#oneword – “Fearless”

Bonne Année, tout le monde! I hope that you all had relaxing breaks, are enjoying the beginning of 2 hour delays and unexpected calamity days. I’m trying to stay warm despite the -30 degree wind chill outside. But, at least I had the day off to grade!

I learned a lot of things in 2014 – I joined the #langchat PLN, I attended some intriguing professional development, read some phenomenal books on education, and I threw my textbook out the window (figuratively) and started focusing on communication. Communication based instruction (is that even the term?) has been really difficult for me, but I’m ready to hit the ground running when our new semester starts next week.

This brings me to my #oneword. I’ve read a lot of inspiring posts over the past year, whether on twitter, a blogging platform, or somewhere else on the web. And after every inspiring post I read, favorite, retweet, like, comment on, modify, whatever it may be, I can always imagine myself doing those things. I close my eyes and I’m storyasking, using 90% TL, telling a story, using actors in my class, infusing grammar without teaching it, being awesome. And then the time comes for me to tell that story, ask those questions, be awesome, and I freeze. I look at the 9-29 students in front of me, and I don’t. I worry. I freak out. I chicken out. And I go back to what I used to do.

So, my word for this year? Fearless.

Fearless teaching: Instead of imagining myself doing these things, I will do them. I will try, try again, and dang it, sometimes I will fail. I will have wonderful intentions and mess up. I will charge headfirst into teaching my students to communicate, and I will try out the things that I imagine myself doing.

Fearless speaking: Sometimes I revert to my pre-study abroad days, where I think that everyone in the room will know if I use the wrong verb, adjective, adverb, construction, etc. But these are high schoolers, and chances are they won’t know. How can I teach my students to “go for it” if their teacher can’t model what “going for it” looks like?

Fearless learning: More than even being fearless myself, I want my students to be fearless. I’m teaching an AP class of students who went through three years of grammar based instruction, and they won’t speak to me out loud. They’re terrified. This year, I will teach all of my levels to negotiate meaning, to boldly say that they don’t understand (thanks, Colleen!), to speak even when they’re not sure of the words, and to “go for it,” whatever the “it” may be.

Fearless leading: I want to explain the benefits of communication, proficiency-based instruction, indirect grammar, etc. to my colleagues, but sometimes that’s more terrifying than anything else. This year, I will challenge myself to speak more openly with my colleagues about these topics, even when they tell me, “why teach them grammar if they don’t need to use it perfectly?”

So, fearless might not be the best word. I’m sure that I could have chosen something more inspiring, more applicable, more student-oriented, but this is the word that I think will change my teaching forever. I’ll try to update you with the progress I’m making toward becoming fearless.

Thank you to everyone who has replied to, emailed, messaged, commented to, retweeted, answered, considered, taught, or helped me in the year 2014. I appreciate everything you’ve said more than I could say in words.

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2 thoughts on “#oneword – “Fearless”

  1. In response to the ‘why teach grammar if they don’t need to use it perfectly’, well, they answered their own question! I have taught exactly one explicit grammar lesson this year (and am going to teach another next week, ooOOooo) and to prep for said grammar lesson, I wrote a sentence on the board. I asked my students what it meant (using a verb form they had never seen before). They needed to know what the crazy-formed-verb meant, but after that, not an issue. I said, ‘okay, how do I make this sentence about you, tú’ and they said ‘put an -s on it’. Great! ‘And what if you guys put an -n on it instead, what does that do?’ ‘Makes it about many people’. Wonderful! ‘And if we want to talk about ourselves, nosotros, what do I have to do?’ ‘Make it -mos’. And these are normal Joes, not my superstars.

    Here’s the thing. The research shows that your brain acquires grammar in a specific order and when the brain is ready for it. So that means I can explicitly teach something grammatical until I’m blue in the face and their brains still aren’t going to register the difference. We just have to keep giving input, input, input until one day their brain says ‘Hey! I’m ready now! What’s this thing all about?’ and will be able to apply what you’ve been teaching them. In the novice stage, it’s important to do the pop-up grammar and point things out repeatedly, and they need to be able to interpret it, but they won’t be able to reproduce it until later in their linguistic development. So there is a time and place for grammar, but it’s not until after the novice stage where their brain has had enough input to start making sense of it. Otherwise, for your non-grammarian-superstars, it’s just overwhelming and a waste of time.

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