Thank you so much for sharing your methods with our class this past Monday. I found your visit inspiring and motivating, and I’m sure it’s not just me. I have spent this week reflecting quite a lot on what I learned from you and what kind of teacher I’d like to be.
Though there are many languages I’m eager to discover, German has never been one. Yet as a beginning German student, I found myself drawn in and very eager to keep learning! Our class readings have emphasized the importance of narrative form and emotional investment for connecting students to the lessons and helping them create meaning. Although I trust the research, I have to confess that I thought this was a bit unimpressive. However, it really only took the briefest experience as your student for me to see otherwise. I’m grateful for the opportunity you gave us to sit on the other side of the desk and try being beginners again.
The only doubt I have about circling, comprehensive input, and the other elements of what you’ve showed us is how to preserve the joy and excitement I picked up from you until I’m able to start practicing and improving these skills in my classroom. Naturally, not all teachers have the gifts that you have, so I’m concerned about being tempted back into the old boring methods of language teaching. Still, I know I will remember your lessons for a very long time!
I would love to see you at work teaching Spanish, which is the language I’ll also be teaching. Your classroom sounds like it must be crazy and fun. I look forward to seeing you in action again.
Thank you so much,
Some people believe that language learning has to be hard. That success depends on the learner’s grit and stick-to-it-tive-ness and many even go so far as to create a space in which students are intentionally exposed to ambiguous language and frustration. The thought is that they have to get used to not understanding everything. If you’re in a month-long camp in the woods with no escape, you can afford a bit of frustration. But not if your job and the jobs of your colleagues depend on enrollment in an elective course, or if your goal is to create a more tolerant, more culturally competent, more multilingual America.
Personally, I think that’s a great way to make sure that some kids get it and others don’t. Why would we CHOOSE to build inequity into the fabric of a class? If that were the only way to do it, that’d be one thing. But it’s not. And I can say that because I used to teach with that same idea in mind.
“E.” hits the hammer on the head. As a person who had NO INTEREST in learning German, she was “drawn in” and wanted to continue! This harkens to other case studies and anecdotes (like this one) that suggest that when the language is understandable and compelling to the learner, they acquire whether they want to or not. That is a MAJOR secret weapon. That’s how we can begin to bring an entire GENERATION of Americans to know and believe that they are natural-born language learners.
So, what’s compelling? That depends on your context and your audience. But for beginners, I’d wager that it almost ALWAYS will revolve around the individuals who are in your classroom in front of you RIGHT NOW. This applies, in particular, to adolescents who are developmentally completely obsessed with trying to establish their own identity and determine where they stand in relation to their peers. That’s why talking with students about students is such a powerful way to deliver meaningful, understandable, interesting input.
When you talk WITH students instead of AT students, and the topic IS the student and not the teacher’s agenda, you’ll be surprised to find that kids actually do WANT to engage. And later you’ll see that they retain more of what they hear with less effort.
And when that starts to happen, we can set about creating a scaffolded environment that allows them to engage at their level and challenges them to reach higher.