This guest post comes from Carmen Granda, a college language instructor in Massachusetts. You can find Carmen on Twitter @profecarms


CarmenIf you are a college language instructor like me, I hope you get a chance to listen to two episodes from the We Teach Languages podcast.

Episode 55: L2 Writing Instruction and Corrective Feedback with Heather Willis Allen

As an instructor who teaches a Spanish composition course at the college level, I was eager to listen to Heather’s tips on how to organize such a class and how to give meaningful and effective feedback to students. In the first five minutes of the episode, I found myself agreeing so much with what was being said that I opened the Notes app in my phone and started the episode from the beginning. I recommend this episode to all foreign language teachers, regardless of experience. The episode is replete with practical information about helping students become better writers through effective corrective feedback.

A few of the questions Heather answers are:

  • When giving feedback on student writing, how much feedback and corrections should instructors give at the beginner level? Basically, how much is too much?
  • Should we correct the errors or point out the type of error and let students correct them?
  • How do we provide feedback while respecting the developmental level of the learner?

Below are some specific points that Heather shared that I plan to implement this year in my writing course:

First, it’s more meaningful to have a writing conference or talk on Skype to give feedback. Another option is to record feedback and send it to students. This seems like a more personal and efficient way to share comments with students and it also gives students the chance to practice their listening skills in the target language. Win-win!

And second, write the common errors in a document and post to your Learning Management System so students can go back to use it as a checklist before submitting the next assignment. Again, pushing students to become more aware of the types of errors that they are making and to be autonomous learners outside of the classroom are positive steps towards successful language learning.

Finally, as with each podcast, We Teach Languages provides notes for the episode, helpful links that were mentioned, and a list of websites–all of which are worth checking out.


Episode 42: Choosing Critical Cultural Content over Grammar with Daniel Woolsey

Always eager to incorporate culture in my language courses, especially at the beginner and intermediate level, I was excited to hear what Daniel had to say. I recommend this episode to all foreign language instructors, particularly those whose courses are grammar-heavy and, as Daniel put it, those who are concerned that if we sacrifice grammar in the classroom, we sacrifice rigor.

Below are a few of my favorite lines and takeaways during the episode:

  • Most students don’t want to be grammar experts. Language is the medium and not solely the content.
  • Culture excites students. It makes them want to keep studying the language and travel abroad.
  • Explicit grammar instruction does not lead to proficiency.
  • Teaching foreign languages is an interdisciplinary project. Experts on SLA bring great ideas and methods to the classroom, but they are not experts on culture, history, literature, etc. It’s important to trust the SLA process, but equally important is to offer students a well-rounded vision of the language and culture.

This last point may be challenging for some instructors. I for one have asked myself on more than one occasion, what the heck do I know about x topic? This is a good time to turn to our colleagues–perhaps ask someone who is an expert on the Spanish Civil War or specializes in art history to guest lecture. It’s also a good moment to look to our own students and see how their background and knowledge can enrich a class.
I will definitely be thinking more about these points as I continue to integrate culture into my courses and revise my curriculum. I joined Twitter only a few months ago, and I’m amazed at the community and the resources that I have come across, especially the We Teach Languages podcasts. Thank you, Stacey, for organizing these weekly episodes and sharing such valuable information!

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