Teach interpretation

Teach interpretation

August 01, 2019

With the first few interpretive tasks, especially at the novice level, its critical to explicitly teach interpretation. It's one of those skills that is easily that students already know.  They probably are great at interpreting in ENGLISH, but the skills don't transfer the same in their second language.

However, tons of explicit instruction and reinforcement of what interpretation means is really important.  At the upper levels, this isn't far from our students' understanding, but in your 90%-novice level-can-hardly-say-hola class, this is crucial to confidence building as well.

This is where your 10 percent (or even a little more on your first few interpretive tasks -- it's ok -- we won't tell!) is important:  

Explicitly explain the level to which your students should understand.  Understanding 60-70% on their first few interpretive tasks is really good! Remind them that they won't know every word. In fact we recently used a task in our Juventud unit and I read one of the comprehension sentences.  I then switched to English and said, "Ok, now you guys are in one of two groups.  One group started looking for cognates and words that they know, and the other group started to sweat because they don't understand the sentence.  Don't forget, go back to basics if you don't understand".

Walk students through the task.  Keep the gradual release of responsibility at the forefront here.  Don't be afraid to complete two or three tasks with the kids before having them do one on their own. Yes, really, do it with them, finding and giving answers.  After the first one, you can give them a minute to process and answer before giving answers, but you will need to "do" before they fully understand how to complete the interpretive task.

When you do release responsibility to your students, talk them through the first task that they complete - both in small groups and on their own - by asking guiding questions.  Don't give the answers.  Try something like this:

"Bueno, busco los cognados...cognados..." show your "tracking finger" as you walk through the text.  Using an audio or video source?  Say "cognado!" when you hear the first one and make a big deal about writing it down. 

"Las palabras del vocabulario..." say the first word and demonstrate that you are scanning the document. Continue just like that for a few more additional words.  Reluctant learners need to see the process and be reminded of it.

The interpretive section  This is where they get to use higher order thinking.  They can answer in English.  I can hear you... "WHAT?!"  I know...let me explain. The interpretive section is asking students to tell us what they understand.  With their novice level of expression (output) they can only tell us very little, but may be able to interpret many things about a task without understanding all of the words.  Case in point:

Have you seen the short film Float?  There are no words.  Just expressions and music.  Yet you can interpret everything that is happening.  And you can summarize and analyze it.  Your students probably can, too.  So, letting them answer those questions in English (when necessary) helps you see what they really know.  You'll find that they can sometimes answer and elaborate in the Target Language after a short while, but the option for English does great things.

After your amazing set up, your students will feel so much more confident completing the interpretive task, and how much they should or shouldn't understand.

Now, get on it! Your unit is FULL of tasks that are great for the language learning hat trick: content, language and culture all wrapped into one!

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