May 16 | #EarlyLang

“Student Choice in the Early Language Classroom”
from May 16, 2018

On May 16, language teachers from grades K-8, and beyond, met for the biweekly #EarlyLang chat. Participants discussed the role and importance of choice in the classroom. They also gave suggestions for maintaining TL use during choice activities and how to create common vocabulary to allow those activities to occur.

Q1: How do you define student choice and voice in the #earlylang classroom?

Participants had a variety of definitions. Some said it is adding a level of personalization, tuning into the interests of the students, and even letting them direct the conversation at times. Other ideas included giving students choice in who to work with during collaborative time, identifying end goals and allowing students choice in how to get there, or choice in centers.@doriecp suggested, “allowing my students to guide and influence our daily interactions. Reminding myself that language learning is about the student, not about me or “my” curriculum.”   @MundodePepita provided a caveat that giving unlimited choice can be overwhelming to students, so they become blocked and shut down. The task for teachers is to determine how much choice allows their students to feel valued and truly part of the classroom without making them feel overwhelmed by options.

Q2: What are the advantages of providing student choice?

Most teachers have experienced professional development sessions that gave them no options for anything but sitting and listening. Those are the days that are quickly forgotten. Contrast that with a choice of any sort. Students are no different. Giving students choice empowers them, makes them more accountable, and increases interest. Choice can encourage students to step out of their comfort zone and makes them feel valued. It reduces student stress and creates independent learners. @MaestraAubreyCT mentioned a student who had social anxiety. Even though he would not present in his other classes, he was so proud of a project in her class that he volunteered to present it to the class. That is the power of choice.

Q3: In what contexts/types of activities do we offer choice?

@kapriceman, “I think you can offer choice in all types of activities, but you must be vigilant. Initially choice enables reluctant learners to take chances, and gives confident students a chance to break out. But you must structure choices so that all learners are challenged & nurtured.”

@_MadameH, “sometimes the choices are larger- how to present something. Sometimes they are smaller- which centre do you want to start at today? Thinking about it now, I need to keep consciously offering more choices to students in various ways.”

@MaestraAubreyCT, “ Choice in a specific class period on how to learn about a specific topic, i.e. watch a video, direct instruction with Maestra, books, game … all on the same topic, but they choose which one.”

@windycitysenorita, “ I’ve really been emphasizing the personal vocab/lang chunk list. The ss self select what they need to say on the tasks–and cannot exceed expectations without them.”

Q4: When students work independently on choice activities, how do we ensure they stay in the TL?

Staying in the TL is one of the big challenges in language classrooms. Independent work on choice activities raises the level of challenge. To overcome the challenge, the teacher can offer activities that students have had enough practice to complete independently, ensure the activity matches proficiency levels, or provide resources and phrases to help when students get stuck. Teachers can also provide positive reinforcement and build in accountability in some way, through partner work or some kind of end product. Finally, determine if sharing ideas is more important than remaining in TL. Sometimes it is not realistic to remain in the TL, the teacher may have to look at the priorities for the lesson and adjust.

Q5: How do you maintain a common vocabulary while supporting student choice?

Vocabulary is obviously a key component of the language classroom. For choice activities, teachers can frontload commonly used words or phrases,   repeat high frequency words so students have basic words, and provide the input for group output. Other strategies include having a must do word list and a can do (student choice) word list, providing flip books of phrases, word walls, and anchor charts. Once a common vocab and interaction framework is in place, students can choose how to interact with the material and each other.

Reflaction–Knowing what you now know, what will you do in the future?

Although the school year is quickly drawing to a close, there is still time to reflect on practice and take action to implement new ideas. A few suggestions included to continue incorporating choice when possible, improve the use of word walls, and let go of “control freak” tendencies.

Thank you to all who participated in this #EarlyLang chat! Thank you to our lead moderator, Valerie Shull, (@windycitysenorita)‏ for leading the chat and to our co-moderator, Jenny Delfini, (@JL_Delf) for helping guide the conversation. Thanks also to EMC School (@EMCSCHOOL) for sponsoring tonight’s chat.The next and final chat for the school year is June 6, 2018 at 8 pm EST.  Hope to see you there.

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