I just spent an hour with Megan Howard (@mmhoward) and Alicia Andreou from the Trinity School. They shared with us the redesign of their World Language program as a student-directed, formatively assessed, pan-lingual approach to learning a language. Teachers become facilitators of the learning process, not the authors, designers, and assessors of it.
In all it was a marvelous, well-expressed presentation. 2/3 of the way through it a teacher thundered away about research on language acquisition in a way that began as authoritative and finished almost combative. I tried to offer up this counterpoint, but time got the best of us and I wasn’t able to offer this perspective. So I offer it now.
But first, here’s my paraphrasing of the contrarian teacher’s remarks:
All the language research tells us that efforts at language acquisition fail if they are not reinforced by one-on-one, student-to-teacher communication…I challenge you to make this work.
Point #1: Research is ironclad only as long as circumstances remain the same
Every word of protest was true and cannot be refuted. The research, I assume, tells us that kids dabbling with a language in isolation will not work. However, the world has changed significantly since the 1960s-80s when this research was conducted. Websites like LiveMocha offer free or fee-based opportunities to engage in self-directed, peer-corrected language practice. And this is just one. I shutter to think of all the opportunities for peer-to-peer online language practice.
As the protester argued that a child at Trinity taking Filipino will fail in her efforts because her teacher and parents don’t speak Filipino, I logged on to LiveMocha and found a conversation partner that will help me learn Filipino.
Tingnan kung paano madaling na! (See how easy that was!)
So, my first point is this. The research she quoted no longer needs to spell out our infinite doom if we cultivate self-directed learners who seek out people to learn from (which, I suspect, is one of the objectives of Trinity’s language program)
Point #2: Treat the cause, not the symptom
What does it say about our mindset as educators that we have so completely innoculated our students from extrapersonal language practice that we GUARANTEE FAILURE if a teacher is not around to point out corrections and model proper usage?? Skype has been around for five years?? Why have we not blazed a trail to online bilingual communities that can help broaden our students’ language practice and deepen their cultural understanding?
In the end, there’s one truth that we can all agree on. If we tap student excitement, and make every effort to put that child in a position where success is possible, we are fulfilling our role as educators.
Salamat sa iyo para sa pagbabasa!