should be on what students will do and not what the teacher will tell
them. The authors also describe the importance of comprehensible input, stating that it is
through exposure to comprehensible input that students acquire a language. The authors
then describe activities which implement the principles of a communicative classroom.
The authors begin by characterizing the nature of many foreign language
programs: students memorize and repeat phrases and vocabulary. The authors then
describe a different way for foreign language classes to operate. At first I was skeptical
about a communicative classroom approach, specifically with the idea of exposing
students to the target language almost exclusively. I believed that students need to have
some instruction in their native language. After experimenting with comprehensible input
and with some of the activities the authors provided, I realized that students are capable of
doing more than I originally thought feasible. Task-based activities are the perfect medium
for introducing new concepts and expanding on what students are able to do in the target
language. The authors create a resource to aid teachers who wish to teach languages in a
Levine, G. S. (2003). Student and instructor beliefs and attitudes about target language
use, first language use, and anxiety: Report of a questionnaire study. The Modern
Language Journal, 87(3), 334-364. doi: 10.111/1540-4781.00194
The author reports that many studies support the use of the target language in the
classroom. The author explored the research literature looking for why, and who uses the
native language in the classroom. Several articles and studies are mentioned as having
shown positive results when using the L1 in a foreign language classroom. In this study
the author examines student anxiety towards target language, as used by the instructor and
students. The author tells foreign language teachers to recognize that their classrooms are
not monolinguistic, but they are multilinguistic environments. The author suggests that
there are important functions that the L1 can provide in a classroom. L1 use should not be
marked as inappropriate in the classroom; doing so increases students’ language anxiety.
The final finding is the positive correlation between the amount of target language used in
the classroom and the anxiety levels of each student. The author concludes that excessive
use of the target language will increase the anxiety of the students, which in turn will
inhibit their acquisition of the target language.
This study contradicts other theories on exclusive use of the target language (TL)
in the classroom. The author mentions that students become anxious at the idea of having
to use the TL, but other researchers have said using the TL is motivating. The conclusion
is potentially intriguing, but the author does not supply the necessary data to draw this
conclusion. The idea that the students’ anxiety would increase at the thought of not being
able to use their L1 seems unfounded. If the students know the expectations and benefits
of using the TL, then I believe that the motivation to use the language is a natural
consequence. I would agree that there are occasions in which the L1 should be used in the
classroom, but not to the extent this author suggests it should be. I would like to conduct
further research on this topic.
Thoms, J., Liao, J., & Szustak, A. (2005). The use of L1 in an L2 on-line chat activity.
Canadian Modern Language Review, 62, 161-182
The authors begin by discussing Vygotsky’s theories of social interaction in
relation to acquiring a second language. The authors also discuss research which was
conducted to see what tools students use when learning a language. From this research
foundation the authors conducted a study during which students had to instruct each other
through chat sessions in order to complete a series of tasks. Throughout the study the
authors recorded several types of L1 use. First students used their L1 to keep the task
moving along. Before the task was started students structured the work they were going to
be doing in their L1. The second use of the L1 was to define vocabulary that the students
did not know. Thirdly the L1 was used when students focused on grammatical forms. The
final observation was that when students participated in off-task behaviors it was done in
their L1. In conclusion the authors suggest that the L1 is not counterproductive to L2
acquisition. In fact there are times when students are able to accomplish tasks they would
not have been able to accomplish if they did not have access to their L1.
This changes the idea of L1 use in the classroom. This is by no means a reason for
teachers to abandon L2 instruction, but the authors explain why students use their L1 in
the classroom. Instructors should recognize the occasional need for students to use the L1
when working on tasks. Cognitively challenging tasks are better achieved by students
when they are able to use their L1 as a tool. In place of penalizing students for L1 use,
instructors should recognize the reasons for which the students have used their L1.
Instructors can use that information to reflect on how to plan future lessons. L1 use can be
used as a tool by both instructors and students and should be not be viewed entirely
negative in a foreign language class.
Computer-Aided Language Learning
Acha, J. (2009). The effectiveness of multimedia programmes in children’s vocabulary
learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(1), 23-31.
