To understand why I do what I do, you first need to hear the assumptions I’m working from, I think.
1) Motivation is one of the top (if not the number one) factors in success in language acquisition.
2) I’ve never seen a textbook that U.S. high school students found motivating.
3) Not all students are motivated by grades.
4) It is extraordinarily difficult to obtain a grade that accurately reflects language acquisition.
5) Most students are motivated by media.
6) Most students are motivated by past and present success.
7) It’s the teacher’s job to make language acquisition as stress-free as possible.
8) Especially at the beginning, students’ language production needs to be very low-risk for them (cf Krashen’s affective filter theory, silent period).
9) Students need to interact with the language on many levels, in many situations, over a long period of time in order to acquire it.
10) Input should be systematized and repetitive (think TPRS) but authentic at the same time.
11) If we always feed students slow learner Spanish, we’re cheating them.
12) Translation in the acquisition process is very nearly useless, particularly in assessment.
13) Studying for tests doesn’t produce long-term memory in anyone except the extraordinarily brilliant. Therefore, telling students when tests are going to occur is useless.
14) Homework is busywork performed outside of the help and supervision of someone who can monitor the acquisition process and is therefore mostly useless.
That’s almost enough for now, but I think the most important discovery I’ve made, the one that I think makes what I do different from what I’ve seen anywhere else is this:
High school language students are basically 4-year-olds with a lot of metacognitive awareness, and until we start treating them like that, they’re going to keep learning what they need to know for the test, and graduating saying “I took two years of Spanish and I can say hola and taco.” The trick is to treat them like high schoolers in every other area besides where their language acquisition is concerned, throw in some Ricky Martin and Maná, and they’ll forgive you for reading them Froggy se viste.