This year I have been thinking a lot about relevance and how it ties to student motivation. As John Dewey stated in his Pedagogical Creed, education is generally considered preparation for the students’ future life after graduation, but does not necessarily have meaning for their current life experience. I think this creates motivation issues in students when they do not see the clear connection between school and their lives in the here and now.
I believe it is my responsibility to create the need or desire to use the Spanish language in my classroom, and not in a mechanical or rote way, but in a meaningful and contextualized way; one that draws on the students’ interests, life experience, and curiosity. I cannot work on the premise that they may need the language to interact with native speakers or travel abroad some day, or for college or a future career, or even for the next level of Spanish they will be taking the following year. It has to mean something to them now.
With this in mind, I have worked to personalize lessons for my students. I have a long way to go, but here are a couple of Spanish I activities in which my students were particularly engaged.
In this activity to practice the verb “to go” students had to choose someone in the class who is going to do each of the activities listed in the future. I used specific information I knew about my students to create some of the sentences.
Students also seem interested in learning about me, their teacher. In this activity during a unit on free time, students had to guess which activities I do outside of school.
I think this is where storytelling and personalization from TPRS work particularly well in that the teacher can create stories that incorporate information from the students lives and from pop culture, and personalize the information based on their own students.
I read something in the book “Making Communicative Language Teaching Happen” by Wong and VanPatten that really hit home with me. They stated that, even when teachers give open-ended speaking or writing prompts, they consider the correctness of the structures being practiced more important than what the students actually say. If this is the case, then the object of language study is not truly to communicate but rather practice grammar and vocabulary. I find myself guilty of this practice, and I hope to shift the focus to the messages the students are trying to convey. This is not to say that one should not attend to form, but perhaps only to the extent that the communication is negatively affected.
I hope I am just as interested in what my students say as I am in how they say it. Again, to quote John Dewey, language should be, above all, a social instrument for sharing one’s feelings and ideas.