Nov 12, 2008

Dictations - evidence of comprehension...

I spent part of my holiday yesterday grading dictations, and I found a curious pattern that showed my students were understanding what I said, even if they were not following instructions.

A brief background. I do dictations a la Ben Slavic. First, there is not English spoken during a dictation. I read through the dictation two times. Rather than reading one word at a time, I read in natural clusters of words - words tend to be said in groups rather than individually, so that's the way I read my dictation. I offer a third repetition if anybody needs it. Then I project the answers on the screen. Students underline any mistakes they made and make the corrections immediately below the original error. Unlike many of our activities which are focused on comprehension, the dictation is focused on the details. The sentences are based on stories we have told or read recently, but students are not asked any questions about the material.

In Spanish there are two words that usually translate into English as "for." These are "por" and "para." They are used with completely different meanings in Spanish, and this is often a difficult concept for English speakers to master. I have no idea if this changes through TPRS or not (the distinction between the two past tenses seems to become more intuitive through TPRS instruction.) In my dictation I used the word "para" I had a small group of students write the word "por" instead. Now, the two words don't sound the same, other than the initial sound.

My assumption is that the sentences made so much sense to these students that their brains felt comfortable filling in the next most logical word rather than listening intently and trying to sound it out.

I am of two minds with this. On the one hand, I wish the students had been listening more carefully - I only ask for this attention to detail for ten minutes of the week. And I wish that they had been more careful with their editing as well. On the other hand, I am thrilled that they were understanding the material so well.

Now I guess I just have to write some stories with lots of por and para repetitions.


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