Inspiring Apprentices: The Master Teacher’s Toolbox
As language teachers, the goal of our lessons should be more than conjugating verbs, learning vocabulary and knowing the content. Ideally, we want our students to use the new language they’re learning to communicate with others – to understand and be understood in the world. To help them become successful communicators, we can look to the apprenticeship model.
A student’s main job is to learn. On the other hand, an apprentice can apply what they’ve learned and eventually become a master of their given subject. The goal of a language course should be to turn students – passive learners of a language – into apprentices or active users (and eventual masters) of a language. For a language student to become an apprentice, they’ll first need to understand their purpose in learning this new language. Through purpose, the learner becomes invested. How can you help with that? You can use your Teacher’s Toolbox and start by determining the goal of your course.
Communicating the Goal of Your Course Through Outcomes
Let’s say you’re teaching a course about baking muffins. After taking your course, a student should select, assemble, and measure ingredients to bake muffins. We can now break that main goal down into components or specific outcomes. For example, we’ll want our students to be able to (a) assemble the correct ingredients, (b) accurately measure ingredients and prepare them for baking, and (c) bake the recipe to its proper doneness. If students can’t achieve all three of those outcomes, they won’t be able to bake muffins.
Each outcome can further be broken down into objectives. As part of accurately measuring ingredients for baking, for example, the student will need to measure liquid items, measure dry ingredients, use the appropriate mixing tool, and mix to the correct consistency. If they fail to complete one of the objectives, they will not achieve the desired outcome or meet the goal of the muffin-baking course.
With language classes, we can sometimes lose sight of our ultimate goal to create speakers of a new language. We’re so busy focusing on whether or not our students have learned how to conjugate a verb that we forget that they also need to use that verb in conversation with a person outside of the classroom one day. To know if your students are progressing in their learning, you’ll want to use various assessments.
Assessments are Part of Your Teacher’s Toolbox
Assessment should measure learner performance or a close simulation of it. We want our language-learning students to be able to leave our classrooms knowing how to have conversations, read books and magazines, and write reports and correspondence, among other things. If you’re teaching a new language for use in a professional context, for example, would anything make you happier than seeing your student perform well in an interview in that new language?
Most teachers are familiar with the traditional way of assessing students through mid-term and final exams. These are often called summative assessments, and they’re useful because they summarize how much a student has learned at the end of a course. The downside of this method is that it does not provide the learner or teacher with any feedback about the student’s learning along the way – only a summative result. Exclusively using summative assessments in a class means that students don’t have the opportunity to apply their new learnings before being tested, and teachers are unable to spot the gaps in learning throughout the course. Here are the two other types of assessments you should use as a teacher:
- Diagnostic: Used at the beginning of a course or new unit, diagnostic assessments help teachers determine how much students know before starting to teach a new lesson. These assessments reveal gaps in learning and can allow teachers to focus on filling in the gaps.
- Formative: A type of assessment that is used during a unit, lesson, or course. Formative assessments are in-process evaluations that help teachers identify concepts students are struggling to understand or skills they are having difficulty acquiring. These are especially useful because they allow teachers to make adjustments to their lessons or instructional techniques to ensure students are learning effectively.
By using different types of assessments, you’ll identify problem areas and help your students better identify their own needs.
Five Tips for Teachers
- Ensure your students understand the purpose of the course. Knowledge without purpose becomes “scrap learning” – content that is learned but never applied. What good is it to teach a person how to conjugate a verb when they can’t figure out how to use the verb in a sentence? If students understand how individual lessons contribute to eventual fluency in a language, they’ll be more invested in learning.
- Teach your students to use the right tool for each job. You can’t use a screwdriver to hammer a nail – at least, not effectively. A teacher’s job is to teach the tools, teach how they’re used, and give students room to decide which tools should be used in which context.
- Assess each component of a task. In order to find out where there may be gaps in your students’ learning, you’ll want to assess every component along the way. Don’t just rely on summative assessments to tell you what you need to know.
- Strive to use authentic assessments. How do you know your student has really learned something? Try and simulate a real-world situation and see how they perform.
- Provide opportunities for your students to practice. In the end, what do you want your student to know? Do you want them to name every type of screw, or do you want them to know how to use them? That’s where repetition and practice – and tools like Speak2Me and Studio – come into play.
As teachers, we want to give students the right tools, teach them everything about the tools, and ensure they can actually use those tools in daily life. Further, we want our students to be able to make decisions about which tools to use in a given context. When we’re done teaching, we want to send our new apprentices out into the world, equipped and ready to do their jobs as well-trained craftsmen.
Use Tools to Make Learning Meaningful
One tool you can use to measure success is an authentic assessment, which examines the learner’s ability in real-world contexts. After all, multiple-choice questions don’t happen in your day-to-day life. It’s great that a student can get 100% on a multiple-choice test, but can they ask for directions in a foreign country and understand the response they’re given?
Using tools like Speak2Me and Studio, you can provide students with these real-life speaking scenarios so they can practice in class or on their own time. Using Speak2Me, students can select their skill level, choose an avatar, and have a dialogue with their virtual conversation partner, Lucy. The second feature, Studio, allows students to perfect their pronunciation skills and expand their vocabulary through the repetition of simple phrases. You can test our proprietary tool Speak2Me here or email us if you’re interested in learning more.
ELL Webinar Series
Would you like to watch a class about inspiring students? This blog post is a summary of the webinar held in March 2021 for ELL’s Professional Development Learning Series. Every month, we bring renowned instructors to present on a topic relevant to language teachers worldwide. You can watch the full recording here.
And, if you would like to join us for our next webinar, register here. Participants who join the webinar live receive a Certificate of Attendance!