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Watching video in the language classroom.


This paper presents the findings from a pilot study conducted within a one-year period prior to a larger study of the effectiveness of group video viewing in a video-driven comprehension-based foreign language curriculum. The purpose of the pilot study was to examine (1) student behaviors during video viewing, (2) perceptions of and attitudes toward L2 video materials, (3) reactions to specific types of viewing guides, and (4) ability to write immediate recall protocols of the video episodes in L1.


Cognitive models present learning as a process in which learners consciously select and organize information (Harrington, 2002); a more recent, sociocultural approach, places L2 acquisition in a context of social practices (Warschauer, 1997; Lantolf, 2002; Savignon & Sysoyev, 2002). In the last three decades, researchers and practitioners in the field have begun exploring broader contexts of L2 learning (Kaplan, 2002), including classroom activities, which may aid in preparing students who can understand and be understood in a second language, can use that language in real life situations and are sensitive to the culture(s) where that language is spoken. The move toward communicative, or proficiency-based instruction, revives the concern for teaching the receptive skills of listening and reading in an L2 curriculum (Bacon, 1992; Iskold, 2002). Lending support to receptive skill development are studies showing that adults spend 40 to 50 percent of their time listening and 11 to 16 percent of their time reading (Rivers, 1975). Omaggio Hadley (1993) hypothesizes that in the age of heavy media saturation the percentages for listening will probably become even higher.

At the same time, in today's society more than at any previous time, young people are learning to use media increasingly as a source of information about the world in which they live. Learning to listen, to understand, to assimilate, and to evaluate what one hears through media sources is therefore an important aspect of using our L1. Similarly, the ability to listen and to understand is an important goal in learning of L2, which explains the professions' interest in authentic video materials. The decision to use video presents several problems and questions to the classroom teacher. However, very few research data are available concerning which tasks and activities help L2 learners comprehend a message (Herron, 1994; Herron, Hanley, & Cole, 1995; Thompson & Rubin, 1996) and make "video viewing experience more profitable for students" (Herron, 1994, p. 196). Herron (1994) points out that many teachers simply turn on the video and hope for the best. These instructors argue that the absence of teacher intervention approximates what the learner explores in the real world. Thus, faculty may need guidance on how to facilitate authentic language and culture learning in the classroom (Iskold, 2003).

Purpose of the Study

How do students develop listening skills by using video materials? Do they learn best by mere "exposure to large amounts of comprehensible input" (Kxashen, 1985, p. 32), or should teachers assist students in comprehending a videotext? Is the passive, "non-interrupted" condition of video viewing in the classroom (VanPatten et al., 2001) adequate for student comprehension of a videotext, or should instructors help students focus on specific details of video-based input? Do some listening tasks work better than others? Which ones leave students with higher levels of comprehension? The research in this project attempts to identify some of these procedures and activities.


The study was conducted at Muhlenberg College, a liberal arts institution in Pennsylvania with a total population of 1,800 students. The college maintains a foreign language requirement and offers six modern languages. Spanish dominates language instruction, accounting for 70% of all language enrollments. From the eleven sections of Intermediate Level I Spanish the researcher randomly selected four intact sections for the pilot study. The researcher carefully examined student backgrounds, as well as the composition of the groups with regard to gender, age, and prior experience in Spanish. The selected sections participated in the pilot study during regular classroom time. All students agreed to participate in the study by signing an Informed Consent Form (a copy of the form may be obtained from this researcher).

Classroom Procedures and Materials

At the college, all L2 classes meet four times a week in class periods of fifty minutes. All courses were based on "Destinos" and followed the same sequence of instruction: on Day One students perform pre-listening activities, after which they view a video episode together in class. A sample syllabus may be obtained from this researcher. Published for the first time in 1992, "Destinos" dominated the market for over ten years and, according to McGraw-Hill, was used in 2002 as the primary text for Spanish by 400 undergraduate schools nationwide. The textbook and the workbook are coordinated with fifty-two half-hour episodes that adopt the form of a soap opera. The course includes an audiocassette, a student handbook, a software package featuring vocabulary and grammar, a CD-ROM program, a test bank, and a video/audio script for teachers. While the authors provide pre- and post-listening activities, it is recommended that students watch each video episode from beginning to end without interruption.

