Teaching without a textbook – or a proficiency-based model

Last Friday afternoon, I offered a workshop on how to get started on teaching without a textbook.  We talked about the reasons we rely on textbooks, what we like and dislike about them, as well as how/why/when it might be appropriate to start phasing them out – keeping in mind that there are certainly instances in which it would be inappropriate to do so.  Colleagues from various languages talked about their respective programs, their experiences here at Oberlin and elsewhere, and their ideas about how important a primary textbook is in the foreign language classroom.  We were able to consider many different viewpoints and how one might create a modified curriculum in which a textbook may still be a requirement of the course but the day-to-day lessons rely exclusively on authentic materials and other OERs curated by the instructor.

Over the weekend, I was searching some of my favorite instructional blogs to put together an initial group of resources for instructors who are ready to start building some of their own units.  (Oberlin colleagues, remember that I’ve posted all of the materials we looked at together in our Blackboard best practices site and also added you to the FLPA test course in which I built the example lesson).  I was reminded yet again about how many resources there are and how lucky we are to be teaching in an era where instructors are happily sharing their work on the web for others to adopt, modify, and from which to draw inspiration.

If you’re looking for some inspiration…..

Recently, Catherine Ousselin recorded an episode on the We Teach Language podcast about proficiency-based curricula and how technology can be implemented to assess performance.  In that podcast, she discussed how she does not use a textbook with her students and outlined in detail one of the assignments she does with her Novice-Mid students (for us post-secondary folks, that’s about midway through our 101 classes).  I particularly loved how she incorporated sentence builder cards to help students at the start of the unit and how by the end, students were able to put together paragraph-length discourse talking about their likes and dislikes, preferences, opinions, etc.  She does a fantastic job of explaining how embedded grammar works and how structured input toward the start of a unit can really help student cement structure and form all while building confidence.  Check out that particular unit plan here!  Catherine is a high school French teacher in Washington State and is a current nominee for the 2017/2018 ACTFL National Teacher of the Year and 2017 winner of the PNW Council for Language Teacher of the Year.

Another of my favorite people to follow and emulate about incorporating culture is 2013 ACTFL National Teacher of the Year, Noah Geisel.  He also can be found on podcasts, twitter, and other professional development events sharing his experiences and approaches to successful language instruction.  He is also a proponent of educational badges.  The badge program is something that higher education instructors can use as a basis for their “menu of options” approach and even a launching point for the gamification of a specific course.  Noah teaches high school Spanish in Colorado.

If you are a lover of theory and the research behind Second Language Acquisition, check out Bill Van Patten (whose podcast Tea with BVP you might love), particularly if you are interested in the TPRS movement.  As we’re all aware, digital story telling has become quite popular and shown great success in the field, and BVP has quite a few articles and resources talking about the science behind it all.

These are just a few of the many scholars and instructors who are sharing their work and research into language instruction and proficiency-building.  If you are on twitter (or understand that twitter exists, like I do), consider searching #langchat and #badgechat for some inspiration.

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