The author of this study investigates the effectiveness of multimedia presentations
on vocabulary acquisition. The three types of media examined are plain text, a picture
without text and a picture with a text. The author explaines that texts, accompanied by
pictures, facilitate vocabulary acquisition because in place of trying to create meaning for
the text, meaning is already given with the picture. The author states that using pictures
may be ineffective because of the cognitive load required by students when they process
texts with pictures. However, she concedes that this approach may still prove adequate for
children learning a foreign language. The author conducted a study in which the students
were exposed to each of the three vocabulary presentations. The results confirm what the
author believed: pictures accompanied with text were not effective for vocabulary
retention. According to the author, the results of this study indicate that the best way to
present new vocabulary is by using text alone. The author concludes stating that using
both pictures and text is a cognitively demanding process. Pictures with text may be an
effective teaching approach in some situations; however, it was not effective for
The author focused this study on younger children who are still developing their
cognitive processes. It would be interesting to conduct this study with a group of older
language learners who have more established cognitive processes. One of the reasons the
author conducted this study was to look at the effectiveness of language learning computer
programs. The author concluded that even though this method of vocabulary instruction is
not the most effective, yet computer programs that offer this type of instruction are still
being used. People in the world want to learn languages but, due to a lack of space in
foreign language classrooms, they resort to ineffectual programs to achieve their desires. It
is important that instructors in the classroom use effective methods of instruction,
otherwise they are not any better than ineffectual language programs.
Arnold, N., & Ducate, L., (Eds.) . (2011). Present and future promises of CALL: From
theory and research to new directions in language teaching (2nd ed.). San Marcos,
The editors present a collection of articles about Computer Assisted Language
Learning (CALL). The editors begin by describing how computers were first used in
language learning primarily as testing or tutoring tools. As computer capabilities have
improved so have the possibilities of CALL. The editors then present articles that explain
how CALL is a useful tool pedagogically, stating that CALL provides opportunities for
students to be exposed to authentic input and to produce output. The contributors also
examine popular language teaching approaches and explain how CALL can facilitate
those approaches. After the editors establish the utility of CALL from a variety
perspectives, they introduce various articles describing specific uses of CALL in the
classroom. One of the mentioned uses is the ability to facilitate reading in a second
language (L2). The author of one of the articles states that CALL provides access to
authentic texts and a means of comprehending those authentic texts that normally are too
difficult for students. When CALL tools are used, students are able not only to read
authentic texts with high comprehension rates, but also to acquire new vocabulary. The
book ends with an article describing the future of CALL. The contributor of the final
article claims, that while teachers and students have a desire to use technology in the
classroom, teachers need to be better trained so they can take advantage of CALL tools
available to them.
The editors compiled research about technology use in foreign languages
classrooms. Previously I had not had positive experiences with technology; I saw it as a
method of circumventing language teachers. From the research provided in this volume, I
see how CALL can be positively implemented. There are two advantages that particularly
appeal to me. First, the internet facilitates students’ access to more authentic texts, and
with the help of computer programs those texts are no longer too advanced for language
learners. Students can click on unfamiliar words to get their definitions, which allows
students to focus on the overall meaning of the text. Secondly, I am intrigued by the non-
academic use of technology. People have learned languages because of the social
interactions that they have online, specifically in computer games. I am astounded at
students’ academic accomplishments when they are not focused on academic work. When
classroom activities are patterned after normal student activities, I believe language
acquisition is facilitated.
Hampel, R. (2006). Rethinking task design for the digital age: A framework for language
teaching and learning in synchronous online environment. ReCALL, 18(1), 105-
In the beginning of the article the author states that online technology brings
limitless opportunities to the types of task-based activities that students may accomplish.
Tasks need to be reanalyzed to identify if it is possible to transfer the everyday classroom
task-based assignments to the digital environment. A study was conducted at an open
(online) university, where students did not have the opportunity to meet with their
classmates or their instructors. Instructors were given a set of tasks that needed to be
accomplished through the online learning atmosphere. How the instructors used the
activities was up to them. The classroom procedures were also up to the discretion of the
instructors. The author examined if teachers could effectively apply task-based activities
to an online environment. In conclusion the author found that not all tasks can
appropriately be altered to fit an online setting. Students lose a lot of information when
they cannot interact directly with a person. If a task is to be adapted to an online
environment, instructors need to tailor aspects of each task to appropriately fit an online
One of the reasons that CALL has become popular is because of the lack of
classroom space to adequately accommodate each student wanting to learn a language.
While a computer will never allow an individual to completely acquire communicative
competence, appropriately designed tasks will allow more students to have opportunities
to be successful when learning a language. Online tasks help extend the classroom beyond
the wall of any building and the benefits are becoming more apparent for the
implementation of online learning systems. Instructors should begin to implement
technology in their classrooms as doing so has the potential to create independent learners
who interact in authentic environments with higher frequency. However, when designing
activities instructors need to take into consideration where the activity will take place,
online or in a classroom.
