Saturday, February 28, 2015

Teach Depth or Teach Breadth?

Inspired today to share my thoughts about an upcoming #reflectiveteacher at TeachThought Twitter chat topic. This coming week we are going to light up Twittersphere with a healthy debate on "Should we be teaching Depth of Knowledge or Breadth of Knowledge in our classrooms? This should be an interesting chat!

Depth or Breadth?
This topic leaves me with some heavy reflecting....and this is good! Am I supposed to pick one side? Is one approach better than the other? My inner compass and my outlook on life and education always point me in the direction of finding good and value in everything and to consider all sides of the issue. Why can't the two coexist side by side in a healthy balance?! 

In teaching languages, we want our students to be proficient and go out in the world and communicate in meaningful ways. Language teachers work hard to create authentic learning opportunities for learners in class. These opportunities not only challenge students to develop deeper, more meaningful connections with the target languages but to also stretch out of their comfort zone to make additional connections to new themes, new topics or new issues. 

For example, take my AP students who this past week finished up one of my favorite activities to do in class- the Shark Tank. Now this activity is not completely like the TV show, but I have taken a key piece from that show and morphed it into an activity that helps develop Depth and Breadth of my students' speaking proficiency. You can easily apply it to any theme, but this was their task:

How can we help countries in Latin America

solve some of the challenges that face them?

Student-Centered. Authentic. Engaging, Open-Ended. These are all good things! Depth? We've got that. In the task, my students further explored an AP Theme of World Challenges  by creating a "product" that could help resolve an environmental, geographical or demographic issue in Latin American countries. Talk about deepening one's knowledge of the overall topic!
Breadth? We've got that too. Students then give a sales pitch of their product and this requires a lot of different/new structures and vocabulary to be able to not only showcase the idea to the class, but to be able to spontaneously answer or react to audience comments. Being able to use a variety of structures to sustain and advance conversation is another key component in language proficiency. 

What are some of the ideas they came up with? An app that would allow needy families to obtain food/goods with a click funded by generous donors, a filter system powered by solar panels that would bring drinkable water to remote areas in Mexico, or a solar-charged garbage can that automatically separates waste and would thereby help areas where there are no recycling program established in the community. These were great ideas, and you never know, we may see one of these some day in the future making a difference!

Doing a Shark Tank style activity encourages both Depth and Breadth of knowledge in the target language and the students love it. It is a great way to students to really grow in multiple ways in the language. How do you encourage students to broaden and expand their knowledge on a topic? Please share :)