01 September 2008

Starting to share my journey

I put myself through grad school working with a group of graduate electrical engineers. Their supervisor spent thousands of dollars paying 100% of my tuition and a stipend for me to live off of, and in exchange, I helped them communicate their research. After spending 4 years in undergraduate engineering classes, they'd entered their master's track to discover that if they couldn't communicate their research, it didn't mean anything to anyone but themselves.

I've come to realize the same thing about myself.

My first three years of teaching, I taught Spanish the same way a lot of people teach it, which is to say, the same way a lot of teachers teach history, science or math.
Open the textbook.
This is what we're doing today.
Everyone got it?
Here's the test.
And the same kids get A's who get A's in every other class. And the kids who fail science, struggle in Spanish too.

Then I went to get my master's in Linguistics with an emphasis in Second Language Acquisition and what I'd been doing made no sense. All these kids had done perfectly well learning English. They'd proven their brains were capable of learning language. People don't learn language the same way they learn science or history or math. So what on earth were we doing wrong?
I was introduced to the research of Dr. Stephen Krashen. My professors weren't his biggest fans by a long shot but his stuff came closest to explaining to me what was wrong with the U.S. foreign language education system. What it didn't do, however, was tell me how to fix it. I've heard Dr. Krashen speak twice and he himself has said he doesn't know what to tell teachers to do in the classroom. So instead of shrugging my shoulders and going back to the same old stuff in my classroom, I decided to keep at it until I figured out how I could change at least my teaching and make my classroom an i+1 acquisition classroom, for every student who would listen.

For the past year and a half, my students and I have had a blast experimenting with what it means to bring Krashen's i+1 and affective filter theories down to practical earth, and it's been quite a ride. But unless I communicate how my research has turned into a 90% C or above grade rate (and the other 10% take zeros for not turning in assignments), 50% retaining rate into a Spanish 3 elective, students who hated Spanish now saying it's their favorite class, and on and on, it won't go beyond me and my students.

Welcome to my language acquisition journey, a method I call Musicuentos (I realize not an original name, but as a teaching method it is). I hope you find something you can use. If you find anything, it's been worth it!

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