Language Shift: From Learning to Acquisition

AIM

Introduction

How can language educators effectively transition students from language “learning” to language “acquisition”? This is a question to focus on as all language educators try to create classroom experiences that meet the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages’ (ACTFL) guidelines. ACTFL is calling for a shift in all language classes. Students and teachers need to use the second language (L2) at least 90% of the time. This amount of target language (TL) use will only create success for students if the teacher uses Comprehensible Input (CI). L2, TL and CI are three must-know acronyms for language educators today. Language “acquisition” is a key concept to our journey towards using research-based methods to update our language teaching practices.

*Please scroll down to the bottom of page 2-4 to view “Acquisition vs. Learning” (by Bryce Hedstrom) for more information about the difference between language learning and acquisition.

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Area of Focus

In this article, I will take the time to explore a technique created by Wendy Maxwell, a Canadian educator and linguist. Wendy was formerly a French immersion teacher. When she changed schools and started teaching in a non-immersion setting, she was shocked by the lack of French the children knew, even though some had received instruction every day for up to seven years! In fact, after years of instruction in the second language, students had gained no proficiency in the language – they could not write or say a simple sentence. Through this experience, she developed her world-renown technique for language classrooms that provides students with instruction that takes into consideration all current research on language acquisition as well as brain-based research. Her program is called the Accelerative Integrated Methodology (AIM). On www.aimlanguagelearning.com she states:

“AIM blends the best of language-acquisition theory and brain-based research with      systematized and engaging classroom practice, creating astounding results.”

Gary Carkin, PhD, adds this statement on the AIM website:

“AIM is, by far, the most comprehensive and effective approach to language teaching and learning being utilized in the world. It is the most comprehensive because it integrates all of the recent brain research that has been done in relation to language acquisition.

To be more specific, research has shown that language is acquired best in an atmosphere, which is friendly, supportive, and fun (and funny!), where language is produced, motivated, repeated, built upon, and played with and through, where students are speaking continually during class time, where students bond in groups to help each other to complete tasks, where they are moving and working with images to spur their imaginations in ways that excite their feelings, which in turn leads to creative action.

AIM has this and much, much more in terms of its organization and design.”

I agree with these statements wholeheartedly. I have taken the time to research AIM and to start implementing the program into Exploratory Language classes this year. Next year, I plan to do even more with the program.

AIM is a comprehensive methodology that integrates singing, dancing and drama into daily lessons. Students are actively engaged in language production from their very first day of instruction. At the end of an AIM kit (50 hours of instruction), students are able to perform a play, retell and rewrite the play in their own words, write creative story extensions, recognize and help peers correct grammatical errors and more. AIM was created by Wendy Maxwell in the 1990s, and is widely used throughout Canada and in various countries around the world, including Madagascar, Australia and Holland. AIM has resources for teaching French, Spanish, English and Mandarin is currently being added.

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Here are three facts about AIM that set it apart from other techniques and methodologies used for language acquisition:

•Students speak in complete sentences
•Teachers use gestures and a variety of techniques to provide students with meaning without relying on English translations
•Based on a variety of research including brain research and research on language acquisition (Comprehensible Input is one of the theories taken into consideration) 

Here, Liz James, a former TRPS teacher, reflects on her first experience with AIM:

“I used TPRS for 15 years, but never achieved the results I was hoping for. That’s probably more my fault than the methodology. I am currently switching over to AIM. I LOVE AIM. The biggest difference, in my opinion, is that in TPRS the students are focused on listening, and answering questions. In AIM the students are speaking along with the teacher all the time. My favorite thing about AIM is the quality of the AIM materials and kits. My second favorite thing is that the students are using high-frequency vocabulary and complex grammar from Day 1. I love how the students are so engaged.

Expect to go slow the first time through. Everyone says that. I am experiencing some resistance because I started in the middle of the year, and with AIM the students are expected to put out more effort than with TPRS (speaking all class period rather than just sitting there and listening). I wish I would have waited until September, but I was so excited I wanted to start learning how to do it now.

I think AIM is the greatest thing I have ever seen.”

Seems too good to be true, right? That’s exactly what I thought when I first learned about it. So, I went to see for myself! I wrote and was awarded a mini-grant to travel to Toronto, Canada to visit two AIM classrooms and to attend an AIM workshop.

