Teaching inclusively in a language classroom tends to look much different from what’s typically expected. This makes sense, considering that conventional practices are based on teaching subject matter, not languages. In fact, most programs even train teachers to teach language only as subject matter to be learned. This must change, but for now serves as the main reason behind so much misunderstanding.
Last year, the principal first visited my classroom in December to have the only discussion about my teaching since school began. Needless to say, my teaching was not what was expected. There were even doubts as to whether my practices were having a positive effect. I certainly knew they were, but as a teacher in a new school I had very little influence. I figured that student testimonials would be enough to support and validate what was going on. They did. Here are the two prompts I asked students to respond to:
1) This year’s Latin class is different from other language classes you’ve had in the past. What are some things we’ve been doing to help you learn?
2) What are some things we could change to help you learn better?
In class, I often make statements distinguishing between “knowing about” a language (i.e. learning subject matter), and “knowing” a language (i.e. acquiring). Since the prompts were student-friendly, however, I didn’t bother with the learning/acquisition distinction. Here’s the first response to start unpacking:
Notice how this student has already had a negative Latin experience “only learning through the textbook.” Some students with that experience drop Latin as soon as they can. This particular student probably decided to take Latin in order to fulfill college entry requirements, and didn’t expect to be so successful. I’m glad they were surprised! Also note how this student recognizes the benefit of higher exposure to fewer words (i.e. shelter vocabulary). A more common term is “repetition,” but that can be misunderstood to result in drill-like practice, or just lead teachers astray in what the actual goal is of providing multiple exposures to fewer words.
Although the second prompt was designed to elicit criticism of current practices, this student’s response actually supports what’s going on by asking for increase in use of one of them! In fact, nearly every student responded this way to the second prompt. I like how this student values our short Brain Breaks. They are important, but often neglected. If more teacher’s could feel what it’s like to learn a new language again, we’d be in better shape.
There’s a lot we can learn from what our students say about teaching inclusively, so I intend to unpack more student feedback. In this first post, we’ve seen the following practices used to teach inclusively:
- Stop teaching Latin only as subject matter to be learned
- Sheltering Vocabulary
- Using Brain Breaks