Do you sometimes feel like we’re working in an all-or-nothing profession?
I’m not sure if it’s an artifact of social media, of tweets and blog posts designed to be punchy and petite at the same time. I’m not sure if it’s a desire to be the next big thing, the acronym everyone’s talking about. I raise my hand, I’m guilty here, I sign on to bandwagons and think-
Yes! I must be doing this! I must sell out to it, heart and soul, right now!
And after a while, I realize I got dazzled by the names behind it and forgot to ask,
Take the IPA, for example. It stars in an ACTFL publication, for heaven’s sake, courtesy of a former ACTFL president. And so I jumped in (without much research into them, because who has time for that?), thinking, I’ve gotta do 100% performance assessments! I’ve gotta put them all in a scenario! I need every assessment to solicit performance in every mode!
It didn’t take me long to realize I actually wasn’t willing to do that. There were all kinds of assessments my students and I liked, and they worked for us. There were other factors that were equally or more important to me. So I’ve designed an all-encompassing IPA or two (you’ll even see some come out as resources on the blog) but before long I was watching teachers try to come up with some scenario under which they could get all the students to perform in all the modes and the result was a frustrated teacher and the most contrived language scenario with mediocre, unrealistic production tasks.
Really, the red flag came up right away for me, when I emailed someone and asked,
Can you help me figure this IPA thing out? What’s it all about?
And she sent me an article from The Language Educator from the founding mother of IPAs herself and though I saw the point and better understood the concept, I couldn’t help thinking that asking fourth-graders to tackle the topic of their future profession was a bit of a stretch.
I feel this way about vocabulary, too. I’m totally with you on the frustration with textbook vocabulary lists that are way too long and can’t possibly be acquired in the time allotted to the chapter. But it’s just a tool. It’s just a list. Let me propose that we stop dying on this hill of
you cannot use a vocab list in a communicative classroom
and focus more properly on the deeper questions here:
- How do you develop a vocabulary list, if you want to use one (and I do, sometimes very long ones)?
- Can you even teach vocabulary?
- How do you provide enriching experiences that foster long-term memory of vocabulary?
- and perhaps most importantly, what does your assessment say about what you believe about vocabulary acquisition?
I’ll confess, there are some things I’ll still sound all-or-nothing about. I’ll always avoid asking multiple choice questions if I can. It may snow in Acapulco before I give out a word search. But that doesn’t mean you haven’t found a way to do it communicatively. If you don’t use a list, great. If you use a list, great – let’s look at the list of words as a field of possibilities, that some will stick and some won’t. Whether in a list I put together or not, whether I do quizzes or not, what they need for communicative tasks should be going in the eyes and ears, and staying in the brain, and coming out the mouth and hands.