Research

Thanks to twitter, I was invited by Sylvia Duckworth   (@sylviaduckworth) to visit her classroom and to attend a two-day AIM Language workshop. Through twitter, Sylvia had also helped me connect with another French teacher, Mardi Michels (@eatlivtravwrite). I was able to meet Mardi at the NYSAFLT conference in October, 2011. Mardi gave a presentation “Haiti on a Plate,” which was the best presentation I attended. Mardi graciously invited me into her AIM classroom as well.

I found out about the Accelerative Integrative Methodology (AIM) for language learning via the #langchat hashtag. I came across a video of Stephen Lai’s (@sly111) AIM classroom learning the emotions in French. Stephen teaches elementary French in Richmond, British Columbia. When my two children saw the video, they couldn’t get enough and by the third viewing, they were acting out the emotions along with the student actor. (To view both videos simultaneously, watch this side-by-side video)

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 The engagement and excitement of my four and two-year-old was what ignited my desire to learn more about the program. If an AIM video could keep their attention and encourage them to interact with French, then what could it do for my students’ language acquisition?

The four-day learning adventure started at Royal St. George’s College with Mardi and her 4th-6th grade classes. The next day I spent at Crescent School with Sylvia’s 3rd-6th grade classes. Finally, I attended a two-day workshop where I had the opportunity to learn more formally about AIM from Sylvia, Renée Villeneuve (@ReneeVil) and Dan Bart.

After the observations, it was clear to me that when used properly; AIM is a very effective program that stood true to its claim to create astounding results. The fact that the teachers and students were conversing entirely in French was astounding, humbling and thrilling. The level of excitement and engagement of the students was exhilarating. I will now outline some of what I witnessed during the two days of observations.

•Class is conducted entirely in the target language (French, in this case, however, AIM offers programs in Spanish and English as well)

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•Students are interacting with the language throughout the class time
•Students are engaged and excited about class
•Students not only passively understand the teacher; they also produce speech in the target language in complete sentences
•Students were invited to ask me questions. Here are some of the questions they asked: Quel est ton nom? Est-ce que tu as des frères et sœurs? Combien de jours est-ce que tu restes ici? D’ou viens tu? Est-ce que tu as des animaux? Pourquoi tu es ici?

What’s your name? Do you have brothers and sisters? How many days are you staying here? Where are you from? Do you have pets? Why are you here?

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•Students created the following “phrases bizarres” (silly sentences) : Je fais du ski dans la maison. Je suis une banane/un ananas. Je suis un ananas qui joue au base-ball. Ananas danse et chante pendant le concert. Ananas joue au hockey avec les Maple Leaves. Une banane fait du patinage à la maison de Laurence. Une banane et une pomme jouent à la chasse avec Ananas! Un champignon mange 55 personnes sur une pizza. Ananas lance un œil et l’œil frappe Ananas sur la tête. Un hippopotame fait de la peinture dans le bayou.

I ski in the house. I am a banana/pineapple. I am a pineapple who plays baseball. Pineapple dances and sings during the concert. Pineapple plays hockey with the Maple Leaves. A banana ice skates at Laurence’s house. A banana and an apple play tag with Pineapple. A mushroom eats 55  people on a pizza. Pineapple throws an eye and the eye hits Pineapple on the head. A hippopotamus is painting in the bayou.

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•Gestures were used to help students understand the proper use of verb tenses. The gestures integrate the grammar to differentiate between the tenses. In one case, the imperfect tense was used to tell what they were for Halloween: J’étais un squelette. J’étais un œuf. J’étais nourriture de chien. J’étais un jedi. J’étais un iPhone. J’étais un voleur. J’étais un iPad

I was a skeleton. I was an egg. I was dog food. I was a Jedi. I was an iPhone. I was a robber. I was an iPad.

•Students write in French independently: Students had written descriptions about themselves the day before. When asked what they did in class the day before, a student answered: “On a écrit des descriptions.” “We wrote descriptions.” The descriptions were read aloud and the students had to guess who wrote it. The boys adored this activity and were extremely eager to be the person who guessed the correct classmate. Here are a couple examples of what the boys had written to describe themselves : 1. J’ai les cheveux blonds et raids. Je suis très grand. J’ai les yeux noisette. J’adore les sports de hockey et basket-ball. 2. Je suis de taille moyenne. J’ai les cheveux noirs. J’ai la peau olive. Je suis mince.

1. My hair is blond and straight. I am very tall. I have hazel eyes. I love the sports hockey and basketball. 2. I am medium height. I have black hair. I have olive skin. I am thin.

•The use of daily routines ensures language acquisition of key topics. Routines I saw include the outside-the-classroom rap to prepare students to enter the French-only space and a hangman agenda where students play hangman to learn what they will be doing in class that day.

