An Ethnographic Proposal to Observe a New Classroom Approach to Languages Other Than English


Foreign languages, now known as second languages (L2), world languages, and languages other than English (LOTE), are a continuously evolving area of education. As student characteristics change over the years, techniques must also adapt to fit the needs of today’s students. One approach being used is the Meaningful and Motivating strategy, nicknamed the “M & M” approach. This approach is successful because of the components of brain-based learning, and the idea of a quality classroom. Sometimes integrated with the M & M approach are the areas of multiple intelligences, total physical response storytelling, and the introduction of technology into the LOTE classroom.

The M & M approach is broken down into five key elements to ensure teachers plan meaningful lessons to keep students motivated to learn. First, students are actively involved and have fun, and this is achieved by implementing activities which are hands-on and are meaningful to the learner (Sherwood, 1). Secondly, there is an emphasis on quality, which is accomplished by creating a syllabus with a theme and allowing student choice and responsibility (Sherwood, 1). Using this strategy, students learn other concepts while they are leaning the language, including skills for living, journaling and portfolio creation (Sherwood, 1). Students are also encouraged to realize there is not one BEST way to learn, and that everyone is capable of learning (Sherwood, 1). Finally, the M & M approach is characterized by thinking skills as an integral part of every lesson, which is best accomplished by inductive lessons (Sherwood, 1). In a personal interview, Candace Sherwood, nationally renowned speaker and LOTE presenter, explained the usefulness of the M & M approach.

“Teaching students things we learn in methods classes is key. They need to know about [Gardner’s] multiple intelligences. It’s not enough for us to plan diverse lessons. They need to be aware of where their strengths and weaknesses are, as well as to appreciate the same amongst their peers.”

The M & M approach works because of two key theory components: brain-based learning and the idea of a quality classroom. Brain-based learning, formulated by Regate and Geoffrey Caine, involves a foundation of twelve facts, but these can be combined into six focused ideas:

1) The brain is a parallel processor, which deals with “thoughts, emotions, imagination and predispositions that operate concurrently and interactively as the entire system interacts and exchanges information in the environment” (Caine).

2) Learning engages a student’s entire physiology. The implications of this fact for educators is the realization that everything that affects students’ physiological functioning affects their capacity to learn, including stress management, nutrition and amount of sleep (Principles).

3) The search of meaning is innate. This means that the “learning environment needs to provide stability and familiarityâÂ?¦ and provision must be made for students to satisfy their curiosity and hunger for novelty, discovery and challenge” (Principles).

4) Emotions are critical to patterning, which refers to the “meaningful organization and categorization of information” (Caine). “The brain is designed to perceive and generate patterns, and it resists having meaningless patterns imposed on it,” thus teachers are encouraged to use thematic teaching, integrating of the curriculum, and life-relevant approaches to learning (Caine, Principles). The way students pattern things are influenced by emotions and “mind sets based on expectancy, personal biases and prejudices, degree of self-esteem, and the need for social interaction,” and emotions and thoughts cannot be separated (Caine).

5) There are two types of memory: spatial and rote learning. Students have a “spatial/autobiographical memory that does not need rehearsal and allows for instant recall” (Caines). This memory is “always engaged,” yet the two ways of organizing memory are stored differently (Caines). By ignoring the personal world of the learner, “educators actually inhibit the effective functioning of the brain” (Principles).

6) The brain understands and remembers best if facts/skills are embedded in natural spatial memory, which means giving students real-life events and examples. Just as our native language is learned through “multiple interactive experiences with vocabulary and grammar,” it is shaped both by “internal processes and by social interaction” (Caines). Keeping this in mind, teachers need to use a great deal of real-life activities, including “classroom demonstrations, projects, field trips, visual imagery, stories, metaphors, drama, and interaction of different subjects” (Principles).

Combined with the foundations of brain-based learning to make the M & M approach a success is William Glasser’s idea of a quality school teacher and quality classroom. A quality school is achieved by “using lead-management rather than boss-management principles,” and this requires six phases, with the first being the most crucial (Glasser). The first stage occurs when “relationships are based upon trust and respect, and all discipline problems, not incidents, have been eliminated” (Glasser). This quality school is made up of “quality school teachers” and “quality classrooms,” which are also defined by Glasser. In a quality classroom:

1) There is a warm, supportive classroom environment.

2) Students should be asked to do useful work.

3) Students are always asked to do the best they can do.

4) Students are asked to evaluate their own work and improve it.

5) Quality work always feels good.

6) Quality work is never destructive.

Together, Glasser’s ideas of a quality classroom and Caines and Caines’ belief in brain-based learning make the Motivated and Meaningful approach to LOTE classrooms a success.

