ArticlesJuly 2016

Building Meaningful Connections for Advanced Secondary Language Learners: A Hybrid Approach to Identity and Culture

Stephanie KnightStephanie Knight, Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon.

Ben PearsonBen Pearson, Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon.



Javier’s[1] exit from my roster was rapid and explosive. Javier, a heritage language learner, enrolled in my class my first year teaching high school and was slated to be the only student in our advanced Spanish class that I had taught all four years. I adored his passion, his beautiful speaking skills, and his potential. I wanted desperately to help him to improve his literacy skills and to realize his dream of getting a university scholarship.

The unfortunate truth of Javier’s story is that it was not terribly unique. Advanced secondary language learners (usually heritage learners and learners from immersion programs) have specialized needs that are not typically met by traditional language curricula.

So how did this tenuous day in which he finally unenrolled from my course come to pass? He was capable and motivated. I was a successful instructor who was well-versed in best practices for second language acquisition. Logic would dictate a happier separation, a separation forged by the passage of time and the earning of a high school diploma.

The unfortunate truth of Javier’s story is that it was not terribly unique. Advanced secondary language learners (usually heritage learners and learners from immersion programs) have specialized needs that are not typically met by traditional language curricula. These learners often stop taking world language courses once their high school graduation requirements have been met (usually after sophomore year). It is impossible to appropriately measure the impact of the loss of their unique voices and skills in the world language classroom. In Javier’s case, I realized too late I did not differentiate properly to address his needs and missed that voice during classroom discussions the rest of the school year.

The Center for Applied Second Language Studies at the University of Oregon ( is collaborating with Portland Public Schools to develop a hybrid online language course, Bridging Identity and Culture, with the objective of serving all learners, including those  sometimes disenfranchised like Javier. This course will be delivered in its pilot phase during the 2016-2017 school year to advanced Chinese learners with plans to expand the offerings to Spanish and Russian learners in the following school year.

Bridging Identity and Culture is unique in its foundation and plan. Student voice has been an integral component since the initial planning phase where potential learners identified topics that they were interested in studying before the course outline was created. These topics allowed us to select important concepts to use to drive student inquiry and engagement in the hybrid course. The curriculum is place-based; learners learn by connecting themselves with the local community and ultimately creating a place-based augmented reality experience so that members of the local community who speak the target language can be exposed to a human rights issue of local importance. Additionally, learners are empowered to create with language; the emulation of authentic communication was intentionally integrated into all classroom materials. Finally, reflection and peer review are essential components to succeed in the course. Our expectation is that all learners will engage metacognitively and use their strengths for both their personal benefits and the benefit of others.


As Erikson (2012) discusses, concept-based education promotes the development of intellect and engagement in learning. It is a three-dimensional approach in which learners work to organize facts and skills into concepts, generalizations, and principles. This work allows learners to transfer learning “through time, across cultures, and across situations” (p.4). Given the hybridization of cultural influences that impact heritage and immersion students, concept-based curriculum is a logical construct to use in the implementation of Bridging Identity and Culture due to the transferability of knowledge that it foments.

The potential relevance of a concept-based curriculum to our course is compounded upon consideration of Higgins’ (2014) article, “Intersecting Scapes and New Millennium Identities in Language Learning.” In this article, Higgins discusses Appadurai’s (1990, 1996, 2013) scapes (spheres in society that exist outside of the country or countries of origin due to globalization) and how these scapes intersect to create new opportunities for language learning. Essentially, given the globalization of ideas and cultures perpetuated by such phenomena as immigration, popular culture, and the mass media, language rarely functions in pure sociolinguistic domains; the domains impact and influence one another in unavoidable ways.

As Higgins goes on to discuss, this intersection of scapes gives rise to the possibility of hybridized cultural identities in language learners. For example, when a learner comes across images and rhetoric regarding gender equality in the mediascape but is also negotiating language within an ideoscape that is highly patriarchal, he or she may reconcile these conflicting messages through the creation of a hybridized cultural identity that occupies Kramsch’s (1993) intercultural third place (also discussed in Higgins (2014)). This cultural identity neither fully accepts nor rejects the multiple cultures in which an individual is operating.


Bridging Identity and Culture serves to celebrate and encourage the development of these new cultural identities through the intentional use of technological tools to embed concept exploration and development.

Bridging Identity and Culture serves to celebrate and encourage the development of these new cultural identities through the intentional use of technological tools to embed concept exploration and development. At each unit’s inception, the learners are given a discussion board task in which they must consider whether a potentially controversial statement is true or false (Figure 1). In order to engage in this task, learners answer a series of conceptual questions to both promote their inquiry and set a precedent for the organization of the knowledge acquired in the course into concepts. Consider the introductory discussion assignment featured below that was designed to get students thinking about the concepts of time, outcomes, and community.

Instructions This unit, as you may have guessed, is tailored to helping you explore leisure activities and how your selection of leisure activities impacts your identity and your community. In order to get you thinking in more detail about the intersection of leisure, community, and identity,please use the discussion board to decide whether the following statement is true or false: Leisure time activities represent people as individuals. In your response to the discussion board, be sure to consider the following questions: What does what we like say about us? What influences how we choose to spend our free time? Is it our own desires? Our friends? The media? Something else? Is play a good thing? Does it ever stop being a good thing? What is the relationship between leisure and building community? What is my role in this relationship? To what extent does leisure help to build solidarity within a community? Please note that the quality of your content is very important to the successful completion of this activity. Focus on supporting your ideas with details and concrete examples. Also, if you get stuck, think about the ads that we viewed earlier in class and use them for inspiration.
Figure 1- Introductory Discussion Activity

In completing this activity, students consider the “So what?” of the unit of study. They understand that they are using language to consider both their individual identities as well as the identities of their communities. Their output here is purposeful; learners are not simply answering questions. Instead, they are debating whether or not the statement, “Leisure time activities represent people as individuals” is true or false. Our hope is that this approach to the discussion board cultivates an environment in which the technological tool inspires communication that is multidirectional, authentic, and contextualized.

