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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: Workshop

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Video Summary

In “Meaningful Interpretation,” Professor Virginia Scott of Vanderbilt University addresses the value of teaching interpretive communication skills. Professor Scott also joins a round-table discussion on effective approaches to teaching interpretation skills, moderated by University of Pittsburgh professor Richard Donato, and including teachers Lauri Dabbieri of Fairfax, Virginia, and Michel Pasquier of New Hyde Park, New York. The video also features excerpts from Ms. Dabbieri’s and Mr. Pasquier’s classes, as well as other classes across different grade levels and languages.* The video addresses the following questions:

  • What is text?
  • What is interpretation?
  • At what level can interpretation begin?
  • Can there be multiple interpretations?
  • How is the interpretive mode assessed?

*The classroom excerpts featured in this video are from the Teaching Foreign Languages K-12 video library. To learn more about the featured lessons, go to the Library Videos Chart.

Watch the Video

Watch the video “Meaningful Interpretation,” and take notes as you watch. Consider pausing at the end of each section to answer the questions before moving on to the next section. If you are working in a group, discuss your responses; if you are working alone, reflect on them in your journal.

1. What is text?
In this section, Professor Scott provides a broader definition of text that includes film, audio recordings, and art. The group then addresses the use of multiple texts for interpretation tasks and methods for selecting texts.
How does Meghan Zingle lead students to begin interpreting Picasso’s Guernica? How does Ms. Dabbieri lead students to interpret the libretto of an opera? What other strategies could be used for interpreting different kinds of texts?
What concerns about overpersonalization of text does Professor Scott raise? How does Mr. Pasquier address this issue? What additional approaches could be used to introduce students to information relevant to a particular text?
What factors do the teachers consider when choosing texts? Do you agree? What other factors influence text choice?

2. What is interpretation?
In this section, Professor Scott describes the interpretive mode of communication. The group then discusses ways in which they lead students to interpret texts.
According to Professor Scott, what is the role of the interpersonal mode in interpretive communication? Using the classroom excerpts, cite examples of students using interpersonal skills with a text that they are interpreting.
How might the framing of discussion questions influence students’ interpretation of a text? What types of questions were asked in the classroom excerpts? What other types of questions do you ask when organizing interpretive tasks?
What are some of the approaches to interpreting texts described by the group? What do you feel determines which activities should be teacher-led and which should be done in groups? Why?

3. At what level can interpretation begin?
In this section, Professor Scott advocates the teaching of interpretive skills to students of all ages.
Consider the excerpts from Jai Scott’s kindergarten class. How are students moving beyond a basic understanding of the text toward interpretation? What kinds of questioning techniques does Mr. Scott use to lead students toward interpreting the text?
What other strategies might you use with younger students or students in their first years of language study to build interpretive skills?

4. Can there be multiple interpretations?
In this section, Professor Scott suggests that texts should destabilize students’ background knowledge and encourage new understandings.
What factors should teachers consider when selecting texts for interpretation? How might this lead to texts that destabilize students’ prior knowledge?
What additional types of texts might you select to trigger new interpretations?

5. How is the interpretive mode assessed?
In this section, the group discusses different ways that interpretive activities can be assessed.
  • How did Mr. Pasquier structure the assessment of his lesson? What advantages do you see of the assessment strategy used by Nancy Gadbois, namely, providing students with rubrics? What additional approaches do you use when assessing students on interpretive tasks?
  • How does Professor Scott address the concern regarding lack of accuracy in an interpretive activity? What kinds of limitations might you need to impose during interpretive tasks, and when would you refrain from inhibiting students’ ideas?
  • Professor Donato comments that students need to move beyond factual recall toward linking facts from texts with personal experiences. Why do you think it’s important to encourage students to relate texts to personal experiences? Why is it also important to encourage students to use textual evidence to justify their opinions?