HOTandSlow 1

HOT and Slow!
by Carol Gaab


Historically, language classes have not been fair or equitable in terms of servicing ALL students. As a profession, we have perpetually discriminated against slow processors, average students and those who are not college bound– or in our perception, not college material. The evidence is in attrition rates and enrollment.  How many ‘average’ students do you see in AP classes or in upper level classes? How many ‘average’ students take a language class as an elective? How many schools have a language requirement for college-bound students only?

The question should not be whether or not our bias is intentional or conscious; the question should be, “How can we eliminate it?” How can we equitably provide all learners with the opportunity to become proficient in another language? First, all learners should have the option to enroll in a language class. Second, that language class has to be CI-driven and learner-centered. Learner-centered means that the focus is on learners, NOT on the curriculum, grades, or test scores.

Universally, there is one thing that every language teacher can do to help ALL learners, and that is the topic of this month’s ‘Tuesday Tip’… SLOW DOWN! Slowing down means doing more than speaking slowly, which can often come off as patronizing. Check out @FluencyMatters on Instagram for techniques for slowing your rate of speech in a natural and engaging way. Read on to learn how HOT questions naturally slow down the pace of questioning and simultaneously require ALL students to think before they speak.

HOT questions can be easily comprehended by novice-level learners, but not easily or immediately answered. HOT questions require a certain amount of thought and consideration, unlike comprehension questions, which are typical of the language classroom. Comprehension questions require a right or wrong answer and generally require very little thought. “CI teachers” often ask PQs (personalized questions) as well, and although they are more engaging than comprehension questions, neither requires a great deal of thought in order to answer.  These types of questions set ‘fast processors’ up to win the race to answer a question and ‘slow processors’ on a course of frustration, as their processing time is continually interrupted.

In addition to requiring thought and reflection in order to arrive at an answer, HOT questions also inspire students to continue processing alternative answers and possibilities even after an answer has been given. The result is sustained focus on a topic and continued discussion, allowing ALL learners to contribute to a discussion vs. a ‘race’ to see who is the first to give an answer.

The beauty of HOT questions is that there is no such thing as a wrong answer. Nobody enjoys being wrong, and humans generally do not engage in a conversation in which they are continuously at risk of being wrong. Nevertheless, language teachers have a habit of asking questions that require a right or wrong answer. If we want to engage learners in interpersonal communication, then we need to start asking questions that are interesting enough to answer, and that require a ‘thoughtful’ answer, not a ‘correct’ answer.

The following examples of HOT questions can be extended and applied to various communicative events in the L2 classroom:

Possible vs. Probable:
Possible = Something COULD happen/be true
Probable = Something is LIKELY to happen/be true.
When I pose possible vs. probable questions, I often have some text available so that learners have the scaffolding they need to support/give the rationale for their answers.

Based on ‘Brandon Brown Wants a Dog’ with most common answer* provided:
Possible vs. Probable: Brandon HAS a dog.
Why? It says, “Brandon WANTS a dog.”

TEACHER: “Interesting… Who in this class has a dog? … and who wants a (another) dog? What word would help us know if this is the case with Brandon? (a, the, another)

Possible vs. Probable: Brandon wants ANOTHER dog.
*Possible: Why? Because is says he wants A dog.

Possible vs. Probable: Brandon does not like small animals.
*Probable: He says, “Hamsters and rats are horrible.”

TEACHER: But what if he just does not like rodents (rats/hamsters)?
Discussion ensues…

Possible vs. Probable: Katie wants a cat.
*Possible: She has a rat. Cats eat rats, so it’s not likely that she wants a cat.

Possible vs. Probable: Based on the song lyrics L.O.V.E.
Love is all that I can give to you,
Love is more than just a game for two.
Two in love can make it;
Take my heart, but please don’t break it… 

Possible vs. Probable: The singer takes love seriously.
*Probable: Love is more than just a game

NOW YOU try… Find the phrase(s) from the lyrics that support your answer.
Possible vs. Probable: The singer does not have a lot of money.
Possible vs. Probable: He is afraid of love/relationships.
Possible vs. Probable: He has confidence in love.

INFERENCE: Based on conversation
“Bill is not here yet.”
Question: Is Bill coming? (How do you know? / Evidence in text/statement?)
Possible vs. Probable: Someone is waiting for Bill?
Possible vs. Probable: Someone is PATIENTLY waiting for Bill?

“Bill still is not here.”
Question: Is Bill coming? (How do you know? / Evidence or rationale?)
Possible vs. Probable: Someone is waiting for Bill?
Possible vs. Probable: Someone is PATIENTLY waiting for Bill?

LOGIC: Based on Brandon.
(Support your answer with evidence from the text.)

Does Brandon Brown’s house have electricity? (Yes, Brandon sees dogs on TV.)
Jake has a chihuahua. (No. He has a big dog.)
Brandon lives close to the park / Jake’s house. (Yes. He rides his bike there.)

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