Monday, October 13, 2014

Rigor is a new buzzword



This past Friday we had an inservice workshop in my district to discuss rigor in teaching. To be honest, at first I was at a loss...how do I create rigor with my littles who are still learning and digesting the concept of a foreign language, let alone using that language for communication? And then it hit me- that alone is the rigor (or at least a big element of rigor) in the elementary foreign language classroom! Just saying 'Hola' to me instead of 'Hello' is a change in mindset, answering questions posed in the target language, comprehending instructions, interacting in the TL all require a new way of thinking. But, I wanted to know more- what are other teachers experiencing? thinking? doing?

 I found an interesting article about rigor in the FL classroom on 'Latin Best Practices' which, in my opinion, encapsulates what we are striving for. Here is an excerpt which highlights the main points:
(*TCI- Teaching comprehensible input)

There are four elements of rigor:
1. Sustained Focus – you ask students to do that daily by being physically and mentally present and attending to the class conversation (see jGR)
2. Depth and Integrity of Inquiry – you pursue topics in depth by remaining with a subject until students have explored it satisfactorily
3. Suspension of premature conclusions – there are many ways that TCI meets this
4. Continuous testing of hypotheses – it is here that TCI is far superior to any grammar-driven method; students are asked to test their hypotheses about the language continuously as they hear the language and formulate ideas about how it is constructed (Grammar-driven methods tell students without giving them opportunity to test their own hypotheses)
In their discussion of this, the Department of State includes asking “mediative questions”, which means we ask open-ended questions that encourage students to think about their thinking instead of just producing a single correct answer.

Relevance is addressed as well. Here are elements of relevance:
1. prior intellectual or emotional connection to content – how can they not have it if the topic is about them; we also explore topics in which students are interested (I have talked extensively about films and Harry Potter, for example) and with which I as the teacher have a connection that I can mediate to my students. (Yes, students will often get excited about something because the teacher is excited.)
2. It is connected to real life – again a “duh!” for TCI
3. It is appropriately timed – not much we can do about this one except observe, for example, that first and fifth periods are not optimal times for class
4. It actively engages or involves us – we demand that students become engaged; we can also plan activities that are both comprehensible input as well as engaging
5. Someone else has a contagious passion or enthusiasm – we should teach our passions; I’m sure that part of the reason Ben’s students engage with “Le Petit Prince” is because Ben loves it so much, and they have a prior connection to him; I once had a student tell me that she wasn’t terribly interested in the Middle Ages but enjoyed my unit because I was so obviously enthusiastic about it
6. It is novel – which brings us to the much-maligned flying blue elephants; there are, however, other ways to make something novel

How do you bring rigor to your classroom? What are your opinions about this blossoming trend?

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