Yes, they CAN understand native speakers!

I often hear teachers say that authentic videos featuring native speakers (and intended for viewing by other native speakers) are too difficult for our language learners to use as listening practice, let alone listening assessment. And yet, I think we can all agree that we would like to have our students listen to “real” products that are authentic, meaning that they were created and published by native speakers for native speakers. In addition to providing real examples of the language the students are learning, authentic videos place that language within culturally authentic contexts, thereby providing our students with windows into the cultures that speak the language and the way the cultures are reflected in the use of the language.

One approach I have found to help students better work with authentic video is to ensure we apply what we know about best practices pedagogy in general to the way we present videos and the ways in which we have students interact with the videos.

So what do we know? We know that adolescent brains benefit from multiple opportunities to pause, reflect and apply knowledge at intervals throughout their work with a written or multi-media document, rather than requiring them to read/listen through the entire document before providing them with opportunities to discuss, ask and answer questions, analyze the content, and make comparisons within the language and culture and also to their home languages and cultures. In circles of experts in reading development (even in L1), we often see the reminder for teachers to design a variety of activities for “into, through, and beyond” the reading. I believe this applies just as much to videos: hook them and prepare them to listen (into); help them process what they are hearing and respond to it at multiple intervals during the video (through) and then provide students with opportunities to personalize and extend the video by creating their own responses and products after listening and successfully completing the activities to demonstrate their comprehension of the targeted language and cultural knowledge from the video (beyond).  Today’s post deals mostly with the “through” portion of this cycle. And with another important concept in world language circles (that I cannot take credit for): Modify the TASK, not the content. In other words, provide students with real content (such as authentic videos), but design tasks that are appropriate for their stage of proficiency. In this way, their listening–and their responses–are focused on what they do know and can understand.

Before we look at one of my favorite “high” tech ways to provide this kind of ongoing interaction throughout an authentic video, it’s worth remembering that a lower-tech way to do this is to simply pause the video at various points to engage the students in conversations, personalization tasks or other work that allows them to process what they have heard, connect it to what they know and understand, and use the video as a springboard for their own communication in the target language.

I had already created three Zaption “tours” in preparation for upcoming lessons, but a few weeks ago, I finally tried one of my Zaption tours with my French 2 class. Zaption is one of MANY tools that allow you to edit existing YouTube videos and add student response activities, such as open-ended or multiple choice responses to questions you ask during the video (they automatically appear during video playback), a drawing response, and a discussion thread possibility. In this particular case, it proved to be a very effective and engaging lesson for students when I was absent (which can be the subject of a separate post and is a key concept for me: ensuring students are at least as engaged when I am absent as when I am present).

All of the tools that provide teachers with video editing and student response options differ a bit in their setup and their exact functionality in terms of what you can do with the videos and what kinds of questions we can ask. Currently, I like Zaption best for several reasons.

  1.  It allows me to crop existing YouTube videos without having to go to another program first to crop it. This is really key for language teachers because many videos are either simply too long or they only have a chunk that is usable at the students’ current level of proficiency.
  2. It allows me to make a “tour” of multiple videos on the same topic. Or…multiple crops of the same video (which is how I did it with French 2).*
  3. It has a variety of response/question types, including mulitple choice, open-ended and draw a response.*
  4. It provides me a report with overall success on each question and also with individual student responses.

*The downside is that these two items of functionality are only applicable to their paid version, which I happen to have this year. That said, I like it so much that it will become one of the very few tools I pay for!

So, I will share three samples here: two for French 2 (one we didn’t get to use this year, but I’m looking forward to using next year) and one for French 4/AP. In all cases, the process is as follows:

  1. Create your teacher account at
  2. In your dashboard, select “New Tour”
  3. It will prompt you to add the Youtube URL for the video(s) you want to add.
  4. Click on “add video” above the video frame to add next clip. If you want to make multiple edits of the same video, just when you click on “add video”, the first video you added will automatically appear in the new window. Just click on it again to add another copy of it so that you can make multiple crops of the same video. So to make a “tour” of three clips from the same video, I copy it as many times as the number of clips I want to use from that video. Then I crop each of the copies to be a different chunk. They will all play together as one video activity when finished.
  5. Now you can crop your video clips. You do this by clicking on “trim”, which appears within the video window, in the upper left.

    Zaption edit screen

    Zaption edit screen

  6. In the same screenshot above, you can also see the tools for adding student responses. Just play your video to the point where you want to add your first question/activity. Pause the video and click on the question type you would like to use from the buttons at the top. Fill in the fields and then submit. Continue for the rest of the clip and then the rest of the tour. It is recommended that you have the video stop playing while students respond, but note that for the “discussion” feature, this doesn’t appear as an option. The students have to begin typing in order to stop the video. Also, you have the option for multiple choice responses to send them back to an earlier point in the video if they get an answer wrong, thus requiring them to listen again.
  7. As students complete the activities in the video, their responses are being saved for you to view. You can see an overall summary as well as individual student results. See screenshots below:Zaption_analytics Zaption_indiv_data

Here are some samples of Zaptions I have made for my classes.

Zaption’s YouTube channel: lots of tutorials here.

