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Targeting vocabulary

January 17, 2017

I recently published a new story script, one that targets -AR imperfect verb conjugations. Targeting has been a big topic of conversation lately, so I want to talk about what I mean!

Should I target vocabulary?

Let’s be clear here–the kind of targeting that I do with this story (and the way that I intend for you to use it) is “Targeting 2”. Read about Non-targeted input versus Targeting 1 versus Targeting 2 here.

Understanding the differences between Targeting 1 and Targeting 2 is crucial to providing research-based language instruction to our students. Even though I specifically chose verbs for this story that are -AR verbs that worked well in the story frame, and I accepted only those student suggestions that were expressed with -AR verbs, my expectation at the end of this unit was NOT that…

  1. …my students would memorize the rules related to -AR imperfect conjugations (all endings and when to use them).
  2. …my students would fully master (understand and be able to produce now and forevermore) the target structures.

What is the lesson objective?

My goals for this story (and the accompanying unit) were language acquisition, and creating a core of vocabulary that I can reuse.

First, my students would acquire language in general. Both the target structures and all other language that students hear throughout the course of story asking are fair game. All language is fodder for acquisition, whether or not we target it.

Second, my students would begin to acquire the target structures, specifically. By the end of story asking, *all* of my students can understand the target structures within the context of the story. Some of them will remember the structures forever; others will forget them after just a few days. Some will be able to interpret them in new contexts and maybe even produce them; others will be stretching just to accurately interpret the story as originally told. This is because language acquisition looks different  for every learner and every structure. We can predict how quickly we think that individuals might acquire any given item, but we can’t know for sure. What we DO know for sure is that in a class of 35 learners, there will be 35 unique roads to acquisition for each of our target structures.

Why target words?

If I can’t guarantee full acquisition of the target structures by the end of a story asking session, you may be wondering why target at all? When I was teaching Spanish II, I targeted grammatical constructions in sequence in order to align my curriculum (which was taught at the middle school level) with high school Spanish II. I also chose to target as a compromise with the grammar-based teachers to which my students were headed (I tackled the same grammatical constructions that they did, just in a different way). Furthermore, I chose to target because it helped me organize, plan, and find peace and beauty in the midst of the beautiful mess that storytelling can sometimes be!! Not everyone needs a plan (heeeeeeeyyy non-targeted input friends!) but I needed one for my sanity. And so I targeted. Targeting 2 targeted. Targeting 2 allowed me to combine what I know about Second Language Acquisition with what I needed to play nicely with other teachers and keep my sanity.

If you are someone that must give common assessments that include grammar sections, consider Targeting 2. Provide targeted comprehensible input to your students for the majority of the learning period. Use pop-up grammar to make students consciously aware of the patterns that they are interpreting subconsciously. If you want or must, spent a very short time teaching an explicit grammar lesson. Your students will be better prepared for the grammar assessment because you have done the things that actually result in language acquisition (provided comprehensible input). More importantly, they will have started down the path to full acquisition of the targeted items, even if they don’t reach the end. Continue providing comprehensible input (unsheltered, meaning you allow all grammar to happen naturally as it is needed to communicate the message–even within the context of targeting). Each time that students are exposed to the targeted pattern in the future, they will be one step closer to total acquisition.

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