In TPRS we are taught to target 3 to 5 language chunks during a particular period of time. I’ve always done it this way. But I’ve always noted that sticking to just three has kept me from really paying attention to my students and responding to their comments, interests and topic choices. For example, I may be targeting a structure in class when I learn that something big is happening in the lives of one of my students. This happens all the time!

  • Owen, an 8th grader, finished in the top five of his high school regional cross country ski meet.
  • These two girls went to the Taylor Swift concert last night and that’s all they can think about.
  • Carley is moving to a new house and will miss school tomorrow to pack.
  • Five students in this class visited a college campus with their AVID crew yesterday.
  • Joe wore a new t-shirt with flying cats, rainbows and unicorns and he’s just dying to have someone notice it (and him!?).

These are events that contribute to forming the identities of our students. They are what set their moods. They often are determining factors in students’ abilities to focus and be attentive during class. This is their life. To acknowledge each and every meaningful event in our students’ lives would be impossible. But to ignore them completely would quickly and efficiently send the message to all students that their lives are not being considered in my efforts to teach them.

That’s why I am always, ALWAYS open to following a thread of interest that has to do with my students’ lives in class, whether it aligns or not with the structures I’m “supposed to teach”. I am weaving threads to bond the community of learners who are with me in that moment. They have to know that THEY are the reason I’m teaching.

To that end, I love Parker Palmer’s quotation from The Courage to Teach:

Good teachers join self, subject, and students in the fabric of life … they manifest in their own lives, and evoke in their students, a “capacity for connectedness.” They are able to weave a complex web of connections between themselves, their subjects, and their students, so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.

Ben Slavic said it well on his online PLC on June 14:

In today’s world, with the unfathomable tragedies that are unfolding on scales both large and small, with today’s lack of connection, do we not want to nurture these future adults-in-charge with community, acceptance, and compassion, weaving a protective web, maybe, around their hearts going forward, maybe, into a brighter future? It seems worth a try, at least, to put radical acceptance of students at the front of our teaching. And let the language serve our humanity instead of the other way around.

Let Language Serve Humanity
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4 thoughts on “Let Language Serve Humanity

  • June 22, 2016 at 7:51 pm

    I too got the chills when I read Ben’s quote containing, “Let language serve humanity….”
    With so many competing interests and demands on teachers, it’s easy to lose the very inspiration that brought us to the classroom in the first place, and succumb to a TO DO list of structures, activities, and documentation. But as Ben commented on your video, we are there to weave a community. You remind us of that through your artful instruction!

  • July 6, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Right on! We teach PEOPLE, first. Subject matter is important, yes, but it is critical, especially in a language learning environment, to acknowledge, validate, and value each participant. This helps us all achieve more through the language, use it as it was intended–to connect us to one another as human beings. Those connections are far more meaningful and valuable than any other item on the lesson plan or agenda for the day.

  • September 18, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Grant you are the master at this. I think of you in the back of my mind every time the students and I talk about them and their lives, their interests. You showed me a vision of how student-centered the classroom can be, last fall, and changed my whole career! Your videos inspired me to switch my focus from language to the students. Thank you for this beautiful writing.

  • September 19, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    Grant, that Parker Palmer quote is the one that I start my biography off with on my website. Such deep truth. Thank you for sharing his words and for showing how teaching is about the people and the relationships.

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