This concept focus is further strengthened by other technologies in the course. For example, learners use tools like geotagging to explore their communities and find digital texts in the target language that relate back to the concepts for a particular unit of study. Learners also use augmented reality tools to explain and defend the cultural importance of the locations that they find around their communities, and they develop the necessary skills to not only analyze the media that serves as the foundation to course materials, but also to create media in the form of commercials, print advertisements and the like. These experiences engender the intersection of Appadurai’s aforementioned scapes while learners explore the humanity that connects the local community to the community abroad. In essence, the concept-based approach allows the local community to be just as important to a learner’s experiences, identity refinement, and development of intercultural skills as international communities.

When we cultivated certain scape-intersecting experiences for our students that could not be achieved in practicality, we turned to digital games to enhance the learner’s understanding of our targeted concepts.[2] Consider, for example, our final unit regarding human rights. This unit involves the concepts of systems, cycles, precedent, and community. Some of these concepts, precedent and cycles in particular, are difficult for the students to observe, experience, and explore in a given class period. However, with a simulation video game such as This War of Mine, a game (available in multiple languages) that requires players to figure out how to survive as civilians in a war-torn country, learners are able to experience these concepts in practice. Given the intricate connection between the game itself and the extension activities, learners will likely be engaged and find the game-based learning to be intrinsically motivating (Eck, 2009). The activity below is one example of how we chose to utilize games in order to explore concepts in the course.

Related Can-Do Statement

I can engage in everyday speaking encounters including running into an acquaintance in public and borrowing food from a neighbor.


Last class, you observed a specific type of encounter while playing This War of Mine-borrowing something from a neighbor, running into someone you know at the supermarket, and the like. You imagined how that interaction might have been different if the individuals participating were not living in situations of fear. Today, you are tasked with finding out if your assumptions were correct.

Step 1: Work with a partner to find an authentic text produced in the target language in which you can observe the interaction type both in a situation of fear and a situation of normalcy. Take notes regarding the interactions below.

Situation of normalcy

Text: ___________________________ (include link)

Interlocutors in Interaction Content Tone Verb Forms and Other Linguistic Observations

Situation of fear

Text: ________________________ (include link)

Interlocutors in Interaction Content Tone Verb Forms and Other Linguistic Observations

Figure 2a- Game Enhanced Learning, step 1.


Step 2: Based on your texts and your observations, engage in a roleplay exercise in which you try to emulate the tone, content, and linguistic features of the interactions both in situations of fear and normalcy. Remember, you should not be working with a script. You may, however, practice with notes before performing your final roleplays-roleplays which must be recorded and uploaded to the forum.

Before you plan the scene, spend some time thinking about the questions below. Write notes to indicate your answers.

a.         What verb forms seem most appropriate to use in order to be persuasive? Does the context of the conversation determine that answer? How so?

b.         Is it beneficial or harmful to use language that is intimidating in everyday life? In a war-stricken reality? Why? What verb forms are most common when one uses intimidating language? How else might intimidating language be characterized?

c.          How does the content of what you discuss change between situations of normalcy and situations of fear? When might it be harmful to divulge too much information in both situations? When might it be harmful to divulge too little information?

d.         What are ways that you can change language to convey a certain tone? Provide at least one example to support your claim(s).

Figure 2b- Game Enhanced Learning, step 2.



Step 3: Now, plan your skit below. The purpose of the planning is to give you a map for the conversation. It is not to write a script that you read aloud.

The italicized words provide an example of what you might write in the boxes for interactions among roommates.

Situation of Normalcy

Group Member Name Role Goal to be Achieved Communication Strategy
Marko Roommate Get food by going out to eat Use humor to persuade roommates to join

Situation of Fear and Violence

Group Member Name Role Goal to be Achieved Communication Strategy
Marko Roommate Get food when it’s someone else’s turn to scavenge at night Use intimidation to persuade roommates to get you food

Figure 2c- Game Enhanced Learning, step 3.

In the completion of gameplay and this follow-up activity, course content (vocabulary dealing with resource allocation and the skill of using various communication strategies) is both contextualized (learners emulate authentic communication tasks in authentic situations) and conceptualized (learners see how precedent is ignored when outside influences such as fear impact discourse). Meaningful language use is observed (not only in the game but in outside, authentic texts), evaluated, and practiced by learners, therefore heightening their intercultural and pragmatic capabilities.


Unfortunately, in many world language classrooms, the places and communities in which the language is spoken are isolated from the language itself, creating hosts of learners who are very adept at taking tests about the language, but cannot actually use it (Kramsch, 2002; Thorne, 2009).

These intercultural and pragmatic capabilities are tantamount to the formation and participation in communities in which the target language is spoken. Unfortunately, in many world language classrooms, the places and communities in which the language is spoken are isolated from the language itself, creating hosts of learners who are very adept at taking tests about the language, but cannot actually use it (Kramsch, 2002; Thorne, 2009). A place-based curriculum serves to solve this issue by engaging learners with local cultures and communities. This approach can be effective in helping learners to interact with authentic, contextual language and to raise their intercultural competencies.

