Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reflection: What's Most Important, Content-Wise?

Teachers were asked today to take 35 minutes out of our prep and reflect on our work as a teacher.  We are ultimately going to be using this information to apply to an individual improvement plan, which I am excited to get started on.  But I must admit- this reflection comes at a bit of a bad time, because I have been over-reflecting lately on what I have been doing in my class.

We rolled over to a new semester in my school building about 4 weeks ago.  With the new semester came new German 3/4 students.  I was ecstatic to see that my numbers for German 3/4 are relatively steady (at 12 students), and something is to be said about working with those students who sign up for your class for enjoyment.  I have lots of fun with those students.

Now for the reflection piece.  The first part of a new course is always spent figuring out where the students are so that we can head in the best direction for improvement.  My students are typically very comfortable with speaking and they do a great job trying out the language without worrying if they are wrong.  However, some students continue to struggle with basic conjugations, pronunciation, and some common vocabulary words hit in German 1.  This is the first group that I am teaching that I have had since their start, and I am being a bit harsh on myself for not reinforcing certain concepts early on so that students developed good habits.  It's not that I don't teach grammar, but I am careful not to overemphasize it, for a couple of reasons.  First of all, it's boring to most students.  Second of all, with a few exceptions, native speakers will still understand foreigners if they misuse a form of "the" or something of the like.  Finally, grammar is really, really hard to master.  Overemphasizing it can lead to serious self-efficacy issues and can cause students to give up.  So instead, most of my teaching career has been focused on encouraging students, allowing time for conversation practice, and focusing on the "fun," communicative part of the language.

By offering students multiple exposures to culture and language (through songs, activities, and authentic resources, such as comics), I hope to catch students' interest and motivate them to continue with the language.  It seems to be working; my German 1 numbers this year were well over double what they were last year.  However, like I mentioned, I am purposely leaving some things out.  I recently looked at an example of the National German Exam, just for fun, and realized my students would absolutely bomb it.  They would be able to pick out some things, but they have not been trained to perform in this standardized way.  In this regard, am I also doing them a disservice if they choose to continue to study German in college?  And will they feel foolish making elementary mistakes when talking to a native speaker?  I don't know.  My choices at this point are to remain relatively relaxed with my expectations and hopefully breed confidence, or tighten the reigns a bit and produce better language out of the students.

I have taken this into consideration with German 1 this semester.  I am focusing much more deliberately on the verb "to be" and slowing down on teaching the adjectives to accompany it.  However, I do still feel like the students are having a hard time with it.  Time will tell whether or not they will remember it better than students have before, but it truly is a concept that must transfer, because it is so common. I am worried, though, that I am overdoing it with these students- I don't want to squash their egos early on so that they think the language is inaccessible; on the contrary, I want my students to think that it isn't that hard to communicate in another language as long as you focus on basic skills like conjugating and pronouncing words correctly.

That brings me to my goal for this semester.  I would like students to begin using language more accurately from the get-go, so I will be stressing accuracy a bit more.  More importantly, though, I want students to become self-sufficient spellers.  German is quite literal when it comes to reading, as long as you master a few basic changes (such as the W making a V sound).  The vowels are trickier, but regular.  Students have a hard time remembering that IE is always pronounced eeeeeeeeee, and EI is always pronounced "eye" for instance.  So I would like to develop a plan to ensure that students can at the very least read the language out loud.  There are lots of online resources which I hope to collect as I develop this goal, and I hope that the students will be on board with me as well.

As an over-reflection, I realize that I have room to grow as a teacher.  Sometimes I realize this a bit too much!  I always do what I think is right for the students in the moment, but I also want to begin preparing them for later successes in the language as well.  I hope to report positive results at the end of the semester!

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