First of all, Black Lives Matter. Second, this movement is going to play out in one of the most important arenas – the classroom. Everyone is in a different place in regards to culturally responsive teaching and equitable practice in world language. It’s time for us to make this the priority. I’m growing with you to become a more equitable teacher – here are some places to start anti-racist teaching and culturally responsive pedagogy in your world language class.
Empowering Black students and all students of color is urgent, necessary work. But there’s a solution that’s been staring us in the face for a while, and it’s time to acknowledge its power to help dismantle harmful practice.
Questioning the Equity of our Classroom
We need to examine all aspects of our practice as world language teachers, from curriculum, anti-racist resources, representation, classroom management, and teaching styles. I wrote a post last year to help explain to teachers why I was asking so many questions about the current practices and curriculum that we used in my school. In a summer where every teacher I know is questioning whether their classroom practice is truly equitable (as we should be doing), it’s worth asking the same questions. For instance:
Why am I talking most of the class?
Why do certain students seem to succeed in every classroom, no matter the teacher?
Why is it that students who get good grades aren’t actually able to do much with the language? And why are some students with low grades able to do so much more?
Why do certain students fall into consistent academic underperformance? What can we do to fix it?
Why are students of color disproportionately called out on the dresscode in my school? That seems uncool…
Anti-Racist Books for Teachers
I’ve ordered and am reading a whole list of books this summer to help me become a better anti-racist educator and human. * I’ve also ordered books for my 4-year-old son. You can peruse my list above for some ideas.
The book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain is my educator-specific choice. * I’m currently waiting for this one to arrive. I found the recommendation from A.C. Quintero, an amazing Spanish educator and author of many CI Readers. You can find her books on Amazon as well, but she gets the most from the sale out of her own store (linked above).
The other educator book that I recommend to anyone who teaches in an urban environment like me is For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood.* It’s my go-to guide for urban pedagogy. I realized last year that I was guilty of the white savior complex he discusses and had to completely change the way I interacted with my students. (I’m learning too – this stuff is hard. You’re not alone!)
These are affiliate links, meaning I will earn a small commission at no cost to you if you purchase. Find out more in my Affiliate and Disclaimer Policy. I only recommend what I love.
Culturally Responsive Teaching in World Language
The real truth is that students don’t need fixing. Students have been the same since the dawn of time. Some are lazy, some are high achievers, and most fall in the middle. Adults are the same way. Teachers are the same way.
The problem is that the achievement of American teens doesn’t mirror this bell curve at all. Students of color are disproportionately affected by typical teaching strategies.
What teachers need to face is that students don’t need “fixing”. There’s nothing wrong with Black and Brown students that makes them more vulnerable to fall through the cracks. Thinking so is something called a savior complex –it’s just as harmful as it sounds.
What’s wrong is perpetuating practices that don’t serve Black and Brown students as well as their white counterparts. In the US, where 80% of teachers are white, it’s no wonder that the typical practice isn’t set up well for students of color.
The reason I’m taking such a strong stance on this is that now more than ever, in the hardest teaching semester we’ve ever had, I know you’re questioning whether all this work to teach with proficiency is worth it.
“I have other things to focus on. I have to figure out how to be an equitable teacher…I’m already worried that I’m not doing enough for my students. I feel so bad about their hardships being out of school during COVID…my growth as a teacher doesn’t matter this semester.”Every teacher ever during covid-19 school closures and race riots at the same time
I’m your friendly coach, not your cheerleader. Which means that I care more about us getting better as a community than I do about us feeling comfortable.
I’m here to tell you that the solution you’re craving is staring you in the face.
Teaching with Comprehensible Input
Changing your classroom practice to proficiency is no longer optional. It’s your only option.
Proficiency-based teaching is THE MOST equitable teaching practice for world language specifically because it’s different.
It’s because it eliminates the teacher-centered “lecture-memorize-test” cycle that’s so common, but so damaging to students.
Your students crave the same real-world relevance in class. They want to speak, get their hands dirty, and learn about culture from real culture, not passages in a textbook.
Conjugation has been proven through decades of research to be a waste of time in your classroom. Find out more about the SLA research here. You’ll also have plenty of that research in a resource that I made for you…keep reading to find out what it is.
Proficiency is Culturally Responsive
The only reason we still give grammar-heavy teaching the time of day is because it’s comfortable. We all know how to do it, and know that we can comfortably test it. It’s not because we’ve been bad teachers. We’re just freaking busy and trying to juggle so many other plates! But it’s time to wake up to the fact that doing one thing that’s really hard is actually going to make the rest of our classroom lives easier. Practicing culturally responsive teaching, while hard, makes everything else about teaching easier because it makes everything grounded in meaning. The student buy-in and community it creates is insane.
But why on Earth is proficiency more culturally responsive than traditional world language methods?
Proficiency values skills in language rather than compliance in a traditional academic setting. The grading system is based on skill and ability, not on how well students pay attention in class, do their homework, or can listen to a teacher the longest. It values student voice and individuality, contribution, and real-world practice.
Students are no longer measured on what the teacher views to be important academic skills, such as multiple choice testing. It values how well they contribute to the classroom community dialogue. Which one would you want if you were a student? Seated listening, lectures, extensive writing, and extensive seated testing disproportionately favor only one learning style and one culture.
How Proficiency and CI fit into Culturally Responsive Teaching
Proficiency is messy. Real language development is hard to measure. But the cost of choosing comfort is your students’ safety at school. I really do believe that, because I’ve seen it.
Switching to proficiency evened the playing field for my students of color more than any other equity-driven practice.
That’s why I work every day to get more teachers to give CI and proficiency the time of day, and make tools so you can try it without stress.
The Role of Distance Learning
This truly trying semester that left us so unsure and uncertain is a blessing. The pain of shifting everything to distance learning so quickly made us really think. It’s made us question to the core why we do things the way they are, and that’s a good thing. Black Lives Matter woke us up to the realities that we need to dismantle education..like yesterday.
You might not be sure where to start in all this…it’s ok. Start anyways. And start with proficiency.
Equity Resources for your Classroom
If you made it all the way to the bottom, you’re a hero. I can see how much you care about your students. I made a resource for you, completely motivated by my deep desire to help you get the answers you’re looking for. It’s a 20 + page ebook on the topics most important to us in 2020. You can grab it below:
After you download it, forward the link to your teacher friends that are asking the same questions as you. Then reply in the comments and tell me what you think!
I’m thinking about you and wishing you the most restful summer. Take a break for a while from all things teaching. You deserve it! And when you start to worry about the fall, read this guide – it’ll bring you some comfort.
Rooting for you,
Devon @ La Libre
P.S. – Did you download your World Language Teacher Toolkit? Click below to get your copy.