One way to implement place-based instruction is to shape it in the form of a task for the learners to perform. Task-based language teaching (TBLT) is an approach that emerged from the principles of communicative language teaching, making functional language use the primary focus of instruction. The concept of a “task” has taken on several different aspects over the years, but Peter Skehan (1998) captures the essence of the word in his definition. A task is an activity where:

  • Meaning is primary
  • There is some communication problem to solve
  • There is some sort of relationship to comparable real-world activities
  • Task completion has some priority
  • The assessment of the task is in terms of outcome (p. 95)

While there are several differing opinions on the specifics of this approach, most researchers would find these points acceptable when discussing the properties of a task. Sykes and Reinhardt (2013) state that “a task is focused on a goal and should be authentic, that is, be similar to something that people do with language outside of the classroom” (p. 14). As they go on to discuss, the creation of a meaningful task is not enough; an understanding of and sensitivity towards the goal orientation of learners (which may not reflect the goal orientation of the practitioners creating tasks) is critical to the overall success or failure of these tasks as they relate to learners and the learning process. Essentially, “Although culturally and linguistically genuine materials are ideal, it is learner engagement with them that makes them authentic” (Sykes and Reinhardt, 2013, p.18). Various types of authentic assessment involving tasks and goal setting will be explored in more detail later in the article.

Using games in the classroom, for instance, is not only a useful tool to our concept-driven approach to curriculum development, but also serves as one way to have students accomplish different tasks related to language learning that are connected to their own goals. Jesper Juul (2005), a leading game theorist in the field, defines a game on several different levels:

  • It is necessarily rule based
  • It has variable, quantifiable, valorized outcomes
  • It involves effort by the player and attachment to the outcomes
  • It has negotiable consequences

While these points are valid when discussing how a game can be defined, there are still differing opinions on the matter. Schell (2008) takes a look at games as a problem solving activity, where they can be entered willfully, have rules, goals, and conflict, be won or lost, have challenges, involve interaction, engage players, create their own internal value, and are closed, formal systems. Sykes and Reinhardt (2013, p. 3) propose a convergence of these two different sections with their definition of what a game entails:

  • A player voluntarily plays a game knowing he or she is bound by a set of rules (these can be followed or flouted)
  • Games require effort to reach a goal (this goal can be open ended or clearly defined, yet it is always ultimately authenticated by the player)
  • Games will often result in a variety of differing outcomes, some better than others
  • Games create an internally rewarding system


The intersection of place-based instruction and game-based pedagogy in Bridging Identity and Culture comes in the form of the Augmented Reality for Interactive Storytelling (ARIS) platform (, an open-source user-friendly platform for creating and playing games on a mobile device. In our course, learners use the augmented reality capabilities of ARIS to create language experiences for players within the platform’s virtual realm that also cause the players to interact with their physical environments. For example, players can engage in scavenger hunts, tours, interactive stories, and collect data.

ARIS has been used for several purposes, but most involve learning to some extent, including in classrooms, museums, and after-school clubs. In our course, learners use ARIS to build certain components of unit projects as the course progresses. These builds are scaffolded so that by the end of the course, the learners are able to build an entire augmented reality experience that connects its users to a meaningful topic within the community for speakers of the target language (a human rights issue of the learners’ choosing will be the focus of this augmented reality experience).

We are confident that learners will be successful given the overall structure of ARIS. The ARIS platform is composed of three parts: the “App” which is used to play games and collect user data, the “Editor” that allows people to create ARIS experiences on a computer, and the “Server” which communicates information between the two. These three components allow the app and the editor to read from and write to the game, meaning that every player will be able to access the same information in real time as it gets added. The ease of use and accessibility to everything involved in ARIS makes things very approachable for students as well as teachers, and the potential for integrating both place and game-based pedagogy becomes more feasible.[3]

The activity featured below was created for our unit regarding gender issues, just over halfway through the course. It integrates several features of ARIS, specifically tying place with an interactive narrative. The goal is to allow learners to create an experience on ARIS so that users discover that seemingly mundane, uninteresting places for them are potentially risky areas for others given their gender identities.

Related Can-Do Statement

I can create an augmented reality exploration of issues related to gender identity within my community.


You have now seen many issues surrounding gender: marketing, the prescription of gender roles, and gender identity issues. In a few days, you will turn in a persuasive essay regarding one of those issues. Find someone in the class who wants to deal with the same issue as you to design a short augmented reality game using ARIS. This game will explore the decision making related to the issue that you choose. For example, consider how gender identity might impact one’s sense of safety in public places or how one’s gender identity might impact how much money or time a person spends on his or her appearance.

In order to design this game, you will need to complete a conversation tree in which you explore the decisions that people make that are impacted by their gender identity and the research-based possible consequences of those decisions. For example, if you choose to look at having bathrooms for people who are transgender in public places, you should research consequences that people have experienced in your town for choosing a specific bathroom and use that research to inform your tree. As an added bonus, you may choose to geotag your work to the location in which your research occurred.

Next, you will put a lock on your conversation so that it only shows up under certain conditions. Make it so that your conversation appears in a certain order based on the choices a player might make. This is important when creating the game, since without locks the player would see everything in the game in random order.

Once you are finished with your first draft, make sure to get feedback from at least one other team on your work. Consider the following questions: Is the conversation tree logical and research based? Are the decisions communicated clearly? Does the player have enough details to arrive at a decision? Should the grammar or vocabulary used be improved upon?

