Unless you are a team of 1, world language programs most often have members who are completely gung ho about target language teaching, but still have members who don't yet get it or who don't believe in it. Some of those folks will even try to sabotage their TLT team mates or at least their efforts. I have seen that happen too many times. From the educator's point of view, sometimes it becomes more important to self protect by undermining anyone's efforts to embrace target language teaching because IF it works, what will that say about those who don't teach that way? While this is all real and true, THIS is not the main focus of my post today. Today, I want to talk about Trust.
In my BTS post I mentioned my 2016 professional goal was increasing TL use in my classroom. It is part of my professional evaluation this year. What I didn't tell you is that our evaluation system is set up in such a way that we have to also write out benchmarks towards that goal, and we have to meet with our evaluators to discuss those goals and the paths towards them. This week I formally submitted my goal, and that process opened my eyes to some of the things I have been doing with my students that I didn't really realize I was doing because when I started making my initial plans for easing my students back into the language learning setting, I wasn't really thinking about building trust, but that is exactly what I have been doing.
When TLT is Fails
Before diving into the HOW of my trust building efforts, let me start by discussing something else entirely: How target language teaching goes so very wrong. I remember when I first started hearing about teaching in the target language 90% of the time. My district WL coordinator at the time told me about this, and quite frankly I thought she was a little crazy. Keep in mind, for me this was before I knew ACTFL existed, before I knew about anything I know now. When she told me about teaching in the target language, I was confused as all crap. How was I going to teach preterite vs. imperfect, conjugation, por vs. para, and so many other vital concepts while speaking Spanish? I wish I could say I am being sarcastic, but I am not. This flipped my wig, and I couldn't wrap my mind around how I could possibly speak Spanish and still accomplish what I was supposed to. I was lost at the thought of it, so I let it go.
Other teachers, when told they should be teaching in the target language, interpreted it differently. They read this as an invitation to let the target language fly and let it lay waste to whichever students stood in its way. They spoke Spanish like crazy, and when their students or their parents complained those teachers made excuses for it by saying their bosses told them to do it, or explained that if students would just do X it would all eventually make sense.
Recently, I had my students do a vocabulary practice cloze passage. They had to take vocabulary from a word bank that had been taught via CI and complete sentences in context. One young lady, let's call her Beth, earned a 30% on her assignment. She was the only one in the class to fail the activity. Not wanting her to feel like this failure wasn't important to me, or that she wasn't important to me, I called her up to my desk and asked her to talk to me about her work. I asked, "Hey chica, will you tell me what about this gave you trouble? I just want to know how to help you." During that conversation I learned that her previous teacher spoke the language in class, but didn't do the things I do to make sure students understand it. This made me curious, so I asked, "What things do I do that are different than what you experienced before?" First she said, "You speak a lot more Spanish than my other teacher, but that's good. It really helps. I really think it helps." She then went on to mention that I use gestures, writing, acting things out, restating or repeating, facial expressions, explaining in simpler ways, and making the class respond with gestures that they understand or not before moving on. Finally, she shared with me, "My teacher spoke Spanish, but didn't do these things. He/She would keep going, but I never understood what was said before, so..." and I finished the thought with her, "...things just snowballed?" She said yes. Let me say this as a disclaimer. I don't know who her teacher was or where she took Spanish last year. I didn't ask. That information was important to me. What was important was figuring out how to get this student, this year, to trust ME and trust the process. The good news is that we were smiling and laughing together by the end of the conversation, and she told me she knew I just wanted her to be successful. #winning
Building Trust and TLT
Target language teaching doesn't work if the learners don't trust us.
Target language teaching doesn't work if the learners don't trust the process.
Our kids have to know that their progress and success MATTER. They then have to know that the process works. It isn't like anything else they experience the rest of their school day. What they have to do to really succeed in our classrooms is so different than what they have to do in their other courses because they don't have to attend as much. Their brains have to work so much harder in our classes than in any others. Sorry Math, Science, English, History, but it is TRUE. If you happen to be a teacher of another subject and feel offended right now, try teaching your subject in another language, but with the expectation that your students learn Spanish AND Math at the same time. #micdrop #justsayin #stillloveyou
How do we do both of those things, build their trust in us and the process? My initial answer is, it isn't all about comprehensible input either.