According to AIM teacher, Andrea Aiton:

“Routines in the AIM classroom add a level of comfort to students. I know when I am absent; my students pretty much run the warm up routine for my substitute teacher and enjoy doing so!”

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Here are some of the AIM routines I observed during my two days in AIM classrooms:

1. As students enter class, they are asked: Quel est la date aujourd’hui? What is the date today? Together, teacher and students state: Le jour, c’est vendredi. Le date, c’est le vingt-huit. Le mois, c’est octobre. L’année, c’est deux mille onze. La saison, c’est automne. The date is the 28. The month is October. The year is 2011. The season is autumn.

2. Talking about the seasons is the perfect lead into talking about the weather. So then they sing a little song : “Quel temps fait-il?” “What’s the weather like?”

Then : “Est-ce que le soleil brille? Ou est-ce que le soleil ne brille pas?” “Is the sun shining? Or is the sun not shining?” Class continues to properly describe the weather as seen out the window. “Oui” and “Non” “Yes” and “No” were not acceptable answers. All responses were formulated into complete phrases.

3. Next was the time : “Quel heure est-il?  Il est neuf heures trente-huit.” “What time is it? It’s 9:38.”

4. Another routine combined math with rewards : “Est-ce que tout le monde a les agendas?” “OUI, madame!” “Maintenant je peux donner les points aux groups.” Does everyone have their agenda? “Yes, Madame!” “Now I can give all the points to the groups.” Groups must then add the numbers in French: Groups state their new number. Ex : “On a deux cent et dix points maintenant.” “On a cent quatre-vingt dix points maintenant.” We have 210 points now. We have 190 points now.  If a student does not have his agenda, the class asks (while the teacher gestures): “Où est ton agenda ________?” “Where is your agenda___?” This is a good way to practice “Je ne sais pas.” ou “J’ai perdu mon agenda.” ou “J’ai oublié mon agenda à la maison.” “I don’t know.” “I lost my agenda.” “I forgot my agenda at home.”

The routines above ensure language acquisition without teaching thematically like many teachers and textbooks tend to do. All the language is acquired through the here and now context of the students’ daily life in the AIM classroom.  Nothing in AIM is taught thematically. Everything is taught within a rich context of the second language. Students are “flooded” with the second language just as a small child is as they acquire their first language. Here is a supporting quote from www.aimlanguagelearning.com:

“The use of high–frequency vocabulary – introduced with gestures and contextualized in stories, drama, songs and dance – allows students to rapidly achieve levels of oral and written proficiency rarely seen with conventional methods. One significant difference is that AIM takes a story-based approach to language learning, rather than a thematic approach.”

Additionally, the following activities took place in the two classrooms I visited:

•Students paraphrased the plays they were learning for me so that’d I’d understand the plot of the play
•Students rewrote scenes of the play
•Students broke up into groups and practiced performing the plays

The activities above amazed me. The level of language skills the students had in order to be successful with paraphrasing and rewriting is very high. The new bloom’s taxonomy for foreign language instruction shows these story-retells and rewrites at the highest level of thinking. Please visit this *New Bloom’s Taxonomy for Foreign Languages by Bryce Hedstrom.

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When I describe AIM to friends and colleagues, they often think “immersion.” That is what I used to think when I first started learning about AIM. According to this Wikipedia entry:

“Language immersion, or simply immersion, is a method of teaching a second language in which the learners’ second language is the medium of classroom instruction. Through this method, learners study school subjects, such as math, science, and social studies, in their second language. The main purpose of this method is to foster bilingualism, in other words, to develop learners’ communicative competence or language proficiency in their second language in addition to their first or native language (L1). Additional goals are the cognitive advantages to bilingualism.

Immersion programs vary from one country or region to another because of language conflict, historical antecedents, language policy or public opinion. Moreover, immersion programs take on different formats based on: class time spent in the second language, participation by native speaking students, learner age, school subjects taught in the second language, and even the second language itself as an additional and separate subject.”

