How do I begin to transition to teaching with proficiency as a goal? How do I move away from a grammar based focus? Such big questions.
It was these questions posed on Twitter by Ebony Thornton (@EThorntonGHS) that pulled me out of my bed and inspired me to write this post today. So, thank you, Ebony! I have heard similar questions over the years and have attempted to answer, but for whatever reason, seeing that tweet today solidified my thoughts about the topic.
So, how then... right?
Small moves. One small move, in fact.
The first move has nothing to do with any one resource or source of information (book, podcast, blog, workshop or consultant). It isn't burning your textbook or filing cabinet either. It is the tiniest of shifts much like closing one eye and looking at the world, then switching sides and closing the other eye. The scenery around you is the same, but the angle is different.
That small shift is just this: set student communication as the goal of every lesson you teach. Instead of teaching "present tense," ask yourself: "What's the conversation I want students to have WITH present tense?" Have that conversation out loud with your self or a colleague. Jot down the kinds of things you hear yourself saying. Look at those notes and ask this question: "What will students NEED to have that conversation?" Then, JUST TEACH THAT.
What will happen to you and your teaching is, you will no longer see the need for verb charts at the introduction of a new concept, present tense, for example. Instead, you will see the need for students to see lots of examples of the present tense forms they will need to have that conversation you were having with your colleague. This means it is likely only first and second person forms of the present tense will be necessary, so first person present tense forms BECOME the vocab list, and grammar gets "dragged along" in the process as Bill Van Patten would say. When that happens, you no longer need the English lesson on present tense and trying to teach the present tense by using the target language seems ludicrous.
That tiny shift, like an adjustment an astronaut would make during space travel, has huge implications. Your job is to trust that shift, let it play out, and pay attention to what you notice in the process. The learning you do as you observe the results of your small moves is hands down the best PD for world language teachers EVER EVER EVER. NO ONE, not one presenter, consultant or administrator can duplicate the intensely powerful learning that will happen in your own classroom as you get brave enough to close that other eye and start to look at what you do from the other angle.
What happens next is you start to question more and more about what you have been doing and you start to tinker with more things. Then, you start to draw other hypotheses and you even begin to get a little more confident. THEN, you remember that thing you heard in that training you went to or that tweet you read that time that stung you a little, but you didn't know why. At that point, you start to feel less afraid of the change and more like... starving with hunger to know more.
At this point, my best advice is (and I KNOW I can speak on behalf of all of the world language teachers I know who have made the transition) BE CAREFUL and protect yourself from FOMO (fear of missing out) as well as self flagellation.
What the heck am I talking about? THIS: You are going to feel equal parts uncontrollable excitement plus an re-emergence of your passion to teach languages and absolute guilt for all the years you didn't teach this way. You are going to have to establish boundaries for that hunger/curiosity so that you don't become a teacher work addict AGAIN and you are going to have to let that guilt go, sis! You did not hurt the children, as Greta Lundgaard (@gretafromtexas) would say. You have to embrace two mantras about this new way of teaching languages:
One small move will let to the next and the next. Let that one small move ignite your own inquiry. Pursue answers to your questions, but don't kill yourself. Never change more than one thing at a time. This first move, shifting the focus to student communication, will have a big enough impact on your teaching for a while, so just get comfortable and ride that wave. Reflect, journal or even blog about your learning in the process. Share your successes and failures to a like-minded colleague. Cheer each other on. Avoid dream stealing, discouraging, or even know-it-all language educators who either haven't become enlightened or who think they are so enlightened they have to dim your light to feel good about themselves. Those people are out there, you know... SMH.
That's it. That's the first step. One small move.
You can do it. And there's a world of other language teachers out here waiting for you to join the tribe. I'm one of them. Can't wait for you to get here!
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