A fellow French teacher recently posted a comment on this blog: “Bonjour Cécile…when will you post your new teaching philosophy statement? I am so looking forward to reading more about your visit to the Agen workshop.”
If you have read other posts on this blog, then you know she is so right on with this question. The truth is I have been brewing this for a few weeks now. But, I first had to finish blogging about my experiences at my first TPRS workshop in Agen, France and survive the beginning of the school year. So here it is, in teacher’s language because that is the primary audience of this blog.
1. Caring. I am on my students’ side at all times. I have their back, not just as students, but as individuals. One day, one of my students walked into my classroom, and I instantly knew something was wrong. At the end of class, I pulled her to the side and gently asked her if she was OK. It turned out her parents were separating and that day had been particularly difficult for her. She was shocked and touched that I had noticed. I am not trying to brag with this story, in fact, I know I cannot possibly notice everything, I just think paying attention to our students’ body language when they enter our classrooms is critical.
2. Comprehensible. As a native speaker, I am comfortable speaking in the target language 90% of the time, as recommended by ACTFL. While I work very hard to provide comprehensible input to my Novice students, I am not obsessed with everything being comprehensible at all time with my Intermediate students. I firmly believe that we need to teach children how to navigate through our ambiguous world. After living in the US for 14 years and becoming an American citizen 2 years ago, I still don’t comprehend everything being said around me, I still have to use subtitles when I watch American movies, etc. But I have strategies. So, instead of carefully controlling the language I provide to my students at all time, and only showing them resources they can fully understand, I show them authentic texts and teach them strategies to find what they need in these texts. I guess, I try to teach them how to “grapple” with the text. Please don’t get me wrong, I do this very slowly, purposefully, and with a lot of scaffolding. I don’t dump an authentic text on my Novice learners without any preparation (See my Olympics unit). What I love about TPRS is that it is a good way – among other CI strategies – to prepare students for authentic materials. However, I personally could not teach exclusively with TPRS all the way to AP.
3. Authentic. I must say I am further along in some classes than I am in others, but that is one of my most exciting goals. Three years ago, I started letting go of the textbook, letting go of the verb chart, letting go of the worksheets and grammar drills, etc. I will explicitly explain a grammar point once in a while, especially once students have had plenty of exposure to a new structure, and have started figuring things out on their own. Bringing more authentic materials and authentic tasks to my classroom means a lot of extra work, not only to source the right resource, but also to then scaffold my students up to the challenge of these authentic resources (times 5 preps!). But the level of engagement and acquisition has been truly superior since I have made that shift. So no whining, just keep pushing through. I really want to put a plug here for my PLN and all the fantastic resources being shared by other teachers on the net! French teachers, if you are looking for high quality authentic resources, I suggest following Catherine Ousselin, Natalia Delaat, and Amanda Hartnell on Twitter.
4. Proficiency-based. Here, I use the term proficiency as a synonym to “mastery”. This is also an area where I am still developing. Switching to Integrated Performance Assessments along with rubrics with clear criteria (standards) is allowing me to: 1. set clear goals for my unit planning 2. collect useful data about how my students are performing in the three modes of communication 3. give students specific feed-back about their performance and how to grow 4. differentiate (an area I feel particularly weak in).
In conclusion, Colleen Lee-Hayes coined the term “being a mutt” at one of our Twitter #langchats a few months ago, and that term truly resonated with me. I feel like a passionate mutt! While my underlying philosophy has not changed much (teach by modeling, speak in the target language), my style of teaching keeps evolving as I discover new and better ways to do my job.