This perfection thing won't get out of my head. It's like a bad song that keeps playing over and over again.
Because this topic seems to resonate with educators out there, I keep getting messages and comments encouraging me for sharing, and those messages reminded me of something else one of those honor students said to me a few weeks ago. She said,
"I know we should, but we don't have time to really learn anything."
This statement just kills me, especially because I remember a time when I was that teacher who would fall over the deep end and hand my student lists with dozens and dozens of vocabulary or verbs to memorize. I would then design assessments that would target the most irregular or obscure items on those lists thinking that I was doing them a favor by forcing them to learn the hardest content and allowing for the easier content to take care of itself. I took points off for missing accents, spelling errors, and not using the word I would in a given context. ME, I did that. So, today a question that is plaguing me is, what does it mean to learn in the language classroom?
One of the tenets of our beloved ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines is the idea of a sympathetic reader / listener. This is not just due to the learning environment we intend to create in our language classrooms, but because in the real world any reader or listener who is interacting with a second language learner will strive to not only understand the new speaker, but will oftentimes try to help him get his point across by suggesting words as they struggle to communicate. I KNOW this is true, because I live this action research every day. I am not a superior level speaker like some of my colleagues and they are always guiding me, compensating for me and teaching me new things so that the communication doesn't fall apart. So, if this is true for me, it will be true for our students when they embark upon communicating with others outside of our classroom walls.
Having said that, let me shift back to my earlier question: what does it mean to learn something in the language classroom? Doesn't it really mean that we know something well enough to employ it later? We have to ask ourselves, "what do we really want as a result of our instruction?" Do we want perfection from our students in the minutia of the language or do we want them to communicate? If we want them to communicate, then what need is there to attain 100% accuracy? Can we be THAT accurate ourselves? English is my first language, and while I would like to consider myself a superior level communicator in this language, I know that some of you read what I write and find mistakes in my posts. I find them all the time. Do the mitsakes I make in my writing make the points I write about less relevant? Do they confuse my audience? Probably not at all.
How about this idea, shouldn't we do more than just be the perfection police?
This is really where the idea of coaching rather than teaching makes sense to me. If we are doing right by our students, we are building their confidence in their own ability. one of the abilities we are training is the ability to be understood by others, so we have to give our students as many opportunities to speak and write for an audience that is not us. The reason this is so important is because their audience doesn't have the same agenda we (the teachers) have. They really only want to know what the student has to say, not so much how well they say it. Plus, our students need to know what it feels like to NOT be understood so they can learn to be aware of their communication or lack thereof, compensate, and find another way to communicate their message. It is precisely the moment that the intended message misses its mark that our students become interested in accuracy, and not before. Plus, our correction, which is really a misplaced need to control the situation, becomes unnecessary. If we do things right our students will make mistakes, realize it, then need us to answer their questions about how to be better understood. So in effect, audience is everything. Well, almost everything. We have to be smart enough to find that sweet spot instructionally where students are practicing just a hair out of their comfort zone so that they will have to make mistakes, inquire and adjust. What is amazing is that our students are able to bounce back from mistakes in the moment so much better when they find them on their own instead of when we find them. Sometimes the things we find wrong have nothing to do with whether they were understood or not, #controlfreaks. Our corrections do lead to making students continually second guess themselves, so we must stop. Would a coach want his quarterback paralyzed with indecision?
Happy Coaching, friends!