And here are some additional, very popular video editing and response tools to explore. Because ultimately, everyone has different styles and preferences. To me, it is less important which tool you choose. I happen to love Zaption. You may love Educanon. Do what you love. The key here is to ensure that authentic videos are not a passive experience for our learners, but rather one that engages them in active listening with multiple opportunities to demonstrate understanding and provide personal responses.

3Rs…low tech

I found myself thinking about the fact that when I prepared the video on the theme of “classroom innovation” for my application for the Google Teacher Academy (as of this writing, Google has not yet notified applicants as to whether or not they have been selected), I spent almost my entire 60 seconds talking about Web 2.0 tools I use–and more importantly, my students use–in my classes. I suppose this makes sense given the focus of the teacher academies, but I began to wonder if perhaps the focus on technology caused me to fall into the same trap that so many other teachers fall into, a sort of false equation: technology + students = innovative.

Don’t get me wrong…I absolutely LOVE technology, especially the use of Web 2.0 tools to take my students’ work and perspectives out of the classroom and help them truly interact with the viewpoints and perspectives of others. I just wonder if I put too strong an emphasis on technology as a factor in innovation as opposed to technology as one of many tools to use in the innovative classroom. Furthermore, just who was being innovative in my video? The students? Myself? Or no one? When we talk about innovation in education, what’s really important?

When using Google’s “define” search parameter, the definition of “innovative” is as follows:

  1. (of a product, idea, etc.) Featuring new methods; advanced and original.
  2. (of a person) Introducing new ideas; original and creative in thinking: “an innovative thinker”.

Where in the definition is the use of technology? Are some teachers (and others) assuming that students using technology is automatically innovative? Are other methods and approaches that don’t use technology being relegated to “less innovative” as a result? Are our students and community members also connecting innovative with technology, perhaps at the exclusion of innovative thinking or innovative creation that is accomplished without the use of Web 2.0 tools?

What makes an approach (with or without tech) innovative? How does innovation connect to “rich, relevant and rigorous”? The definition above helps with the first question: New methods, advanced, original, creative. Of course, that makes me wonder if anything I do is truly innovative. I don’t think I do anything that’s new….I strive to apply the best methods, activities, and assessments to my instruction at all times. I keep my eyes open to ideas, resources, and strategies that may not normally be associated with world language teaching, but they are ultimately ideas, resources and strategies that others have proposed.

Perhaps the subject-specfic skills maps from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills can be of some assistance in pushing forward the conversation on innovation in the classroom. Although the use of a variety of technologies and media is reference throughout the world language 21st century skills map, a quick look at the “then and now” page, highlights the truly “supporting role” nature of technology.

Technology plays a key role, but not the only role, in the rich, relevant and rigorous 21st century classroom

Many of the characteristics listed in how languages are taught in the best classrooms “today” coincide with strategies associated with “innovative” teachers and programs: assessment for learning; authentic assessment for audiences beyond the classroom and the teacher; interdisciplinary instruction, practice and assessment; instruction that is truly crafted to achieve the desired results (“backwards design”), etc. Technology is an important support and media literacy is a critical skill our students need, but it’s clearly only a piece of the innovation puzzle.

The other day in my advanced French class, we analyzed the lyrics to a classic French song, watched a short film made using the song more than five decades later, and then students connected their own definitions of love (crafted using the song lyrics) to the chapters they were reading in a French novel–first after reading one of two chapters about the relationship of the two characters, and then after getting more information in the second chapter. Other than using a projector to show the video, there was no technology in this lesson.

Was it innovative? Perhaps. Using the definition above, it approached the song, the film based on the song and the novel (which was written before the song) in a new and hopefully creative way. The lesson was rich in content: not only French (as the academic content requiring students to use their linguistic proficiency to understand and respond to multiple authentic documents), but also in connections to literary analysis from their language arts classes and standards in the visual and performing arts. It was also relevant to students, all high school sophomores, juniors and seniors who have had and witnessed various types of relationships and definitions of “love”. Relevancy was further enhanced by the exploration of a theme across several decades, including one interpretation in 2004. And because the song, the film and the novel were all originally created by (and are all well-known among) native French speakers, students viewed, analyzed and discussed the same material native French speakers also experienced, thus giving the American students insight into cultural products and perspectives that monolingual English speakers cannot access. What about rigor? Linguistically, the lesson was quite rigorous: it demanded extensive application of the linguistic concepts across the years the students have been studying the language. It would have been even more rigorous if I had connected this particular lesson to an authentic assessment, but later the students will be completing a student-created museum with exhibits about the novel, its themes, and the author.

Another blogger talked about the curiosity box: a box in which he places random objects for students to use when analyzing a concept. Students pull an object out the box and must find a way to make and explain a connection between that object and the concept they are studying. I first learned about this approach several years ago. At the presentation I attended, it was called a synectic summary. Students love it–I use it to help them make and express connections between authentic art and literature, music and literature, or to create a richer, more meaningful analysis of current events from French-speaking cultures around the world. If innovation and creativity are inextricably linked, we must find more opportunities to push students’ thinking beyond bubbles, lines and text boxes, and into creativity generators, like the curiosity box. We must go beyond being innovative ourselves to help students see connections where they had never thought to look before so that they will become innovative thinkers and leaders. We can model innovation, but students must practice innovation. Technology may help, but it is not required.