Final Reflection Paper
In the course of the semester we have been taking a journey towards a better understanding and perspective of all the essential elements that are involved and necessary to teaching a foreign language. Nonetheless, what has appeared to me to be the most key element to teaching a foreign language is comprehensible input. However, although comprehensible input allows one’s students to learn a second language by encoding information as they hear it, not always is it taken in. That is why we have what is called intake, which according to Lee/Van Patten, “ Intake is the language that the learner actually attends to and then gets processed in working memory in some way… Intake can be considered a subset, or a filtered version, of the input” (31). Throughout the semester we were assigned a number of projects to develop as teaching tools for L2 students. And, as part of our teaching template we used comprehensible input as our leading characteristic to creating the different activities in the target language. However, we also often used the traditional approach, which consisted of using a limited (6-10 words) vocabulary list that helped to provide some guidance to comprehension. These two components were typically the foundation for presenting our activities in class. Now that the semester has come to an end and I contemplate what class topic has been the most interesting or thought proving to me, I would have to mention that the projects that were assigned to us on a weekly basis seemed to be the most engaging, at least, as a student learning to teach a foreign language. As we built on our knowledge of key words and concepts in teaching a target language, we had numerous teaching projects that we were assigned to create or develop, some that built on each other two or three weeks consecutively. Nonetheless, these are the projects that seemed the most fascinating to me: the picture games, the written text-based article, the video-clip depicting a particular culture, and the small group presentations using pictures and words from a storybook.
The picture game was our first endeavor to initiate us into the practice of creating and developing class projects. The project consisted of bringing a variety of photographs (three or four) to class. Once in class, we were divided into groups of three. The idea of the game was to have one person first describe the images in their respective picture, and then, the other group members would draw the picture according to what was being depicted by the person explaining its contents. These same steps would continue until everyone in the group had described their pictures. The following is what I wrote for my reflection paper the week we played the picture game, which was a real eye-opener for me:
My experience last Monday playing the picture game made me realize that I am not as proficient in Spanish as I sometimes believe myself to be. I recall I had trouble describing and explaining to my partner what wallpaper was in Spanish- he looked very puzzled. I felt the challenge in this situation. I wonder if maybe, the use of a dictionary would be a valid tool to have available in this particular activity? Would it be too time constricting? I just began to contemplate the idea of having the use of a dictionary, because at the time of playing this game I did not have one available and, I felt a little defeated in my determination to have my partner understand what wallpaper was in Spanish. However, regardless of this minor setback, I completely agree with Dr. Rings when she states in her article, “the game is a flexible tool for practicing the descriptive mode of language use…. it involves the students physically, mentally, linguistically, and even emotionally in the speech event” (287).
Also, a very interesting point that I recall discussing in class when practicing this game was the fact that we bring our cultural understanding when trying to decipher a description of something. For example, the imagery that a desert might bring to mind for one person of a certain culture may not be the same imagery that it evokes for someone else of a different culture. One person may be accustomed to know the desert as a place where you see nothing but sand and camels, while the other person may envision a dessert as a place with dried-out leafless trees, cactus plants, and emergency water posts. Essentially, this activity can be used to mix different skills such as listening, speaking, and writing. And, it’s fun, especially, when you compare the original to the drawing.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that we also played a different type of picture game in class that consisted of Dr. Rings calling out a particular word to us in German, and then, we would have to draw it. These were vocabulary words that we had previously reviewed the pronunciation, spelling, and imagery of in class. One key point to this activity was to avoid the temptation to translate the target language word into English. Also, we were introduced to a very interesting website called Cooliris that can be found on Google Images. If proved to be a very helpful tool for both the teacher and student- it made for an innovative method to teach and learn communicative input. It helped with binding the image and word for better comprehension. This activity is also a good way to give a practice test to the L2 students.
