Seven Steps to a Language-Rich, Interactive Foreign Language Classroom

    Anna Matis, author of 7 Steps to a Language-Rich, Interactive, Foreign Language Classroom, shares the secrets of her own success: MAQ

    When I received the keys to my classroom, the first thing I did was write “Bienvenue!” in huge letters across my board. I crafted a small faux living room in the back corner, complete with a bistro table, curtains, and a tall, slender lamp, all labeled in perfect French environmental print. French impressionism art prints lined the wall.

    Replicas of the Eiffel Tower, along with a photograph of me standing in front of the iconic beauty on my first trip to Paris, adorned the shelves.

    In setting up my classroom, I carried with me vivid memories of my own first French classes: waiting in anticipation to select my French name for the year and receiving my syllabus with all the topics and material that were to be covered. French class had been my respite from the more dry and dreaded classes in a typical high school day. I was ready for my students.

    Unfortunately, once they arrived, the first days did not go exactly as I expected. French class did not seem to mean as much to my students as it had meant to me. Many of my students were very reluctant to speak the language, and they were even more unwilling to write. Vocabulary was regurgitated but then quickly forgotten. 

    We moved through the routine of unit-by-unit learning seen in many foreign language classrooms, such as learning about food and culture and—of course—buying tickets at the train station for a journey they would never take. But actual French language development? Forget it.

    What Was I Doing Wrong?

    As a high school French teacher, motivating students was tricky—not because I was not funny or engaging (which I was) or lacked determination for my students to succeed (which I did not); there was something else happening. I was unaware that having a greater understanding of my students’ backgrounds and ambitions would prove to be paramount to both my teaching and their learning.

    I wondered why the kids were not motivated to learn French the same way I had been. The majority of my students came from low-income backgrounds. Perhaps that was a factor? Many students came into my classroom without a command of academic English or Spanish. Others had personal issues they were facing outside the classroom walls. 

    I came to find out that while many of these things were true, they were also beyond my control. As a teacher, I was concerned about all factors that could affect second-language acquisition (SLA). I spent a lot of time thinking and worrying about my students’ ages, native-language proficiency, demographics, socioeconomic status (SES), literacy levels, and other related factors. But could I change these things? I did not realize at the time, although looking back now it is obvious, that these are factors I just did not have control over. What I could control, however, was what is called MAQ.

    What Is MAQ?

    MAQ stands for motivation, access to language, and quality of instruction. Understanding the power of MAQ was the first key to transforming the way I viewed and experienced second-language instruction. MAQ is also the foundation to effectively implementing the seven steps to a language-rich, interactive foreign language classroom. Once I made this connection, I could then use this information to more effectively scaffold my instruction and create access points to the target language for my various groups of learners.

    The integral function of the seven steps is to build a communicative classroom environment where students are not only motivated to participate but have access points to use the target language (English, French, Spanish, German, etc.) in a way that is comprehensible to them and scaffolded for their various language levels. Visuals and vocabulary are tools for building comprehension, and easy-to-implement structures are in place for moving through the modes of communication. The seven steps are not so much a methodology as they are norms that increase the comprehensible input that students are receiving while providing low-stress opportunities for output.

    The Seven Steps

    Step 1: Teach students what to say when they do not know what to say

    Step 2: Have students speak in complete sentences 

    Step 3: Randomize and rotate when calling on students 

    Step 4: Use total response signals

    Step 5: Use targeted visuals and vocabulary to increase comprehension

    Step 6: Have students participate in structured conversations

    Step 7: Have students participate in structured reading and writing activities

    Again, the seven steps are not a methodology. They are a framework for instructors to work in that will allow them to access some of the best theoretical knowledge in second-language acquisition with practical applicability to the foreign language classroom. They are learning and teaching strategies for all modes of communication and for all levels of language acquisition. The seven steps and their explanations in this book draw from SLA research and are structured around MAQ.

    In writing this book, my goal is to share with world language teachers (both novice and seasoned) this framework that can transform a classroom into an interactive and communicative environment in which students are engaging in functional language and academic structures in the target language from day one. 

    Within this framework, systems are inherently in place to randomize and rotate so that all students, even the reluctant ones, have supports at their level to effortlessly engage in the language learning. Implementation of this framework can help students access and engage in language acquisition and thereby grow from novice to intermediate to advanced language users. Essentially, I am writing the book I wish I could have had as a LOTE teacher, and I hope to share the language-learning benefits of these steps with those in the field today. Allez!

    Anna Matis is a writer and consultant for Seidlitz Education. Originally from Hungary, she is a former high school French teacher and has led professional development across the country, coached teachers in language-learning strategies, and also co-authored the book Boosting Achievement: Reaching Students with Interrupted or Minimal Education. 

    1 COMMENT

    1. From my point of view, step 6 which states ‘Have students participate in structured conversation’ is against the language acquisition naturally because when we introduced a structured way for conversation, students will stick to that and they will not be able to use the language for communicative purposes in real-world situations. In a conversation, one cannot have any structure or rigid grammar rules because people do not speak in the same way as they write. With regard to the fist step, I find that is also flawed in terms of language acquisition theories. When it comes to language teaching, we cannot stick to a set of rules of principles because of learner differences and their linguistic needs are varied, learning styles are different and many more. So in such a context, laying down some steps seem ludicrous and unfounded. What the author here states some steps which are claims and have not been proved though a scientific inquiry. Up to date, there is no one who knows how a foreign or a second language is acquired by a learner.

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