I think it is natural for us to automatically think “immersion” when thinking of AIM, however, it is more like an “immersive” type program. Interestingly, the creator of AIM used to be an immersion teacher, as mentioned before! Here is an excerpt from the ¡Jóvenes en acción! program guide (page 54), written by Wendy Maxwell, that puts this into perspective:

This program ensures “authentic” language use on a daily basis, like an immersion program. If you were to walk into a ¡Jóvenes en acción! (AIM) classroom, you could expect to hear lots of talking, whether in teacher-centered choral gesture/story work, large- or small-group activities or written language tasks. When sufficient modeling of words and their pronunciation has occurred, you will often barely be able to hear the teacher’s voice above the students’ talk. The most successful teachers are those who ensure that students are doing the talking at all times. It is the only way, in the limited time allotted for second language instruction, to ensure the transfer from word-meaning connection to authentic communication. Students will remain motivated and feel successful only if they progress rapidly.

Wendy Maxwell, AIM Creator
Wendy Maxwell, AIM Creator

Wendy Maxwell, AIM Creator

Wendy Maxwell, creator of the AIM program, developed gestures to portray grammatical structures such as verb tenses, adjective agreement (singular vs. plural), and gender. The grammar of the language is ingrained in the gesturing and is taught within context. AIM takes the effectiveness of integrating gestures into language learning and ingeniously incorporates a multimodal, differentiated approach that draws all students into learning. Dan Bart stated that with AIM, even students with academic difficulties have access to learning and are successful where in other classes they may not be. I can definitely see how his statement would be true. I know spending two days in AIM classrooms does not make me an expert, however, the amount of student engagement and levels of teacher support I witnessed support Dan’s statement.

The gestures are only one of five key elements of the AIM program. The information below was taught in the AIM workshop led by Sylvia Duckworth, unless otherwise noted:

1. The Gesture Approach: Increase student comprehension, enhance memory retention, help students learn vocabulary without reverting to translation, present vocabulary and structure kinesthetically, auditorily, and visually.

The use of an innovative gestural approach: Susan Goldin-Meadow and her colleagues found that using gestures while speaking helps memory. Other studies have highlighted another reason why many people often use their hands while talking. (Source)

2. Pared Down Language (PDL): The use of specifically selected vocabulary to accelerate language acquisition: simplified, high frequency vocabulary (PDL – Pared down language). 700 of the most frequently used words in the target language are presented in the first year and a half. Almost all have gestures. The words used with the highest frequency are taught first. Emphasis on verbs, type of verb irrelevant (eg. regular/irregular; er/ir/re/oir for French er/ir/ar for Spanish; reflexive). Instead, we teach verbs which are needed to communicate in target language eg. veut/quiere/wants, doit/debe/must, sait/sabe/knows, peut/puede/can, va/va/goes, fait/hace/does/makes, dit/dice/says, s’appelle/se llama/is named, s’assoit/se sienta/sits, se lève/se levanta/stands etc. Third person singular form of verbs taught initially for reliability. This form covers: je/yo/I, tu/tú/you, il/él/he, elle/ella/she, tout le monde/toda la clase/todo el mundo/everyone/the entire class, la classe/la clase/the class, and plurals as needed. High-frequency opposites taught together – ouvre et ferme/abre y cierra/open and close, met et enlève/pone y quita/put on and take off, vite et lentement/rápido y despacio/fast and slow, etc. Gestured word associations taught with verbs. Eg. met…le chapeau, le manteau, le soulier/se pone…el sombrero, el abrigo, el zapato/put on…the hat, the coat, the shoes, etc. Mange…la pomme, les frites, le hamburger/Come…la manzana, las papas fritas, la hamburguesa/Eat…the apple, the fries, the hamburger, etc. Fait…un cercle, le travail, une salade/Hace…un círculo, el trabajo, una ensalada/Make…a circle, the work, a salad, etc. Plurality and gender is included in pared down language and is easily taught with gestures.

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3. Stories/Plays/Music/Dance: (a) Contextualization and varied use of the language through stories, plays, drama, music, dance and (b) Transfer of knowledge / strategies learned in the foreign language class to other subjects. Studies support the use of a method that takes into account Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles.

“Children new to [a language] find in a story context for understanding. It is not word lists that command their attention, but the lives of characters that fill the tales they read or listen to,…in the literary stories they meet.”

How painful it must be for those children alien to [a language] to sit day after day without feeling connected to what is happening in the classroom. And yet, through storying, how quickly they enter the activity, making sense of what is happening, building their own versions, listening, telling, retelling, talking about, reflecting upon – responding.” David Booth and Bob Barton

4. Language Manipulation Activities (written and oral)

•Choose the correct word
•Put the words in order
•Silly phrases
•Les questions totales/Las preguntas totales /Total questions
•Les questions partielles/Las preguntas parciales/Partial questions

*Please see pictures of examples in appendix III.

