Marcia Davis, OFLA Secondary Language Learning and Diversity Committee Chair
World Language Middle School, Columbus City Schools
Ohio’s Learning Standards for World Languages and Cultures describe what learners should know and be able to do while building language proficiency and interculturality. While there is not one perfect way to do that, strong relationships between teacher and learner provide a powerful foundation.
My entire career had been in urban education – in elementary Spanish immersion and traditional middle school and high school settings. Grammar had always been something I enjoyed and did well with as a student, and as such, it was a focal point of my instruction as a teacher.
Some of my students experienced success but the overwhelming majority struggled to make sense of it all. In my eleventh year of teaching, I decided to pursue National Board Certification. I scoured over the standards, prepared my classes to record my video entries, and wrote paragraph upon paragraph. When I received my scores, I missed certifying by eleven points. Despite my disappointment, I decided to dig in and retake two entries. I read all I could about second language acquisition theory and coincidentally, Dr. Krashen was the keynote speaker at the OFLA Conference that spring. I resubmitted two entries and became National Board certified in November 2009. This learning experience was the impetus for me to change my instructional focus. Little did I know, my journey had only just begun.
What I discovered was that as my instructional focus shifted from a grammar-based approach to a comprehensible input approach, many more of my students experienced success. The latter allowed me to get to know my students on a different level than before. I learned what students liked, the activities they liked to do, places they liked to go, and so much more. We did quite a bit of story asking where my students were the protagonists. One young lady, who used to skip class all the time, was so excited when in our story, she was presented with flowers by Trey Songz at his concert in New York. My students had Spanish nicknames based on their personalities. That first year, I taught classes with students with IEPs who were mainstreamed into electives courses. During another story asking session, one of my students, who had a learning disability, responded to my question with a complete sentence in Spanish, to which I replied, “Did you hear what you just said??!!” I think I startled him but I was so excited that he was able to do that but understood that he did it because what he heard was comprehensible to him. No longer was it just the honor roll student who was experiencing success in Spanish class. The relationships we were building in class turned the tide.
Building relationships with students is certainly no new revelation. However, for me, it serves as a reminder that relationships should be the foundation of instruction, regardless of content. Teachers have the unique privilege of knowing students and interacting with them closely on a daily basis. For some of our students, we may be one of the few consistent parts of their lives. Working to make our content, specifically, acquiring another language, more accessible to our students through comprehensibility is what we strive to do. That, along with building strong relationships, goes a long way toward fulfilling the intention of our learning standards for World Languages and Cultures.