What made me decide to ditch my grammar curriculum and teach for communication using proficiency and CI methods
I’ve taught French and Spanish in a title 1 high school for almost four years. I teach in a department of 12 strong, with 4 languages and 3,000 students served each year.
As I’m sure you can tell, we’re completely swamped with hard work and kids who need alot of attention – a struggle that you can relate to, right?
In my 4th year, after much thought, research, and in-class experimentation, I started to veer from my district’s grammar-driven curriculum. I’ve always prepared much of my own materials, but I committed to comprehensible input even though I didn’t have anything to support this decision.
My department was very supportive as long as I followed certain parameters (make sure kids are prepared for the next level, make sure you cover this, etc). I was honestly surprised and deeply grateful for how much my department was eager to see what would happen with my kids.
More common than not though, my colleagues were baffled.
Why are you switching? Isn’t that hard? Aren’t you concerned about their study skills? Why aren’t you teaching this structure? Why are you not giving multiple-choice tests? That’s so much more work on you….
I heard it all. So much in fact, that I decided to present the research on why I was switching. You can watch the video training series on why I switched to CI below:
This is the logical reason why I switched and signed myself up for the huge challenge of switching to teaching for proficiency.
But honestly, that’s not my most important reason.
What’s the REAL reason I switched to proficiency through methods like comprehensible input?
My real reason…..
She barely passed French last year, and hit that point where she struggled so much that she just stopped trying. I’m watching her struggle through French 2 across the hall from me now.
My other real reason is Rodrigo*.
Rodrigo was a great student who tried hard every SINGLE live-long day and did everything he needed to to do well in Spanish class. He also made everyone laugh in the process. But that sweet boy never spoke Spanish well, no matter how hard he studied. The only thing he really learned was the lyrics to his favorite song, Me Voy….which he always sung perfectly, even though he could never conjugate a reflexive correctly. (There was alot of extra credit that quarter)
My other reason is Adelita*.
She was also an incredibly driven and successful student, and she did well on every quiz, but she wasn’t great at Spanish. She struggled to prepare for her speaking final, but studied like crazy in order to get a good grade because she’s just that damn awesome.
My other reason is Demetrio*.
He’s not what you would call a great student. He has a hard time focusing and spends so much time working outside of school that he’s always tired and grumpy when he gets to class. But man, that kid can speak Spanish. He spits back everything I say to him perfectly, and understands it too. He used to go to a Spanish-speaking church for a little when he was a kid, but not for very long, and certainly before he could read or write.
These were all students that I taught last year. (Names obviously changed for privacy). Like many that I taught, I didn’t see a correlation with effort and ability, and knew that this trend had to be a reflection of what I was doing, and much less about what they were doing.
This year, these are my new REAL reasons for switching to CI:
My French student Zede* who is currently failing my class from a buncha missing assignments, but speaks excellent French.
My student Jae*, who failed last semester despite all the interventions we did last year, but spoke French each day with ease and did an entire Special Person Interview with his friend–for extra credit because he thought speaking French was easy.
My student David* who is an AP student in all other classes, and says that he’s learned more in a month than he did ALL last year in language class.
My student Jordan* who says that French is her favorite class–she’ll be the first person in her family to graduate high school.
My student Remi* who has Aspergers Syndrome, but still felt confident enough to do a Special Person Interview for her class.
My babies are my real reasons that I switch, because I’ve seen first-hand how this method empowers students and puts the class and the learning back in their hands.
It’s language for a purpose, to get to know other people and express and understand thoughts about the world around you, that makes teaching for proficiency so powerful.
It keeps my students’ attention a helluva lot better than esoteric grammar ever did.
It’s the power that it gives to ALL students, especially underserved students with difficult home lives, habitual academic self-doubt, and impossibly demanding family structures.
This method of proficiency teaches kids how to use their language to describe their own lives & understand the experiences of native speakers instead of mastering a concept and demonstrating it for a score.
It makes language a skill, not a subject.
That’s my real why.
I’ll catch you in the trenches.
Devon @ La Libre Language Learning
Interested in more research on language acquisition? Click here for a collection of resources on SLA Research