Grammar in a proficiency-based/CI classroom: the PACE method

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Ask any World Language teacher their biggest conundrum in switching from a “traditional” teaching practice to one that is rooted in comprehensible input or teaching for proficiency and I’m willing to bet they’ll tell you that it’s how to teach grammar within the new framework.

The teaching of grammar is one of the most hot-button topics out there for language instructors: do you do it? If so, how much? In what way? Should grammar instruction be implicit or explicit? Both? Non-existant? Practice or no practice? Am I a bad teacher if I still teach and test grammar?

While there is a lot of research to back up basically all of the above viewpoints (and believe you me, I took a graduate seminar in pedagogy this semester and read A LOT of the research) my own perspective comes from a combination of research and experience. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of comprehensible input and center my teaching practice around it, but from experience I know that CI alone has only gotten my students so far – at a certain point, they needed more structure and some explanation. Thankfully, I had a very strong formation in my undergraduate methods course that stressed the importance of teaching grammar in the target language, via authentic resources if possible, and in line with the principles of CI and teaching for proficiency. The PACE method made my transition from textbook dependent to textbook-free much less painful, and it’s what I suggest to anyone who asks about teaching grammar without sacrificing CI or proficiency. I’ve had a lot of success with this method, and I particularly like it because it emphasizes the best practices that I feel very strongly about: input before output, exposure to authentic resources (or teacher-created resources with authentic language), culture, and establishing meaning before focusing on form.

The PACE method

So, what exactly is the PACE method? PACE is obviously an acronym, and each letter stands for a different part of the process.

P – Presentation: This is the very opening stage, when a document that highlights your targeted grammar point (song, video, poem, story, etc) is presented to the class. This document obviously needs to be in the TL, and do not announce the grammar point to the class beforehand. Just focus on the document itself and what it’s about. For example, when I wanted to introduce the conditional to my French 3 (university) students, I sourced a bunch of tweets on a trending hashtag, #SiInternetNExistaitPas (If the Internet didn’t exist) and read through them with my students, checked for comprehension, and asked personalized questions and then follow-up questions. Depending on the length of your document, this could very well take the majority, or even all, of a class period – or even MORE than one class period. I picked a lot of tweets because I wanted a lot of exposure to the verb structures and their meanings. Take your time on the presentation section – this is the most important part, as it’s where meaning is established. And bonus: this is usually a great culture-infused lesson, too.

A – Attention: This part of the PACE method means you simply call attention to the structure you want to study. You don’t explain it, or teach it; you just call attention to it. When I did my lesson with the tweets, this involved re-typing all the tweets so they appeared on a single slide, and then highlighting the verbs in the conditional. The students read through them again, and we matched the French to an approximate English translation (this part was purely a choice on my part, you don’t have to translate anything at this point if you don’t want to). I DID put a little warning-sign symbol next to the sentences with verbs that have irregular stems, but I didn’t tell the students why right away, I was simply calling extra attention to those verbs.

C – Co-Construct: After the initial presentation phase, the co-construct part of the method is the most essential. In this step, the students and teacher construct an explanation of the targeted grammar together. However, for maximum effectiveness this needs to be very student-led, with the teacher serving as a guide to affirm or re-direct the hypotheses of the students. During this step, I usually ask a simple question while students are still viewing the “attention” step: What do you think is going on here? I give the students time to brainstorm with a partner or in a small group, and I tell them I want them to focus on the following things and come up with a hypothesis for each question:

  1. What are the highlighted verbs (or whatever it is you’re targeting) communicating?
  2. Can you spot any patterns? Where/what are they?
  3. How do you think these verbs work? (This is where the formation part comes in)
  4. Why did I put that warning sign next to certain sentences? (For my example lesson)

The most important part is that I leave them alone during this time. I don’t ask the questions aloud and then let my all-star student answer while the rest take a mental trip to Hawaii. They must communicate with a partner, or even jot down some notes on their own to figure out how the grammar works. Once they’ve had time to get their ideas down on paper, then I have them tell me how it all comes together. For Novice students, they may speak in English during this time; Intermediates can typically function at least partially in the TL. It’s during this co-construct stage that practice of the grammar point may come in to play; particularly if it’s a verb tense, I’ll usually start with some simple drill-style games. We may do human sentences or Mad Libs, or even (though this is rare)…a worksheet. This practice is usually very easy for the students since meaning has been clearly established by this point through the presentation and attention phases, which means I don’t have to do a TON of it.

