When I first started teaching, if you had asked me what my one goal was in my Spanish class, I think I would have answered, “To get through the book.” We used a college textbook at the time, divided into two years. In Spanish 1 and 2 in my classes, we finished the entire book and at some point studied all 14 major verb tenses in Spanish. Whew. Aren’t you proud of me?
I’m not. Very few of those students I taught then can actually do anything with their Spanish now, and for those who can, I can assure you it’s not because of me.
Identifying your focus
To get an idea of what your focus is in your classes, look at, for example, your state proficiency standards or the ACTFL proficiency standards. Ask yourself, what should my students reasonably be able to do at the end of this year?
Phrasing your focus
Stay away from the temptation to phrase your focus in grammatical terms. Remember, you want to identify for yourself and your students what they should actually be able to do, as a communicative function, in the language at the end of a given amount of time. Do you want them to be able to talk about themselves? About school? To participate in a debate?
Since I threw out all the extra stuff we weren’t accomplishing anyway, it’s amazed me how much my students have accomplished within the focus we now have. In Spanish 3, we have exactly three goals for the entire year. We want students to be able to:
1) Express opinions.
2) Narrate a story.
3) Talk about their goals.
Now, I do have 8 units in Spanish 3. But they are all focused on at least one of these goals. In the spring when we start talking about the future (future tense) or talking about what we wish and hope for (subjunctive) it’s all about them and their goals. Many times during the year we return to the process of narrating a story (past tense, sequencing, connecting details). But three goals. Just three.
What’s your focus?
Photo credit: Javier Ignacio Acuña Ditzel