You must upload your final game to ARIS by two class periods from now.

Instructions for creating conversations and locks in ARIS are listed below. The template to plan your conversation tree is included in Step 3 of today’s work.

How to make a conversation in ARIS

Boy with backpack, how conversation would appear in the app.

ARIS interface on creating image conversation.



Fig. 1: An image of what a conversation looks like in the app (left) and in the editor (right).

What is a conversation?

The basic metaphor is that the player of the game is having a conversation with a virtual character. However, it does not have to be limited to this metaphor; conversations are used in ARIS to control the kinds of text and media the player sees.

There are 3 parts of every conversation:

Characters – The participants in the conversation. Each character has a name and media (portrait) associated with it. Create new characters by clicking the (+) button in the left column of the characters column in the conversations editor (shown above).

Lines – Dialogue in the conversation. Essentially, this is the text that the player will receive from the game.

Choices – Branches in the conversation. After each line, the player can be given one or more choices on how to continue. Choices have a prompt (the text the player sees which describes the choice they are making) and an action (what happens when the player makes this choice).

ARIS in app what allows students to choose a response to the photo demonstrated.

ARIS interface that allows instructor to create locks in editor.



Fig. 2: An image of what locks look like in the app (left) and in the editor (right).

What are Locks?

Locks are basically the logical glue that gives structure to the game being created. Essentially, locks make it so the player does not see everything in the game in random order. The game can be created so that players will see certain parts of the game only under certain conditions.

For example, say that you have 2 plaques and you want the second plaque to show up once the player has already seen the first one. In this case, the lock that you would put on the second plaque would look like this:

ARIS interface of Locks Editor on when another plaque will appear to player.

This is pretty self-explanatory; Plaque 2 will appear once the player has already viewed Plaque 1.

Figure 3- ARIS Activity

By completing this activity, learners will explore several different aspects associated with their particular issue related to gender identity and create an experience which addresses the intricacies of the issue. They also associate specific locations in their community with the topic they are researching. Learners are engaging in high-level thinking and meaningful language output within their own communities, not only completing a task that simulates the authentic language output mentioned by Sykes and Reinhart (2013), but also creating meaningful language for others to interact with.  In doing so, it is our hope and expectation that learning becomes authenticated and validated for our students.


According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, performance is “the ability to use language that has been learned and practiced in an instructional setting…within familiar contexts and content areas” while proficiency is “the ability to use language in real world situations in a spontaneous interaction and non-rehearsed context in a manner acceptable and appropriate to native speakers of the target language” (American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 2012, p.4).

The mention of meaningful language use necessitates a discussion of assessment and proficiency. We anticipate that most learners will enter our course with Intermediate High language proficiency and will exit the course at the Advanced Low level (an assumption that will be verified by a pre and post STAMP (Standards-based Measurement of Proficiency) test during the course). A central premise to the development of our course materials is that in order for learners to increase their language proficiencies at the anticipated level, activities and assessments should be designed to elicit learners to interpret and create texts in manners that they would emulate how they would in real life. This approach emulates what Wiggins (1989) calls  “authentic assessment”, or assessment that involves “being able to do something effective, transformative, or novel with a complex issue” (p. 703-705).

To understand what this approach might look like in the context of a world language classroom, one must first comprehend the difference between proficiency and performance. According to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, performance is “the ability to use language that has been learned and practiced in an instructional setting…within familiar contexts and content areas” while proficiency is “the ability to use language in real world situations in a spontaneous interaction and non-rehearsed context in a manner acceptable and appropriate to native speakers of the target language” (American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages, 2012, p.4). In other words, language performance entails rehearsal and interpretation and output in familiar contexts, while language proficiency entails spontaneous language use in both familiar and unfamiliar contexts. While performance certainly has the potential to impact proficiency, proficiency points to the ability of the learner to use world languages meaningfully in everyday life. Performance does not necessarily do so.

It is ideal then that we ask learners to engage in meaningful language interpretation and production in the activities and assessments that we created. As Wiggins (2011) comments, “Just asking students to “perform” doesn’t mean that the assessment is authentic…Most constructed-response test questions are a long way from authentic tasks in realistic settings” (p. 63). Gone are traditional reading and comprehension questions unless these questions reflect a way that language is used in day-to-day life.  In their place are tasks designed to prove an ability to use a text in a way that is typical of expert speakers, tasks for which creation required us to divorce ourselves from the method of instruction that is typical to popular textbooks in which discrete grammar points are taught and practiced. Instead, our course involves the instruction and teaching of different communication acts from which the necessary grammar is observed, analyzed, and practiced. The technology at our disposal, in this case the internet, gives us a rich bank of resources to provide for learners so that they may engage in this process.

The underpinnings of our class activities and assessments should seem familiar to individuals who are familiar with integrated performance assessments (IPAs). In completing an IPA, learners execute “three tasks, each of which reflects on of the three modes of communication-interpretive, interpersonal, and presentational…Each task elicits the linguistic interaction… for students to complete the subsequent task. The tasks thus are interrelated and build upon one another” (Adair-Hauck, B., Glisan, E., Koda, K., Swender, E., Sandrock, P., 2006,  p. 366).  The tasks are guided by rubrics so that learners understand expectations of what mastery of learning targets might be.