E – Extension: This is the final phase of the lesson, when the students have to use what they’ve learned to complete a task (hopefully one that is contextualized/real-world), or even several tasks. I like to do a few extension activities that increase in difficulty, starting small with a short, prepared writing activity (like writing your own tweets – short, time to reflect) to a longer presentational writing (still time to reflect) and will typically end with a speaking activity that requires students to attempt to produce the targeted structure on the fly.

For me, the PACE method is a happy medium between no grammar instruction at all and explicit instruction in the L1 of a concept that is typically very abstract for the learner, and I have gotten great results from lessons designed around this particular method. Additionally, it keeps me at least 90% in the TL and the nature of co-constructing the grammar means that, when done correctly, the students are doing the majority of the heavy lifting and therefore, the learning – a wise teacher once told me ‘the one doing the talking is the one doing the learning’ and boy, does that ring true for me in most instances. I also find that the PACE method lines up really well with the primacy/recency theory, even when stretched over multiple class periods. It’s also helped me bridge the gap between the constraints yet relative effectiveness of TPRS (more on that in another post…someday, maybe) and my students’ interest in more theme-based units.

There are a ton of free resources on the Internet for PACE method lesson plans and I encourage anyone who has one they’re willing to share to comment with a file or a link! If you, like me, struggle with finding the right balance between input-driven lessons and grammar instruction, give the PACE method a try – it may be what you’re looking for!

 

 

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Rethinking the Choice Board

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One of the first things I did when switching to a more proficiency-based teaching model (and the subject of one of the earliest blog posts I made) was to ditch traditional homework in favor of a Choice Board due at the end of each unit. A Choice Board is a great way to incorporate student voices into your classroom, as it allows them to choose which assignments to pursue outside of class time and it can be a way to get students to interact with the language in a more authentic way (and is more interesting than a workbook page!).

My Choice Board has always had two parts – the top part, or the “written work” and the bottom portion, which are speaking prompts. I’ve been giving Choice Boards to all of my students for about three years now and I absolutely believe they are the biggest reason why my students are (generally) very comfortable speaking French in class and why the eventually become very proficient speakers. I do not spend a lot of time honoring the “silent period” of language acquisition and I do indeed force output, which can be a controversial topic in the SLA community. In my experience (and I’m hardly an expert) there are many kids who, if not forced to speak, simply won’t. With the Choice Board, they can accomplish a task whenever they are ready and in a one-on-one environment with me; that way, I can still assess how their speaking skills are developing and they don’t have to put themselves “out there” in front of their classmates if they aren’t ready yet.

That being said, this year I felt the need to start revamping some of my Choice Boards to better reflect improvements in my teaching practice. Before, the top “written work” was separated by the letters A, B, C in which A corresponded to vocabulary, B corresponded to grammar and C corresponded to culture. Students were to get a tic tac toe with each letter (A-B-C) in order to fulfill the top portion assignments. The vocabulary prompts tended to be things like “Draw a birthday party and label the elements” (eeeeek!) and the grammar prompts had things like, “Create a 10-question -ER verb quiz and an accompanying key, then quiz a classmate!” (oh mon Dieu!) The speaking prompts on the bottom were similary separated by topic.

I’ve evolved a little bit since then and have been working on revamping my Choice Board to make it more culturally and linguistically authentic. I definitely still have a long way to go, but the current version for French 2 is I think a baby step in the right direction. The prompts are still labeled A B C for organization (I still want the tic-tac-toe element) but there is (I hope) less isolation between grammar, vocabulary and culture. Some of the written tasks are not as authentic as I would like, but I think it’s a definite improvement over earlier versions.

The speaking tasks have remained mostly the same; I’m working on developing a way to present the information in a less visually-confusing way and to remove the linguistic segregation that is still present on the labels but does not really correspond to the given prompts. I’m open to suggestions!

My Favorite Spook-tacular Resources for French Class

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Most days, I can say that I really don’t regret my decision to study French instead of Spanish. I think the French language and culture have a lot to offer students! That is…until the end of October rolls around, my students are squirrely, Halloween is approaching and Spanish teachers have a great cultural and linguistic opportunity in Day of the Dead and French teachers get…la Toussaint. Womp womp.

I’ve done lessons on la Toussaint before and while it’s been a great educational opportunity, it’s not exactly the most engaging subject as Toussaint tends to be eclipsed by the two-week vacation that all French students get in honor of the holiday (which no one really celebrates beyond laying mums on a loved one’s grave).

