Reading: Lesson 4
Use of the L1
While our beginning teachers found the approach to reading presented in this module to be appealing, they were not completely convinced that such an approach could be easily implemented in their classroom. In general, beginning teachers are likely to express concerns that a holistic approach might trigger the use of the L1, require too much time, and be too difficult to assess. In particular, they are likely to worry about the use of the L1 option with various pre-reading activities and as an aide to critical thinking. These teachers feel that the use of the L1 may end up “infiltrating” and “taking over” a classroom.
Before watching the clip, jot down the common objections to the use of the L1 in foreign language classrooms. Next, watch the clip and determine whether any of the objections that you noted are mentioned.
Questioning the use of the L1.
Minjung acknowledges that the L1 may have an important cognitive role to play in helping learners “process” a difficult text. Nevertheless, she points to an apparent contradiction between the goals of a communicative classroom that privilege communication in the target language and any use of the L1. This apparent conflict may be resolved by analyzing the purposes of the L1 in the foreign language classroom and identifying boundaries for its use.
Do you have a strong opinion about the proper use of the L1 in the foreign language classroom? Where did your opinion come from? From personal experience as a learner or teacher? From your reading about theory or research related to L1 use? From interaction with other teachers? Do you believe that the L1 should never be allowed or that there is a time and place for the L1?
The L1 as an aide to foreign language learning.
Integrating holistic reading put time constraints into an existing curriculum. Adding authentic texts and rereading them both require more time than exists in many pre-established curricular sequences and their lesson plans.
Before you watch this clip, brainstorm about what problems you might encounter if you tried to implement a holistic approach to reading into your own curriculum.
It appears that some of a beginning teacher’s concerns about a holistic approach stem from the “tyranny of the syllabus,” that is, a pedagogical mind-set found in many language programs that what matters is completing an activity on a specific calendar day. This concern is especially prevalent among instructors who teach a course in a high school or in a large language program with multiple sections and who don’t have much control over the syllabus and curriculum.
Brainstorm a few examples that demonstrate how the larger institutional context of a given language course may affect a teacher’s autonomy (e.g., high school class vs. community college vs. liberal arts college vs. large state university).
How do you fit reading into a pre-set curriculum?
It seems from the video that “reading” fits into almost any curriculum only if the activity is defined broadly. Learners may be assigned a longer reading to complete in stages during the semester, with tasks built in that result in a portfolio assignment, summarizing what has been done. Alternately, a set of web pages may be assigned, which require learners to research a topic and then summarize it—another bridge between comprehension and production. Teachers should not worry unduly about finishing a reading activity “on time” if the activities are integrated and overlapping, as advocated here. For example, what may begin as a reading assignment in class may be completed outside of class as a writing assignment.
Assessing Reading Outcomes
Beginning teachers are likely to worry that a holistic approach to reading and language learning in general does not allow for any focus on the individual parts, such as vocabulary, grammar, content, etc. This is an understandable concern since such an approach emphasizes the relationship of the individual parts that constitute the text as a whole rather than the individual parts of a text. The issue usually comes down to the question: What is the best way to teach and assess grammatical accuracy? Should assessment ever focus on grammatical accuracy if the pedagogical approach takes a more integrated, contextualized approach?
Before you watch this clip, brainstorm about your expectations for your students’ accuracy and what the role of accurate language use should be in assessment.
Accuracy can be assessed variably, depending on learning objectives.
Test What You Teach How You Teach It
The final challenge for any curriculum (holistic or otherwise) is summarized in the old saw: “test what you teach how you teach it.” If students are taught to read using a matrix, they should be assessed using a similar task. For example, a matrix sets up learning that joins content and language; the elements in the matrix constitute a topic-and-comment logic—set within two columns, two parallel cells provide the material for particular kinds of sentences. If the instructor thinks grammar accuracy is important, then the sentences or phrases that come out of the matrix information need to be evaluated for accuracy of formal features as well as accuracy of content weighting and selection. Spelling, grammar, expression, and content can all be evaluated in terms of accuracy. However, teachers must make clear to students how much accuracy counts in their grading scheme. If grammatical accuracy is never touched on in reading activities, it would be unfair to make it a primary focus when testing reading.
Matrix Options at Different Levels
At beginning levels, students will need structured tasks that provide them with explicit directions about what to look for and how to find it. Later, the matrix can have a less prescriptive format, such as a précis or concise summary that allows learners to manage their language production by organizing information according to a logical pattern they see in a text. More advanced learners can also provide a statement in English or the foreign language concerning the implications they read in the pattern of logic uncovered in their matrices. For example, if a reader discovers a series of events and outcomes in a Batman film that all result in extraordinary special effects then they probably will recognize and write about the implication that every time a bad guy does something explosive, innocent people are put in danger and when good guys use technology it is to save people—a pattern of good versus evil with visual correlations of color and sound.
How a matrix can be implemented and assessed at the intermediate level.
In summary, teachers can manage the outcomes of reading through an assessment program that reflects a concept of reading as a holistic combination of students’ grammatical accuracy, their comprehension of content, and their critical thinking.
In the wake of proficiency testing and the ACTFL Standards, the labels we as FL teachers use to describe our job have changed; and with those changes the objectives for teaching what were formerly called “skills” have been recast. What was once “speaking skill” is today more commonly referred to as “communicative competence.” Reading has become “negotiating with the text,” “reading for meaning,” or “holistic reading.” Along with new labels or new associations come changed ideas about what FL students should learn and how.
These four lessons on reading have presented the “what” (readable, authentic materials) and “how” (activities that engage a hierarchy of cognitive processes). We have stressed that these proposals can’t work unless they reflect feasible instructional goals, taking into account the practical constraints posed by teachers’ curriculum and their students’ learning needs.
These goals include:
• augmenting textbook readings with authentic materials,
• introducing new readings with interactivity to motivate and ease the comprehension process,
• providing activities to help students identify, to reproduce, or to interpret a text’s information and messages,
• teaching strategies for comprehending authentic texts without reliance on a dictionary,
• comparing L1 and FL texts to uncover similarities and differences in approach and point of view,
• and recognizing that testing must reflect the teacher’s learning goals and the activities practiced to achieve them.
The ultimate goal in FL reading is the discovery of new knowledge. Enabling students to work toward that goal, even if only in small or periodic increments, contributes significantly to their development.
Instructor’s Final Comments
Thirty years ago, I taught my first course in which we read only authentic texts. Afterward, I made a videotape of this intermediate-level class spontaneously discussing that experience. The first twenty minutes of the tape were filled with moans and groans—it had been hard reading magazine articles, newspaper editorials, etc. Finally I asked, “Do you regret having had to do this? Do you want to go back to the textbook next semester?” It was then that a sea change occurred. A chorus of voices responded with vociferous protests and firm denials. One of the biggest hand-wringers asserted, “Now I can talk about something interesting when I meet Germans—current political and social issues, not just polite hellos.” Another assured me that the shock was over “after the first few weeks.”
Today with the Internet, online searches, YouTube, and DVDs, authentic materials in print as well as in other media are far more accessible, and most FL classes have begun to use them regularly. As a result, I hope that the shock will not be as great for your students.
[Module Instructor Janet Swaffar. ] 2010. [Reading]. In Foreign Language Teaching Methods. Carl Blyth, Editor. Texas Language Technology Center, University of Texas at Austin. http://coerll.utexas.edu
The material is provided free of charge for those that wish to study it.
How ever a no obligation exam is available at the end of this module.