In order to ensure our course’s focus on proficiency, we had to engage in intentional backwards design. As we created our scope and sequence, it was important to us to only include authentic language use in our activities and assessments. We carefully considered all possible learning targets (taken and adapted from the Can-Do Statements created by the National Council of State Supervisors for Foreign Languages (NCSSFL) and the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)) as they related to a specific context. For example, when creating our introductory unit, a unit on leisure, we decided that in order to communicate authentically and meaningfully, one had to be able to understand, create, and evaluate leisure advertisements (print and audio), plan leisure activities, and reflect on and promote leisure activities. This lead us to selection of the Can-Do Statements that were most appropriate to those tasks (typically, these statements involve the specification of appropriate technological texts such as blogs and YouTube videos to have learners interact with and create) and subsequently the strategic and pragmatic skills that learners would need to develop as they worked towards mastery of the language function indicated by each Can-Do Statement. An excerpt from the scope and sequence from the leisure unit is featured below.

Understanding, creating, and sharing a plan for free-time activities. I can read about an upcoming event and make a plan to attend based on the details shared Vocabulary

time of the day

dates and schedules


leisure activities


nuanced event phrases


Review as needed: verbs that express likes/wants/desires

Focus: Descriptions (superlatives, diminutives)

Impersonal voice


Using infinitives as nouns

-Use visual cues including photographs, drawings, graphs, charts, and spatial organization to make meaning and to make predictions about meaning

-Identify supporting details relevant to decision making

I can make a presentation about an event, a service, or a product. -Use supporting details to support message

-Employ appropriate register based on context

Figure 4- Scope and Sequence Excerpt

In a way, one could say that this highly contextualized scope and sequence wrote our course materials for us because we had to exercise great intention in leading students to develop the strategic and pragmatic skills necessary to fully engage in the targeted communication acts. Doing so allows us to be confident that students will be able to transfer their skills to new and unknown contexts. This confidence is deeply rooted in the course’s implementation of the learning process featured by Ishihara and Cohen (2010) for language analysis. Instead of a more traditional approach in which learners read a PowerPoint slide or listen to a lecture regarding a certain grammar point and then practice the point with a variety of grammar exercises, learners observe a communication act in practice, evaluate the act, and then practice the act.[4] Consider the activity below from the gender unit, a unit in which learners are focused on persuasive speech.

Step 1


Many news outlets deliver information with a clear political bend that is intended to persuade the audience to interpret a current event in one particular way. In order to explore persuasive language and the current hot-button topic of gender identity of students in schools, you will review two videos. The first video is sensitive to the story of an individual who was born biologically as a boy but is living as a girl. The second video discusses research related to gender issues and uses that research to advocate against sex change operations. Your goal the first few times as you watch the videos is to list the details that both spots include to either support individuals with gender dysmorphia (the condition in which your gender identity does not match your biological makeup) or to advocate against the appropriation of a new gender. Once you are done with this part of the task, you will reflect on how the order of the details included impacts persuasion. Submit your lists of details and reflection at the end of this stage of the assignment. Check your lists of details against the ones provided for you once you submit the assignment. This will help you on the next step of the assignment.

Video #1: “Becoming Lucy: Portland family embraces child’s gender identity”

Video #2: “Oregon allowing 15-year-olds to get state-subsidized sex change operations”

Follow-Up Reflection Questions

Which video contained the details that you found to be the most persuasive? Why is that? Imagine that you had watched the videos in reverse order. Would that have impacted your perception of either video? Have your opinions regarding gender identity been changed or reinforced by these videos at all? Why do you think that is?

Figure 5a- Learner Observation of a Communication Act

In Step 1 of this activity, learners are asked to observe how expert speakers of the target language support their opinions in order to persuade their audiences. They are focused on making observations of the overt, of the content and order of details presented. Notice that at no point in this step are learners asked to delve into the complex grammar involved. It is only when considering the reflection questions at the end of Step 1 that learners even begin to evaluate the targeted communication act of persuasion.

The evaluation phase continues once the learners complete Step 2, the next phase of the activity featured below.

Now, form small groups and go back and watch the videos from Step 1 again. This time, focus on persuasion in general. What techniques are used to persuade the audience? Note that each video may not have incorporated all of the techniques listed below. If you find the language pieces difficult, you may want to visit for help.

Your group must complete the charts below. Everyone should discuss each point and agree on them together. Do not just divide certain sections up amongst yourselves. Each person works on each part of the graphs.

Persuasive technique Video 1 Video 2 LInguistic structures used (verb tense, etc)
Word choice: How are young people described in each video?
Expert opinion: What did the experts say?
Hypothetical situations: What hypothetical are used to persuade?
Treatment of opposing opinions: Are counterpoints mentioned? How are they discredited?
Results: What are the results of the decisions made?
Language: Experiential (talking about experience)
Language: Object focus rather than subject focus
Language: Perceptual  focus (what is perceived rather than what can be substantiated by fact)
Language: Possibility focus
Language: Superiority words
Language: Trivializing words

Now, summarize the techniques above by organizing them by what sensibilities of the audience they appeal to.


Dealing with logic or reason


Dealing with emotion


Dealing with credibility/character

Figure 5b- Learner Evaluation of a Communication Act

It is important to note that the evaluation phase is the phase that involves direct instruction. Given the online format and the availability of a suitable material, learners are provided with a link to an outside source if they need guidance in completing the activity featured here. Teachers using an online platform may also find it beneficial to record a lecture or provide other resources that explain the nuanced language that the learners are analyzing at this point in the activity. Still, it is essential that the learner’s voice be valued for its contributions in this evaluation phase. Corporately, their contributions can provide a more profound understanding of a speech act than evaluation offered by the teacher alone.

