What a student told me: Why it matters

I have gone back and forth in my mind about whether to write this post. I hope that if you are pursuing a CI framed way of teaching, and if you have doubts about whether what you are doing is the right way or not that you may take some encouragement from this.

My hesitation has been that this comes from a letter I received recently from a student, and it is largely a letter of gratitude and appreciation for me. So, it’s personal. Her letter was one of those moments that all of us have if we teach long enough–a student giving us the feedback we’d like to have every day but which comes along once or twice a year if we are lucky. She wrote to say “thank you for what you do,” and it means the world to me. But, she also gave me some “data” if you will, some qualitative feedback about what I do and how that has impacted her. I don’t do what I do alone–even if I were a singleton teacher. I teach with a team, and we all help and influence each other. All of us who read this blog and participate in the LBP FB group help and influence each other. Perhaps her feedback about my teaching is helpful to you, too.

Here are ten things she told me about what I do in her own words, unchanged. Beneath her words in italics are a few thoughts from me about why it matters.

You push your students to learn everyday while at the same time making it interactive so that students actually perform well in the language.

Choosing to teach with a CI framework really changes almost everything about traditional Latin and language teaching, and the first criticism most of us have heard is some version of “you are dumbing down” Latin.

Some of the teaching methods you use such as drawing pictures with captions, writing prompts using our own words, and reading over and over have been very useful to me. 

I worry that even though there are dozens of practices and activities that are informed by CI, I tend to use a smaller subset over and over again and that doing so risks boredom. On the other hand, when you find things that work for all kinds of learners, why not use them?

I am trying to improve my reading and writing skills in Vietnamese, and I sometimes use those same methods you use in class simply because they work for me.

A long time ago, even though I am a classicist with all the credentials to prove it, I began to identify as a language teacher (not all Latin teachers do). As a teacher of a language, I believe I can do nothing better but to hand on language learning skills to students who will then continue to use them to explore and acquire other languages.

The fact that you have brag and vent discussions in class is also a stress reliever, and it helps the class get closer and more comfortable with each other. 

This practice of starting EVERY class every day with 5 minutes of “brags and vents” led by a member of the class allows students to tell each other what’s doing on in their lives from the apparently trivial to the deep and serious. Nothing I’ve ever done has helped such a solid sense of community in each class. I give total credit to Christopher Emdin for helping me develop this practice.

Just continue what you’re doing because you make the class enjoyable.

Even though I have a sense that what I do on a daily basis is working, I’m human.  I need some feedback that says–hey, this is working for ME.

Sometimes diverting to current and past cultural traditions and worldwide events like that day spent on patriarchy is refreshing to me because we stop our routine work for just a moment. 

Am I being a bad language teacher if I spend a whole class session or two entirely in English talking about a cultural, cross-cultural, inter-cultural issue? I’d be the first to argue that there’s a fine line and it’s too easy for Latin teachers in particular to cross over it. It’s our comfort zone.  But, this day we spent talking about patriarchy, then and now, probably counts as one of the pivotal moments of the entire year.

I also like how you explained to us the underlying psychology beneath the methods you use in the Latin program which is probably why some of the majors I am interested in are psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology. 

Good to know.  I do take time every so often to tell them not only WHAT we are going to do and HOW we are going to do it, but WHY we are doing it.

Even though I don’t think I will study Latin in college, probably another Romance language like French, I know that Latin will help me in those future goals. I really want their teaching methods to be similar to yours although that’s very unlikely. 

So, this is bitter-sweet information, for me, mostly because of the last part.  She is right.  She likely will take on French or some other language, and the experience will not be much like how she learned Latin. Still, she has learned some things from me about language, and if she can apply them to Vietnamese, she can apply them to French.

As a whole, you emanate positivity, high morality, and deep affection and respect for others. You have been a great role model in that way. 