DeCapua, A., & Wintergerst, A. C. (2004). Crossing cultures in the language classroom.
Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
This book serves as a guide to individuals not aware of cultural differences. The
main focus is the classroom setting but the principles discussed apply both in and outside
of the classroom setting. Tangible aspects of culture are first discussed, starting with
monochronic and polychronic time and continuing to the concepts of face. After
discussing visible characteristics of culture, the authors begin a discussion of culture
shock, describing it as process and analyzing its causes as well as the factors that aid in the
production and continuance of the individuals cultural shock. The next section deals with
the complicated nature of nonverbal communication. Understanding the differences and
similarities in nonverbal actions is crucial in enabling effective communication across a
variety of cultures. The authors also discuss social roles and pragmatics, claiming that
miscommunication occurs because words and phrases may have different meanings for
different people. One important aspect of this text is the practice section that accompanies
each chapter and includes a variety of activities for each topic covered.
This is a very useful text for teachers who wish to be more aware of cultural
aspects of education. Many of the skills and insights associated with culture learning seem
to be the same for language learning. The layout of this text is very practical, enabling the
reader to take the principles discussed and easily apply them to a classroom. The inclusion
of practice with each chapter helps to make the application of these concepts accessible.
Language and culture are so intertwined that it is impossible to truly separate them. As
teachers of foreign languages it is important that we understand that when we are teaching
languages we are teaching culture. This idea is recognized within the five C’s of foreign
Moran, P. R., (2001). Teaching culture: Perspective in practice. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.
Moran uses his personal experiences to inform language teachers on how culture
should be taught. Moran explains that there are four “knowings” that should be addressed
when teaching culture; knowing why, knowing how, knowing about, and knowing oneself.
With these four ideas, Moran makes the argument throughout the book that learning
culture is a process by which people learn about themselves. As students learn about their
own culture, they begin to develop empathy for and understand other cultures. A large
portion of the book is dedicated to defining the characteristics of cultures. Moran explains
that culture can be defined by examining products, practices, perspectives, communities
and persons. Moran then dedicates a chapter to each of the cultural characteristics,
emphasizing the links between culture and language. Moran calls language a window to
the culture: when one learns a language one also learns about the culture of those who
speak the language. The book contains appendices full of activities that can be tailored to
any level. The activities allow students to reflect on other cultures as much as on their
I really liked the portion on language and culture. I agree that students can only
learn so much about a culture from books; experiencing the culture is the best way to fully
understand it. In order for students to be able to experience a new culture they need to
have second language skills. Moran uses the metaphor of an iceberg to describe culture,
meaning that most of what is seen is only a fraction of what exists below the surface. I like
this metaphor and believe that it is the teachers’ responsibility to make students aware that
there is more to culture than what is seen. Students need to be taught how to investigate
and make appropriate inferences about different cultures.
Regan, T.G., & Osborn, T. A. (2002). The foreign language educator in society: Toward a
critical pedagogy. New York, NY: Lawrence Erllbaum Associates.
Reagan and Osborn address a variety of topics, beginning with reflective practices.
Regan and Osborn state that in order for teachers to become effective decision-makers for
their classes, they must develop reflective practices. There are three types of reflection:
reflection-for-practice (reflection during planning), reflection-in-practice (reflection
during classroom activities) and reflection-of-practice (reflection after the activity). The
authors discuss the importance of recognizing that all languages are valid; specific
reference is made to three languages, Esperanto, Sign Language, and Ebonics, that have
not always been recognized as valid languages. The authors then describe constructionist
ideas of language learning, dealing specifically with radical and social constructions. The
difference between the two is that radical construction is based on the way the students
perceive the world. Learning/construction is placed completely on the students’ shoulders.
Social construction is based on groups helping each other to construct their understanding
of the world. The authors conclude by discussing the ethics of language teaching. Some
places use language as a way to control others, to keep them in the socioeconomic or
political stations that they currently occupy. They also discuss how individuals’ rights are
violated when they are forced to use a foreign language to conduct their lives.
Language carries with it rights; it identifies who an individual is and in some cases
what one is capable of becoming. As globalization becomes more prevalent in everyday
society it is important that teachers develop skills that address the needs of all their
students. The ability to critically reflect upon one’s own practice is something that
teachers must develop or foreign language education will stop improving. Knowing how
languages are learned and how to reflect upon one’s own teaching, are essential for
teachers to develop to ensure that students are receiving the best education possible.