First, students have to see they matter as people, and sometimes teaching in the target language can get in the way of relationship building because how do you make THAT comprehensible input??? How can we show them that they and their success matter to us more than anything? I believe in taking a few days out at the beginning of the year, and maybe even intermittently throughout the year for team building in which I participate, too. Some would say that they need target language from day one, so I decided this year to define what "day one" was. I said, wrote on the board, and calendared "Day One" and marketed it like my opening day of instruction. During team building time I made sure to connect what we were doing to how instruction would be when I started teaching in Spanish full time. I used my ice breakers, my trust activities, reflection questions, etc. as models for what life would be like after Spanish became the dominate language. I also took that time to really embed the use of non-verbal responses as the norm for my class. This was particularly important to me after all the struggles I had last year with non-responsive learners. If you want to know more about those experiences and how I responded to them you can read this post and this post. I cannot tell you yet how the team building I did this year has impacted the classes i have, the relationships they have with each other, or how they really feel about me, yet, but it is early, and as soon as I do I will share it here.
Another thing I am pushing myself to do is leave comments on my students' work even if I don't grade it. My goal is that I want them to know I saw it and really considered it even if I didn't evaluate it. I started this habit with the reflection questions I asked them to answer during those team building activities. I collected their reflections, read them all, and took the time to write comments on each of their papers. Those comments were often in the form of hashtags, so this means they might have been one word or phrase. Who cares? Even a hashtag is validation. (If I am being truthful now, you must know I just took 10 minutes out of writing this blog post to find emoji stickers or stamps to use in the same way. Yes, I found them AND ordered them. I will post the link at the end of this post because we have to get back to business.)
A really important part of building my students' trust in me and the process of target language teaching is to pair training them about what I am doing with giving them opportunities to see their progress and success doing it. I try really hard to use that 10% of my teaching time not dedicated to TL to explain what we are about to do and why we need to do it that way. By their high school years students have become skilled evaluators of what good teaching looks like, and I know that some of what I am going to need from them is new. I want them to understand the what and why so they will be more willing to commit to whatever I ask. Over time I don't have to do this as much, but this training component is hugely important for level 1, and is still really important at the beginning of the year for other levels. Last year, I forgot that, and it bit me in the tail. Ouch! The second part of the equation I presented earlier is an area of growth for me. I need to be better about the progress part. I get so caught up in TLT that I forget to find daily opportunities to prove their learning. Yes, I do formative assessment, but my reality is that I must have daily grades in the grade book. I am working on figuring out what those look like, and more importantly differentiating between processing activities needed for learning, true formative assessment which is proof of learning, but shouldn't be graded, and mini-assessments that are appropriate for daily grades. The main point of all of this talk about grades is this: students need to see proof they are learning in a TLT environment, and they need to see that proof frequently.
I think the hardest job I have is to rewire their brains about not being right or perfect. My school is hugely academic and very competitive. Students don't like showing their peers they don't know or they can't do something perfectly the first time they are asked. I am working very hard to demonstrate to my students that none of that matters in my class. When I do comprehension checks, circling questions, and other direct teach activities, I try really hard to take the awkward moments and soften them by letting my students know I am not judging them if they don't know or don't understand. I tell them in my class I need to know when they don't know something so I can respond with necessary input or instruction. I want them to know that sometimes I don't have preconceived expectations of their knowledge or skill, but I have to find a common baseline of knowledge, skill and understanding so I know where to start to build them up and push them further. If you haven't seen my previous post, the daily driving question is my attempt at establishing that baseline so all my students are starting from the same launching point each day.
Finally, in order to build their trust as I teach them in the target language, I need to know how I am doing, and I need to make their feedback to me a regular thing. Last week, I got them all set up on Google Classroom and Remind. One of their first GC assignments was to respond to a "How Am I Doing?" survey in which I asked them questions like:
- How well am I doing at making instructions clear?
- How well am I making the Spanish I speak understandable?
- How well am I doing at involving you in the class?
- How well am I doing at giving you plenty of thinking time before answering questions?
Target language teaching is so much more than just speaking the TL to our students. It is really an art form, or should be considered that way. In fact, the least of the factors in TLT may be the language use, or at least one of the easier things to contend with, and it isn't easy! It takes a lot of time, practice and deep tool boxes full of strategies to make it great! I know lots of amazing WL teachers out there that I consider TL masters who continually tell me they want to be better at TLT. I also know that there are people out there reading this blog who feel very confident about TLT, so they may not learn anything new in this post except maybe this: teachers new to TLT aren't always in need of how to teach using TL. Their issues may be some of the other things I have mentioned above. Everywhere I go I have teachers ask me how I handle students who resist my using the language or resist when I ask them to use the language. The truth is, while I DO NOT think I am a TLT master, I don't have many of those problems. If I do, it is usually one student. The reason those issues occur so rarely for me is not because I am such an amazing TL teacher, but is because of all the trust building I try to do to make target language teaching POSSIBLE.
Happy Saturday and...
Happy Coaching, Friends!