I am a “Mutt”

My renewed teaching philosophy

Cécile Lainé, Wyoming City Schools, cecilelaine.wordpress.com

Wow! So many changes have happened in World Language education over the past few years that it is high time we all reflect on our teaching philosophy and/or teaching style. To explain why I am a “mutt’, here is mine…I cannot wait to read yours!

  1. Caring. I am on my students’ side at all times. I have their backs, not just as students, but as individuals. One day, one of my students walked into my classroom, and I instantly knew something was wrong. At the end of class, I pulled her to the side and gently asked her if she was okay. It turned out her parents were separating and that day had been particularly difficult for her. She was shocked and touched that I had noticed.  I am not trying to brag with this story.  In fact, I know I cannot possibly notice everything.  I just think paying attention to our students’ body language when they enter our classrooms is critical.
  2. Comprehensible. As a native speaker, I am comfortable speaking in the target language 90% of the time, as recommended by ACTFL. While I work very hard to provide comprehensible input to my students, I am not obsessed with everything being comprehensible at all times. I firmly believe that we need to teach children how to navigate through our ambiguous world. After living in the US for fourteen years and becoming an American citizen two years ago, I still don’t comprehend everything being said around me.  I still have to use subtitles when I watch American movies, etc. But I have strategies. So, instead of carefully controlling the language I provide to my students at all times and only showing them resources they can fully understand, I show them authentic texts and teach them strategies to find what they need in these texts. I try to teach them how to “grapple” with the text. Please don’t get me wrong; I do this very slowly, purposefully, and with a lot of scaffolding. I don’t dump an authentic text on my Novice learners without any preparation (See my Olympics unit).  I have recently attended my first formal TPRS training and I found this methodology to be an excellent way to prepare my students for authentic materials. However, I personally could not teach exclusively with TPRS.
  3. Authentic. Using authentic resources and tasks is one of my most exciting goals but I still have plenty of work to do in this area!  Three years ago, I started letting go of the textbook, letting go of the verb chart, letting go of the worksheets and grammar drills, etc. I will explicitly explain a grammar point once in a while, especially once students have had plenty of exposure to a new structure, have started figuring things out on their own, and are asking me questions. Bringing more authentic materials and authentic tasks to my classroom means a lot of extra work, not only to source the right resource, but also to scaffold my students up to the challenge of these authentic resources (times 5 preps!). But the level of engagement and acquisition has been truly superior since I have made that shift. So, no whining — just keep pushing through. I really want to put a plug here for my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and all the fantastic resources being shared by other teachers on the net! French teachers, if you are looking for high quality authentic resources, I suggest following Catherine Ousselin, Natalia Delaat, and Amanda Hartnell on Twitter.
  4. Proficiency-based. Here, I use the term proficiency as a synonym for “mastery.” This is also an area where I am still developing. Switching to Integrated Performance Assessments, along with rubrics with clear criteria (standards), is allowing me to: 1. set clear goals for my unit planning 2. collect useful data about how my students are performing in the three modes of communication 3. give students specific feedback about their performance and how to grow 4. differentiate.

In conclusion, I find that the term “Mutt” (which was coined by a member of my PLN) accurately describes my teaching philosophy. It is a mixture of both old and new strategies and ideas. Some of the foundations in my teaching philosophy, such as speaking in the target language 90%, have not changed while other components have changed for the better.

How has your teaching philosophy evolved? Are you willing to share your experiences with me? I am anxious to read them! Share them with me at cecileflaine@gmail.com or on my blog cecilelaine.wordpress.com.  Perhaps you would also consider sharing them in the next issue of The Cardinal. If so, contact OFLAcardinaleditor@gmail.com.

This entry was posted in OFLA News: Association, Vol. 53, No. 1 - Fall 2014. Bookmark the permalink.

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