03 September 2013

PBL Tips for TL Teaching

How can I build a unit around a real-world problem with a real-world audience and maintain maximal target language usage? So much of Project-Based Learning revolves around developing so-called 21st century skills like research, critical thinking, and collaboration, yet we in world languages are tasked with conducting 90% of our class in a language our students barely know yet! It's one thing when their linguistic skills are branching out in every direction in level 4 or even 3, but it's quite another in novice classes. However, I believe that there are ways to scaffold PBL-oriented procedures in such a way that they are accessible--in the target language--even to novices.

Of the six elements that the Buck Institute emphasize, I'd say In-Depth Inquiry, Need to Know, and Revision & Reflection are the most difficult to facilitate in the target language.


In-Depth Inquiry
  1. Figure out how to bring in the 5th C from the start. Find opportunities to get input along the way from local volunteers who are native speakers (like @dr_dmd does) or from international e-pals.
  2. Maintain active, shared lists of words students encounter, sort of a Google Doc project glossary to facilitate interpretation. Students would have to group words semantically rather than alphabetically for double connections.
  3. Try Pinterest for a starting point for research. Built-in visual clues, simplified language, easy source curation: what's not to love?
  4. If the topic is not exactly pin-worthy, or if yon font o' pins hath run dry, zero in on key words to search. Help students come up with key words by brainstorming in categories: 
Es el día de la presentación:·         ¿Dónde estás?
·         ¿Quién (aparte de la profesora y la clase) está presente?
·         ¿Qué objetos ves?
·         ¿Qué acciones observas?
·         ¿Cómo puedes describir el ambiente?
I suggest (as does WL guru @SECottrell at Musicuentos) having a variety of possible responses for students to choose from, including some obviously false ones and perhaps some that relate better to past or future projects as sort of a review/preview.

Need to Know
  1. You have to compartmentalize the types of need-to-knows ahead of time to guide questioning, for one, to offer a schema for context and semantic grouping of vocabulary. For two, the categories can help establish the ultimate goals of the project. I think "To decide," "To seek," and "To create" pretty much cover the major stages of the project and can--and should--be revisited throughout.
  2. Predict what information you think they need and devise simple who/what/when/where/why/how questions for students to interpret. Have them classify them in the Decide/Seek/Create categories before fielding questions from them.
  3. Make sure to frontload interrogatives like your life depends on it--post them for constant reference, if possible. Around 15-20 high-use, relevant vocabulary words to fill in the gaps could help too. After extended scrutiny of the predicted questions, have pairs formulate questions they could add, maybe one for each category or one for each question word. Add them to the class list.
  4. Facilitate ongoing TL conversations during research and planning with gambits (está bien, de acuerdo, lo dudo, etc.) and sentence starters to pose questions to teammates:
  • ¿Tienes…?
  • ¿Quieres…?
  • ¿Te gusta…?
  • ¿Puedes…?
  • ¿Necesitamos…?
  • ¿Por qué no…?
  • ¿Vas a…?

In fact, I think I'll have partners brainstorm a question for each of these before meeting with their partners next and submit their partners' responses.

Reflection & Revision
  1. Post a "metas del día" discussion/forum/update on Edmodo/Schoology/Blackboard, etc. where students indicate what they will Buscar, Hacer, and Decidir (look for, make, and decide). At the end of class, students reply to their comment at the end with "Tengo/tenemos..." to reflect on what actually was accomplished.
  2. Start the day by posting a few simple questions about the project on the board. (¿Qué es? ¿Quién participa? ¿Cuándo empezó? ¿Dónde es popular? ¿Por qué empezó?). Choose one person from each project group to respond to the questions, asking follow-ups to make sure they understand. This should help review and crystallize previous research while practicing interpersonal skills.
  3. For some presentational speaking practice, elicit spontaneous speeches with pictures: print/post a picture related to their topic to talk about for 30 seconds. They find a picture and either print it or send it to a common drop online to pull up on ye olde SMARTboard. They can look up vocabulary they want to use ahead of time, but they cannot read from a script.
  4. I call them "conversation cards," an idea I got from Alice Omaggio Hadley's Teaching Language in Context and expounded on on the #LangCamp wiki. Also, here is a folder of several conversation cards I've used in class. Basically, students get in groups of 3 to ask each other scripted questions about the project at hand. Or rather, 2 ask each other questions while 1 has "the answers" and keeps track of the responses for analysis later.
This list is a work in progress, of course, and while I've tried at least half of these, the rest are here as a reminder to me for ways to remedy the L1 levels I've observed. I'd love more suggestions, and I plan to add more as I experiment more, too.

1 comment:

  1. I am still struggling with incorporating PBL into my classroom, but with this detailed list, I feel like I might be able to do it. I really want move to this format in my conversation class.

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