Finally, learners are ready for the practice phase of the activity featured below.


You and your partner must plan and execute a brief role-play based on the scenario below. Use the questions on this sheet to guide your planning. Record your role-play and submit the audio file to your teacher so that you can get feedback on how well you use persuasive language.

Situation: One member of the pair wants to start a promotional campaign either to bring awareness to Lucy’s story or to stand against the new Oregonian law. That member must try to recruit help from the second member using the persuasive techniques analyzed earlier in class.


1.         Should the first partner appeal to the logos, pathos, ethos, or some combination of the three of the second partner? Remember that this conversation should be relatively short and that it is better to appeal to one or two well than all three superficially.

Figure 5c- Learner Practice of a Communication Act

In completing this step, learners engage in a proficiency-based activity that requires them to engage in authentic output that would be meaningful to expert speakers. While this practice conversation certainly is not spontaneous in nature, it scaffolds the learners into being able to participate in such a conversation in their respective lives. It should be noted that since this is learners’ first time practicing persuasive speech, they will receive feedback and be given reflection time to guide further iterations of their persuasive output, output that will be revisited for the duration of the course in various activities and assessments. A more in-depth discussion of this feedback and reflection process is provided in the next section of this article.


The assessments that perhaps best feature our approach to real language use are the assessments designed to evaluate interpretive skills of learners. As has already been mentioned, we wanted to create assessments that would draw learners to interact with texts in a way that was reminiscent of real-life activity. Thus, unless it was commonplace for a given activity to include comprehension questions, we did not. Consider the listening assessment and its related key below.


Situation: You are interested in becoming a filmmaker, so you want to spend some of your free time volunteering at a film center, but you need to pick one. Keeping the situation in mind, please progress according to the steps below.

1)         Please watch the following video about the NW Film Center:

2)         Make lists of reasons to volunteer with the NW Film Center. Organize these reasons in the the table below. Please note that you should not repeat an answer more than once. However, it is not necessary for you to fill in every blank that you see below as there may be more reasons for some categories than others.

Stability and Longevity Mission and Goals Festivals Opportunities to help NW Film Center to Grow
Overall Impression:

Figure 6a- Listening Assessment

Stability and Longevity (2 pts) Mission and Goals (2 pts) Festivals (3 pts) Opportunities to help NW Film Center to  Grow (1 pt)
Portland International Film Festival has been around for 37 years Help others to view world culture through cinema Portland International Film Festival Extend the conversation past the movie with experts, food, and talks on location
PIF is a cultural institution of the city Help others to discover something new/broaden their horizons Portland Jewish Film Festival
Real Music Film Festival
Overall Impression (2 pts): Learners should comment as to whether or not they would like to work at NW Film Center by citing the information above. They should also use the last comments about how film makers need to see movies in order to improve their respective crafts.

Grade Conversion

Number of questions right Grade 1-8 Gradebook conversion
1 1 (This is a goal) F
2 2- (This is a goal) D-
3 3- (Can do almost do) D+
4 3+ (Can almost do) C-
5 4 (Can almost do) C
6 4+ (Can almost do) C+
7 5 (Can do) B- to B
8 6 (Can do) B to B+
9 7 (Can do well) A- to A
10 8 (Can do well) A to A +

Figure 6b- Listening Assessment Key

In our course, it is not enough to ask learners a series of comprehension questions. Though learners must identify specific information, as they would in order to answer a traditional comprehension question, this assessment contextualizes comprehension in a way (the creation of lists) that is more reflective of how one might use the text in real life. The assessment further emulates real-life interaction with texts in that it asks learners to use information to make a decision.


In the words of Weyers (2010), “…students must “notice” their discourse to be able to work with it” (p. 386). By extension, if we do not provide mechanisms for learners to “notice” their discourse, we cannot ensure that they improve their performance of language tasks. Most teachers can likely offer anecdotal evidence to support this assertion. A situation comes to mind from my own experience as a learner.  I did not realize that I was apologizing inappropriately in Spanish with the phrase Lo siento. This phrase does not actually indicate that one is repentant for something that has occurred, but rather that someone is feeling empathy; it is the “I’m sorry” that one offers a friend after a personal tragedy. Needless to say, until a professor pointed it out to me, I did not understand why expert speakers seemed to misinterpret my apologies when I offered them. I sensed that there was a communication breakdown and could not rectify it because I did not understand the root cause.

In order to increase learners’ awareness of their strengths and shortcomings, “assessments should be central experiences in learning…over time and in the context of numerous performances, we observe the patterns of success and failure and the reasons behind them” (Wiggins, 1989, p. 705).  In order to observe these patterns, it is essential that educators not only provide meaningful feedback that is specific but that students be given the time to reflect upon that feedback, evaluate themselves, and provide feedback to others. In this way, learners are empowered to set goals for themselves so that they may improve in the future. As Moeller, Theiler, and Wu (2012) comment, “…studies have shown that appropriate goal setting, along with timely and specific feedback, can lead to higher achievement, better performance, a high level of self-efficacy, and self-regulation” (p. 154).

