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.
In all the chaos that was my last two years, one of the most profound lessons I learned was the importance of structure. I know there are teachers out there who can plan a lesson on a sticky note and go forth to deliver an amazingly engaging and effective lesson (my supervising teacher during my student teaching was a Comprehensible Input magician). But....
As much as I would like to say that I can walk into a lesson and deliver rich and comprehensible Spanish at the i+1 level while compelling every one of my students to becoming engaged and intently listening, I simply don't have that level of wizardry. Sure, I can wing it with a basic idea of what we're going to be doing and the resources I need, but I often end up frustrated with the amount of CI I was actually able to provide between trying to organize my own thoughts as well as the behaviors of all of my students. It wasn't until I was working at three different schools operating on three different types of rotating block schedules with vastly different students that I realized how much I needed a consistent structure I could count on. It was up to me to put any semblance of consistency back into my life.
Of course, structure isn't only for the teacher. I have a fairly high degree of control over my life - within the boundaries of the "must do's", I get to choose where I'm going to spend my free time, who I will spend it with, when and what I'm going to eat. I have the luxury of choosing who I live with and what is going on in my house. As a professional, I even get to choose how to spend the vast majority of my work day. (Disclaimer: I don't have kids and I realize that affords me a lot more control and luxury than those who do, but even so, as adults we generally have the ability to make decisions that guide our day-to-day and long term activities).
However, students don't have that kind of control over their lives, and many of them are living in chaos. Adults are telling them where to go, what to do, how to do it, and who to do it with, usually on their own schedules and kids have to adjust. They have limited control over the people they spend their time with; even the friends they choose are limited to the community they are in and who will accept them. I would argue that the vast majority of our students have to adjust their lives significantly and without much warning around the lives of the adults and peers in their world. Not to mention the inner chaos - oftentimes, they don't even know why they feel the way they do or when the're going to feel that way! Despite what the movies tell us, I don't know anyone who yearns to return to the "best years of our lives" teenagers. All of this is exponentially more critical for students who live in chaotic, unstable, abusive, and/or poverty-stricken homes - and for the majority of us this is something we must recognize for a large proportion of our students.
While following the same structure each week may seem mundane, especially if you are repeating it many times throughout the day, contextualizing our class within the lives of our students provides a pretty compelling reason to do it for the kids if not for yourself (in my humble opinion).
It's a win-win-win. It's a win for teachers because it cuts down on decision making both in preparation and execution of lessons. You know what the outline looks like and have a menu of things to put in each box - simply select what fits best given your current needs! It's a win for students because they are able to come confident to class knowing what is expected of them and there is a sense of security, predictability, and flow - if just for fifty minutes five days each week. And it's a win for Comprehensible Input because it provides a predictable context to scaffold input and make it even more comprehensible. Transitions, instructions, and directives are easy to give in the target language when the students are already functioning in a familiar and predictable setting.
So, here is my weekly outline for 2018-2019 that provides me enough flexibility within predictability to select the contexts and activities in which I will provide CI and engaging learning experiences. Of course, there are certain times when this will go out the window - I have two weeks set aside each trimester for special culture-specific activities (Day of the Dead, La Navidad, etc.) as well as two weeks set aside for midterm/final reviews and assessments. However, for the remaining "regular units" at all levels can fit into this outline, making lesson planning a breeze. All I have to do is plug and play!
Do you think a predictable weekly structure is/would be beneficial for your students? What would it look like? I'd love to hear your thoughts!
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