Cute Idea #7: Find the Key to Unlock the Individual

Cute Idea #7 – Find the Key to Unlock the Individual
On the first day of class this year, I asked my kids in one class why they chose French. Brooke said that she wanted to become a fashion designer and live and work in Paris. I started calling her Fille de Versace/Daughter of Versace in class, instead of Brooke.
Throughout that week, for a few minutes each class, I casually taught a few structures from the song Mademoiselle de Paris about a dressmaker in Paris. I didn’t care if the students understood the words in the song, which clearly they did not. I had two other goals: 1) to let them hear the beauty of the French language and 2) to send a clear message that Brooke and her interest in French haute couture were very important to me.
For a few moments each day, I played the song. I told them it was about someone who works in the Parisian fashion industry. The students sensed what I was trying to do. They reciprocated with genuine interest.
By conveying to the students that Brooke was very important in my classroom, I was setting a tone for the year. I wanted to convey to all of my students that they were far more important to me at that point in the year than teaching them French.
It is not enough to be interested in our students. We have to develop ways to show/demonstrate that interest. Not only do we want to find out about our students as individuals, we want the class to know them in that way as well.
We want each student in our classroom to be known to the other students for their interests in life. In addition, we need to find a way to convey what we learn about our students to the rest of the class in a fun and lighthearted way.
The way we accomplish this is to find any link that a student may have with the language we are teaching them. This provides us with a key to finding out why the student might have chosen your language to learn, as opposed to some other language.
With Brooke, it was her interest in French couture. With another student, it may be a relative, often a grandparent, who speaks the language you are teaching or may have even been born in that country.
Once such a link is established, you can always keep it in mind, and you will find relative moments to cast a knowing glance or confident look in the direction of the student whose link you discovered earlier in the year. You learn to teach with the idea that you are a sort of emissary between the language and culture you teach and the child who is looking for things that are real in her life.
Such a link may not be easy to find, and many kids have just been put in your class, and there are many who have dismissed school as just another robotic experience of memorization. They may not be reachable, but such a link with even one student can have a lasting effect on the child and the overall culture in your classroom.
Clearly, we are not describing here getting to know the student in depth. Instead, we are focusing on positive and uplifting short bits of information that can become a source of class bonding for the entire year, and, in high school programs, for up to four years. Not every child can be the star of the basketball team or a cheerleader, but, in their language class, they can be very special indeed.
Far from being trivial, this building of identity in each of our students by making their own interests paramount is one of my most important points of focus, along with classroom management, for the first three to four weeks of the year, and it continues all year. When I began doing this, I noticed that, for the first time in my teaching career, I was reaching my students in a different way than before, back in the dark days when I thought it was all about the curriculum.
So establish some identities and rapport with your students. Another way to do that is to ask your students to fill out a detailed questionnaire and refer to it often. This is the subject of Cute Idea #8 that will publish here tomorrow. The Questionnaire can be an amazing source of information to you.

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