Bryce's Signs 4

Give them a feeling of success    What does this mean?
We want the students to feel like they are good at Spanish.  That feeling of confidence will carry them.  I am not talking about some false sense of self esteem.  I am talking about developing something within the kids that says “I can do this.”  As Susan Gross says, “Success breeds success.”  A little bit of success can be leveraged into more success.
When they leave the class every day I want them to say to themselves, “I am pretty good at this Spanish stuff!”  NOT, “Wow, is that teacher smart!”  We will show off our polished speech and our mastery of the intricacies of the language when we are with our colleagues, but in class with the kids we will make them feel smart and teach them. 
 
The thing we DO NOT want them to learn is “I only know that I don’t understand much Spanish.”  That is the kiss of death.  We want the kids to get it all.  We want them to be pumped when they leave class.  We want them to leave class thinking, “At least there is one class where I really get it.”
 
Praise them.  A lot.           What does this mean?
No one gets enough praise and admiration.  If you can give heartfelt, sincere appreciation to your students you will make an impression on them.  We need to catch our students being brilliant.  It happens all the time; we just have to look for it.  When there is even a spark of brilliance we need to bring attention to it.  Tell the whole class they are getting it.  Tell individuals they are getting it.  Make a big deal about their incredible aptitude for Spanish.
 
5 Second Grammar Lessons         What does this mean?
Keep the grammar lessons very, very short.  Do not give them too much information.  For example, when we are beginning to talk in the past and a student asks “What is the difference between estaba and era ?”  We will say, “They both mean ‘was’.”  We do not need to give a lengthy explanation of the finer points between the usage of the imperfect and the preterit and 57 easy rules to determine their proper application.
 
I hate to break it to you, but grammar is just not that fascinating or helpful to most of our students.  96% of them do not understand grammar and don’t care anything about it—that it NOT a character defect or an intellectual defect on their part.   You care about grammar and you understand it; that may be one reason you became a foreign language teacher.
 
When a student asks for a grammatical explanation, give it to him, but keep in mind the depths to which you need to go in your explanation.  An analogy may help here.  Think of the appropriate response to the question, “Where do babies come from?”  You would give one explanation to a three-year old, another to a thirteen year old, and another to a medical student specializing in obstetrics.  Most of the time students just need the kind of explanation that a three-year old needs.  They just need the answer to communicate at that moment, not a truck load of your brilliance and insight.  Save the graduate student-level explanations for your colleagues and with select AP-level students that have exceptional insight.
 
But put yourself in the students’ shoes.  They want to learn to speak and understand the language.  We are here to help them.  You can either teach about language or you spend your class time developing fluency—actually helping them learn the language.  We want our students to be able to speak the language well, and this may not require explicit knowledge of grammatical rules.  The grammar versus fluency issue often develops into an either/or situation.  Teaching about language makes relatively little impact on long-term memory in most students.  When you teach for fluency, you use the language in an interesting way and make it 100% comprehensible and they will remember it.
 
In limited doses explicit grammar can help.  We should teach grammar.  We should teach grammar every day.  Grammar is implicit in every single utterance in the class. Short (extremely short), focused, on-demand grammar lessons can help to answer specific questions that come up and can help to alleviate nagging questions in kids’ brains that keep them from focusing on the message. 
 
I maintain that explaining or asking about a point of grammar 137.2 times for 5 seconds each will stick with kids longer and better than doing a three day unit on a specific aspect of grammar, particularly in the lower levels.

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2 thoughts on “Bryce's Signs 4”

  1. Thanks Laurie, I shared these because these are the things I need to see and hear and be reminded of all of the time, if they can help you too, I’m happy. My school partners with the University of Northern Colorado, the main teacher college in the state, so we have a steady stream of college students at varying levels in their academic careers flowing through our program. The signs help me and my student teachers to focus on certain skills and the explanations have come by explaining things to them time after time over the years and from their great questions–and from me explaining it wrong and then having to re-explain it better. 😉

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