Saturday, February 11, 2012

Spiraling Concepts



As a non-college teacher, I forget that spring semester means teaching a class from the beginning again, but by now many of you linguistics teachers are probably already into your second unit. If you're like me, you're also generally stumped for extra credit options to give students that sufficiently challenge them and don't just reward them with more points for busy work. I always tried things like having students go to a linguistics lecture on campus and write a summary, and I usually found that those summaries revealed a rather meagre grasp of what was covered, or weren't all that well-written, but that the students still expected points because, hey, they did what I asked them to do.

So here's something new you might consider trying. Do you ever spiral concepts in your linguistics class? In the K-12 setting, spiraling is a big buzz-word, but all it really means is reviewing something you've already taught to make sure students still have it down. The research on foreign language acquisition shows that you can expect students to spiral up and down in their comprehension of any given grammar point, because it takes a few times jogging the memory and practicing a new skill before that concept really gets in there. However, I know that as a linguistics teacher, I found it a challenge just to cover all the material I thought was important once in the course of a semester, and by final exam time, students' understanding of early units was usually back to disastrously basic levels.

Here's what I suggest: find extra problems for each of your units, and assign them as extra credit problems a unit or two AFTER you've already taught them. This will remind the students that they need to be reviewing their material regularly so they don't forget it, and help cement those important concepts in memory. You can also be strategic with what you assign: give students a phonology extra credit problem after they've just learned how to do historical reconstructions, for example, so that they are forced to compare the two processes and figure out the similarities and differences between them. (Otherwise, you'll see a lot of confusion between these units on your final exam). A plus of this strategy is that you can reward points only for correctly completed problems; you might give students multiple, or even unlimited, chances to turn the problems in, but ultimately, you're rewarding them for what you actually want them to do: master the concepts, not just TRY to master the concepts. This just might be the win-win situation you need to keep students on their toes about course content, all semester long.

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