Sunday, February 28, 2016

Authentic Listening

One of the goals of any great language program is for the students to develop an ability to listen to and understand the native voice. This is a skill building activity that occurs over time with numerous interactions with a variety of speakers in different contexts.

In my Spanish IV class, students jump on the elevator of listening starting at the ground floor. While this is something that is scaffold, starting in the lowest levels, it truly is like getting on an elevator: The elevator goes up (skill building), pauses at floors (plateaus), continues up (with additional, deeper skills), and sometimes goes down a level or two before proceeding up again.

Some of the first voices they hear are from cartoons and children's TV shows, such as Pocoyo and Fifi y los floreguitos, easily found online shows. This is meant to be easy as it usually involves simplified speech with lots of visuals to aid comprehension. This moves to a baseball game commentated by natives with some Spanglish. Eventually students are watching news reports, some of the fastest speech out there, and comprehending.

To assist in comprehension, students don't simply listen and *poof* they are great listeners. There are scaffolding activities that happen. For example, in the baseball video, students have a guiding worksheet of items they are looking for while watching. Some of these include listening to the speech of the commentators, but others include nonverbals like identifying the names of products on the signs in the outfield.

This particular guiding worksheet prioritizes what they are looking for as they listen to the video. Some teachers could use this for standards-based grading, but I prefer to use it more as a personal challenge for the students. The top part is obligatory - everyone must get those, then the English words that are used. Finally, at the bottom, are a list of words that are the biggest challenge and require deep listening to the commentators and commercials.

The first time students hear the native voice, it can be a very intimidating experience. However, I explain to them the analogy of a ceiling fan. When you first look at it spinning on high, it appears to be a large disk. If you continue to watch it, you eventually see that there are blades and not one solid disk going around. With additional concentration, one can pick out and follow an individual blade all the way around, without adjusting the speed of the fan. This is all true of language, too. At first it just sounds like one big word and they're all talking way too fast. However, after some training of your ears, you will start to pick out individual words. Eventually, you will begin to hear full phrases and be able to communicate with other people.

As we all know, this is not an overnight process and it takes time and intentional effort to make it happen. Small steps and guided activities such as these can make a big difference in building confidence with students.

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