5. Transfer to Spontaneous Speech and Creative Storytelling

I understand this key strategy as a very important element of the AIM program. Once students spend so many hours speaking in the target language with AIM, they are able to transfer to spontaneous speech. I will speak a moment about this from my experience in my AIM classroom this year. Secondly, as students are given a variety of scaffolding writing experiences, they are able to transfer to creative storytelling. Not only do they become able to rewrite and retell the play that they learn with each AIM kit (unit of study), but they are also able to write their own creative stories and rewrites of the play. I witnessed this in my observations of AIM classrooms!

This is an excerpt in the program guide (¡Jóvenes en acción! page 53) written by Wendy Maxwell about the transfer to spontaneous speech:

The progression from whole-class communication to independent speech is one of the most important aspects of this approach, and one that seems difficult for some teachers to achieve. This transition must occur if proficiency is to develop. The activities set out in ¡Jóvenes en acción! allot the time required for this transition. For students to reach the highest levels of proficiency possible, you must be prepared to “let go” of control over and guidance of student speech. At the same time you must be rigorous and consistent in your application and monitoring of the expectation that only Spanish be used in the classroom.

Through the integration of all five key elements, Maxwell perfected her ingenious system which, when properly used, produces outstanding levels of fluency. When students speak and write in the target language, AIM teachers are trained to provide students with varying levels of support that are flexible and powerful enough to meet the needs of all learners.

ici-on-parle-francaisAdditionally, I found these “Guiding Principles for Success” extremely insightful. I learned about these at the AIM workshop as well:

•Exclusive use of L2, always!
•Students speak chorally with you
•Not necessary that students gesture all the time
•Students, not you, do the talking!
•Slow down your rate of speech
•Try to use words/gestures students have already been taught
•Introduce new words in meaningful contexts
•Use emotional language
•Make sure that students always communicate in complete thoughts
•Use est-ce que, not inversion
•Use sincere, positive reinforcement
•Encourage students to help each other
•Interact spontaneously with students whenever possible
•Activities should not last more than 10 minutes each
•Use humour!
•Question on an ongoing basis
•Give students 2 choices when correcting their verbal mistakes
•Be committed and believe in the program’s potential to develop  proficiency!
•Do not try to combine other programs with this one
•Have fun with students

My Personal Experience with AIM

Two years ago, I started integrating American Sign Language (ASL) into my teaching. I taught some of the basic phrases of greeting and expressions of courtesy (which I had remembered from first grade). I found that if the students forgot a phrase, all I had to do was provide them with the sign, and that would spark their memory and they would then be able to say the phrase. I planned to learn and incorporate more ASL into lessons but then I joined twitter and subsequently discovered AIM Language Learning (#aimlang). As I’ve heard other AIM teachers say: I’ll never look back!

To me, it seems as if Wendy Maxwell fashioned a program that recreates the natural way one acquires language as a young child. As we grow up, we learn through the repetition of hearing words and phrases as we, or as our parents, are performing the actions. In AIM, the stories, music and plays give the opportunity for children to learn the language while performing the language. AIM thus exemplifies the Ancient Chinese Proverb: Tell me and I will forget; teach me and I will remember; involve me and I will learn. AIM involves students in such a way that keeps the affective filter low and the engagement high. AIM also makes learning fun, and I think we all learn better when we feel good about what we’re learning.

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Click on image above to see my students hand jive. They had so much fun with it!  My students’ “rap” version of the above can be viewed by clicking here.)

This year, I used AIM Language Learning for many of my lessons for Exploratory Language classes. Students in seventh grade begin their formal second language instruction with a half year program called “Exploratory Language.” They are given the opportunity to learn a little French and Spanish before they have to choose their language for eighth grade. They have a total of 10 weeks in French and 10 weeks in Spanish.

Here is a reflection I wrote after the first few weeks using AIM this year:

Teaching with AIM is simply AIMazing! – September 10th, 2012

I am so happy to be using AIM Language Learning this year with my students! They are learning so much and it is definitely “accelerative!” I have been teaching for 15 years and have never seen anything like the effects of AIM in the classroom. My students are speaking in complete sentences without me speaking with them. Today is lesson #3. They are able to say many complete phrases while I gesture them silently. Sometimes I give them a little hint, like the first sound of the word, or I mouth the word silently…but then they are speaking beautifully…it’s music to my ears! I am so thrilled to hear their voices speaking in complete sentences in just 3 lessons! Here are some of the things they can say in the target language:

