Language Educators

Why thematic units? Why authentic resources? Show me the research

  • 1.  Why thematic units? Why authentic resources? Show me the research

    Posted 10-09-2014 22:54
    This message has been cross posted to the following eGroups: High School Educators and Language Educators .
    -------------------------------------------

    2 Questions:

    In the ACTFL 21st Century Skills Map (p.4) it says this about Today: "Use of thematic units and authentic resources." ACTFL promotes thematic instruction and authentic resources to be used for 
    instruction and for assessment. I want to know: Why?

    1) Why does ACTFL think instruction should be theme-based? Where's the research that teaching in themes is more effective than a syllabus organized by a different principle, e.g. structures, functions, situations, tasks, or texts? 

    Full disclosure: I teach with CI (TCI), e.g. TPR, TPRS, MovieTalk, FVR, Natural Approach, and I organize syllabi by texts, more specifically, by stories.

  • Vocabulary acquisition researchers write about the dangers of teaching together words and grammar of similar form and/or similar meaning (vertical instruction). It is less effective, which is explained by interference theory (Higa, 1963; Laufer, 1989; Nation, 2000; Tinkham, 1993; Tinkham, 1997; Waring, 1997). Read quotes from this research at the bottom of this message.
  • It should also be clear from word frequency analysis that teaching words in related sets means teaching words with very different frequencies, too often words of mid- and low-frequency.

  • For example, the first word listed in each set below is one of the highest frequency words from that set and the second word is one of those lower (often really low) frequency words that still traditionally gets taught:

    Set (Rank Frequency) word

    Animals:  (780) horse  (4,945) elephant

    Body:  (150) hand  (2,407) ear

    Clothing:  (1,710) suit  (4,427) t-shirt 

    Colors:  (250) white  (8225) orange         

    Days:  (1,121) Sunday  (3490) Tuesday

    Family:  (166) son  (5,071) niece

    Food:  (787) meat  (7602) carrot

    Months:  (1,244) August  (2,574) September

    Sports:  (2,513) soccer  (28,388) hockey

    Weather:  (989) heat (5493) breeze

  • Another example: Why do we care so much in a level 1 course that someone knows all the numbers? Only the numbers one and two are in the most-frequently used 100 words. There are more than 300 more frequent words than the numbers 6 through 10, and the numbers 13 through 19 are not in the most frequently used 1,000 Spanish words.

    Source: A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish (2006) by Mark Davies


  • * If developing proficiency is the #1 language goal, then what curriculum content develops this best? What vocabulary is most useful? What vocabulary (and how much) is to be mastered in level 1? level 2? etc. Vocabulary acquisition researchers define the top 2,000-3,000 words on a frequency list as the "high-frequency" words, because it is knowledge of these words that will give you 95% coverage of the outside world, which in studies shows the subjects achieve moderate comprehension. To avoid interference, to teach the most useful language, our curriculum content should be based on word frequency lists and include the flexibility to personalize the content to the students.

    2) Why does ACTFL think authentic resources should be used in instruction and in assessment? Again, show me the research.


    If authentic is taken to mean that it is material created for a native speaker, then most of these resources have incomprehensible language to novice and intermediate students. Research also supports that 98%+ coverage of a text should be the goal, because it is when subjects know 98% of the words in a text that they achieve adequate comprehension scores. At less than 98% coverage, then the students are not relying on the language anymore to ensure comprehension, but rather extra-lingual support, i.e. clues from the pictures, etc. And if the student can't understand the language, incomprehensible input, then how does that help the student acquire?

    I have a feeling that the answer to #1 and #2 is the assumption that themes and authentic texts are supposed to be "motivational." ACTFL thinks this is the best way to motivate learners. Anyone believing that themes and authentic resources is the best motivation ought to observe a good TPRS class. ACTFL has to acknowledge the success of TPRS to develop fluency and motivation and admit that there is another way, besides themes and authentic resources. And then not make such narrow recommendations!

    By making these statements about theme-based instruction and authentic resources they are making it unnecessarily difficult on TCI instructors who work within departments that are trying to align everything with ACTFL. Or worse, for teachers working within departments blindly following a textbook curriculum.