A different approach to teaching in a LOTE classroom is using Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences as a base. With a core of seven distinct areas of intelligence, Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences has been incorporated into classrooms around the world since its publication in 1983. Gardner defined intelligence as “the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one of more cultural setting” (Gardner & Hatch, 8). His new outlook differed substantially from the traditional view, which focuses on two intelligences, verbal and computational. In the book Frames of Mind, Gardner’s seven intelligences are:

1) Logical-Mathematical: the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically, usually associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.

2) Linguistic: having a mastery of language, includes the ability to effectively manipulate language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically, allows one to use language as a means to remember information.

3) Spatial: the ability to manipulate and create mental images in order to solve problems, not limited to visual domains.

4) Musical: the capacity to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones and rhythms.

5) Bodily-Kinesthetic: the ability to use one’s mental abilities to coordinate one’s own bodily movements, allows mental and physical activity to be related.

6) Interpersonal: the ability to understand the feelings and intentions of others.

7) Intrapersonal: the ability to understand one’s own feelings and motivations. (Gardner; Sherwood, 43 – 44).

Newly added to Gardner’s intelligences are naturalistic and existential intelligences. In 1996, Gardner updated his theory published in Frames of Mind and explained naturalistic intelligence as the ability to recognize plants, animals and other parts of natural environment such as rocks, trees, flowers and clouds (Checkley, 52). Students with a strong naturalistic intelligence may like doing activities related to nature, such as fishing, hiking and/or camping. Students using existential intelligence will like and enjoy thinking and questioning, and will be curious about life, death, and ultimate realities. Gardner defines this intelligence as to “exhibit the proclivity to pose and ponder questions about life, death and ultimate realities,” and students using this intelligence will show curiosity about what the earth was like years ago, if there is life on another planet, where living things go after they die, and if there are ghosts or spirits (Reframed, 60 – 64).

Many teachers use the idea of multiple intelligences when planning lessons, keeping in mind the varying ways their students learn best. Examples of combining the idea of multiple intelligences with the M & M approach are easy to come by, as element four specifically deals with Gardner’s theory. Students understand that there is not one BEST way to learn can be easily achieved by applying multiple intelligences to one’s curriculum. Linguistic learners master concepts best using teaching strategies like discussions, word games, storytelling, and journals; while logical-mathematical learners understand easiest through puzzles, problem solving, and activities involving grammar and syntax (Sherwood, 44). Visual presentations and art activities are effective tools to use with visual-spatial learners, with drama, hands-on learning and physical movement for bodily-kinesthetic learners (Sherwood, 44). Using songs, rhythms, and dialects will help musical learners (Sherwood, 44). Interpersonal learners understand best through cooperative learning, projects, games and small group activities, while intrapersonal learners flourish with individualized instruction, journals and independent projects (Sherwood, 44). Although it may seem overwhelming and nearly impossible to design each lesson to meet the demands of Gardner’s theory, allowing student choice helps to make the theory a reality. For example, after students finish learning about the grammar concept of subjunctive/subjuntivo, which does not occur in English, assigning students to complete one of five possible tasks (each corresponding to differing intelligences), allows for authentic assessment in the way a student learns best.

Opponents in the educational field and in varying disciplines do not encourage using multiple intelligences mainly due to reasons associated with assessment (Grabowski). Some believe they are not useful and give students a false sense of security and success, meaning that when a student leaves the educational setting s/he will not be able to sing a song at work instead of writing a report. Gardner combats this thinking by explaining that those with strong linguistic intelligence will seek out careers that allow them to thrive, including poets (Seven Steps). Scientists usually have strong logicial-mathematical intelligence, composers have increased musical intelligence, airplane pilots and sculptors use spatial intelligence, and athletes and dancers have increased bodily kinesthetic intelligence (Seven Steps). Salesmen and teachers are known for having strong interpersonal intelligence, yet many still disagree with the use of Gardner’s theory past middle school. While Gardner’s multiple intelligences are widely used in elementary classrooms, as students age, thus the emphasis reverts back to verbal and computational.

R1: If students are aware of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, are they more
successful in achieving academic goals?

R2: Can Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences be incorporated successfully into the
M & M approach at all grade levels?

A new area of focus in the LOTE classroom has been total physical response storytelling, commonly known as TPRS or TPR Storytelling. TPRS if a methodology created by Blaine Ray of California, and it was specifically designed for second language education. Based upon the work of Stephen Krasher and James Asher, this technique uses TPR as its basic concept, but expands it in order to “create a more meaningful and contextualized environment for learning a foreign language”(Sherwood, 52). There are two critical concepts to understand about TPRS: learning (understanding about the language) and acquisition (an unconscious process with a focus on the meaning) (Sherwood, 52). One downfall of this strategy is that students may feel they have not learned anything since the learner is “picking up the language” in a very non-traditional way (Sherwood, 52). According to Blaine Ray, three things that don’t work in acquisition are forced speech beyond the acquisition level (listening and merely repeating), error correction, and the study of grammar rules. Many experienced teachers are not willing to try this strategy because of the lack of grammar instruction, which many believe is the bedrock of learning a second language. The underlying principle of TPRS is acquisition of the target language (Sherwood, 52). According to Ray, this communicative strategy is made up of five key elements:

1) Language must be taught in context.