Gettys, S., Imhof, L. A., & Kautz, J. O. (2001). Computer-assisted reading: The effect of
glossing format on comprehension and vocabulary retention. Foreign Language
Annals, 34(2), 91-99. doi:10.1111/j.1944-9720.2001.tb02815.x
The authors of this article investigate whether sentence-level equivalency glosses
are more effective than dictionary glosses. A sentence-level equivalency gloss is a word
that is glossed according to the context of the sentence. A dictionary translation is a word
glossed out of context thereby allowing students the opportunity to infer word meaning.
The glosses are compared to top-down and bottom-up approaches. Glosses that allow
students to focus on the global meaning of a text are top-down glosses, these are sentence-
level equivalency glosses. Glosses which require student to infer vocabulary meaning are
bottom-up glosses, which are the dictionary glosses. Students place the majority of their
effort on a bottom-up approach; students desire to understand each individual word. After
conducting a study the authors conclude that providing a dictionary gloss is more effective
than sentence-level equivalents. The authors also note that, while less effective, students
prefer to have the sentence-level equivalents as it provides them with a sense of being able
to read an authentic text.
Glossing is more than defining words. Glossing facilitates students’ negotiation of
a text. According to the authors the decision should not be whether to gloss but how to
gloss. If instructors want to focus on text meaning they should offer a sentence-level
equivalency gloss. If instructors want to focus on vocabulary acquisition then a dictionary
gloss should be implemented. I believe that both glossing methods are effective tools that
should be implemented in the classroom. One concept mentioned by the authors, which I
believe to be essential, is depth of processing. I believe that activities addressing the four
language skills should require more than lower-level thinking skills. According to the
depth of processing theory, when students rely on higher-lever thought processes, such as
vocabulary inferring and multiple-choice glosses, they retain and recall concepts with
Liu, T-C., & Lin, P-H. (2011). What comes with technological convenience? Exploring
the behaviors and performances of learning with computer-mediated dictionaries.
Computers in Human Behavior, 27, 373-383. doi: 10.1016/j.chb.2010.08.016.
The authors of this article designed a study based on cognitive load theory (CLT).
The questions the authors pose are centered on the cognitive load placed on readers using
different glosses. Each gloss presented variations of the same words. The authors looked
at the time students spent with a text; claiming that if students spend more time processing
a text then they are able to retain more. The authors also tested how dictionary type affects
incidental vocabulary acquisition. The final question posed by the authors is how
dictionary type affects comprehension. The three dictionary types tested were pop-up
dictionaries, type-in dictionaries, and traditional book dictionaries. The results of the study
show that the pop-up dictionary was by far the most popular. Students accessed this
dictionary significantly more than the other dictionaries. The least effective was the book
dictionary, students spent more time with the book dictionary but the majority of their
time was spent navigating through all the words. No difference was noted in the incidental
The type of gloss used not only affects where student attention is directed, but also
the attention resources needed for comprehension of a text. These authors identify three
cognitive process types that require resources. The first is extraneous processes which are
the loads placed on a learner by unnecessary words and information. If learners are
looking through a dictionary they are needlessly expending valuable resources. The
second are intrinsic processes, which are the processes required to remember an item
while doing something else. The third are germane processes, which are the cognitive
loads used for conscious learning. Each student has a fixed amount of resources; these
resources must be properly managed. Instructors need to have a pedagogical reason for a
way in which they gloss a text. I believe each glossing approach is valuable when used
appropriately; but each approach must match the goals of the course if it is going to be
Louchy, J. P., Tuzi, F.,(2010). Comparing foreign language learners’ use of online
glossing programs. International Journal of Virtual and Personal Learning
Environments, 1(4), 31-51. doi:10.4018/jvple.2010100103
The authors have set a high standard for internet tools. They looked for existing
tools that allow students to access authentic texts not requiring simplification. The authors
state that in order for students to focus on the context of a text, vocabulary cannot be a
hindrance. The authors mention a threshold vocabulary limit to access most readings of
nearly 9,000 words. The authors recognize the difficulty in selecting a text and in glossing
the right words, as there is not enough time to do all of this for each class. For this reason
the authors examined several web tools that facilitate both glossing and comprehension
quizzes. In this study the authors also compare two gloss types, a pop-up gloss, and a
clickable gloss. The authors conclude that when students have a gloss it needs to be easily
accessible or students will not use it. The authors also report that when students had
glossing options that would take them away from the reading, the students would become
too distracted and were unable to remain focused on the reading task assigned.
