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Teaching Foreign Languages K-12: Workshop

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Watch the video "Person to Person," 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.

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Video Summary

In “Person to Person,” Professor Joan Kelly Hall of Pennsylvania State University addresses the importance of the talk that occurs in the classroom. Professor Hall also joins a round-table discussion on strategies for encouraging effective classroom conversations, moderated by University of Pittsburgh professor Richard Donato, and including teachers John Pedini of Brookline, Massachusetts, and Fran Pettigrew of McLean, Virginia. The video also features excerpts from Mr. Pedini’s and Ms. Pettigrew’s classes, as well as other classes across different grade levels and languages.* The video addresses the following questions:

  • What is classroom interaction?
  • How do patterns of talk affect communication?
  • What can teachers do to enhance patterns of communication?

*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.

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1. What is classroom interaction?
In this section, the group discusses different purposes that classroom conversations serve. Professor Hall also advocates an activity-based approach for incorporating interpersonal communication.
What are some of the purposes of classroom conversations described by the group? What do you think Mr. Pedini’s and Ms. Pettigrew’s goals were of the conversations in the video excerpts of their classrooms? What additional purposes do the conversations in your classroom serve?
What are the benefits of an activity-based approach as described by Professor Hall? What is the role of backward design in an activity-based approach?
How do you think the activity-based approach might promote interpersonal communication? How does focusing on the goal of interpersonal communication change your treatment of grammar and vocabulary?
What is the role of the interpretive mode in interpersonal communication?

2. How do patterns of talk affect communication?

In this section, Professor Hall describes what current research says about two patterns of communication: IRE and IRF. The group then discusses how teachers can improve the level of talk in their classrooms. The group also addresses the role of English in a foreign language classroom.
When is IRE an effective tool for exchanges? What is the downside of relying too much on this pattern? Do you agree with Professor Hall that it might lead to a limited social and intellectual environment? Why or why not?
When is IRF an effective tool for interpersonal communication?
Compare the IRE conversation that Ms. Pettigrew has with students about places they have visited and the IRF conversation that Ghislaine Tulou has with a student about his job. How do the conversations differ? What might the teachers’ goals be of these specific conversations?
How might a teacher prepare students to have IRF conversations among themselves? For example, students in Leslie Birkland’s class extend their conversation about Japanese New Year’s customs to include information about their own cultural traditions. Cite other classrooms from the video as examples of student-student IRF conversations. How might you plan for such conversations with your students?
How do you decide whether or not to use English in the language classroom? What guidelines might a teacher set for students’ use of English in the foreign language classroom?

3. What can teachers do to enhance patterns of communication?

In this section, the group discusses the importance of letting curricular goals guide the design of interpersonal activities. They also address the issue of error correction during classroom conversations.
  • How do the goals of a unit, from introduction through final assessment, determine whether a classroom conversation will involve IRE, IRF, teacher-student interactions, and/or student-student interactions?
  • How might your phrasing of a question affect the response you receive? What kinds of questions elicit short answers? What kinds of questions elicit longer explanations as a response?
  • What evidence do you see that there is a “community of learners” in the classroom excerpts shown in this section?
  • What guidelines might a teacher set for error correction during classroom conversations? In the videotaped classroom examples, which kinds of errors did the teachers correct and which ones were left alone? Why do you think the teachers made these decisions?