•Good morning! The class is starting.
•Therefore, the whole class is speaking in Spanish and not in English.
•We don’t speak English in Spanish class…we speak only in Spanish.
•Where is (name of student)? (Student answers): I am here.
•Where is (name of absent student)? (Class answers): S/he is not here today.
•What’s your name? My name is….His name is….Her name is….
•And you? What’s your name?
•Where is _____? I forgot! Oh no! That is crazy. Oh, now I remember! ____ is here!
•How are you? Well/So-so/Bad …and you?
•If you want a drink, you say “Can I drink water please, Mrs. Misiano?” and Mrs. Misiano says “yes you can drink water.” If you drink and drink and drink a lot of water then you want to go to the bathroom. You say “Can I go to the bathroom, please?” and Mrs. Misiano says “Yes, you can go to the bathroom.”
•Now, the class is ending. Does the class say “hello” or “goodbye” now? Goodbye, yes, the class says goodbye now. The class is ending. When the class is starting, we say “hello” and when the class is ending, we say “goodbye.”

There’s more that they are saying after just three lessons, too! This technique for language learning is unlike anything I have ever witnessed in the classroom! They are even grasping the differences of verb tenses without doing verb conjugation charts. When I ask ¿Dónde está Felipe? (Where is Phillip?), if Felipe answers “Yo está aquí,” (I is here.) I simply have the class gesture and speak with me giving them two choices: “Felipe dice yo está aquí o yo estoy aquí?” (Phillip says “I is here” or “I am here”?) and the class will help the student by answering “yo estoy aquí.” (I am here). This type of question is called a “Total Question” in AIM. It provides students with two possible answers. Every step of AIM is set up to support the students’ learning by teaching them how to help each other in a positive, respectful way. Mistakes are an opportunity for learning!

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After my tenth lesson with AIM, I reflected:

What I love about AIM is the magic my hands create. I am able to simply gesture and hear my class speak in a wide variety of complete sentences in the target language. I can support them when doing activities (ex. opposites) by simply providing a gesture where I wasn’t before or by providing the initial sound of the word. I also love how the grammar is ingrained in the gestures and into the program. One of my favorites for this so far is how we talk about how “él es para los chicos y ella es para las chicas” and “antipática es para las chicas y antipático es para los chicos” and they just get it. “He” is for boys and “she” is for girls and “mean (feminine) is for girls and mean (masculine) is for boys.

I also reflected upon my overuse of gestures in my AIM journal:

Looking back at my earlier videos of my classes using the AIM, I realize that I was asking my students to gesture too often. As I continued my online training, I learned that students should not be required to gesture as often as I was asking them to. The online training taught me that gestures should only be required when students are learning a new word or when they are doing a kinesthetic review. It is difficult for some students to produce a gesture and to speak at the same time. Therefore, we don’t want them focusing on producing the gestures while speaking. We want to put more emphasis on them speaking rather than gesturing.

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This year all teachers in our school underwent a new teacher evaluation system. We were observed, unannounced, three times over the course of the school year. Here are my administrator comments as they pertained to AIM. They were written by my administrator after a 15 minute unannounced mini-observation:

•The pace of the class was fast and required students to pay attention…student participation and engagement was at a maximum. All directions were given in French, with repetition and hand signs to help students understand. “I should only hear French!” as directions and expectations (said in French).
•All students listened, spoke, read, and had to critically think in French due to the class being taught entirely in French.
•Although this is the students first attempt at learning a language other than English, they appeared to be very comfortable with the amount of French being spoken.
•Mrs. Misiano used hand signs (AIM gestures), pictures on the smartboard, music, and written words in addition to pronunciation to differentiate instruction for students.
•Students were broken into teacher directed pairs (directions were en français, or course). Students worked in pairs to practice pronunciation and phrases.
•Mrs. Misiano was able to assess student comprehension and application formatively several times throughout the lesson due to the amount of students participation. Mrs. Misiano adjusted pacing several times depending on the proficiency of the current skill or pronunciation. This included increasing repetitions, or limiting repetitions depending on the level of mastery.
•Hand signs for masculine and feminine were taught alongside the spelling and proper pronunciation. This allowed students to associate gender with vocabulary. All students participated in the songs and activities with proper articulation and pronunciation.
•Students were so active that there were no behavior issues to address.

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Gender  is incorporated into gestures as seen on the left and right above. Image Source

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I was very pleased with these results and AIM is to thank! I am so grateful to Wendy Maxwell for making it easy! What could have been a stressful new teacher evaluation year was a breeze. Wendy has already done all the hard work for us! All I needed to do was follow her instructions in the teacher’s guide.

