The chosen Context

The instructional material I choose is a module on personal relationship in the Spanish class I took in the spring of 2016 at Syracuse University. The module is covered in Chapter 1 of the textbook Imagina (3rd ed., 2015), and seven 50-minute class sessions were allocated for the module between January 19–28, 2016. The course has an additional website with additional grammar exercises, videos, audios, and grammar explanations for students (some of which are mandatory).

Because some activities are taught in class by design, others aren’t. Hence, I want to focus on the introduction class session (it sets the tone for the rest of the activities in the module), on the short movie (it fosters listening and speaking), and on one grammar review session (it should foster correct speaking as well as writing). Altogether it will comprise three 50-minute sessions.

General Module Structure

A typical module structure, according to the textbook, comprises 7 activities:

  1. Beginning (vocab presentation and exercises)
  2. A short movie (10–25 min)
  3. Imagina (2–3 short texts on the country studies)
  4. Grammar structures (3 grammar topics to review with explanations and exercises)
  5. Culture (a text in the form of a journal 1-page article)
  6. Literature (an additional authentic text by a famous author of the country that is studies in the unit)
  7. Extended vocabulary (repeats the basic vocab and adds on vocab from previous sections)

Some activities for Chapter 1 were taught in half a class session (#1, #5, #6), some in one full session (#2, #3), some in several full sessions (#4), some are done individually at home (#7). Each of the activities have several exercises (a typical “prepare – do – analyze” pattern is observed throughout them). Electronic exercises on the course website repeat the exercises in the textbook and have additional exercises.

The module is usually delivered in a hybrid fashion. Ideally, most vocab preparation and grammar exercises, readings as well as listening exercises are to be done at home by students on their own. Speaking activities from the textbook and the ones prepared by the teacher are to be practiced in the classroom. Take a look at the chapter in question and a screenshot from the accompanying website for students.

Example of a chapter / module from the textbook (click on the link to open)

The example of the chapter

Screenshot of the student website for Chapter 1 Activity 1—vocabulary introduction

how an activity screen looks like 2

Screenshot of the student website for Chapter 1 Activity 3.1—grammar review

The Focused Unit

I choose to focus on three activities—beginning (Sp. para empezar), short movie (Sp. cortometraje), and a grammar structure (Sp. estructuras). There is technically three 50-minute sessions allocated for these three activities.

Purpose of the unit: To activate the vocabulary, listening skills, and grammar from passive into active.

Performance problem: Students do not recall and use correctly 100% of the vocabulary (roughly 70–80 new words) and do not use grammar structure 100% of the time correctly in their speech after the designated sessions and homework.

Importance of closing the gap: The vocabulary and grammar serves as a basis for other activities in the module (speaking and listening); therefore, poor learning of the new vocabulary and grammar slows down language acquisition in other activities, resulting in poor performance in a foreign language and waste of students’ time and resources (note: an undergrad course at SU costs ~$4,000 a semester).

Current Problems

The activities on the website are exercises that serve as both practice and assessment. For example, the only way for students to practice using vocabulary is by flashcards, in other words, by rote learning. When they practice the so-called workbook online, it already valuates what students have learned.

Class sessions oftentimes repeat what students have already learned at home (e.g., grammar review sessions: the teachers repeats the tutorials, losing the valuable time for in-class interactions).

Debrief involves solely checking for the correct answers. Students aren’t prompted to self-reflect. In-class assessment does not actually happen.


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