I used to tell people that I was a language teacher. But I no longer think of myself that way. My shift started in earnest this year when I was challenged, via the #langchat PLN, to let go of my vocabulary list. Let go of the list? It’s safe to say that while I still have a set of vocabulary to use as a basis for common interaction, I have opened up my mind to the idea that it is now just a “start” for students. It is, however, in no way what will be key for each student, and what they will know, at the end of the unit. That I now know is up to what they, as individuals, need.
What it also means is opening up to the idea that students should have what they need now — to use now. You may know what I’m talking about if you get the following scenario. Student: “How do I say___?”. Teacher thinks – “ah, that uses the (fill in grammatical concept) but I usually don’t cover that until grade X.” and says “well you could say it like this __(using either incomplete or more basic language)”. Sound familiar? I’ll admit it does for me. Or it did.
When I loosened up on the”list” I also had to loosen up on the idea that there was an order to “teach” the language. Rather the idea of leaving the list is, for me, also making the realization that we don’t “teach” a language, but rather that we “facilitate the use of” one. Yes we may cover something more in depth later on but now I also give the information, gasp, when it’s needed by the student not when I deem it appropriate. Big leap of faith needed on my part. I had to trust that a student is asking for it because they want/need to use it now (not next semester). Believe that the world won’t end because I hadn’t fully ‘taught’ the concept yet. Be surprised when they actually use what you gave, and correctly, in interacting.
A perfect example for me is my Yr2 class. 30 enthusiastic students keen to interact. Believe it or not but it takes a whole second form of the verb in Japanese to say “I like to do something.” Traditionally then students don’t learn to express this until Yr3. But my grade 10s were asking for it now, and suddenly I thought it weird that I would not provide it. So I gave them the words they needed, in the form they needed. No great big explanations, no “be careful not to’s”, just gave it. And what happened? Shockingly they used it appropriately, in their spoken interaction and written work. If a classmate didn’t understand they used their communication skills to get the meaning across. Yes, we will revisit the concept in Yr3 but then it will be more of a case of “ah, that’s why we say it like that.” and less of a case of “why are we learning this?”
I want to reiterate that I still have a “list”. But now it is a starting point for learning and not the only words a student is confined to. More importantly my students have a teacher who now is more focused on my students using the language -all of language when and how they need it – rather than learning it. More to come!