Language Educators

Thoughts on frequency and skills integration?

  • 1.  Thoughts on frequency and skills integration?

    Posted 08-07-2017 06:58

    If you are a post-secondary language program coordinator, I was wondering if you might tell me how you go about making initial program design decisions concerning the following two questions (imagine you had to craft a language program from scratch, without institutional limitations):

    1. What is the ideal amount of classroom time (i.e. contact hours) you would want for students? For example, would you opt for a traditional course format in which, say, a three-credit class meets three hours per week for a four-month semester? Or would you plan courses to be five-credits so they could meet every day of the week? Importantly, using what data would you support your decision?

    2. Would you prefer to integrate listening, speaking, reading, and writing in your courses or create separate courses that attempt to isolate the four skills? And, again, what would you base your decision on?

    So, frequency and skills integration preferences is what I am after here.

    Much thanks and I look forward to any insights you may be able to provide.




  • 2.  RE: Thoughts on frequency and skills integration?

    Posted 08-08-2017 18:51
    The desirable number of credits and class contact hours really depends on the age and living situation of the students (on-campus or commuter) and the overall academic outlook of the institution, students' ability and willingness to do homework, etc. The other issue would be the desired level of proficiency as an outcome of the class.  Evaluative questions would be, e.g.: How many students take the language? How many students stay through the program (retention)? What proficiency level do most students attain after 1-2 years? How many go on in the FL when a required sequence is completed? Does their proficiency increase or plateau? What follow-up courses does the institution offer and how do they mesh with incoming students' proficiency?

    I would never completely separate the 2 media of language production and comprehension (I think "four skills" is very misleading). While there are some aspects, in which speaking differs from listening and listening differs from reading and reading differs from writing and writing differs from speaking, the various channels are interconnected in the beginning (for literate learners) and well into the Intermediate levels. If you were to offer Chinese, I might re-consider my above statement since you are essentially dealing with two sign systems that are not intimately connected and will need to be learned separately, up to a point.

    Eckhard Kuhn-Osius

  • 3.  RE: Thoughts on frequency and skills integration?

    Posted 08-09-2017 08:23
    Good morning,

    I was a coordinator for FL at college level for the 100s and 200s levels. Based on my experience, here are my answers:

    1. What is the ideal amount of classroom time (i.e. contact hours) you would want for students?
    Contact hours at our university for the 100 was a 4 credit course (3 for the class which met 2 days a week for an hour and 15 minutes and a conversational lab with a different professor as a monitor (it was 30 minutes for levels 100 & 200 and an hour lab for all courses 300 or higher). Listening activities came from the textbook program we chose and they were given regular grammar activities to do as well as some speaking activities they needed to submit weekly. As a professor of a few 300+ courses, I added a task for my students using TalkAbroad. I made it mandatory for my students to have two conversations with a Native Speaker for 30 minutes twice in the semester (one at the start and the second at the end). These were recorded and I evaluated them but there was no grade.

    2. Would you prefer to integrate listening, speaking, reading, and writing in your courses or create separate courses that attempt to isolate the four skills? And, again, what would you base your decision on?
    I worked for two different four year colleges and they included a lab class for lower levels to allow students to practice their speaking without structure. Unfortunately in one of the two, most adjuncts didn't understand their role teaching these labs. Plus full time professors did not want to teach the labs. The worst news here is that nobody wanted to spend the time training and checking out our adjuncts as they taught these classes. Great idea, but without structure it was a complete failure in one of the colleges. At the other college where I first experienced this, there was a lot of communication between the classroom professor and the lab professors. We received information of what the goals were for each class, had to use certain rubrics to grade and needed to send progress to them weekly. That college also included a writing lab for higher level FL courses. Integrating all of these in the 3 hours a week we see them in the classroom was always difficult. I prefer isolating, as I just described it. I saw growth with many of my students in terms of proficiency.

    Retention at college levels in FL I found it to be a challenge. Few students do not see the benefit of learning a language. In one of the two colleges where I worked their advisor would tell them to take a 101 course even if they had taken Spanish for four years in HS. They told them getting the easy A was better. I am now teaching in HS and I see the same issues with our counselors, who constantly tell our seniors to forget FL and doble up in math or science. I am in a school were it is mandatory students take 3 years of a language.

    I hope this helps....


    Gisela Cordero-Cinko

  • 4.  RE: Thoughts on frequency and skills integration?

    Posted 08-09-2017 16:37
    In the case of Chinese, given that it is an opaque script in a language with relatively few cognates/loanwords, you may like to look at some of the results we have gotten with non-traditional methods of literacy instruction on a comprehensible input foundation for zero-Chinese beginners over the past six years at the University of Hawai'i Startalk program. I have the data which is in preparation for publication (though I am lamentably slow in writing things up). The results are quite striking compared to traditional methods based on character memorization.

    Terry Waltz, Ph.D.
    Mandarin through Comprehensible Input

  • 5.  RE: Thoughts on frequency and skills integration?

    Posted 08-10-2017 12:49

    When I was a young college teacher, the institutions using "data" were trying to determine what amount of time, and what frequency was best suited to build something new , called "proficiency". We, in public education saw a number of the best private schools had opted for 5 class periods per week, perhaps a lab and some kind of language lunch. Public colleges could not head in the direction chosen by research and the best private colleges, but some of us had 4-day schedules. A growing "finish in four" movement canned many of the required courses, and some of us in public colleges figured we needed to slim these courses down or lose them. Now public colleges are 38% non trads, 70% of students work, 20% have full=time jobs, 27 are involved in childcare. An unknown percentage have xenoglossophobia (foreign-language anxiety). For these, every extra classroom hour is torture. The results?  College FL classrooms lost 6.7% of enrollment between 2009 and 2013 (MLA), a decline reflected further reflected in the steep losses in FL graduates reported in NCES figures. Many students interested in FL study are fleeing towards independent and online study.  I have research notes on this:

    TennesseeBob Peckham

    College Classroom Foreign-Language Learning: Ubi Vadis

    Robert Peckham
    bobp@utm.eduProfessor of French Emeritus

  • 6.  RE: Thoughts on frequency and skills integration?

    Posted 08-11-2017 12:00
    Interesting. When I left teaching at college level, the department was debating the online courses. I never voted. I am still not sure if learning a language online is beneficial. I guess for me it depends on the drive and interest coming from the individual studying, but this is the same as what happens in the classrooms. Those who do more outside of the four walls of the classroom, do better than those who don't. But this is only if we are talking about a grade and not proficiency. If we are talking about proficiency, then we are talking about a totally different "animal" and the teaching approach should also be different.

    Gisela Cordero-Cinko