    On the risks of teaching thematic units of similarly related vocabulary, h
    ere is the abstract of Waring, 1997:

    "In this journal Tinkham (1993) in two experiments found that learning words grouped in semantic sets interferes with the learning of words. Tinkham found that if learners are given words which share a common superordinate concept (such as words for clothes) in list form, they are learned slower than words which do not have a common superordinate concept. This finding suggests that we should not give wordlists to our learners which have words that come from the same semantic set, but should be asking them to learn words semantically unrelated to each other. The present study, a close replication of Tinkham's, used Japanese words paired with artificial words and found a main effect against learning semantically related words at the same time, replicating Tinkham's findings. It can be tentatively concluded from these two papers that presenting students with wordlists of new words in semantic clusters, rather than in unrelated word groups, can interfere with learning. Following a discussion of the research design and some of its limitations, there is some comment on current research methodology."


    http://www.robwaring.org/papers/various/Sys2_97.html


    And this from Nation, 2000:

    "This research shows that learning related words at the same time makes learning them more difficult. This learning difficulty can be avoided if related words are learned separately, as they are when learning from normal language use. . . The criteria of usefulness (frequency or need) and avoidance of interference (ease of learning) are more important than aiming for early completeness of lexical sets. In addition to the criteria of frequency and avoidance of interference, course designers need to apply a criterion of normal use, meaning that words should occur in normal communication situations, not in contrived, language-focused activities."


    http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/publications/paul-nation/2000-Lexical-sets.pdf


    I really hope someone can answer my questions. Please, show me the research.

    Thank you.


    -------------------------------------------
    Eric Herman
    eric.herman.pchn@gmail.comSpanish Teacher
    -------------------------------------------



  • 2.  RE: Why thematic units? Why authentic resources? Show me the research

    Posted 10-10-2014 13:45


    -------------------------------------------
    Robert Morrey
    rmorrey@pacbell.net
    -------------------------------------------
    In my 32 years as a very successful high school German teacher I focused heavily on word frequency as a design concept for the materials that I developed to supplement the basic course materials. I currently have a four-year German curriculum online that is based on a 2500 word frequency count with the most frequent ca 600 words as the basis of material for the first level, the next most frequent ca 600 words added in the second level and so forth. On the basis of my own tests, the National German Exams, and AP tests in German, my good students were very successful. In my career from 1970 to 2000 several approved methods of instruction came and went. I believe a dynamic and creative teacher will take the good elements from many sources and create a successful program, thus it is more important to have highly trained and effective teachers in the classroom than to require any particular teaching method.
    Robert A Morrey
    PhD Foreign Language Education
    Stanford University - 1970
    USDE Christa McAuliffe Fellow - 1991
    German teacher - Cupertino High School 1971-2001
    Currently tutoring students using online materials and Skype


  • Vocabulary acquisition researchers write about the dangers of teaching together words and grammar of similar form and/or similar meaning (vertical instruction). It is less effective, which is explained by interference theory (Higa, 1963; Laufer, 1989; Nation, 2000; Tinkham, 1993; Tinkham, 1997; Waring, 1997). Read quotes from this research at the bottom of this message.
  • It should also be clear from word frequency analysis that teaching words in related sets means teaching words with very different frequencies, too often words of mid- and low-frequency.

  • For example, the first word listed in each set below is one of the highest frequency words from that set and the second word is one of those lower (often really low) frequency words that still traditionally gets taught:

    Set (Rank Frequency) word

    Animals:  (780) horse  (4,945) elephant

    Body:  (150) hand  (2,407) ear

    Clothing:  (1,710) suit  (4,427) t-shirt 

    Colors:  (250) white  (8225) orange         

    Days:  (1,121) Sunday  (3490) Tuesday

    Family:  (166) son  (5,071) niece

    Food:  (787) meat  (7602) carrot

    Months:  (1,244) August  (2,574) September

    Sports:  (2,513) soccer  (28,388) hockey

    Weather:  (989) heat (5493) breeze

  • Another example: Why do we care so much in a level 1 course that someone knows all the numbers? Only the numbers one and two are in the most-frequently used 100 words. There are more than 300 more frequent words than the numbers 6 through 10, and the numbers 13 through 19 are not in the most frequently used 1,000 Spanish words.

    Source: A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish (2006) by Mark Davies

  • * If developing proficiency is the #1 language goal, then what curriculum content develops this best? What vocabulary is most useful? What vocabulary (and how much) is to be mastered in level 1? level 2? etc. Vocabulary acquisition researchers define the top 2,000-3,000 words on a frequency list as the "high-frequency" words, because it is knowledge of these words that will give you 95% coverage of the outside world, which in studies shows the subjects achieve moderate comprehension. To avoid interference, to teach the most useful language, our curriculum content should be based on word frequency lists and include the flexibility to personalize the content to the students.

