This project considers an alternative concept of teaching languages since current language classes orientate themselves on outdated methods used during the time of industrialization. We tried to develop a method of teaching for high-school students by incorporating more interactive and practical concepts that are partly based on the second language acquisition theory. By sending out a self-created questionnaire, using personal experience, and discussing with stakeholders, we were able to analyse problems in the current school system. This enabled us to create our own teaching plan. The lesson plan consists of three phases. The first phase is the input phase were the teacher presents the new vocabulary and makes the goal of the lesson clear. In the second phase students interactively repeat and practice the lesson content in small groups. In the last step the students present their lesson achievement in front of the class.
These methods aim to motivate children to become more confident with their speaking-skills in daily life.
We have all experienced this dilemma as students: after years of learning a language, we are still unable to use it in daily life. When being on holiday, we find ourselves unable to ask for the way even though we have learned the foreign language in school for several years.
Well, you could now of course argue you were simply not outstanding in learning languages, but we have asked many fellow students and pupils and found out that this seems to be a well-known case: You are therefore clearly not the only one to deal with this!
Our research firstly aimed to look at this phenomenon a bit more closely. The questionnaire and interviews we have conducted with the participants aimed at finding out what these students liked about their language classes and from what they profited most. Also, we tried to find out what bored them most and what they didn`t like about foreign language classes. It was interesting to see for us, as the participants were from different countries and have undergone different forms of educational pathways. Surprisingly, it turned out that they were all facing the same problems and all struggles with the usage of the learned languages in everyday life.
We have all studied at secondary schools in the Netherlands, Germany and Vietnam. It was interesting to see if we all shared the same experience when it comes to learning foreign languages. We also thought that it might differ depending on what foreign language we have learned, but we discovered that we all had about the same picture of the foreign languages we had learned in high school no matter if it was German, French or Swedish we have learned.
By analysing our own experiences and the results from the various students we have interviewed one point stood out most: there was little to no speaking practise in the normal language classes. Teacher did not always speak the target language in class and students certainly were not always encouraged to speak using the foreign language. This suggests that students do not get enough time practicing to properly speak the target language.
In addition, results from our survey showed that the vocabulary taught in class was very standardized and therefore not focusing on the individual students and the actual usefulness in daily life. For example, are words about the business world or about economics not the most useful words for high school students! Other more students related vocabulary was one of the most stated improvement our participants suggested. Many of them feel like they have to learn many words they do not need and are therefore much less interested in learning and use these words.
Another problem many students seem to have are grammar lessons. In the survey we often found complaints as they were experienced as very dull. Using the lesson for completing exercises in their workbook was, not surprisingly one of the things students liked lest about their language classes.
Grammar in general was experienced as difficult and students said they needed more practice to really use it. We´ve experienced that there is often little variation in the ways of explanation and doing assignments. We therefore suggest that there needs to be more variation and a different method of teaching the essential grammar for foreign language classes.
In sum, our survey and interviews showed similar results for the different age, country and school groups we have used as a sample. All participants struggle with speaking the language (not depending on which language they have learned) and have too little practise in class. Results also suggest that the methods that are used to teach vocabulary and grammar are old-fashioned and outdated and do not encourage the students to actively participate in class. We therefore see a great need to improve these methods and have aimed our redesign at overcoming these flaws.
As a stakeholder, we have used a pretty standard Dutch high school, because we mainly wanted to focus on foreign languages at a regular school in the Netherlands. Also, it is important to state, that we do not aim to improve teacher`s skills or teaching proficiency as this does not seem to be the problem but rather the standard methods used in language classes independently from the teachers.
Our ideas and redesign is based on the information we have collected while visiting the high school and by having conversations with various teachers. Additionally, we have also conducted interviews with two foreign language teachers. After getting to know the student`s point of view, we wanted to know what teachers struggled with while giving a language class and what they thought of our redesign idea. The teachers showed great enthusiasm about our idea and they were confident about its possible implementation
We also asked about the used material and it turned out that books were, after all, an essential and needed part of the lesson structure. That is why we have based our plan on a lesson in which a prescribed book is used. We do not want to ban all material from the lessons but rather believe it would be more efficiently to do the writing and grammar exercises from the book at home as you do not need to be in class for these kinds of individual exercises. The class this should rather be used to speak and communicate in the foreign language as you have many other learners together in one classroom.
According to the teachers one of their major problem was lack of time. They felt that they did not have enough time in class to come up with creative ideas for practising the language or to organize the class into group. That was a task for us to solve. That is why we want to give the teachers creative ideas and handy ways to make groups with the help of our redesign. They save time because they no longer have to think of this themselves by using the ideas of our redesign. The teachers we have asked indicated that they could need this and that it was a good idea to make the lessons more enjoyable.
By adding our results and information from our own experience, the students and the teacher point of view have lightened up different angles of the same dilemma they face with foreign languages. While teachers often do not have the time to come up with creative teaching methods, they often rely on textbooks to structure the lesson. They are aware of the little speaking practise that is offered in class but due to limited time often abstain from group work and interactive work. Students on the other hand are then less motivated to participate in these lessons and wish for more variation in the lesson structure. They would like to speak more and work more with methods that connect better with their daily lives. The students indicated that they would rather watch videos to learn the language than just read from their textbook. They would also like to learn vocabulary that is better related to them personally. They would like to have grammar explained in an interactive way and to practice it a lot. We have taken all these aspects into account for our redesign. After all, learning foreign languages should and can be fun!!
