Someone, somewhere, is going to comment,
I can’t believe she put this one last.
It’s ok. Everyone has their cross to bear, and I’m that person’s.
You see, I think that before you make big changes, you need to know sound research principles involving how people acquire and learn languages (that was step one). I want you to understand what kind of language you can expect kids to build before you dive into helping them build it (that’s step two). I think you ought to have an idea of how you’ll effectively assess their language growth so you can use that information to fuel your lesson plans (that’s step three). And when you discover how much more fun it is for all of you to explore an eclectic blend of creative material rather than marry yourselves to a textbook, it’s critical for you to know how that’s possible without total burnout (step four).
Now, it’s time for you to get up and execute those beautiful, creative plans in front of a class of learners – and you have one essential step you absolutely must take.
And step five is…
You know, because how could you not, that for your learners to acquire the target language, you need to speak it. But your journey from now on is focused on this:
you must make that language comprehensible.
Again: be comprehensible. If your learners don’t understand almost everything you say or they read, all your other work is for naught, in language acquisition terms. All of it.
This is not easy. Call it the curse of knowledge or what you will, but once we are highly proficient in a language, we forget how completely hard it is to figure out what’s going on in a language we don’t know. If you need a refresher, I encourage you to start learning Turkish on Duolingo. It’s hard.
Great news though: becoming comprehensible in the target language can be done, and there’s a wealth of resources out there to help you figure out how to do it.
- First, a great new resource on this topic is Sarah Breckley’s video on being comprehensible.
- Another post you won’t want to skip: How to teach such that they understand, by Martina Bex.
- Here’s a #langchat summary called “What’s your formula for comprehensible input?“
Because we can’t stop arguing about labels, there’s a bit of a push to say comprehended input instead of comprehensible, but I’m not convinced. Why? The only control I have over whether my learners have comprehended my language is to make it comprehensible. I can’t control whether they’re too tired or angry at the school or sad over a breakup. I can only make it comprehensible. Props to me if it’s also compelling, but saying I have to do that is too much pressure IMO – I ascribe to Donna Tatum-John’s philosophy that my class has to be pleasant, but it doesn’t have to be fun in the sense many of us seem to think it does.
In that spirit, I tell my learners they have one job: give me their eyes and ears. If I had the time and energy I’d make a meme poster for you: Seriously, you had one job. He’s talking to the girl across the aisle? He’s not giving me his eyes and ears. She’s falling asleep at her desk? She’s not giving me her eyes and ears. If I have their eyes and ears (their job) and I’m making language comprehensible, they’ll get it. It’s not magic, and it’s not easy, but it IS simple.
New or second-profession teacher, I know you have a lot of questions. I know sometimes it might seem tempting to go apply to be a barista at the café across the street. But if you take things just one step at a time, before you know it, I can’t promise this, but many days it actually will seem easy. I promise.
Posts in this series:
- Step 1: Lay your foundation.
- Step 2: Get to know the proficiency levels.
- Step 3: Know what effective assessment looks like.
- Step 4: Learn how to create / blend curriculum without burning out.
- (this post)