Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
I've noticed I'm not much of a regular blogger. Rather, I tend to engage in "hot action" reflection (immediate reflection and adjustment in the moment) and application to future situations. However, there are those times when I MUST write something down. My "ah-hah" moments are just way to big to wrap my head around, and just too good not to share. This is one of those times.
I just finish the first week at my new schools. It's also the first week of the middle school program for the district, as there hasn't been one previously and I am the sole teacher responsible for rolling it out. For almost every student, it's their first time ever taking a Spanish class. And for me personally, it's the first time I'm doing a curriculum like this and the first time I've tried to teach the way that I've committed to teach this year. And it's not just one new thing - I changed nearly everything. To be honest, I almost felt like a first-year teacher in my first class ever.
AND IT COULDN'T HAVE GONE BETTER!!
I'm amazed. I'm floored. I can't believe this is so easy, and I can't believe what the kids are doing - with less than three hours of instruction. I feel like the heavens have opened and the bright twinkling lights and harmonious music of the heavens are shining down on me and my class, inspiring me and the students all at once to be amazing at teaching and learning Spanish and enjoying it. Even after just one week, I've received multiple messages from parents (and even been approached by the students themselves) telling me how much the kids are enjoying class and that they're impressed by what they're already learning retaining.
Ok, now that I've gotten the emotion out, let me back up and tell you exactly what led to this. It's like the perfect storm - of awesomeness in language teaching.
First, let's start with something very concrete. I finally went desk-less. I couldn't do this before since I also taught AP Psychology and frankly didn't have anywhere to put the desks that I already had. However, when I came to my new school, I ran going desk-less by my admin (both of them). I'm was sharing my rooms at both schools, but one was able to find me a new (albeit small) room and said he could take all of the tables out. I took him up on it. The other one said just to work it out with the other teacher (luckily it's for health/fitness, so I actually only share my room half of the time). Both were very supportive. And, with no status-quo or expectations for what the Spanish program would be like, it was the perfect opportunity to throw something new at students. Of course, being middle schoolers, they were very excited about this idea at open house (parents were intrigued as well). One quick kiddo asked, "So if there aren't any desks, will we be doing worksheets?" When I told him no, I got a full fist-pump with "YES!" Great way to build anticipation! I was a little bit nervous about classroom management, but after one week I can honestly say that the management has been better now that the desks are gone! Every student is facing me on the front row (my students are arranged in a circle, so there's only one row) with nothing in their hands or laps to distract them. They are all accountable. I'm moving around the room constantly - it's now my stage to work! I have instant and frequent proximity to every student. I see every student with a quick glance around the room, since no one can hide. And they can all see each other, so they are all part of the action, whether it's coming from me or from another student. It's AWESOME!
I have never been a traditional or grammar teacher. I literally don't know how to do it - I student taught in a TPRS classroom. I've always based my teaching in Comprehensible Input. Or at least, I thought I did. Ben stated that only about 1% of teachers are actually pure-CI teachers. Many more claim to be CI teachers, but espouse more of an "eclectic" approach. I instantly knew that this was me. In fact, I've even described myself as eclectic CI, but I have to admit there has been a lot of output in my classroom, often in the form that teachers might call "practice" (as in, not authentic). However, this does not align with what the research is. We need to focus on CI for acquisition, and only CI. Anything that is not CI is not facilitating language acquisition. Now, admittedly, there are times that I am teaching more than language. For instance, students also need to learn social skills and understand how others process information (achieved through cooperative learning) as well as build confidence using language (achieved through carefully designed output activities). Thus, I do not believe that these activities should be absent from our classrooms. What is important is that we recognize these "eclectic" approaches for what they are, and use them to intentionally teach what they are good for teaching - and usually it's something other than language acquisition. Then, we need to use them intentionally from time to time, but the majority of our instruction must be firmly grounded in Comprehensible Input. It is a language class, after all. I would rather not kid myself nor waste my time doing things that aren't achieving our goals. So, I walked away with a commitment to CI-only methodology and a burning curiosity to see the differences it would make in what my students achieve this year. With a brand new program and the green light from admin, what better opportunity could I possibly have to really see what pure-CI instruction could do? And, if the feelings expressed at the beginning of this post are any indication, I think the pure-CI methodology is here to stay.
Finally, the curriculum. First, I need to clarify what an "emergent structure" is. It lives somewhere between establishing language targets (meaningful structures that students are focused on learning) and non-targeted instruction (communicating in the language with no specific targets). Essentially, the targets "emerge" from the students and the class environment. Rather than establishing pre-planned targets, what the students want to say become the targets. The students themselves literally become the curriculum, and it's highly engaging as well as lowering stress because students are no longer focused on "learning" the language but rather creating meaning from it and acquiring it. The high-frequency words will emerge over and over again simply because they are that: high-frequency words. It's natural for them to emerge from any communication in the language. So, how did this work in my class?
First, I established a few key words that I would use to get kids going. This week, we started with "¿Cómo te llamas?" (What is your name) along with "me llamo" (My name is) and "se llama" (His/Her name is) in order to introduce ourselves. Later, when describing a character, we added "se siente" (he or she feels), "vive en" (He/She feels), "es" (She/he is), and "hay" (there is/are). This was all that I had planned along with some key CI-activities in this order:
Dr. Beniko Mason
Dr. Stephen Krashen
Dr. Krashen's Blog
Watch Tina Teach!
CI Liftoff - Facebook
iFLT - Facebook