The written text-based article was also a very engaging activity for the entire class. Again, we were placed into groups of three or four -with the idea of mixing different language speakers in each group. The assignment consisted of choosing and bringing to class a written text in our respective foreign language. The objective was to pick out a text that our audience might have some background knowledge on the topic. Then, we had to pick out four or five words from the text that we would translate for our audience. Ideally, each member of the group would receive a copy of a different language text to translate. As a group we made the use of schemata to permit us to identify what the article was about. First, was the function to compensate, by using contextual cues in the text-based feature story that we were given to analyze. One of the members in my group brought a story about Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. We knew that the article was about something political, because a picture of Bolivia’s president and the word socialism were both in the article. In addition, we also used the function to elaborate to help determine the point of this article. Our group was able to identify the word futebol and determined that the article was about something within the realm of politics and soccer in South America, that was possibly causing some sort of controversy. Furthermore, in relation to the interactive model of reading, with the help of the group member that provided the respective article, I was able to determine that the phonetics differed from the actual manner in which some words were spelled- this is what Lee/ Van Patten describe as letter cluster analysis. For example, the word futebol, one would expect the te to sound exactly the way it looks, but, it is pronounced as fuchibol. And, agride is pronounced as agrigi. Some questions that are essential for the L2 student to answer when attempting to translate and analyze any written text-based articles are questions like: What is the point of this text? Who wrote this text? Why did they write this text? Where was this text written? Etc. This activity in particular was very exiting for me when having to translate from Portuguese to Spanish and English. The cognates between Portuguese and Spanish were numerous, and, it was just interesting listening to myself actually be able to read and pronounce the Portuguese language with minimum errors. And, I think this is what makes learning a language engaging- when your efforts are not in vain and you can actually make some progress.
The video-clip presentations depicting a particular culture appeared to be a favorite for in class projects. The power-point activity had to relate some sort of cultural aspect in the video. The video consisted of a two minute feature from the You Tube website. In theory, it sounded like a really simple straight-forward endeavor, however, with the main focus being something cultural within the foreign language we are most proficient in, it was actually a bit of a challenge- mostly because there was so much to choose from and, also the two minute time limit. At the time of presenting our power-point we had to make sure that we also introduced and translated a list of vocabulary words found in the video clip to our audience. In doing so, we did not actually have to translate the vocabulary words with words in English. Instead, we also had the option to use pictures to translate the list of vocabulary words, which is what I did. I felt a bit partial to my power-point presentation, because I liked the fact that it was a homemade video depicting a traditional Puerto Rican family during the Christmas holidays. And, I think it made for a truly authentic view as to how a typical Puerto Rican family interacts with one another, the vocabulary and unique dialect when speaking, the traditional foods that are eaten, and some of the mannerisms that are sometimes typical within that culture. Ultimately, the objective of this project was to hear the foreign language, to see some vocabulary, and to learn something cultural. Moreover, this project allows for students to put their thinking caps on and to think about what cultural statements that the videos convey.
The last of the projects that I felt engaged us as a class was the group presentations using pictures and words from a storybook. This activity first consisted of selecting a book with a story that was as culturally in reach of the language one was teaching. We then had to select a list of words that we wanted to teach to our students and then introduce those words with the pictures from the story. This activity was probably one of the most ideal projects for teaching comprehensible input. After reading the story to our students we then checked for comprehension by asking questions. Also, during the story, a lot of times some students would expect their audience to repeat certain vocabulary words, or they would even ask questions pertaining to the story. This is actually one of the projects we built on during the span of about three or four weeks. Each week we had to find ways to raise our projects to a higher level. One of the things that I did with my project was to put together a little matching exercise with the vocabulary words and images found in my storybook.
This class has been a true perspective of what all is involved in teaching a foreign language, mostly by being active participants in the teaching experience. I think one of the most impacting things that I have learned in this course is that the most critical aspect of teaching is PREPARATION. It is probably the key ingredient for a successful outcome- I think we all noticed this one essential fact in class. Also, I think we all learned the importance of teaching culture as part of a target language- primarily through our class projects. Dr. Rings has taught us that almost everything is a cultural text. She encourages us to teach with a cultural eye and not to “sugar coat” cultures. She wants us to learn to teach the personal, the triumphs and tragedies, and to not teach like the textbooks and make reality bland. She wants us to think about what we want our students to come to terms with? What we want them to grasp? This course has been one of the most educational and enjoyable classes that I have had the pleasure to be a part of. I truly liked the creativity involved in this class- there was never a dull moment. Thank you for a great semester, Dr. Rings.