Incorporating Voice, Choice, and Student Inquiry In Your Languages Class
Voice, choice, and student inquiry are some of the surest ways to get your students learning and retaining information more quickly. This isn’t only because they’ll have more fun doing so, like I wrote about in a previous post.
Research shows that when students can try things out on their own, and make their own decisions, their learning process is accelerated. Research also shows that students learn when they can reflect on their own mistakes, as I’ve written about elsewhere.
This article looks at two ongoing projects that can be used in a World Languages classroom to let student voice, choice, and inquiry shine. Once project focuses on culture, and the other project focuses on language.
For my beginning level students, I had them research an aspect of culture, and deliver the finished product in as much Spanish as they could. This project has students turn in an audiovisual presentation (most would do short films) that is researched akin to what a research paper would be.
I told students that they could research a topic of their choosing within a designated broader theme. According to the marking period, students could research:
A tourist attraction
The arts (including film or theater)
History (including literature)
A style of music or dance
Influential political and religious movements
Once students identified someone or something they wanted to learn more about, they needed to write a research question that they wanted to answer, and turn it in to me for approval before they continued with their research. I evaluated each question for if it could be answered, and if the question was too broad or too specific.
The students then needed to research a situation using at least one primary source. They then needed to use photos, film, and minimal text to present their:
If you’ve gone to graduate school, you will probably recognize this research process. This will help your students get prepared for college. If they aren’t college-bound, then this project will guide them to inquiry-based thinking. And, all students will gain a broader appreciation for culture.
Among the most memorable student projects were one student that researched a type of dance, then performed it on film. Another student interviewed her grandmother about experiences living in the U.S. as an immigrant high schooler.
If you’d like to see the handout that I gave my students for this project, feel free to make of a copy of it, and adapt it for yourself. Also, if you have any possible adaptation ideas for this project or great stories of student projects, contact me here.
My Personal Project Points
For my more advanced students, I expected them to practice the language. This project has students create a series of mini projects, which all worth a certain point value. The total number of points for all projects for a given marking period needed to total a given number. For my Spanish 3 Pre-AP students, I required them to reach a total of ten of points. For the handout that I gave my students, check out the link.
Projects were broken up into broad categories of language production. Students needed to self-assess their skills for what they needed the most work in. The broad categories were:
Using Advanced Structures
Before tackling this project, students first needed to plan it out. I would give them a planning form where they strategized what mini-projects they would do, what specific steps they would take to complete the mini-project, the resources they would need, how many points the mini-project was worth, and when they planned to turn in the project to me.
I required students to do this, because after a few years of teaching experience, I realized that most students failed long-term projects only because they didn’t give themselves adequate time to plan and prepare. I also made sure that students turned in the project by the date that they said they would. They were allowed to turn in a mini-project early so they wouldn’t have a lot of work at once, but they would be penalized if they turned in the project past the “final deadline” that I set.
This project required a large time investment outside of class. So, for my Spanish 3 Pre-AP students, I would not assign much homework. They were expected to continuously practice the language in the applied formats described in the personal mini-projects that they chose to do.
Value In Voice, Choice, and Inquiry
An additional benefit of having students design their own project is that if they present the project to the class, students can learn from each other. This type of project also will keep your students happy in feeling that they have a greater degree of personal agency in your class. I also have plenty of experience giving me the confidence that these strategies will prepare your students to continuously build on their language learning to level up on skills.