2) Language must be comprehensible.

3) Learning has an element of realism.

4) Class should be taught so it is interesting.

5) Students need to learn a foreign language for their long-term memory, not just memorize for tests.

In order to better understand what TPRS is all about, it is a necessity to review the basic concepts, as well as offer illustrative examples for incorporating this technique into the classroom. The first step to using TPRS is to select a vocabulary list, then the teacher gestures each word to the class. The students repeat the word with the gesture, using “novel TPR commands” (Sherwood, 53). The instructor then tells a story using the vocabulary words, and when each word comes up the teacher gestures and the students do as well. After the story is completed, personal questions and answers (P.Q.A.) are discussed, and personalized mini-situations (P.M.S.) take place for a period of one to four days, with new vocabulary being introduced and acted out as necessary (Sherwood). A mini-story takes place for about one week, with students incorporating old and current vocabulary, and the final phase of TPRS occurs when a chapter story takes place after about seven weeks of mini stories (Ray).

Personalized mini-situations are a key element in using TPRS. According to Ray, these are created by first telling a story in the target language using a few students as actors. The teacher will use only a short list of vocabulary – usually only one to four words – that the students need to learn. Then the teacher then retells the story and asks questions of the class, which are usually simply yes/no questions but, like the story, are in the target language. Individual students retell the story again as the teacher acts it out; this is usually done by a high level L2 student, which uses the strategy of differentiated instruction. The next phase is to have many students help tell the story together, allowing each only fifteen seconds to tell as much of the story as possible then moving on to another student who continues the story. If further practice is needed, Ray suggests groups of students draw the events of the story. The following day the process continues, as the P.M.S. is repeated to ensure all students understood it, and reteaching is done as necessary. Assessment is done through the teacher making mistakes on purpose for the students to correct.

In order to implement TPRS and have the maximum impact possible, Ray offers many suggestions. Teachers should personalize words and put them in context, for example to teach oso, the Spanish word for bear, an instructor could relate it to the school’s mascot. Those certified by Ray in TPRS methodology always “eliminate the normal and exaggerate!” (Sherwood, 53). Using proper names of celebrities, such as Brad Pitt is another tactic used to help students remember stories, and therefore vocabulary (Ray). A teacher should always try to make students look good in the situation, and should act like what is being said is real, even if it is false information (Sherwood, 53). Remembering to use specific situations instead of general, and using appropriate level words during the entire story, as ALL words in the L2 must be comprehensible (Sherwood). Finally, teachers should be sure to prepare student actors ahead of time by whispering what they should do, and also use hand signals to guide students to act in a certain way. Incorporating these strategies into a TPRS classroom is crucial for its success.

Opponents of TPRS believe not enough vocabulary is covered, with only one-hundred specific words being focused on in an average seven-week chapter story unit. Many also believe that older students may not benefit as much, due to the similarities of TPRS to elementary school same-language vocabulary acquisition (Triplett). Students may even be insulted by the technique if not familiar with the foundation of TPRS (Triplett). Some educators are not convinced of its effectiveness, as few classrooms with a state assessment rely solely on TPRS as a methodology (Triplett). However, as the desire to learn more about TPRS increases, Blaine Ray continues to offer workshops and seminars around the world to faculty of all language backgrounds and skill levels. Currently TPRS is used most often in elementary LOTE classrooms, yet it is beginning to gain popularity with middle and secondary L2 educators.

R3: Is TPRS a successful strategy for 7 – 12 language acquisition in LOTE

R4: Do students respond positively to TPRS teaching strategies in 7 – 12 LOTE

Including technology is the classroom is not a new phenomenon, and many teachers use basic technological devices on a daily basis. Televisions, VCRs, tape recorders and stereos, as well as overheads are common place in many schools today. Unfortunately, LOTE classrooms are often times at the bottom of the list for departmental funding (Grabowski). Technology such as listening centers, projectors, new computer software and interactive DVDs are beginning to be found in L2 classrooms across the country. In order to justify funding for LOTE classrooms, it is important to determine the usefulness of technology specifically to L2 acquisition.

R5: Does technology positively affect student participation and achievement in
LOTE classrooms?

