They can’t speak, and it’s our fault: Dismantling the myths
Earlier this month was the deadline for proposals to be submitted for the 2011 conference of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. I have never been to their conference–indeed, I’ve only ever attended one national conference (TESOL 2007)–but one of my new year’s resolutions was to at least attempt to go, and part of that was to submit a proposal to present.
Before proposing anything, I polled several of my colleagues on Twitter to see what they thought about what might have been lacking at the 2010 conference. I got a wide variety of answers, ranging from “how could anything be lacking when there were 600 sessions?” to “oh there was so much lacking, where do I start?”. One comment in particular stuck in my mind: @tmsaue1 said that almost no one seemed to want to talk about the elephant in the room- that after all this push for CLT for all these years, we still aren’t producing students with any useful level of proficiency. So I made a quip on Twitter about needing a better title for my proposal than “They can’t speak, and it’s our fault.” Something must have resonated because several people told me that either I should stick with that title, or if I changed it, that should still be the topic, because it’s true.
In any case, the title I settled on was “Dismantling the Myths that Prevent Proficiency,” and before I realized that you only had to come up with an outline if you were proposing a 3-hour workshop, I had outlined several myths that in my opinion are holding back the average U.S. world language teacher from pushing students to real proficiency in the classroom. Since then I have thought of a few more and gotten input from more comments. At this rate I’ll have to poll everyone to see which ones to include if the proposal is accepted so I can get them within the time limit!
Over the next few months I’ll be blogging about these myths individually. I’ll find out in April if I’ll be presenting at ACTFL (and if I am, here’s hoping I also get accepted to score AP Spanish exams so I can pay for the conference!) but either way, I can reach more people through my blog anyway, with what I think about what’s holding us all back.
Here goes. The ones in bold are the ones I think are hurting us the worst–keeping students from interacting with native & authentic input. Please offer feedback and help me add or subtract to/from these as necessary!
1. A person who is not proficient can be a language teacher (Or, “I have a degree in this; of course I’m qualified”).
2. Learning about language is enough (Or, “I don’t have to speak the TL in the classroom”).
and its cousin
3. Grammatical terms are actually helpful in language acquisition (or, “How will they know what it is if I don’t call it subjunctive by reason of indefinite antecedent?????”)
4. Only the very young or students who have high aptitude are going to succeed anyway (otherwise known as the ‘time whine’).
5. The textbook and accessories are all I need (or, “my district spent $20,000 on this stuff, I have make it worth their while”).
6. Students can learn vocabulary in isolation and in lists of 150 words per chapter (or, “why don’t they know what bosque means and that it’s masculine? we just studied this!”).
7. Media produced for language learners counts as authentic materials (or, “The ‘First Semester of Spanish Love Song’ is the best video ever!”)
8. Low-level learners can’t understand authentic materials.
and its cousin
9. Students have to understand everything they hear.
10. Communication among learners is somehow going to equip them to communicate with native speakers.
11. A multiple-choice question counts as a valid assessment of proficiency (or, “I can tell how well students communicate without actually asking them to communicate).
12. Translation helps language acquisition and counts as a valid assessment of communicative ability (or, “I knew she was trying to say ‘my nose is running’- how creative!”).
13. Finding/creating materials takes too much time (or, “I have to do all this on my own”).
14. Tech tool + any amount of language = classroom magic (or, “I’m the 21st-century teacher! Look at that amazing project with almost no communication that my students put together!”).
15. Assessment is an end-of-unit activity. (or “I understand it. Surely they must. Moving on.”)