Pilot Studies

The researcher conducted informal pilot studies under the auspices of Grant # 34867 from the Mellon Foundation (additional information regarding the grant may be obtained from this researcher). She examined student behavior during video viewing, student reaction to specific types of viewing guides, and student ability to write immediate recall protocols.

Class observations As part of the pilot studies, the researcher attended eight class periods and conducted preliminary observations of student behavior in two Intermediate Spanish Level I classrooms. The observations included student focus of attention during video viewing, reactions to teacher intervention, and immediate oral responses to comprehension questions. As recommended by the authors of the package (VanPatten et al., 2001), a colleague was showing video episodes in their entirety without interruptions. Most students in her class did not appear interested in video viewing and at times were not looking at the screen, even doing things unrelated to the course. In contrast, the other colleague paused the videotape 6-10 times during one episode, asked questions, and provided explanations when students demonstrated lack of comprehension. Students in his class appeared forced to watch the video episodes more carefully in order to answer the teacher's questions. Preliminary classroom observation indicated that in the teacher-guided viewing condition, students seemed to stay more focused on the video episode.

Student interviews Following classroom observations, the researcher conducted structured interviews with 12 randomly selected students from two groups. The purpose of the interviews was to explore student perceptions of and attitudes toward video viewing. As a method of conducting a survey, the interview is effective because it provides opportunities for in-depth probing, elaboration, and clarification of items (Wiersma, 1999). Student interviews included 22 questions. All participants were asked the same questions, presented in the same sequence and stated in complete question form. Of the 22 interview questions, 10 were selected response items and 12 were open-ended questions. Each interview took 8 to 10 minutes. All interviews were recorded on audiotape and transcribed. The researcher conducted a qualitative analysis of the interviews. Findings from the interviews indicated that for the majority of students it is difficult to understand the video episodes. Therefore, the researcher concluded that Intermediate Spanish Level I students may benefit from guidance and support during video viewing. These findings assisted the researcher in identifying the areas of potential difficulty for comprehension of a videotext. The data from the interviews were used in the development of viewing guides and the design of teacher intervention for the formal experimental research.

Student surveys 67 students enrolled in three sections of Intermediate Spanish Level I were invited to complete a survey on "Destinos." The purpose of the survey was to explore student attitudes toward and opinions about "Destinos." The participants responded to 15 selected-response survey items by checking a point on a five-point Likert scale. (A sample survey for the pilot study may be obtained from this researcher). A qualitative analysis of student self-reports indicated that they are not always attentive during video demonstrations, frequently miss important details in the video episodes, and almost never take notes during video viewing. However, the majority of respondents feel that understanding the video episodes is important for success on subsequent tests and quizzes, as well as for learning the Spanish language. The pilot surveys assisted the researcher in developing a better understanding of student video viewing habits. The researcher used data from this study to construct the exit survey for the formal investigation.

Viewing guides The researcher studied the effects of different viewing guide formats on student perception of success during viewing. The purpose of this pilot study was to identify the best listening task format and the optimal number of items for inclusion in viewing guides. Two viewing guides developed for this study included both skimming (getting the gist) and scanning (listening for specific details) listening tasks which students were required to perform during video viewing. Both viewing guides for this pilot study had the same sections: main ideas (places, characters, events; cultural similarities/differences) and details (vocabulary, grammatical structures, idioms). However, the guides varied in task formats (fill-in-the-blank versus multiple choice) and the total number of items included in each viewing guide. Further, students were asked to describe in a brief statement their feelings of success or failure in comprehension using each type of viewing guide. Comments offered by students were used by this researcher to conclude the following: (1) multiple choice items work best for the viewing guides; (2) students are able to process approximately 20 items during viewing without being distracted; (3) in order to increase the readability level, the viewing guide format should be changed from 8 1/2" x 11" to 11" x 14", and the font size should be changed from 12 point to 14 point.