My French 3 kids have JUST started a unit on Legends and the Supernatural (previously done at the end of last year with my level 4 kids), so they’ll be seeing most of these resources but they really could be adapted to (almost) any level. Our grammar focus for all of first semester in level 3 is passe compose and imparfait, so this unit lends itself very well to narrating stories in the past!

Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a way to use the language to honor this spooky season, consider some of these resources!

MovieTalk

Alma (used in conjunction with this article)

Dirt Devil commercial 

Vampire’s Crown

The Black Hole

Video/Listening Resources

Créatures Fantastiques: Le Loup-Garou du Québec

Créatures Fantastiques: Le Windigo

A la découverte des catacombes avec Donia 10 ans

The Michel Ocelot film Les contes de la nuit

Story Time: Experience Paranormal

Le Conte des trois frères (Harry Potter)

Reading Resources

Most of my reading resources for this unit are self-created Embedded Readings of the following stories:

Le Nain Rouge de Detroit (try as I might, I cannot find a document that is already in French, thus I created it myself based on the details here)

La Peau de chagrin by Balzac (far too long/difficult to read in class; embedded version with the highlights is the way to go)!

Barbe Bleue by Perrault (I choose this one as it is particularly scary/gory for a fairy tale!)

Les Lavandières de la nuit

Article: J’irai dormir dans les catacombes!

Et voilà! Hopefully these resources will help carry you and your students through the spooky  Halloween season (and help take the sting out of not having a calavera to decorate or an ofrenda to build)!

#AuthresAugust: My Favorite Print Resources

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I’ve blogged before about how some of my colleagues call me the “resource queen” and to a certain extent it might be true – I do spend a lot of time scouring the web for authentic resources for my students. As much as I love a good infographic, though, over the past few years I’ve also really enjoyed using informative children’s books in my classroom and I tend to stock up whenever I’m in France (though you can buy them online too!). Bad news for my suitcase, great news for my personal library!

While my library does boast some of the “classic” children’s literature – Harold and the Purple Crayon, Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, several Dr. Seuss titles, and more – I really like using informative children’s books that explain a concept. Even better if it’s tied to our current thematic unit!

Here is a list of my go-tos and favorites!

L’histoire de France en BD by Dominique Joly and Bruno Heitz

I own two copies from this series, which presents the history of France in comic-book form: De la Révolution à nos jours and La Révolution française. My upper-levels have loved them both and I really appreciate how they present complex historical and political concepts in simple, child-friendly language with tons of visual support.

The Dis Pourquoi series from Fleurus

I love the illustrations of this series, and how it addresses so many common questions that could fit into literally anything you teach. Each book answers, in child-friendly language,  a wide variety of questions like what is a friend?, why do we cry?, why is it bad to throw paper on the ground?, why are there people who sleep on the street?, why do moms and dads have to work? and so on. Super cute!

Mes Petites Questions from Edition Milan

Each book in this series addresses children’s questions related to one specific topic – France, Paris, life and death, love and friendship, religion, soccer, school, seasons and the list continues. I only have a few so far but if I could buy one of each I would!

Questions? Réponses! from Nathan

This is a similar series to Mes Petites Questions but geared to a slightly older audience. I bought two on my most recent trip to France – one about soccer, and the other on World War II for my AP students to use this year.

66 Millions de Français… by Stephanie Duval, Sandra Laboucarie and Vincent Caut

This is another book I just bought so I haven’t had the chance to use it in class yet, but I’m really excited about it! It’s like an infographic in print form and each chapter focuses on a different aspect of France’s identity, like What does it mean to be French? or France, country of rights and obligations and my personal favorite, France seen from elsewhere.

I buy the bulk of my books in France, but there are certain occasions when I need to order something online, so Amazon.fr (or .ca) and FNAC are my go-to sites. Happy reading!

 

How do you get them to _____?

Last week I shared via Twitter a few writing samples from my French 4 students to get a better perspective of where their proficiency lies – something that is, admittedly, really difficult for me to determine from where I sit as their (very) sympathetic teacher. The samples got very positive feedback from the #langchat community and beyond, which was exciting for my students and validating for me as a teacher that, hey! Maybe I’m not actually messing this up as badly as I sometimes think I am!

The samples also got the question I seem to hear a lot from my colleagues who are trying to get into a more proficiency-based mindset: How do you get them to (fill in the blank here)?