Click the following link to access the Foreign Language Lesson Plan
Speaking a foreign language is not only very practical for career reasons, it also helps people from all over the world to connect, communicate and understand each other better. These are just some of the reasons why every higher educational institution has at least on foreign language on their schedule. Many of us have been through thousand hours of Spanish, German or French lessons and have often attended class several times a week for many years. But what has stayed after we left school? How well do we speak these languages that took so much of our time and effort? We have done some polls and found out that many people do not feel confident or competent in a language they have learned for at least 4 years (see our survey) in school. We asked ourselves, why do we put ourselves through these endless hours of vocabulary training, grammar learning and writing exercises if we can`t even use that foreign language in the end? We have therefore come up with an alternative lesson plan for language classes in high school education and have based our ideas on the several justifications from different perspectives: the students view, the teacher side and some scientific research that is related to our topic.
After finding out the struggles and problems students and teacher face when planning and participating a language class, we tried to design a language class that could save teachers time and helped them structure their lessons. Also, we wanted to make it easier for them to create interactive activities and communicative exercises instead on relaying on books and grammar exercises.
Research has shown, that learning a new language is partly imitation of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. The social learning theory from Bandura (A. Bandura, Social Learning Theory) supports this statement. In this theory Bandura explains, that behavior is learned by imitating observed actions (in our case the teacher) and modelling this. This is what we have based the first part of our lesson on. It is from great importance that the teacher introduces the new vocabulary first and goes through the homework with the students to make sure they all understood the topic and are able to pronounce and understand the new vocabulary. The students are likely to imitate and model the teachers speaking and usage of the language and can then proficiently continue with the next phase and practice in groups on their own.
The second phase of the lesson plan is all about group work and puts speaking the foreign language central. After receiving input from the teacher (phase one) the students are now asked to improve their own fluency. The idea for this part is influenced by research conducted on the TPRS- method of learning a second language developed by Blaine Ray in the 1990s. TPRS stands for Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling and is a method that uses speaking as a central part of acquiring a new language. The TPRS method works in different steps of which one is about using new vocabulary in self-told stories and another step that focuses on reading new vocabulary in various written forms. For our lesson plan we combine these two steps in the second phase and focus on the verbal usage of the vocabulary: reading out loud, speaking, asking each other questions in the target language.
TPRS is based on the second language acquisition theory of Stephen Krashen (S. Krashen, Bilingual Education and Second Language Acquisition Theory) states, that the best way to help a student to develop fluency and accuracy in a language is to expose them to comprehensible input (phase one of our redesign) and by internalizing the new material (phase two in our redesign).
Research conducted by Karen Lichtman (K. Lichtman, Research on TPR Storytelling) that focused on the efficiency of TPRS showed that this method may be even more efficient than traditional methods. By comparing two groups of students one that had used TPRS and one that used audio material showed that TPRS students had higher comprehension that the other students. The TPRS students used the method of developing a story on their own with the help of their teacher while the audio-material students listened to a story they have never heard before but contain known vocabulary.
Although our lesson plan is structured differently than a TPRS class, these results from Lichtman suggest that it is important to involve the students actively in the learning and usage of a new language. We therefore justify our second phase on the evidence of research conducted on the TPRS method that shows the importance of repeating new vocabulary and involving the students by motivating them to make use of the target language.
The third part of our lesson plan is about presenting the learned material and to show if the lesson goal has been reached. We suggest that this phase helps students to practice their presentation skills and helps them develop confident in speaking the foreign language in front of the class as our survey among students showed than many pupils seem to lack this skill. Also, it is another opportunity for the teacher and the students to give feedback and reinforce the effort. Following the humanistic approach of explaining human behavior unconditional positive regard helps motivating the students. Secondly, it supports the uniqueness of the students as everyone will get the chance to present the group work during the course individually.
And last, the lesson is summed up by this phase showing the students and the teacher what they have accomplished and if the lesson goal has been reached.
We believe that by using our redesign of a language class students will develop better speaking skills and will be able to use the target language outside of school settings. We justify our structure and content of the lesson plan with Bandura`s Social learning Theory, the humanistic approach of self-actualization, research conducted on the related TPRS method and our own survey and interview results. By applying our lesson plan to every language class teacher can encourage their students to make use of the target language and have more time to fulfil their most important job: being an inspirer.
Bandura, A. (1971), Standfort University, Social Learning Theory
Garczynski, M. (2003). Teaching proficiency through reading and storytelling: Are TPRS students more fluent in second language acquisition than audio lingual students? Master’s thesis. Chapman University, Chapman, CA
Krashen, S. (1995). Biligual Education and Second Language Acquisition Theory https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED249773.pdf#page=63
Lichtman, K. Research on TPR Storytelling (Appendix C) http://forlangs.niu.edu/~klichtman/Lichtman%202015%20TPRS%20research.pdf