    2) Why does ACTFL think authentic resources should be used in instruction and in assessment? Again, show me the research.

    If authentic is taken to mean that it is material created for a native speaker, then most of these resources have incomprehensible language to novice and intermediate students. Research also supports that 98%+ coverage of a text should be the goal, because it is when subjects know 98% of the words in a text that they achieve adequate comprehension scores. At less than 98% coverage, then the students are not relying on the language anymore to ensure comprehension, but rather extra-lingual support, i.e. clues from the pictures, etc. And if the student can't understand the language, incomprehensible input, then how does that help the student acquire?

    I have a feeling that the answer to #1 and #2 is the assumption that themes and authentic texts are supposed to be "motivational." ACTFL thinks this is the best way to motivate learners. Anyone believing that themes and authentic resources is the best motivation ought to observe a good TPRS class. ACTFL has to acknowledge the success of TPRS to develop fluency and motivation and admit that there is another way, besides themes and authentic resources. And then not make such narrow recommendations!

    By making these statements about theme-based instruction and authentic resources they are making it unnecessarily difficult on TCI instructors who work within departments that are trying to align everything with ACTFL. Or worse, for teachers working within departments blindly following a textbook curriculum.


    On the risks of teaching thematic units of similarly related vocabulary, h
    ere is the abstract of Waring, 1997:

    "In this journal Tinkham (1993) in two experiments found that learning words grouped in semantic sets interferes with the learning of words. Tinkham found that if learners are given words which share a common superordinate concept (such as words for clothes) in list form, they are learned slower than words which do not have a common superordinate concept. This finding suggests that we should not give wordlists to our learners which have words that come from the same semantic set, but should be asking them to learn words semantically unrelated to each other. The present study, a close replication of Tinkham's, used Japanese words paired with artificial words and found a main effect against learning semantically related words at the same time, replicating Tinkham's findings. It can be tentatively concluded from these two papers that presenting students with wordlists of new words in semantic clusters, rather than in unrelated word groups, can interfere with learning. Following a discussion of the research design and some of its limitations, there is some comment on current research methodology."


    http://www.robwaring.org/papers/various/Sys2_97.html


    And this from Nation, 2000:

    "This research shows that learning related words at the same time makes learning them more difficult. This learning difficulty can be avoided if related words are learned separately, as they are when learning from normal language use. . . The criteria of usefulness (frequency or need) and avoidance of interference (ease of learning) are more important than aiming for early completeness of lexical sets. In addition to the criteria of frequency and avoidance of interference, course designers need to apply a criterion of normal use, meaning that words should occur in normal communication situations, not in contrived, language-focused activities."


    http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/publications/paul-nation/2000-Lexical-sets.pdf


    I really hope someone can answer my questions. Please, show me the research.

    Thank you.


    -------------------------------------------
    Eric Herman
    eric.herman.pchn@gmail.comSpanish Teacher
    -------------------------------------------








  • 3.  RE: Why thematic units? Why authentic resources? Show me the research

    Posted 10-12-2014 17:28
    "I believe a dynamic and creative teacher will take the good elements from many sources and create a successful program, thus it is more important to have highly trained and effective teachers in the classroom than to require any particular teaching method."

    I could not have said it any better.  

    After teaching for 20 years focusing on the communicative approach, I am currently experiencing a paradigm shift in which I am experimenting with teaching with comprehensible input, TPR, TPRS, the use of authentic resources, and staying true to myself and what I believe and understand, and what I do not understand.  I have spent a large part of the last few years reading books, research articles, blogs, list serve posts, journals, etc. discerning between successful and unsuccessful programs.  I have experimented with what seems to work finding that not everything may be successful at that specific moment.  As Robert said, ". . . a dynamic and creative teacher will take the good elements from many sources . . ., thus it is more important to have highly trained and effective teachers . . . "  

    -------------------------------------------
    Heather Sandy
    hsandy@wacohi.net
    -------------------------------------------


  • Vocabulary acquisition researchers write about the dangers of teaching together words and grammar of similar form and/or similar meaning (vertical instruction). It is less effective, which is explained by interference theory (Higa, 1963; Laufer, 1989; Nation, 2000; Tinkham, 1993; Tinkham, 1997; Waring, 1997). Read quotes from this research at the bottom of this message.
  • It should also be clear from word frequency analysis that teaching words in related sets means teaching words with very different frequencies, too often words of mid- and low-frequency.

