Planning a year’s lesson sequence
Skill development in the ULAT progresses from the skills of listening and speaking to reading to writing. However, in using the ULAT, teachers have a great deal of latitude as to the order in which they make use of its lessons. They can simply progress straight through its lessons in numerical order, as outlined in its Table of Contents, or they can modify the order of the lessons depending upon their own approach to developing the skills of listening, speaking, reading and writing.
In order to make an informed decision as to the order in which a teacher approaches the ULAT’s lessons, it is first important to understand how those skills are presented within the ULAT. The ULAT’s sequence of skill development can be summarized in the following manner:
Unit 1: Listening and speakingUnit 2: Listening, speaking, phonics instruction and reading Unit 3: Listening, speaking and reading Unit 4: Listening, speaking and reading Unit 5: Writing (review of Units 1 – 4) Unit 6: Listening, speaking and reading Unit 7: Listening, speaking and reading Unit 8: Listening, speaking and reading Unit 9: Writing (review of Units 6 – 8)
Why is the ULAT organized in the preceding sequence?
The ULAT seeks to replicate the natural means by which one learns one’s native language. Consequently, it proceeds from listening and speaking to reading and writing. Traditional language instruction largely inverses this order, prematurely emphasizing the skills of reading and writing, which are far easier to teach, while merely hoping that students acquire oral skills in the process. (Read the ebook, “In Other Words“, found in this website, for a detailed explanation of the damage caused by the traditional, text-based language teaching approach.) The ULAT takes care to avoid written instruction of a certain vocabulary topic or grammatical structure until months after it has been presented orally. Therefore, the two written review units (5 and 9) are placed toward the end of their year of study.
How does the ULAT’s three years of study compare to what students might experience in a more traditional curriculum and at what grade level, therefore, should a school begin ULAT instruction?
The ULAT essentially adds one entire year of study to the course sequence of a traditional curriculum. Thus, for example, the material covered in a Spanish I course in a traditional program would roughly correspond to the ULAT’s second year of study and a traditional Spanish II course would, generally speaking, be the ULAT’s third year course. This is an oversimplification, but it is a good general rule of thumb and helps us in understanding when to begin ULAT instruction.
Notice that the term “material covered” was used and not “skills developed”. “Covering” a certain predetermined set of grammatical and vocabulary topics is far easier and less meaningful than actually integrating that content into a student’s spontaneous speech. The reason that the ULAT essentially adds an additional year of study to the traditional sequence is that it takes great pains and devotes much time during the first year of study to laying a solid foundation of listening and speaking skills.It is the ULAT’s position that merely being able to read, write and explain a language’s structure – though easier goals for teachers and students to pursue – are insufficient as ends to a language program’s objectives. A student who cannot comprehend the target language spoken at a conversational rate and who cannot express himself or herself orally is less than half a finished product. The failure to develop listening and speaking skills in the first year almost invariably condemns the student to never being able to actually speak the language being studied. Moreover, teaching the skills of reading and writing is greatly facilitated by first establishing an oral foundation, as the student’s ability to decode and encode written language through the strategy of prediction is enhanced by already knowing how the language should sound.
Consequently, in light of the ULAT’s more time-consuming approach to language training, and to ensure that students be in the best possible position to eventually do advanced placement work and to take college placement exams, it is advisable to begin the ULAT’s first-year course while students are in middle school. Middle schools divide up the amount of foreign language class time in a variety of ways – once a week enrichment courses in sixth grade, every other day instruction in seventh and eighth grades, every other day instruction for a single semester each year, etc. Whatever the school’s organization of language studies at the middle school level, the key is to begin the ULAT’s first-year program early enough in their middle school experience that students will have completed at least the first two units by the time they begin high school.
What options exist as to the sequence in which teachers advance with their students through the ULAT’s lessons?
Whereas the ULAT recommends that no modification of its sequence be performed, if teachers feel obliged to involve their students in written work during their first year of study, the following is a good “middle ground” between the ULAT’s unorthodox approach and traditional instruction found in most schools:
First year (middle school level)Unit 1: Listening and speaking Unit 2, lessons 1-10: Listening, speaking, phonics instruction and reading Unit 5, lessons 1-13: Listening, speaking and writing Second year (secondary level) Unit 2, lessons 11-32: Listening, speaking, phonics instruction and reading Unit 3: Listening, speaking and reading Unit 4: Listening, speaking and reading Unit 5, lessons 14-53: Writing (review of Units 2-4) Third year (secondary level) Unit 6: Listening, speaking and reading Unit 7: Listening, speaking and reading Unit 8: Listening, speaking and reading Unit 9: Writing (review of Units 6 – 8) Fourth year (secondary level – not currently a part of the ULAT curriculum) Unit 10: Written grammatical exercises and extended writing activities Unit 11: Literature studies Unit 12: Cultural studies
What can be done for the sake of students who may move at some point into a more traditional curriculum in another secondary school or at the university level?
Before answering that question directly, let’s consider another one. What is a ULAT-trained student likely to experience upon changing learning environments and language curriculum? In order to take a first look at the answer to that question, read the following comment written to the ULAT’s author by a student who did two years of ULAT study while in high school. In his analysis of his university language learning experience, he is speaking of a university which is annually ranked first or second among America’s public universities:
“I really enjoyed your Spanish classes in high school and found them to be more useful and well-run than the Spanish classes I took at the collegiate level (in fact, there really is no comparison.) Because of my solid background in the Spanish language from your classes, I was far, far more advanced than my peers in speaking the language. It was frustrating to see my professors place such a high premium on writing the language, almost to the detriment of a student’s conversational skills. I have been tempted, over the years, to use the ULAT to teach myself French, and to use it to brush up on Spanish—it’s enjoyable, user-friendly, and quite simply, EFFECTIVE, and I hope you continue to use it in the future with your students.”
Students who complete at least two years of ULAT language instruction, and thus who have received training in all four language arts skills, will find themselves in very good stead when compared to their peers at the university level. Nonetheless, whereas ULAT-trained students will almost certainly have superior oral skills, they must keep in mind that their peers will likely have had more extensive written grammatical training which, indeed, may well have been the almost exclusive focus in their previous courses.
This being the probable scenario for students moving to a new learning environment, either for ULAT-trained students who may change schools or for homeschooled students who may plan to enroll in a school for the first time, how can this transition best be handled? The key is for classroom teachers or homeschooled students to devote enough time, at the end of the school year preceding the transition, to the appropriate written exercises in Units 5 and 9. They will specifically want to study those lessons corresponding to the topics which were already covered in written form in their new school. If insufficient time was available at the end of the school year to touch on all of the topics for which the students need to be prepared in their new learning environment, those students will want to study those topics within the ULAT over the course of the weeks preceding the transition, likely during the summer months.