This proficiency and performance based teaching and learning does a funny thing to a world language teacher. It turns her neat world with all of its preconceived ideas about language learners upside down. It also completely removes the elitism that, I think, pervades the teaching of World Languages.
Up until last year, I thought that "some" kids should not be in Spanish because they were too low academically, or too unmotivated to learn, or not college material or failing in other subjects, etc. If they couldn't write properly in English, how could they write in Spanish? If they didn't know English grammar, how on earth would they EVER be able to learn how to speak and write Spanish properly? If they had low Math scores, well... that went hand in hand with difficulty learning another language. At least, that is what someone told me that the research showed - not that I ever got my hands on said research. So, in the past, when my students showed up in my classroom with all of their struggles and baggage, I assessed within the first month, who I thought would succeed and who would fail in my class. Funny thing is that I was generally proven right, particularly at the novice level.
Then, this summer, a funny thing happened on my way to a new year. I hooked up with a radical group of world language educators who wrote and spoke about proficiency based learning and testing, throwing grammar based approaches out, having realistic expectations and approaching world language teaching with an inclusive approach. This couldn't have come at a better time, as I was rather dismayed at the end of last year, when I realized that I had been assigned 3 Spanish 1 groups this year. After all, "those children" who shouldn't be in Spanish, are generally found in those novice classes.
After spending 2 months in Twitter Chats #langchat, Google+ Group @langcamp sessions and sharing wonderful ideas with more experienced colleagues, I felt that I needed to walk the talk. So, I took several deep breaths and became determined that no matter who ended up in my class, I would welcome them with open arms and believe from the bottom of my heart that they could learn Spanish IF I taught it in a way that they could grasp it.
This week, I met my new students and they didn't look any different outwardly that they had in the past. But, I felt a surge of emotion when I saw all of them. I looked and saw in the anxious faces of "those children" failure written across their faces. I looked them in the eye and told them that they COULD learn Spanish. I showed them a video clip of their favorite sports stars and actors speaking different languages. I created an activity on the first day that ensured 100% success from every single member of the class. They left Spanish 1 being able to say 3 short sentences and they met one of the I can statements for a novice level. There was a warmth in the room that I had never felt before in a novice class, there were smiles, there was engagement and there was a connection with each other and with me. My heart is very full tonight knowing that for one day, all of my students experienced the success of learning to say something meaningful in another language.