I’d love to have a conversation with her about this. I want to know how she estimates positivity, high morality, deep affection and respect for others. I “think” that most of that comes from the last thing.  I do try, very hard, to make respect for others the singular rule of my classroom, and it’s always a two way street.  I can never expect them to respect me if I don’t respect them. I don’t always feel positive, but I work at it. I think high morality is about social justice which bleeds through everything I do. I am deeply grateful to the universe that she perceives deep affection in my towards my students.  That’s what I want to demonstrate, but I don’t know that I “feel” it every day.

I can guarantee you that many of your students will say the same. You have no idea how much of a positive influence you have had on me and probably other students as well.

She’s right.  I don’t know.  And I don’t know how many students I’ve hurt or offended even if unintentionally.  What she reminds me and I hope us of is that we have an effect. We have an influence. We are modeling things. Whether they tell us or not, this is true. We really do have some of the most amazing opportunities in the world of work.  I am deeply grateful.

Bob Patrick

Better Learners–Better Teachers–Better Leaders

I am posting this on January 1, 2016, so Happy New Year to everyone!  I recently read an article on the Harvard Business Review  entitled “Four Ways to Become A Better Learner.”  I wondered if it would be a good article to share with my advisement students.  Then, I read the article! Wow, this is really about being a better teacher, and these four ways of becoming better learners are aimed at leaders and teachers as leaders!  They are core to what teaching with Comprehensible Input is about.  In fact, these four keys to becoming “better learners” really echo the findings of CI research and teacher experiences who use it.  So, while I am not very keen on New Year’s Resolutions, I am very keen on learning how to do what I do better.

Take a look at what the author calls “learning agility.”  The best deal is to follow the link above and read the article for yourself.  Here’s my quick summary.

Learning agility “is the capacity for rapid, continuous learning from experience.”  Learning agility includes:

  • making connections across experiences
  • letting go of perspectives or approaches that are no longer useful
  • unlearning things when new solutions are required
  • focusing on learning goals and new experiences
  • experimenting, seeking feedback, reflecting
  • acquiring new skills and mastering new situations is core to learning agility
  • enjoying the process of learning itself
  • willing to take risks and not becoming defensive

There are four ways to develop learning agility:

  1. Ask for feedback
  2. Experiment with new approaches or behaviors
  3. Look for connections across seemingly unrelated areas
  4. Make time for reflection

If you read the entire article, you will see that this was written for corporate executives, but, in fact, it was written for those involved in leadership.  In my opinion, a teacher who does not see him/herself involved in leadership has missed something core to teaching and learning.  “Educate” from the Latin educare implies leading people out and growing them up, and that requires leadership.  Those of us involved in teaching second languages with Comprehensible Input will see the close connections between CI theory/pratice and learning agility even through my simple outline above.

I will close by quickly offering some first steps for implementing learning agility in our teaching practices:

  1. Ask your students for feedback with three simple questions:  a) what have we been doing that HELPS you learn (language)?  b) What have we been doing that DOES NOT HELP you learn (language)?  c) If you could change one thing that would help you learn (language) better what would it be?  Promise to read and collate their advice, and implement the major trends.
  2. When you look at your practice of Comprehensible Input, what aspects of it do you tend to steer clear of or do less often than you think you should?  Make a committment to regularly including that one new thing in your teaching practice this spring semester.
  3. How often do you engage in conversation with teachers outside of your language or outside of your language department?  Identify one or two teachers whose good work is well known, and find time to go and observe them.  Find out what they are doing in their German class or their Chemistry class that might work back in your (language) class.
  4. At the end of each day, before you leave the campus (I do this while walking from my classroom to my car) ask yourself:  what worked today?  What didn’t work today?  How will I change this the next time I do this thing?  (see the connections between 1 and 4?).

I’m thinking of taking the bulleted items above–the qualities of an agile learner–and making a little poster–for myself.  I think I’ll hang it something in my classroom where I am likely to see it each day–just to keep the reflection going.  Am I this sort of learner?  Am I this sort of teacher?  Am I this sort of leader?

Bob Patrick