Spanish Teacher, Ross High School
Like many World Language teachers, I work to create a learning environment that supports my students as they work to use the target language to communicate in my classroom. For some teachers, this might mean including a handout of important or high-frequency phrases if the teacher travels. For others, it may mean adorning classroom walls with such phrases, in addition to cultural realia or other humorous anecdotes and motivational paraphernalia. In my case, I am fortunate to have a classroom in which to regularly operate and choose to decorate according to what I perceive as my learner’s needs.
Lending to this perception of needs is the feedback that I accrue from students, particularly the feedback that I solicit with end of course surveys. I conduct these via Google Forms and am able to read comments as they come in live, which fosters a discussion with my students about their feedback. This year, we were reflecting together on how we aim to use the Target Language in class exclusively and how I might best support students in creating a classroom culture that alleviates anxiety but still supports their efforts to use the language.
Through an open dialogue with my students, I was made aware that precious time was lost in the early days of the class with students feeling anxious and uncertain, afraid to open their mouths and make mistakes when they spoke to me or their peers in Spanish. Eventually, students reported, they did figure out that it was okay to speak, even with mistakes, and just to “go for it,” but I want to solve the issue of heightened anxiety.
Of course, I tell my students, in as many ways as I can during those early days, that mistakes are tolerated and even welcomed. Evidently, however, once I have proclaimed that “We will all speak in Spanish all of the time,” pretty much anything else that is said is unheard because student anxiety increases and they do not catch the message of tolerance for errors until much later through experience. So, I asked my students during our reflective dialogue how I might solve this issue.
Fortunately, my students are a great resource for me, as they are creative, resourceful thinkers and able to problem-solve pretty readily. They also know what they experienced those early days. So, the suggestion came about to make a classroom poster that says something along the lines of “You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to try.” Students encouraged me that when future students are struggling in my classroom, I can simply gesture to the poster to convey my message, without having to utter a word in Spanish. Other students can do the same, fostering a collaborative and supportive classroom environment (hopefully).
We reworked and edited the phrase a bit as a class and we settled on “You don’t have to be perfect, you DO have to speak Spanish!”. I’ve printed the phrase out in large wording on red paper and laminated it, posting it visibly in the classroom. For teachers that don’t have a regular classroom, a phrase like this could also be printed on the course syllabus or on some other reference paper for the course, so that it could still be referred to regularly. I am hopeful with anticipation that this simple phrase and poster will help to minimize anxiety and put focus on effort to communicate. Especially in consideration to those early days of the semester with a new crop of students, as well as to continue to help me strive to create a learning environment that focuses time and effort on supporting students as best I can. Feel free to adapt this poster idea for your classroom’s needs!