Student and Teacher Strategies for Communicating through Dialogue Journals in Hebrew: A Teacher Research Project

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Two major issues are addressed in this teacher research paper: A description of strategies used by students in their dialogue journal writing and a description of strategies used by the teacher-researcher in responses to students' dialogue journal entries. The major findings are that students used L1 as a resource in their L2 for the following purposes: (1) translation as a means to communicate, (2) codeswitching as a clarification device, and (3) translation as a learning strategy. Meanwhile, the teacher-researcher used the following strategies: summarizing information; modeling conventions; using translation, codeswitching and other semiotic systems to convey meaning; using basic and repetitive format for the responses; using students' themes and vocabulary; and fostering authentic communication. Practical applications for foreign language teachers and researchers are included.

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to bring to light the strategies used both by the students and by myself as teacher-researcher while communicating through dialogue journals in a beginning-level Hebrew as a foreign language class. This project was conducted by a during a two-semester period at a large university in the Southwest United States. It is not the intention of this paper to prove nor to disprove the effectiveness of dialogue journal use in a foreign language class; nor is its purpose to show the linguistic gains that Hebrew foreign language students experienced. The purpose of this paper is, rather, to describe the communication strategies used by both the students and the teacher in their dialogue journal exchange. These strategies are important to highlight in order to help teachers and students in their written communication through dialogue journals.

Teacher Research in the Foreign Language Class

During the last decade, there has been a substantial interest in teacher research projects in foreign language classes (Bell, 1997; Rankin, 1999; Steiner, 1992). According to Steiner (1992), teacher research is one way in which foreign language teachers can identify, analyze, and solve some of the problems in their classes. Moreover, Rankin (1999) suggested that teacher research is appropriate for foreign language teachers because of its emphasis on teachers' perspectives that have seldom been portrayed by other types of research.

The Beginning Hebrew Foreign Language Class Curriculum

This particular class can be defined as a whole-language foreign language Hebrew class in which the use of Ll was encouraged, when needed, through translation and codeswitching (for more information, see Schwarzer & Luke, 2001). In this Hebrew foreign language class, 1 decided to use block letters (parallel to print letters in English) instead of the more commonly accepted script (parallel to cursive in English) in my dialogue journal entries. This practice is very common among early childhood teachers. This idiosyncratic decision was based on the students' need to grasp two new alphabet systems within the first weeks of class (block and script letters). However, since the environmental print in the class (textbook, signs, children's literature, etc.) were written in block letters, I decided to use, for the first semester, mostly block letters for the dialogue journal entries in order to facilitate written communication. During the sec ond semester of class, script was introduced to the class. 1 kept using the block letters in my entries until students began using script letters in their own entries first.

As stated before, this was an idiosyncratic decision disclosed here only to explain the usage of block letters in the teacher and students' entries. It is beyond the scope of this study to either recommend or not such a decision in beginning-level Hebrew foreign language classes.

Use of L1 in the Foreign Language Class

Translation

In some foreign language classes, translation is still one of the preferred methods of instruction (Omaggio Hadley, 2001). …