What I learned this summer

Last school year was rough on the family front. You hold it together and you think that you’re finally making strides and getting some answers. Summer will help to reset it all. But then…

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So if there’s anything that I learned this summer, it’s that

life happens.

And it goes on. You do your best given the circumstances. So does everyone else.  Never assume. There’s much more than the face value. Everyone has a story but  you don’t necessarily need to know it. Just treat everyone like you would treat your best friend in crisis at all times. Accept the fact that you can have empathy but you will never understand. More on that in another post.

But that’s not the only thing that I learned this summer.

That online methods class that started in May had been  kicking my butt until last Saturday even though I had less time to dedicate to it and less brain power because a significant part of my brain was (still is) worried sick about my kid. On the upside, the same part of my brain was able to keep me awake until 1-2 am so I could finish yet another assignment.

These circumstances created a blended learning reality of a parent who went through an intensive self-taught course about her child’s illness and a teacher who sought formal training in applications of current research on language instruction in her classroom. If you don’t mind my personal story intertwined with my professional summer PD, I invite you to discover how the two learning scenarios intersect. In other words, how real-life learning of a parent fit in the framework of teaching languages. At first glance, they can’t be more different, but as you will see below, I was left with strikingly similar observations and takeaways. Just be aware that if you have never had to deal with a medical emergency or a similar crisis in your family, you may not fully understand my perspective. To me, my parental learning is not just as valuable as the professional kind; it made theory applicable.

If I had to choose one thing that I would change or implement in my teaching practice immediately, based on what I learned in my methods course, it would have to be better integration of 3 modes of communication.

Interpretive = Input, lots of it

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Some of the experts say that novices should regularly read longer texts (500+ words) so they can practice “reading between the lines”, not only answer basic who? / what? / where? / when? questions. I certainly had these questions in mind at the beginning but shortly thereafter, I was interested in more than the facts that were applicable to my child’s situation. Reading a variety of materials – from short scientific articles to books aimed at helping patients and their families overcome the illness, to personal essays on struggles in recovery – helped me get a really good understanding of what my child is up against. Visiting and seeing how others are affected by the same illness provided experiences that reinforced these lessons. I gained a completely different perspective on the illness itself, the patients, their families, and their struggles. I am not a Novice any more. I gained empathy and I can speak the language of the illness in order to communicate with professionals treating my child and to support my kid in recovery. Isn’t this our goal – to help our students use language to be able to communicate in culturally appropriate ways with people who use it on a daily basis?

Some of you might be tempted to attribute this success to the amount of input.  I must admit, it was a crucial step but it didn’t happen in isolation. I felt a strong need to process it somehow so I can make better sense of it. I realized that my personal interpretation of the text is just that – personal.

Interpersonal = Do I see what you see?

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Essentially, I engaged others in order to help me process what  I was reading through conversation and dialogue. It is at that point that I realized that many our conversations are based on some form of input of  something that we have read or viewed. As a teacher, I need to capitalize on this natural human need to process it together using these opportunities so my students can engage in meaningful interactions in target language about a text, a novel, a news broadcast, a film, a funny video. One caveat, these processing conversations rarely revolve around the “who / when / where / what”, more often than not they encompass opinions and personal interpretations referencing the source – just the thing we need to push our intermediates further along on the proficiency path.

Presentational = Use with a purpose in real scenarios

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If you asked me, I could easily do an unprepared oral presentation about my child’s illness or write an essay about it on the spot. I would make sure to include connections I made that go beyond factual information touching on community and global issues. Sounds like Advanced and beyond, right? However, I would not do any of it in a vacuum, just because. I need a purpose and an audience to chose my facts, arguments, approach, and means of presentation. Otherwise, why would I do it? Our students need that too – presentational task that evolves from something that has been learned, processed through discussion and used with a purpose. It’s not an easy task to find real opportunities for our students to present to an audience who speaks target language, but creating scenarios with these two aspects in mind – purpose and audience – will become a staple in my classroom.

Side observations: quick run down

Motivation is everything

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Context is important

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#RealLife

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My takeaway 

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Many of my colleagues are already back in the classroom or are putting finishing touches on their plans for the year. I am finally at a place where I can do the same with more focus. In the process, I will make sure to extend many of the activities that I do into another mode. As a consequence, I will need less resources but will end up with richer classroom with more natural interactions. Here’s the scenario that I plan on using more often with my students:

  • Get’em hooked and activate prior knowledge.
  • Let them read/view source and process it individually with structured teacher designed tasks.
  • Put them in pairs/trios/small groups to process together. Provide much needed expressions in TL that they can use in negotiation of meaning/opinion exchange.
  • Rotate groups and repeat as many times as I see fit.
  • Monitor discussions, offer feedback, process as a class at the end if needed.
  • Assign another task related to the source and discussion. It can be presentational or interpersonal. Just to practice, for feedback.

And right there, I got a mini IPA that can be done within a span of one or two class periods all based on ONE source that probably took me hours to find. I might as well use it to the fullest extent.

 

3 comments

  1. Hello neighbor,
    A fascinating weaving of these two situations. So eloquent and illuminating. And also, sending you a hug.
    See you soon…

    Like

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