LinguaFolio Online, the web version of LinguaFolio, a language portfolio that encourages learner self-assessment of the NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements[5], is an example of a technological tool that has the potential to engage learners in metacognitive reflection. When learners upload a piece of evidence to prove progress towards mastery of the relevant Can-Do Statements, they self-reflect regarding their work on a holistic scale (learners evaluate whether their evidence proves that “This is a goal,” they “Can do with help,” they “Can do,” or they “Can do well”). Then, educators are able to review the learners’ evaluations and provide feedback regarding their self-perceptions. The learners have the opportunity at this point to engage in discourse with the teacher until they ultimately agree regarding the quality of a given piece of evidence. Once learners have engaged in this feedback, they are able to set goals for themselves. Moeller, et. al (2012) recommend that these goals be SMARTER goals, that is smart, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound as Doran (1981) (as referenced in Moeller, et  al, 2012) proposed, as well as incorporate evaluation and reflection, a recommendation that is achieved through the previously discussed feedback process.


The metacognitive framework that LinguaFolio Online provides is central to student work and growth within Bridging Identity and Culture. It is our goal that marrying this structure with peer review will provide learners with ample input to draw their attention to their tendencies so that they can articulate plans for improvement.

The foundation of this structure is the daily reflection journal that learners keep. Consider the example featured below from our appearances unit. The activity immediately prior to the one featured below involves learners finding beauty ads and analyzing the cohesive and rhetorical devices used in those ads.

Related Can-Do Statements

I can demonstrate understanding of texts with multi-step instructions related to self-care and grooming.

I can demonstrate understanding of informative texts regarding health, beauty, and grooming trends.

Pre-Activity Self- Reflection

How well do you think that you can engage in the targeted Can-Do Statements for this activity? Remember that the rubrics in the assessment folder are helpful to guiding your thinking.

Statement 1

This is a goal Can do with help Can do Can do well

Statement 2

This is a goal Can do with help Can do Can do well


Look at at least three of the texts and language lists posted to the forum by your classmates. Think critically about the lists that they created and whether or not they are correct. Use the template below to take notes about the ads and to guide your thinking. Then, respond to your classmates’ posts by giving your evaluation of the accuracy of your classmates’ lists and how well you think that they were able to engage in the Can-Do Statements based on the evidence that you see.

Text 1 Text 2 Text 3
What is beautiful/attractive according to the text?
What cohesive devices were employed by the text?
What rhetorical devices were employed by the text?
What other words or phrases did you find to be powerful or attention-grabbing? Why do you think that is?

What cohesive and rhetorical devices were generally common amongst texts? Which ones were only used in some texts? Why do you think that is?

After seeing what your peers wrote in response to your text and list, how well were you able to achieve the related Can-Do Statements? Use the rubrics in the assessment folder to guide your thinking. Post your response in your self-reflection journal.

Figure 7- Activity with Pre and Post Self-Reflection

Before even beginning the activity, learners consider their abilities with respect to the Can-Do Statements, their learning targets. They are directed to rubrics that explain the different levels of possible achievement so that their self-assessments may be founded in accepted descriptions of language proficiency. Then, after completing the task, they consider the rubric again to engage in a self-evaluation of the evidence that they created. This reflection occurs on an almost daily basis in the course.

At times, this reflection is influenced by peer evaluation as well. It was important to us to create an environment in which peer evaluation involves both the voice of the evaluator and the evaluatee. One of our peer evaluation activities from our race unit is featured below. The activity leading up to the peer review is also provided for context.

Related Can-Do Statement

I can understand main ideas from a documentary or other historical audio text.


You are moved by the demonstrations, speeches, and protests related to race issues that you have seen over the past week or so in class. It bothers you that when a protest is over, there is no way to know if the conversation regarding issues dealing with race is still going. You want to think of a way to keep the conversation alive even when the rallies and protests are over.

You notice some examples of public art in your neighborhood. You don’t know if it is a good medium to use to express ideas related to race or not, so you decide to do some research.

Step 1: As part of your research, you watch “Why Murals?” by The Art Assignment ( As you watch, take notes regarding the various purposes of public art and some examples.

Purpose Example
Example: To reveal the aspirations of the government Example: U.S. murals in post offices, libraries, hospitals, and federal buildings

Step 2: After watching this video, you think it would be a good idea to document all of the public art related to race in your hometown and create a self-guided tour to post online. This tour would allow individuals in your community to be exposed to the art. Write an email to your classmate in which you ask for help in creating this self-guided tour. In your email, be sure to explain why public art has the potential to be powerful and provide historical context for your claims. Be certain to focus on appropriate use of subjective and objective language.

Step 3: Once you have completed your email, post it to the forum. Provide peer review to one other email (be sure to review an email that hasn’t already been reviewed) according to the following format:


Figure 8a- Assignment for Peer Review


Peer Review Guidelines

Adapted from

1.    Read or listen to your classmate’s work. You may take notes on another sheet of paper.

2.    After you are done reading or listening, produce a short summary of what your classmate created. Record that summary below.

3.    Circle all of the things that you think your partner does well.

Has a clear purpose/objective

Uses effective transitions

Has clearly developed ideas

Has clearly supported ideas

Organizes ideas in an effective manner

Employs an appropriate tone and register throughout

Formatting appropriate to context

Uses varied and engaging language’

Other observation_____________________________

4.    Now, complement your partner on what you think are the two biggest strengths that you have identified in the work. These strengths should be meaningful to message making and should not be focused on small details (punctuation and spelling). Remember to include an example of where you noticed this strength in the work.

Strength Example(s)

5.    Make a suggestion for your partner on how he or she could improve his or her work. Again, do not focus on small details but rather tips that are meaningful to meaning making. Record your idea below along with an example of what that improvement might look like.