I have also had feedback from teachers and parents. This year teachers have stated, for the first time, that students have brought their language skills into other classrooms. For instance, when something went wrong, the students would often say “C’est dommage” or “¡Qué lástima!” (That’s too bad). When something wonderful happened, they’d say “C’est fantastique!” or “Esto es fantástico!” (That’s fantastic!) A parent of a student who also has a son I taught 2 years ago in Exploratory Language (before I used AIM) sought me out to fill me in on their children’s language learning experiences. This parent informed me that the child I taught this year came home speaking more and that her accent in the target language was superior to that of their elder child I had taught before implementing AIM. This year I have also witnessed students coming to me to ask questions using the target language that had never been taught in class. They spontaneously used their previous knowledge from the AIM curriculum to formulate their own questions!

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Conclusion

I have a long journey ahead of me with AIM. I feel like I have only just begun to open the doors of language acquisition for my students through the use of AIM. Only when I am successful at teaching an entire AIM kit or two in one year (kit = unit of study of 50 hours) will I be able to provide students with the maximum potential of the program. The language shift from learning to acquisition is an easy one if one chooses to learn the Accelerative Integrative Methodology. What could have been a stressful and difficult task has been made easy by Wendy Maxwell. In my opinion, she has taken all of the guesswork out of it and has done all the relevant research to make AIM the best possible program for language acquisition that exists!

actfl 90

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In order to properly meet ACTFL’s guidelines of instructing in the target language at least 90% of the time, AIM provides teachers with a stellar program. Not only are you able to provide instruction almost entirely in the target language, but also students are actively engaged in learning and are speaking in complete sentences in fewer than three lessons. Comprehensible input is used to its utmost potential and students also produce comprehensible output. (See Appendix II). The language shift defined by ACTFL doesn’t usually put a stress on student output (speaking and writing). However, I feel very strongly that output in speaking should begin from day one. My students have always spoken from the first day and I have never believed in the “silent period” for my language students. I believe the silent period is meant for newborns and toddlers and not for older students who already can speak a native language with ease. The more a student produces speech and writing in the target language, the more he/she becomes comfortable speaking and writing in the target language. Practice makes better!

Some language theorists and linguists would possibly disagree with my line of thought on output. The AIM methodology could possibly change their minds, however! With AIM, when the teacher requests output from  students, it is done in a very unique way.  AIM avoids asking students to produce output independently before they are ready. From day one, AIM students receive constant visual, auditory (and sometimes kinesthetic) input as support for their output. Output is scaffolded, with a high level of support for production and gradually, as students become ready, they are provided with opportunities to produce independent output. The disbelievers need only step foot into an AIM teacher’s classroom to see and hear it with their own eyes and ears! AIM’s claims seem too good to be true. Therefore, only by witnessing AIM in action first hand can one truly appreciate and comprehend the power this approach affords teachers and learners.

I am just a beginner who has had limited classroom time to incorporate the methodology, but you can see a little bit of my AIM classroom in action by visiting this video. The video also includes a section at the end where an expert AIM teacher, Richard Smith, shares his tricks for teaching French grammar using AIM. Click here to view. You can also visit this document for more resources, links and peeks inside an AIM classroom.

When I initially learned about AIM, I couldn’t put my mind around it. The resources the AIM teachers were sharing seemed to be at a higher level than any learner could truly benefit from. That is why I travelled to Toronto to see it firsthand. I was blown away. I learned that it is possible for students to learn almost entirely within the target language from day one, no matter what the age or previous language experience. It is possible for students to produce language, both spoken and written, spontaneously and creatively with AIM. Students can use higher level thinking skills in the target language to design new products from their own point of views. They use the highest-level skills (see the new Bloom’s chart) when they develop their own story retells and rewrites. This writing process is an integral part of every AIM unit. Additionally, AIM students are taught to successfully collaborate in a supportive way that allows for peer-to-peer corrections through the use of the gestural system and other scaffolding techniques.

I simply cannot wait to see where this program can take my students. Next year, I’ll be working hard at implementing the program as fully as possible. I hope to finally be able to incorporate all that AIM has to offer, including the comprehensive approach to writing. (See Appendix III). I plan to write another follow up report to formally reflect upon the year, my teaching and more importantly, my students’ language acquisition.

