25 September 2014

Can a 40 day challenge be the answer?

DAY 25- Reflective teacher Blogging Challenge

The ideal collaboration between students-what would it look like?

Wow.  As a language teacher, this is something I always wish would happen.  Many times, the interaction is student to teacher and vice versa. In a perfect world, my students would interact in the target language ONLY.  I don't just mean when I ask them to create a dialogue and then present to the class but also when they were chit-chatting.  Although I encourage as much as I can the use of the target language only, fear overtakes many a student. The fear of having a poor accent.  The fear of mispronouncing a word.  The fear of not knowing a word.  The fear of others thinking you try to hard or not enough.  Basically, the fear of being judged.  I do try to build my students self confidence by reiterating time and time again that they are awesome just for trying and that the more they use the language, the more comfortable they'll feel using it.

Last year, I tried something different.  I chose to give up English for lent.  I wanted to model for them.  Although I do use Italian in the classroom for the majority of the lesson, I didn't always outside the classroom and I would resort to English for time constraints or just based on my perception of how difficult a grammatical point would be to understand in Italian only.  My fear of me not being able to assure myself that they "got it" would lead me at times to resort to English.  However, I told them about my Lenten offering and that I would use only Italian for the 40 days with anyone who knew or was studying the language both within and outside the classroom.  I promised them if they would agree to challenge themselves in my class as well and not complain, that I would, at the end of the challenge, cook for them.  I have to say that this went over really well for the majority.  Any time I saw my students - in the cafeteria, the guidance office, the hallways- our only interaction was in Italian.  I was so pleased with the results that I will definitely do it again this year.  It not only helped me find alternate ways to assess them and it helped them be more open to the idea of using the language exclusively.  I know that many language teachers will be wagging their fingers at me; telling me that I should be doing this all year anyhow.  I'm here to admit that it's difficult. And it's not difficult because I am not confident in my language skills but just for the mere fact that most of our daily life happens in English.  I know many language teachers whose own children cannot speak the language well or at all.  I try my best with my own kids and I know that can speak pretty well but for them, it can seem a bit unnatural because they go about 80% of their day, if not more, in English so to use Italian for the other 20% can be somewhat forced.  I don't force too much because I don't want them to shut down and I feel the same way for my students.  I encourage, encourage, encourage all year the use of Italian at all times but if I'm too forceful, they might not ask me a question or comment at all.  However, if they know there is a start and an end to a challenge, they are more apt to participate and even though the 40 days come to a close, their use of Italian ALWAYS increases- for all of my students, even the weakest of them.  It's like when I'm running. I set a goal for time or distance and try to achieve it and while I'm doing it, sometimes all I want is for the time to be up or that mile to be completed so I can stop.  But when I finish, I feel good about myself and my achievement that I continue to push myself even after it's over.

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