Opportunity for improvement Example(s)

Post-Activity Self-Reflection

Do you agree with your peer evaluation? Why or why not? Did your partner reveal any strengths or weaknesses that you didn’t know that you had? Post your peer review along with your reflection regarding this question to the self-reflection journal. Please note that you will need to engage in this reflection after class time is over to allow your partner to engage in thoughtful review of your work.

Figure 8b- Peer Review Guidelines

This peer review format provides learners with the direction that they need to give meaningful feedback to their classmates. Instead of simply handing the learners a rubric to use in evaluation, we are asking the learners to focus on specific qualities that are important communication. A happy side effect that we anticipate from this approach is that learners will start to feel like they have a certain level of target-language expertise that is valued.

At the end of a unit of study, the learners have an entire day to engage in metacognition. We made this decision in keeping with Wiggins (1989) call that learners should be aware of their tendencies and how those tendencies relate to success in learning. The end-of-unit reflection activity is featured below.

Project Portfolio Synthesis: Goal setting

You are going to review your project portfolio and assessments and the teacher, peer, and self-evaluations of these components to find your two most obvious strengths and one opportunity (a weakness) that you want to focus on for improvement. After finding those aspects, write a letter to your teacher giving 1) a summary of your strengths and opportunity for improvement; 2) evidence for each one and; 3) a concrete plan to continue developing your strengths and to deal with the weakness. Before you write this letter, process your work and feedback and write an outline for your letter.


Please post the answers to these questions in the self-reflection journal.

1.         How were you evaluated by your teacher and/or peer? What similarities existed? What discrepancies were there?

2.         What did you learn from viewing how someone else evaluated your work? What strengths do other people notice in you that you didn’t notice in yourself? Are there any weaknesses that you have that you were unaware of?

3.         Upon considering your self-evaluation and the review done by your teacher and/or peers throughout the unit in your self-reflection journal, what is one goal that you can set for yourself for your next unit of study? Remember, this goal can be indicative of a strength or a weakness in your work.

    4. Articulate your plan to achieve your goal by filling out the table below.

Specific What do you want to achieve?
Meaningful Why is it important?
Attainable What steps will you take?
Realistic How do you know that you can achieve this goal?
Timebound When do you think that your goal can be accomplished?


Figure 9a- Project Portfolio Synthesis: Goal Setting


Project Portfolio Synthesis: Outline

If you wish to write your outline in your self-reflection journal, you may. However, it is not necessary. Remember to email your teacher your letter when you are done writing it.

I. Introduction

a) Strength 1 ______________________________________

b) Strength 2 ______________________________________

c) Opportunity  _____________________________________

II. Strength _______________________________________________

a)                     Evidence ____________________________________

b)                     Evidence_____________________________________

III. Strength _______________________________________________

a)                     Evidence _____________________________________

b)                     Evidence _____________________________________

IV. Opportunity for improvement _________________________________________

   a) Evidence ___________________________________________________

   b) Evidence ___________________________________________________

V. Conclusion-Plan for the next unit

  a) How will you continue to develop your talents (remember to use SMART goals)?

  b) How will you deal with your opportunity for improvement (remember to use SMART


Figure 9b- Project Portfolio Synthesis: Outline

In this activity, we draw learners to not only synthesize their abilities but to also find evidence in their work to support said synthesis. This aspect completes the ER of SMARTER goals proposed by Moeller, et. al (2012). It is our hope that in embedding this reflection as a persistent undercurrent in our course, learners will be able to tackle the final place-based project with an intention that is bred by a carefully developed awareness of their personal strengths and shortcomings.


It is our hope in completing this course that learners will become acquainted with and passionate about the target language opportunities that exist within their own communities; their perspectives will be broadened and they will be able to forge relationships with individuals from distinct walks of life.

The fact that current communication technologies have the potential to engage world language learners in more meaningful communication than ever before can hardly be disputed. With a simple click of the button, learners can view commercials from Taiwan or engage in synchronous chat with expert speakers from Mexico City. They can play simulation games in Russian to experience the unknown, and they can create persuasive blog posts designed for expert speakers, speakers who oftentimes reside in our very own communities.

In this sense, the stated goal of Bridging Identity and Culture of retaining advanced secondary language learners is too limited. It is our hope in completing this course that learners will become acquainted with and passionate about the target language opportunities that exist within their own communities; their perspectives will be broadened and they will be able to forge relationships with individuals from distinct walks of life.

A central axis to realizing these goals is a focus on the contextualization of communication acts. While discrete grammar and vocabulary do rightly have a place within the course, they are not our focus. We hope that we have demonstrated them to be less important to meaning making than said acts.

The rub with our approach is that a great deal of time is devoted to thinking and planning. We recognize that practitioners cannot often devote the same amount of time to the careful research and creation of classroom materials that we were able to devote here, and we advocate that institutions wishing to create a meaningful, proficiency-based hybrid or online course devote at least one full-time faculty member to its initial creation over the course of a semester or more.

We anticipate that our pilot year will be a year that involves a great deal of revisiting, retooling, and reflection. The truth is that we don’t know how well our blend of approaches to teaching, learning, and reflection will improve the proficiency of learners. However, given their foundation in best practices and research, we are excited to see what unfolds in the years to come.


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[1] Name has been changed.

[2] For multiple resources regarding using games in the world language classroom, please visit Games2Teach at

[3] For a more in depth look at other place-based experiences, go to Check out our original place-based experience, Ecopod, to see an example of a language learning experience on ARIS.

[4] For additional information regarding assessment that involves pragmatics, please see Intercultural Pragmatic Interactional Commpetence (IPIC) Assessment at

[5] For more information, see LFO Network at


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