At an ACTFL conference I encountered a number of measures recommended by presenters and in casual conversations. I noted that I had been doing many of them just out of intuition and experience with people, and that many of the measures went against accepted practice and the culture of the school and of fl teaching.
Here’s a list of them and where I think I got the idea to pursue them:
Not using the textbook – a listmember from flteach mentioned this. I’ve seen it recently on several listservs. I got the idea, #1 by having lousy textbooks and #2 being possessed of a clear idea of what I wanted to teach.
Using stories – this has been enshrined in tprs now but early on I had studied counseling techniques that used story-telling, often in the form of simple, personal anecdotes, to open up clients’ thinking and it seemed a good way to engage students in a fl.
Not planning till the night before – again, offered by a list member from flteach. I could never figure out how teachers managed to know ahead of time what they wanted to do on a particular day. I found out. They don’t want to do anything. They just follow the textbook, no matter what the students are doing.
Going at a pace at which students learn – that really flies in the face of accepted practice. It’s as if you have no standards. Yet I found many teachers recommending this. They seemed to have the notion that if you covered the book but left the students behind, you hadn’t accomplished anything. Quite radical.
Differentiated instruction – coming out of a counseling background, I was always suspicious of cookie-cutter approaches, so DI came quite naturally. Anything else seems ludicrous to me.
Multiple intelligences – John DeMado has done some good presentations on this. DI follows from it. Of course, the counseling psychology background made it obvious that not everyone was going to be the same. That notion derives from the factory model of education which says we want a factory model and it won’t work if students don’t learn the same way, so they MUST, they WILL learn the same way.
Deep culture – At that particular ACTFL conference I saw a presentation by Bill Heller and Marilyn Barrueta that got very deep into the culture. On a conversational level, I met a Russian lady, Katya, who was studying at Amherst, who loved telling me all this “stuff” about Russian culture. I found her Russian easier to follow than the semiotic theory she was so into, but it was sure a great ride. My own background in anthropology leads me in this direction anyway.
Strength of our students and their culture – Ellen Shrager presented on this and it bolstered my own sense that all cultures have something to offer, even in classrooms so embedded in the North Atlantic culture as ours.
Mysteries of English – a Japanese man and I talked a while about English, he as an outsider to it and I as an insider. I always inject a good deal of information about English into my classes and his observations reinforced that for me.
Mysteries of the Mind – again, my background in counseling psychology leads me to want my students to explore how the mind learns and works. Many teachers are now interested in brain research.
Translators as valuable people – Forrest Sawyer talked to the conference attendees and pointed out that the most requested specialists in Iraq is translators. Any fl teachers knows this but it’s amazing how many people don’t give a thought to how impossible it is to communicate with people when you don’t speak their language.
Use of visuals – ah! my famous Picture Files. I got that idea from the Dos Mundos series that Tracey Terrell worked on and in which he put ideas for using pictures. That started me cutting pictures out of magazines and pasting them on manila folder backing. I now have hundreds and hundreds in many categories. All teachers validate this.
And finally…….. a grammarless AP exam, in Russian. I sat down next to a lady to review my program for the conference and we got to talking. She was intrigued that I taught Russian b/c she had just finished writing the AP exam for Russian. I politely declined to attend her session on it, stating my objections to AP. She said I should attend and I would be very surprised. Tending to do what attractive Russian ladies tell me to do, I went and was not just surprised but shocked. No grammar. Not none. Nichego, nada, rien, nichts. One teacher asked, “Where is the grammar?” and was met with barely concealed contempt. The AP exam is about the ability to communicate in Russian and that’s all it’s about.
Conferences are great.