What is essential? A time of unprecedented change gives educators a chance to rethink what they do and why they do it. Paradigm shifts related to curriculum, instruction and assessment are needed now because our current reality has changed. Even under ideal circumstances, educators have always felt that there was never enough time to do everything well. Three key concepts guided the work of participants during this PEARLL summer institute.
Less is More
One of the 10 Common Principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools, Less is More encourages schools to focus on a limited number of essential skills that students need rather than a curriculum that is designed to cover content in superficial ways. Time Well-Managed, Educational Leadership, Summer 2020 explored many facets of what it would mean to manage time well with articles focused on how educators can adapt systems and patterns so that there is more time to focus on what is essential. Learners need time to work with content in meaningful ways if they are to retain new knowledge and skills.
This Coalition of Essential Schools principle promotes active engagement for all learners allowing students to take increased responsibility for their own learning. Since learning occurs within the brain of the student, it is critically important that educators create conditions where their students are doing the work allowing teachers to be coaches who are providing timely and actionable feedback. It’s helpful to rethink what we do for students by constantly asking how we can turn more of the work over to students.
Proficiency is a Journey, Not a Destination
The NCSFFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements provide an overview of how learners move along a proficiency pathway. Many variables impact how learners progress and the amount of time spent acquiring a language is one of those variables. It may be tempting to think of learners as being “behind” with the disruption of learning due to COVID, but it’s important to remember that learners are on a journey, they are where they are on their path to proficiency and it’s the job of all educators to support them as they move forward. It becomes essential that the year begins with learning experiences that allow us to determine where our learners are and what they need to make progress.
Four sub criteria from Teacher Effectiveness for Language Learning (TELL) may be helpful when aligning curriculum, instruction and assessment that focuses on the essential:
- Planning 1b. I can use units that have clearly identified performance objectives in the three communicative modes.
- Planning 2a. I can design assessment tasks in the modes of communication.
- Planning 4a. I can set daily learning targets that unpack the performance objectives of the unit.
- Learning Tools 2b. I can use a variety of authentic digital and print media as stimuli for learning activities that ask students to produce language.
Let’s look at some of the key considerations for each of the TELL sub criteria.
Because we often attempt to cover too much in any given course, it’s important to ask the question “why” before deciding the “what and how”. Why do we believe that we need a unit that focuses on household chores or one on camping? Why do we need to teach a certain structure or set of vocabulary? If we ask “why” and don’t have an explanation for how something will be used in the real world, then we may have identified concept that is not relevant to our learners. Select and design units that allow students to learn more about themselves, their community and the world they live in. Create units that are communicatively purposeful, intrinsically interesting, cognitively engaging, culturally focused, and standards based. Identify unit goals with real-world purpose and context that clearly describe what learners will do.
Assessment tasks involve the expression and interpretation of meaning. They are not language practice activities. The tasks have a real-world purpose and context. They clearly outline the expectations for learner success and describe the product or performance. They allow learners to show what they can do with the language. Grades should be accurate measures of what students can do in the target language. They should not reflect student behaviors.
Daily Learning Targets
Quality lessons start by gaining the attention of the learner. Learners then move through cycles of input in the interpretive mode with opportunities to use that information to produce meaningful language in the interpersonal and/or presentational modes. Learners know what the learning target is for each cycle of the lesson and demonstrate how well they are able to meet that learning target at the end of each learning cycle. How often are we checking for learning in our lessons? Learning cycles approximate the age of the learner but would never be more than the 20-minute average attention span of the adult learner.
Authentic digital and print media
Authentic texts are written by native speakers for native speakers. They provide a meaningful context, offer real-world language, and embed culture. The content of the text should connect with specific unit goals and address the essential question of the unit. Authentic texts have the potential to engage learners by provoking curiosity and engaging them emotionally.
Educators often maintain long lists of all the things that they need to do. We could all benefit by keeping a “To Don’t” list challenging ourselves to let go of non-essentials in order to make more time for what is truly essential. What would you put on your “to don’t” list to ensure that your students are learning more?
For more information on the topics addressed here and for samples shared in the institute:
This PEARLL Summer 2020 Institute allowed 40 K-16 educators from across the nation and the world to come together to engage virtually for 3-days. For more information on PEARLL, click here or visit pearll.nflc.umd.edu.