Below are two instructional techniques that can support engagement in language learning tasks and facilitate student creativity and production.
- Do not do what students can do.
Teachers must give students choices and support their autonomy by allowing them to learn by doing. In many classrooms, however, teachers take full responsibility for planning lessons, developing materials, directing activities, and assessing students. Allowing students to help with the design and delivery of instruction gives them more opportunities to interact, problem-solve (discussed in chapter 6), and use language creatively. Teachers can think – do I need to do this, or is it something that my students can do? Even younger learners can help to create rubrics, choose topics of study, and even develop creative ways for their peers and them to practice language. The more the teacher can follow this technique to create a balance of structure and autonomy in the task, the more likely learners are to be engaged and learn.
2. Let learners show what they can do, rather than what they cannot.
This era of high-stakes testing mandates that teachers know what their students cannot do. They often assess students on very discrete language items using multiple choice, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank answers. Although these tests can provide certain kinds of information, allowing students to produce language or content in a variety of ways that support their interlanguage (their current level of language) builds on student successes and helps students to understand that they can communicate in different modes. At the same time, this practice demonstrates to students that they have control over content and language. This does not mean to ignore student areas of weakness, but it does suggest that teachers might use student strengths to help them address the areas that need attention.
In this chapter’s opening scenario, Mr. Lin’s language learners have the opportunity to produce language both orally and in written form, and they produce language and creative content in many ways. They make decisions, ask questions, write dialogue, draw, role-play, direct, suggest, critique, and disagree. Students who are not as competent in one language area may choose to produce language in other areas, but none of the students is exempt from working toward the final goal. By requiring that learners ask each other for help, Mr. Lin is not doing what he knows that his learners can do; rather, he is providing frameworks of support. Overall, the task he has created integrates many of the engagement principles and technology standards (see chapter 1 for a discussion of these).