Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Using data to remediate, teach, improve

I just found this inspiring math teaching blog, which has me somewhat down about my own teaching and classes. Dan's posts on keeping data in particular have me thinking quite a bit.

I've long maintained that traditional language programs simply ignore the fact that most students are learning virtually no conversational skills. You march the kids through a set of tests and drills designed to teach the language and assume it's worked (or it hasn't), but you don't measure whether they can converse. So what do I do -- I measure whether kids can converse. But that's costly in terms of classroom time and teacher resources, and so I can't actually do it nearly as frequently as I'd need to for it to be really effective.

Looking at the math blog has me thinking about the discrete skills that go into language -- whether that be recalling a piece of vocabulary of conjugating a verb or understanding how enclitic pronouns work. And I'm wondering whether it wouldn't be worth charting student's abilities with respect to these skills much as Dan does for his math students.

Of course, working toward that chart could start to look like that textbook march I was lambasting a paragraph ago... after all, having all the grammatical puzzle pieces that go into language is not the same thing as using language. However, if used with a linguistically informed approach to teaching the skills, and used alongside authentic assessments of actual linguistic skill (could answer comprehension questions on article / could converse for 2 minutes / etc), maybe just maybe something like what Dan's describing would be transformative in a language classroom (maybe, just maybe, in mine).

Does anyone know of any language teachers doing anything like this -- graphing student achievement, remediating quickly, making sure students have actually learned the concepts we think we're teaching... I'd like to think it would be commonplace.


Ryan said...

Perhaps there is nothing wrong with the textbook approach if the textbook facilitates conversation (actual use/language production) and allows you to better track progress although his approach requires an amazing amount of work.

I think about the English textbooks that are the best--most are British but at least one (the Top Notch series) is U.S. American; used in a five or six-year program, that series produces essentially fluent students. Perhaps a good curriculum would involve similar foreign language textbooks with clear rubrics for teachers to use to evaluate spoken language.

Tom Hinkle said...

What are the textbooks you've liked using for teaching English? (Perhaps they'll give me starting points for searching for Spanish texts that don't suck).