I am really fortunate to work in a school district with (mostly) highly-motivated students. They really want to get an A, which can sometimes be annoying but is also a great motivator for a proficiency-based class because I can tell them “If you want an A, you need to write in complete sentences/add transition words/more detail.” I often look at my level 4s and ask myself, how did you learn to do this?! because even I don’t really have a clear cut answer! I don’t have a good system for introducing vocabulary and making it stick. I rarely teach grammar and I never give worksheets or homework requiring them to practice the grammar that I do introduce. I don’t teach using novels consistently (unfortunately). My gradebook is horrifically unbalanced (can you believe I didn’t assess listening at all for my level 4s in the 3rd quarter? Insert monkey-covering-face emoji here). I don’t even use 90% Target Language all the time (shaaaaame! I know!).

So, here are a few things that go on in my classroom that seem to be doing something to help my students. This is by NO MEANS a way to make myself look good – these are simply the things that go on in my classroom that I think may in some way be linked to my students’ success. I wish I had more clearcut answers for those of you who are starting on this journey, but half the time I really think the students are successful in spite of what I do rather than because of it, LOL!

1. No homework or participation grades.

I only grade things that I consider to be assessments. I don’t assign participation points and on the extremely rare occasions I give homework, I don’t grade it and it’s optional. This means the stuff I do collect and grade has a huge impact on their overall grades and to be successful on those assignments, they need to participate in class and do the things I ask of them. My control freak tendencies hate this. My past experiences of giving homework and participation points, however, were not convincing enough that I felt motivated to continue doing it.

2. Talk to them

We have a lot of informal conversations in my class. My lesson plan actually tends to be “Plan B” as interacting with the kids in a personal way takes precedence, so long as this informal talking takes place in French. If I find we’re starting to slip into English, then we move on to the formal lesson plan. Is this best practice? I don’t know.

3. Grammar in context

I’m by NO means an expert at this but I do my best to introduce grammar in context via TPRS stories and MovieTalks or PACE-model type lessons. Whenever I request feedback from my students, they almost universally say that hearing the grammar in context and lots of repetitions is what they feel helps them learn the best. Plus, it’s not (usually) boring, which means they’re more likely to remember it.

4. Mercredi Musique

This is something that’s brand new this year in my classroom and is now by far the most popular part of my class. Every Wednesday we listen to a song, watch the music video (if appropriate) and sing the chorus. Sometimes we might discuss why we like or dislike the song, or I ask another question that pertains to the song’s contents – for example, last week we listened to Comme ci, comme ça by ZAZ and we answered the question, “What do you do to annoy people?” This was a great opportunity to intro the grammar point “by _____ing” to my upper levels, and just a good conversation piece for the lower levels. Songs are also RICH in slang and idiomatic language, which make them great vehicles for engagement (or at least, I think so). I try to not be offended when my students say things like, “Mercredi musique is the only good part of my week!” I think there’s a compliment in there somewhere!

5. Forced output

I understand that forced output is a controversial topic amongst language teachers and SLA specialists, but for me, it’s not. I need students to demonstrate growth and understanding of the concepts introduced in class, and I need them to do it orally. At all levels. I understand that some believe that students will produce when they’re “ready” but there are also a great many students who would be glad to sit quietly forever if I let them. You know who they are! In my class, we speak French. Whether it’s French 1 or AP French, that’s simply my expectation and by now, my kids in French 4 even interact with me in French outside of the classroom. I rarely correct them when they speak (or write). I even think their oral skills have helped improve their writing skills – I can tell some of them are arriving at the point when they can think about what “sounds” right instead of needing to resort to a grammar rule.

6. Relationships

This year, my evaluator commented on something about my classroom that makes me incredibly proud, and even moreso that he was able to pick up on it in a class where I speak almost entirely French the whole time – that there seems to be an implicit, palpable level of trust. And he’s right – I’m not sure what it is that got us to this point, but my kids and I trust each other. They trust I will not let them fail and whether it’s as a result of this trust or just the nature of the particular kids in my classroom (I’m inclined to think it’s the latter), I trust that when I ask them to do something, they’ll do it. And for the most part, that happens. On the other hand, this is a group of kids who asked to watch the news in French to improve their listening skills so I’m not totally sure that I have anything to do with their attitudes at all!