Students need to have access to appropriate resources. Web tools that can create
glosses for individual readings have a lot of potential. Web tools that create glosses for
students selected texts put students in charge of choosing texts that interest them. If
students are allowed to choose the articles they are going to read for themselves, the
articles will have more meaning for them, thus increasing motivation for the students. I
think that being able to enter any selected text into a program and have that program create
an effective gloss is a lot to ask for from a computer program. The authors were able to
learn valuable information, but they were not able to find a web program that created the
desired glosses. I believe that there is no substitute for instructors preparing material for
Language Learning Theories
Lightbown, P.M., & Spada, N. (2006). How languages are learned (3rd ed.). Oxford, NY:
Oxford University Press.
In this book the authors combine research from a variety of language learning
topics to create an overview of language learning research. The authors begin by
discussing how children learn their first language. Theories such as behaviorism, the
innatist perspective, and interactionist perspectives are described. The authors then use the
theories of first language learning and combine them with theories of second language
learning. The authors also mention that characteristics of the learner and the environment
in which one learns a language affect language learning. In the third chapter characteristics
of language learners are examined in greater detail. Along with the characteristics of the
learners, group dynamics are mentioned as a factor influencing student perceptions and
desires to learn a foreign language. The authors use chapters four through six to discuss
what happens in the classroom. Topics such as vocabulary acquisition, asking questions,
wait time after a question, and context of language learning are presented. In the final
chapter the authors examine several popular language learning notions. They neither
confirm nor deny the notions, but rather point out the truths and the falsehood found in
The authors of this book presented a variety of language learning theories, such as
the critical age hypothesis, and teaching approaches, such as innatist and behaviorist.
Many of these theories I have heard mentioned by colleagues and in research papers. This
is however, the first book I have encountered with references to these language learning
theories. The authors of this book covered a variety of language learning topics, for which
they provided references to further research. One of the topics the authors explored were
the characteristics of language learners. Other researchers have addressed learners
characteristics but not with the degree of detail that these authors have provided. This
book is an excellent starting point for one who is interested in conducting research on how
languages are learned.
Shrum, J. L., & Glisan, E. W. (2010). Teacher’s handbook: Contextualized language
instruction (4th ed.). Boston: Heinle Cengage Learning.
This resource for foreign language educators begins with a brief history of foreign
language education. Following the discussion of several prominent theories and their
impact, the authors then provide information on lesson and curriculum planning. The idea
of backwards planning is introduced along with bottom-up and top-down approaches to
instruction. After explaining the benefits of those approaches the authors discuss various
methodologies that facilitate language instruction. They highlight the shift to standards-
based education and how it has affected foreign language classrooms, now that
proficiency in the target language is the new goal of instruction. Ideas on how to plan
lessons so students can achieve these standards are introduced and discussed. The rest of
the book offers teaching suggestions to aid in developing student proficiency. Supported
by current research, this text is a guide for creating a classroom that promotes language
acquisition. Each chapter has a practice section containing case studies which illustrate
how principles are put into practice. Along with the case studies are comprehension
questions that promote further understanding of the teaching methodologies presented.
This book is a great resource that provides information to teachers who wish to
expand their current knowledge and skills. When looking for new ideas one can refer to
the content of this book for inspiration. The authors cover a variety of topics supporting
each with current research. What I especially like about the book is the bibliography that
accompanies each chapter, which makes it possible to take a deeper look at the research of
each method. The case studies, with the accompanying questions, have been instrumental
in clarifying the application of different concepts for me.
Hoang Oanh, D. T. (2007). Meeting students’ needs in two EAP programmes in Vietnam
and New Zealand. Regional Language Centre, 38(3), 324-349.
The author describes needs assessment as having three parts similar to a triangle.
One part is the perceived needs of the instructor, another part is the perceived needs of the
students, and the final part is the educational institution’s needs. The author explains that
it is imperative that all these needs be taken in consideration when a course is designed.