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If you are interested in learning more about AIM Language Learning, they are currently registering participants for a free introductory webinar presented by Wendy Maxwell, the creator of the methodology. Please visit here for more information about the upcoming  free webinar on August 13th! You can also visit this document for more information and to peek inside AIM classrooms. Finally, the AIM website can be viewed here.

Thank you for reading!

Thank you in different languages

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Appendices

Appendix I:

Comprehensible Input: A hypothesis that learners will acquire language best when they are given the appropriate input.  The input should be easy enough that they can understand it, but just beyond their level of competence. If the learner is at level i, then input should come at level i+1. Comprehensible input is an essential component in Stephen Krashen’s Input Hypothesis, where regulated input will lead to acquisition so long as the input is challenging, yet easy enough to understand without conscious effort at learning.

One problem with this hypothesis is that i and i+1 are impossible to identify, though arguably teachers can develop an intuition for appropriate input. That is, teachers develop an intution of how to speak to be understood.

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The input hypothesis, also known as the monitor model, is a group of five hypotheses of second-language acquisition developed by the linguist Stephen Krashen in the 1970s and 1980s. Krashen originally formulated the input hypothesis as just one of the five hypotheses, but over time the term has come to refer to the five hypotheses as a group. The hypotheses are the input hypothesis, the acquisition–learning hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the natural order hypothesis and the affective filter hypothesis. The input hypothesis was first published in 1977.[1][2]

The hypotheses put primary importance on the comprehensible input (CI) that language learners are exposed to. Understanding spoken and written language input is seen as the only mechanism that results in the increase of underlying linguistic competence, and language output is not seen as having any effect on learners’ ability. Furthermore, Krashen claimed that linguistic competence is only advanced when language is subconsciously acquired, and that conscious learning cannot be used as a source of spontaneous language production. Finally, learning is seen to be heavily dependent on the mood of the learner, with learning being impaired if the learner is under stress or does not want to learn the language.

Krashen’s hypotheses have been influential in language education, particularly in the United States, but have been criticised by academics. Two of the main criticisms are that the hypotheses are untestable, and that they assume a degree of separation between acquisition and learning that does not in fact exist.

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Appendix II:

The comprehensible output (CO) hypothesis states that we acquire language when we attempt to transmit a message but fail and have to try again. Eventually, we arrive at the correct form of our utterance, our conversational partner finally understands, and we acquire the new form we have produced. Source

Appendix III:

Images samples of written activities to be added asap.

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4 thoughts on “Language Shift: From Learning to Acquisition

  1. So glad that you are sharing the information about Learning vs Acquisition. A special thank you for using Bryce Hedstrom’s explanation. He is a very dedicated acquisition-based teacher using TPRS. I’m sorry that Liz James’ TPRS experience was not what she had hoped. Truthfully, good training and continued professional development with TPRS should have led to a very dynamic, INTERACTIVE classroom, not just sitting and listening. It is one of the reasons that the TPRS community is now very actively involved in coaching and mentoring. We shouldn’t be leaving teachers like Liz out there wondering why it isn’t working when there is a community of teachers willing to share and support. There are also many teachers sharing their journey through blogs and Twitter. It’s the sharing that make each of us better teachers. It is also in the honoring of what works for each of us. We should each be allowed to examine what works best for us and for our students.

    with love,
    Laurie
    http://www.heartsforteaching.com
    http://www.EmbeddedReading.com

    1. Hi Laurie and thank you so much for taking the time to read and reply to this Action Research post!
      I’d love to give Liz an opportunity to reply to you, if she’d be willing…I will check with her as soon as possible.
      🙂
      Audrey

    2. Here’s Liz’s reply, Laurie:

      “It’s true that I had no coaching, and live out here in the rural backwoods of Idaho. LOL I tried to do it the best I could from attending 2 seminars. But still, the circling method they taught us required the students to reply “si” “no” “si”

      I love TPRS, and there are some teachers who are fantastic at it. I imagine coaching can help those who are not “naturals,” but that being said, AIM has students speaking in full sentences and complex grammar from day 1.

      I really respect and admire Laurie Clarq and I value her opinion. In the end, all of us teachers have to decide for ourselves what works best for us and our students.”

  2. Hello Liz! I understand rural…I teach on the border between the cornfield and the forest myself!! What I have enjoyed about using Comprehensible Input-based teaching is that it grows and evolves with its practitioners. What I have seen is a growth in the “interactivity” while still retaining respect for the overwhelming power of input. You said it ..what resonates with us will work with our students. Listening to each other and loving our students is what we can all do. Thanks for being such a caring educator!!

    with love,
    Laurie

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