So, like I said, I don’t know if these things really answer the question of “How do you…?” but these are the things I fall back on year after year so I have to believe there’s some good in there somewhere. Please let me know if you have any other tips on how you get your students to do __________ in your classroom!

Unexpected CI

This year in my French 2 class, I have a student who, for reasons I can’t pretend to comprehend, is a little challenging. Let’s call him David (though that’s not his real name). David is incredibly smart and could easily master my class but a lack of effort in assignments and assessments has been holding him back from achieving his personal best. David and I have a somewhat tenuous relationship; there are days when he’s totally amenable (“Mademoiselle!” he exclaimed one day, holding up his foot to show me a Converse shoe that matched mine, “We have the same shoes!”) and then there are days when he shows up 20 minutes after lunch ends and says (smirking) that he couldn’t come to class on time because his butt got stuck to the seat in the lunch room. I know.

So for the past couple of weeks, I’ve been running my second-annual Musical March Madness in all of my classes. I keep it really simple – each day we listen to two songs and vote on which one we like the best. I do more involved activities during our regular Mercredi Musique routine, but for right now March Madness is just about listening and having fun.

The other day, one contender was the song Un peu de blues by Christophe Maé. David was in a mood – sullen and generally non-participatory – and I’ll admit that I had been avoiding interacting with him because of it. Well, in the video clip, there is a scene when Christophe bids farewell to a pretty girl and rides off on a motorcycle. In the next scene, though, Christophe comes out of his hotel room, and the girl is leaning up against his motorcycle, with her own helmet in hand. I’ve seen this music video about 500 times (give or take a few) and never really thought much about it, but David sat bolt-upright in his chair the second he saw it and hollered, “But how did she GET there?!”

Everyone in class (including me) burst out laughing because – well, he was right! How did she get there?! And let me tell you – never was there a more golden opportunity for CI than that moment, because we were just about to embark on a little grammar quest called the pronoun y, which means “there” in French and takes the place of a location in a sentence. It was the perfect chance to throw out the question using that pronoun – comment est-ce qu’elle y est arrivée? (How did she get there/How did she do that?) – and have some great fun with this music video’s plot hole.

Just goes to show, you may find opportunities for CI from some very unlikely sources!

My #csctfl16 experience

The Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages has come and gone! It was my first time going to Central States, and I have to say, it was a blast! Unfortunately I ended up having to head home early on Saturday because I came down with what I think is the flu (currently on day 3 of fever, blech!) and I missed a lot of sessions I was super excited to attend :(. Major bummer! BUT, the ones I did get to attend were amazing. There’s always next year to make up for what I missed this year :).

I learned a lot during the two-ish days I was at the conference, and something I always look to do at conferences is to add more resources to my arsenal, particularly when it comes to different ways to deliver CI to students. Nelly Hughes’ “Comprehensible Input the Easy Way” gave me a ton of new ideas for providing students’ with input and Cynthia Hitz offered great ways to breathe life into reading in the TL. I can’t wait to try out some of these strategies!

Amy presented on liberating yourself from the vocabulary list – something I’ve been wanting to do but wasn’t sure where to start. While it’s going to take some adjusting to implement, I’m excited about the possibilities.

Laura Terrill’s session on the Keys to Planning was the one that had the most A-HA! moments for me and it made me want to run out right away and buy her book. Laura and I agreed that we’re going to do a book study this summer for the Keys to Planning for Learning – anyone else in?!

This conference had many highlights, not the least of which was getting to meet some of the teachers that have inspired and challenged me on this journey to become a more proficiency-based teacher. I still have so far to go that sometimes it can feel overwhelming, but attending professional development like this gets me closer and closer to my end goal. Teaching really is a craft – one that takes years to develop, and even then requires near-constant tweaking to maintain and improve.

My biggest takeaway from CSCTFL16 is that I need to be way more intentional in my planning than I currently am. My day-to-day activities are good, sometimes great, even, but my units lack depth and most of all, they lack concrete direction. I think in my quest to do less, I’ve pared down too much. I need real can-do statements. I need essential questions. Most of all, I need to determine what real language functions will go with each unit, as opposed to saying, “Well, I guess I could introduce X grammar point here, it would probably fit…” It means I will have my work cut out for me this summer, for sure, but I think it will absolutely be worth it. I also need to commit to using storytelling more regularly and more purposefully in my practice!

Thank you to everyone I had the pleasure of meeting at CSCTFL! I learned so much, and I am already looking forward to next year!