By Krista Chambless
“I studied Spanish for 2 years and I don’t remember anything!” is the bane of language teachers everywhere. Personally, I hear it most of the time when I say I am a language teacher. And inevitably I feel compelled to explain to them that the methodologies used when they took X language were not effective, but now we know better. I tell them we have so much research on language learning/aquisition and the brain that the methods used in world language classroom today are drastically different and more effective.
World language methodologies take research from all fields and use it to help students along their path to proficiency. One excellent example of such is the book How to Teach so Students Remember (second edition) by Marilee Sprenger. This book presents the seven steps in the learning/memory cycle. I have taken these steps and applied them to my Spanish classroom over the last 2 years and have seen a tremendous difference in student learning.
In my webinar “Teaching for Long-Term Memory Part 1” I present the first 3 steps of the learning process and how they apply to the WL classroom. The first step is to Reach and Teach all students. We reach students with emotional hooks because often memories are based on emotions. Thus, we need to create an (positive!) emotional response in our students. It can be as simple as greeting students by name, complementing them on their hair, clothing, etc. or asking them to answer a question (make a choice). Establishing the emotional connection is the first crucial step to activating memory.
When teaching, (the second half of Reach and Teach) we need to explain why we are doing what we do. Generation Z students always want to know why. For this reason, I begin all of my classes with a unit on what proficiency is, what they should expect to sound like at the end of the course and have them set goals. We also need to help students focus their attention. One way to do this is by using graphic organizers. There are many different types of organizers and U use a variety of different types to provide an element of novelty to my teaching. Graphic organizers also provide a way for student to chunk information. Chunking means dividing information into logical categories to aid with student processing of information.
Chunking also makes step 2, Reflection, easier to organize. Reflection is a learned habit and an essential part of learning. Giving students the opportunity to reflect on what they have just learned allows the information to be processed and gives them time to make connections to other knowledge. I really struggled with this step because I felt the pressure to “cover the material.” However, what I discovered was that giving my students reflection time actually saved time later. Because students had reflected on what they learned and asked clarifying question, reteaching of material was reduced. Reflection can be something as simple as having one student explain to another what was just learned, having students journal for 5 minutes, or answer (orally or in writing) specific questions that you give about what they just learned. If you can only choose one step to begin implementing, reflection will make a huge difference.
The third step is Recoding. What is recoding? It is when a person can explain what they have read, seen and learned and put it into their own words. It is the ability to summarize. Recoding is valuable because what people create themselves is more easily remembered. Rather have having students copy down notes from your power point, have them make their own notes! Put what they read into their own words so they will better remember it. Recoding of conceptual knowledge involves the seven cognitive processes: Interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing and explaining. In looking at these processes, you will see that the Integrated Performance Assessment recommended by ACTFL requires all of these processes. That is why we should be doing IPA like tasks in the classroom every day. I realize that it can seem overwhelming to look at all of the steps and think “I cannot add one more thing to my list much less 3 new steps”. Rome was not built in a day and neither is great teaching. Choose ONE step to focus on, or even one part of one step. For example, make an effort to create the emotional hook. Greet your students by name or provide them with a question at the beginning of class that will engage them. When you feel you have mastered that part well enough, then choose something new to focus on. It could be that you spend all year focusing on intentional reflection. That is OK! Teaching is about the journey!
In case you missed it, you can view Krista’s webinar, Teaching for Long-Term Memory Part 1 on our PD Webinar Archive.