Recall protocols Students completed a recall protocol of a randomly selected "Destinos" video episode. This study provided insight regarding the amount of time intermediate-level Spanish students may need to complete in English a recall protocol of a 30-minute video episode and the number of items they may recall immediately after video viewing. Student recall protocols were analyzed qualitatively. It was determined that students will need 15-20 minutes to complete a recall protocol. Findings from this study were used in the design of the recall protocol scoring instrument for the formal investigation.

Conclusion and Implications

The pilot study conducted by this researcher suggests the need for a formal investigation of the effectiveness of group video viewing in a comprehension-based video-driven curriculum. Classroom observations helped this researcher in analyzing student habits of classroom video viewing. Student answers to interview questions assisted in identifying their areas of difficulty with comprehension. Responses to the survey questions provided a framework for constructing items used in the formal study. The results from classroom observations and student answers to interview questions were used for constructing listening tasks and viewing guides. Student pilot recall protocols aided in clarifying the recall protocol procedures for the formal study.

The preliminary findings corroborate those of Thompson and Rubin (1996) who advocate the need for guiding students through video viewing by providing viewing guides and listening tasks which assist learners in focusing on key aspects of the videotext and lead to higher levels of its comprehension and retention. Because this pilot study deals with some of the major variables in L2 research, including video comprehension, sequenced authentic video materials, listening tasks, viewing guides, and the role of the teacher during video viewing, it provides valuable insight for language teachers, researchers, and instructional designers interested in language pedagogy.

Definition of Terms

Authentic video is produced by and intended for native speakers (Richardson, 1989). According to Geddes and White (1978), (1) unmodified discourse occurs originally as a genuine act of communication, and (2) simulated authentic discourse is produced for pedagogical purposes and exhibits features of genuine acts of communication (p. 137). "Destinos" episodes are treated by this researcher as simulated authentic discourse because all actors and actresses are native-speakers and events take place in the countries where the target language is spoken. According to VanPatten et al. (2001), all of the participants were given the scripts and asked to learn them, but were not required to deliver the lines with one hundred percent accuracy, and "deviations from the script were accepted" (p. 13).

Communicative competence consists of four major components: (1) grammatical competence, (2) sociolinguistic competence, (3) discourse competence, and (4) strategic competence (Canale & Swain, 1985).

Comprehension-based approaches advocate a pre-speaking, "silent period" and view listening as the foundational skill for all language development (Omaggio Hadley, 1993).

Exposure-only condition is non-interrupted viewing of video episode in a video-driven course. "Exposure to massive amounts of comprehensible input" is the primary method of language teaching in comprehension-based approaches to language teaching postulated by Krashen (1985). This method of video viewing is also recommended by VanPatten et al. (2001), the authors of "Destinos."

Foreign language and the terms "second language," "target language," and "language" are all used interchangeably "to refer to languages other than English taught as an academic subject" (Standards for Foreign Language Learning, 1996, p. 23). L1 is the native language. L2 is the second language.

Immediate recall protocol is a reading/listening comprehension measures in which learners write down, from memory, what they recall after hearing/reading a text (Lund, 1991). In this study, the term indicates a listening comprehension measure in which listeners write down, from memory, what they recall after viewing a video episode.

Intermediate Spanish Level I is a third-semester Spanish language course at an undergraduate college with a two-semester L2 requirement.

Teacher-guided condition is teacher intervention during video viewing which is intended to increase student comprehension of a videotext.

Video-driven course is an organization of instructional materials in which "most of the content of the print materials is related to the content of the video episodes, and ... it is necessary for students to follow along with the basic elements of plot and character development" (VanPatten et al., 2001, p. 17).

Videotext is the term coined by Joiner (1990) and currently used in foreign language listening/viewing comprehension research. It is intended "to focus attention on the fact that ... a television program is actually deserving the label text as is a written document," (p. 53). Thus television and video should be treated by researchers and practitioners as texts that are "no less complex than a written text" (p. 54).

Viewing guide is a device incorporating low-production tasks which has the purpose of increasing listening comprehension of a videotext (Joiner, 1990).


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Iskold, Ed.D., is assistant professor of Russian and director of the Language Learning Center at Muhlenberg College, Pa. Her research and publications focus on effective uses of technology for the study of languages and cultures.
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Author:Iskold, Luba V.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Date:Sep 22, 2004
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