  • For example, the first word listed in each set below is one of the highest frequency words from that set and the second word is one of those lower (often really low) frequency words that still traditionally gets taught:

    Set (Rank Frequency) word

    Animals:  (780) horse  (4,945) elephant

    Body:  (150) hand  (2,407) ear

    Clothing:  (1,710) suit  (4,427) t-shirt 

    Colors:  (250) white  (8225) orange         

    Days:  (1,121) Sunday  (3490) Tuesday

    Family:  (166) son  (5,071) niece

    Food:  (787) meat  (7602) carrot

    Months:  (1,244) August  (2,574) September

    Sports:  (2,513) soccer  (28,388) hockey

    Weather:  (989) heat (5493) breeze

  • Another example: Why do we care so much in a level 1 course that someone knows all the numbers? Only the numbers one and two are in the most-frequently used 100 words. There are more than 300 more frequent words than the numbers 6 through 10, and the numbers 13 through 19 are not in the most frequently used 1,000 Spanish words.

    Source: A Frequency Dictionary of Spanish (2006) by Mark Davies

     

  • * If developing proficiency is the #1 language goal, then what curriculum content develops this best? What vocabulary is most useful? What vocabulary (and how much) is to be mastered in level 1? level 2? etc. Vocabulary acquisition researchers define the top 2,000-3,000 words on a frequency list as the "high-frequency" words, because it is knowledge of these words that will give you 95% coverage of the outside world, which in studies shows the subjects achieve moderate comprehension. To avoid interference, to teach the most useful language, our curriculum content should be based on word frequency lists and include the flexibility to personalize the content to the students.

    2) Why does ACTFL think authentic resources should be used in instruction and in assessment? Again, show me the research.

     

    If authentic is taken to mean that it is material created for a native speaker, then most of these resources have incomprehensible language to novice and intermediate students. Research also supports that 98%+ coverage of a text should be the goal, because it is when subjects know 98% of the words in a text that they achieve adequate comprehension scores. At less than 98% coverage, then the students are not relying on the language anymore to ensure comprehension, but rather extra-lingual support, i.e. clues from the pictures, etc. And if the student can't understand the language, incomprehensible input, then how does that help the student acquire?

    I have a feeling that the answer to #1 and #2 is the assumption that themes and authentic texts are supposed to be "motivational." ACTFL thinks this is the best way to motivate learners. Anyone believing that themes and authentic resources is the best motivation ought to observe a good TPRS class. ACTFL has to acknowledge the success of TPRS to develop fluency and motivation and admit that there is another way, besides themes and authentic resources. And then not make such narrow recommendations!

    By making these statements about theme-based instruction and authentic resources they are making it unnecessarily difficult on TCI instructors who work within departments that are trying to align everything with ACTFL. Or worse, for teachers working within departments blindly following a textbook curriculum.


    On the risks of teaching thematic units of similarly related vocabulary, h
    ere is the abstract of Waring, 1997:

    "In this journal Tinkham (1993) in two experiments found that learning words grouped in semantic sets interferes with the learning of words. Tinkham found that if learners are given words which share a common superordinate concept (such as words for clothes) in list form, they are learned slower than words which do not have a common superordinate concept. This finding suggests that we should not give wordlists to our learners which have words that come from the same semantic set, but should be asking them to learn words semantically unrelated to each other. The present study, a close replication of Tinkham's, used Japanese words paired with artificial words and found a main effect against learning semantically related words at the same time, replicating Tinkham's findings. It can be tentatively concluded from these two papers that presenting students with wordlists of new words in semantic clusters, rather than in unrelated word groups, can interfere with learning. Following a discussion of the research design and some of its limitations, there is some comment on current research methodology."


    http://www.robwaring.org/papers/various/Sys2_97.html


    And this from Nation, 2000:

    "This research shows that learning related words at the same time makes learning them more difficult. This learning difficulty can be avoided if related words are learned separately, as they are when learning from normal language use. . . The criteria of usefulness (frequency or need) and avoidance of interference (ease of learning) are more important than aiming for early completeness of lexical sets. In addition to the criteria of frequency and avoidance of interference, course designers need to apply a criterion of normal use, meaning that words should occur in normal communication situations, not in contrived, language-focused activities."


    http://www.victoria.ac.nz/lals/about/staff/publications/paul-nation/2000-Lexical-sets.pdf


    I really hope someone can answer my questions. Please, show me the research.

    Thank you.


    -------------------------------------------
    Eric Herman
    eric.herman.pchn@gmail.comSpanish Teacher
    -------------------------------------------