The author acknowledges that one set of needs can place constraints on another set, but,
when each part works together, all parts benefit. The author focuses specifically on student
needs. As he presents assessment types that are considered to be of high value in assessing
student needs. Hoang Oanh claims that the most important assessment is self-assessment:
students who were trained to recognize their own needs reported that they became more
independent in their learning. Students taught to self-assess when given the opportunity to
choose elective courses made their choices based on self-identified needs and not on
superfluous motivators. Two universities were compared, one in New Zealand and one in
Vietnam. The New Zealand program used a needs assessment program to guide their
instruction. The Vietnamese program was not using this system, but is moving slowly
towards one similar. The Vietnamese instructors have seen benefits of needs assessment
and would like to offer those benefits to their students.
Needs assessment is systematical and must be repeated throughout a course to be
effective. It is not possible to administer one test and from that one tool know what the
students need. Students must constantly be assessed to judge the needs they have.
Instructors’ must find ways to stay vigilant when it comes to the needs of students.
Instructors responsibilities include designing courses to meet the needs of their students.
Nevertheless, learning to self-evaluate is an essential skill for independent learners. This is
similar to gap noticing, students need to be taught how to notice gaps in their education.
Once students know how to identify their needs, they will increase their autonomy.
Macintyre, P. D. (2007). Willingness to communicate in the second language:
Understanding the decision to speak as volitional process. The Modern Language
Journal, 91(4), 564-576. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2007.00623.x
The author of this article examines factors that can hinder or encourage student use
of the target language in a classroom. The factors explored make up what the author calls
willingness to communicate (WTC). The author began with trait specific and state specific
anxiety. Trait specific is defined as the long-term or typical pattern of the learners’
behavior while state specific refers to different situations that learners find themselves in
that cause anxiety to be at higher levels. The author recognizes that the amount of anxiety
fluctuates as students learn to cope and manage their anxiety. The author states that it is
important to recognize that today one students may not function well because of their
anxiety but tomorrow they may do better. Of particular interest is what happens once a
student decides to communicate. The author uses a metaphor to illustrate the student’s
attempt at communication. When students produce language it is like crossing the
Rubicon, it is an action that they cannot take back. Students are met with varying
responses to their language production; one common and damaging response is when the
teachers respond in the L1. When this happens students receive the that their language is
not good enough.
It is daunting to choose to use a foreign language, and once a student has made the
choice they need to be met with a positive response. It is the responsibility of the
instructor to use the foreign language with every student with every answer. It is also the
responsibility of the instructor to guide the students across the Rubicon by ensuring that
instructions facilitate and promote language use. While not the main focus of the article
the authors mention the negative effect a native language response can have on a student.
When instructors choose to respond in the native language they are telling the student
what they believe about their language skills.
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1) Why are you in this profession? How would you define your teaching philosophy?
2) What is the role of the teacher in the classroom?
3) What is the role of the students in the classroom?
4) What strategies do you use in your classroom to achieve these roles?
5) What materials do you use in your classroom?
6) What is communicative teaching?
7) Do the materials you use accommodate communicative teaching? What do you do
to tailor your text and other materials to your teaching method?
8) What aspects of teaching are important to you?
9) What is task based instruction?
10) How do you implement task based instruction into your classroom?
11) How do you use the target language in your classroom?
12) How do you design your classroom activities to keep them student centered?
13) What do you do to assure the activities will allow the students to use the language?
Figure 4. Progressive glossing step 1. The text will appear to students on the screen like
this. Italicized words are linked to progressive glosses. For example, the reader might not
know the words ‘mascota’ and click on it. This would open up a pop-up gloss as shown in
Figure 5. Progressive glossing step 2. The first gloss format presents the target word in
another context. The word has the same semantic meaning. From here students may click
“Próximo” (next) to continue with the gloss or “Volver al cuento” (return to story) to
continue reading the story. If the reader clicks on “Próximo” they will be presented with
Figure 6. Progressive glossing step 3 The students are presented with a picture
representation of the word and are again given the option to return to the story or to
continue to the next gloss format.
Figure 7. Progressive glossing step 5 The final gloss option presented to the student is a
multiple-choice gloss. Students will be able to choose what they believe the target word
means. If the appropriate word is selected a message will appear allowing the student to
know the correct option was selected. If the student selects an incorrect word, the correct
word will be highlighted and the other words will disappear.
This Student Never Sometimes Often Always
Identifies the topic 1 2 3 4
Identifies the main idea 1 2 3 4
Combines/chunks similar ideas 1 2 3 4
Paraphrase accurately 1 2 3 4
Deletes minor details 1 2 3 4
Recognizes author’s emphasis 1 2 3 4
Recognizes author’s purpose 1 2 3 4