It is the hope that the data collected from this study will help to guide the future of L2 methodology instruction. By explaining why teachers choose the activities they do, what works best for student participation and academic achievement, in an effort to change the future of LOTE education. In order to gain acceptance as more than a special area subject, this study seeks to substantiate effective teaching techniques, as well as decipher ways to integrate many newly emerging teaching techniques into different levels of LOTE education.


In order to answer the research questions, I propose an ethnographic study of twelve LOTE teachers. These would be divided into three groups with five teachers in each.

Group A: Four (4) New York State certified elementary school LOTE teachers
currently teaching LOTE full-time with students from grades K – 4.

Group B: Four (4) New York State certified middle school LOTE teachers
currently teaching LOTE full-time with students from grades 5 – 8.

Group C: Four (4) New York State certified high school LOTE teachers currently
teaching LOTE full-time with students from grades 9 – 12.

All teachers that participate must have tenure with at least three years in current position/grade level assignment, and must be certified in area and specific grade levels being taught. They will all be selected from NYS public schools, as the 8th grade NYS Proficiency Exam and the 11th grade NYS Regents Exam will be used as part of an evaluative tool. Five districts will be chosen to help with the study, with one teacher from each group participating. This limits the schools dramatically, as many districts do not have elementary LOTE programs, yet it is important to select schools that have a commitment to L2 education for the study to be as successful as possible. Teachers will nominate their schools with the use of FLTeach, a worldwide LOTE education LISTSERV based at SUNY Cortland with the help of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (

I will pose as a college student doing my pre-student teaching (which means I would be there in order to complete twenty hours of observations in each grade level) in each of the high school classrooms. It is not uncommon for pre-student teachers and student teachers to have forms for the teacher to fill out including teaching methodologies used. The reason pre-student teaching has been chosen is because college students engaged in pre-student teaching are not required at any time to plan lessons or instruct the classroom, thus allowing the observer role to remain intact. Many students are also already familiar with the procedures of a student teacher, and during these times teachers usually perform at their peak, in an attempt to pass their wisdom on to the teacher-to-be, thus students would not question the techniques used by the teacher. The teachers being observed would be aware that I was gathering information to become a better teacher.

As I am certified in 7 – 12 Spanish in accordance with the standards that will change February 1, 2004, one observer specialized in grades 5 – 8 as well as a K-12 certified LOTE instructor will be necessary to observe groups A and B respectfully. The reason a K – 12 certified teacher is a requirement to work with group A is due to the lack of specific K – 4 NYS special area certification. Other researchers will follow the same procedure, posing as pre-student teachers in each of the selected classrooms.

Researchers will keep detailed notes, and will ask the teachers for clarification during planning time. This is essential everyday, as the reason behind choosing specific activities must accompany data. Students response and participation must be documented, as well as specific comments made during activities/lessons. Teachers will not be surprised at the informal questioning, as pre-student teachers must gather information on a wide variety of teaching strategies and foundations while in methods classes.

Data Analysis:

Data will be analyzed by all three observers separately. Once reports have been written by all three observers dealing with the research questions and data collected, discussions can begin surrounding implications of the research findings. Round-table conversations will take place over a series of days, with follow-up questionnaires being designed and mailed and/or phone or in-person interviews conducted with participating teachers as necessary for clarification of data/research findings. Research could be used to help design a new L2 methodology textbook.

“It’s not how smart you are that matters, what really counts is how you are smart.”
– Howard Gardner

Works Cited
Caine, Renate Numela and Geoggrey Caine. Unleashing the Power of Perceptual Change: The Potential of Brain-Based Teaching. Alexandra, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1997.

Checkley, Kathy. “The First SevenâÂ?¦ and the Eighth.” Educational Leadership. 55.1
(1997): 45 – 53.

“FLTeach: Foreign Language Teaching Forum.” .

Gardner, Howard. Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books Inc., 1983. – -. “Intelligence in Seven Steps.” New Horizons for Learning Online Journal. Spring 2003. .
– -. Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000.

Gardner, Howard and Tom Hatch. “Multiple Intelligences go to school: Educational implications of the theory of multiple intelligences.” Educational Researcher. 18.8 (1993): 4 – 9.

Glasser, William. The Quality School. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1992. Reprinted online: . – -. The Quality School Teacher. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 1993.

Grabowski, Ada, PhD. Superientendent, Albion Central School. Interview with the author. 10 Nov. 2003.

“Principles of Brain-Based Learning.” Developed by the Combined Elementary Task Forces of the Metropolitan Omaha Educational Consortium (MOEC). Omaha: University of Nebraska, 1999.

Ray, Blaine. E-mail to the author. 20 Nov. 2003.

Sherwood, Candace. Strengthening Foreign Language Instruction. Washington: Bureau of Education & Research, 2002.

Triplett, Frank, PhD. Head of the Department of World Languages, Mount Union College. E-mail to the author. 15 Nov. 2003.

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