(Originally posted 4/22/13)
The second time I saw the light bulb go on was with my juniors. Let me give you a littlebackground. We teach with TPRS, an approach that focuses heavily on providing large amounts of Comprehensible Input in the target language. From this input comes interaction, verbal and written….but production is the result, not the goal.
It is a leap of faith in many ways to take this approach, but the results have been undeniable! Our program has expanded to include so many more students and students of all academic “ability” levels are able to communicate clearly in the language. As a result of the changes in the program and several changes in staff, we have not had this group in a formal speaking test situation…..ever.
It’s not the first year that this has happened. This year’s seniors had not ever had a formal speaking performance assessment either. BUT, when I gave them the assessment last year, using the NYS Regents Speaking Assessment format, they did a fantastic job. What is the difference? That group had been my students for three straight years….and I administered and scored the assessment.
This year NYS Dep’t of Ed. has issued a series of conflicting statements about who will/can administer these assessments and how they will be graded. (I will not be allowed to.) So this year’s group needs to be confident. I need them to know two things:
1. They already have all of the language and skills that they need in order to do this, and do it well.
2. They need to know the rules of the game so they can get the scores that they deserve.
The challenge was, I thought, that they have never been forced to speak in unnaturally long sentences, which is what a high score requires. Well, apparently that is not a challenge in their minds. I explained that the answer to Where do you live ? could be a one word answer: Rushville.
But that wouldn’t be worth much. The more they could say in addition to that the higher their scores would be. I asked for a volunteer. Where do you live? “I live in the little town of Rushville in the state of New York.” Ka-ching!! “With my family and my dog, so the house is too small.” Another student pipes up before I can ask for another volunteer. “So I want to buy a bigger house” student # 3 “but I prefer one in the country because I like having a lot of space for my animals.” and student #4.
Okaaaayyyyy. I guess they get it. Over the last two days I’ve spoken to each student as part of a greeting at the door, a class activity/game etc. and each one can easily perform the task. I even gave them situations where I knew that they hadn’t had the vocabulary. It really didn’t matter.
They can circumlocute like nobody’s business.
Dang……all those years spending all of that energy to get kids to learn how to “perform” well on a speaking assessment and this group acts as if it is as easy as pie. They think it sounds weird to speak in full sentences when one or two words will do, but they are happy to do it and it is easy for them.One class even thought it was hysterically funny and highly entertaining to try to top each others’ sentences.
Here’s the difference: These kids already had acquired all of the language they needed to speak in longer, more complex, high-scoring (although stilted and unnatural) phrases. All I had to do was model how to use them to get the higher grade. Before TPRS I was teaching phrases AND teaching strategy AND teaching topical vocabulary AND grammatical concepts and it never, ever came together much less click for the long term…even for my most gifted students.
Will they all get high scores on the speaking assessment? Probably not. Some will get nervous, some will overthink it and some will pick those really weird questions that no student can ever do well on. But they CAN do it….I know that and they do too. That knowledge lit up our faces and our
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