What do you believe? And does it matter?

If you don’t know who Mary Hynes is and have never listened to (and nodded with, yelled at, cried to, and questioned) Tapestry, CBC’s weekly radio show and podcast on spirituality, myth, faith, our connections then hop to it. It is inspiring and regularly leads me to question my own beliefs.

A recent article by the show’s host, however, reminds me that belief ain’t all that.

How do people know what you believe without action?
Cliché –> Walking the Talk
Theory –> Theory in use and espoused theory (Argyris & Schon, 1974)

I’m going to point fingers at myself for the sake of illustration here. As well to remind me how important it is to act and not merely believe. It’ll be a mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I say I believe in relationship-based learning.

It’s on my cv, I recently created and updated some web sites (LinkedIn, about.me, and others) where it was the first thing I wrote down.

A few years ago I used this blog as a venting venue about students and pressed send before thinking about relationship. I did the very opposite of caring for our relationship.

I have been known to end relationships abruptly. I turn silent, I disappear.

I can go for long periods without returning phone calls or contacting people.

I try to listen for/feel the ‘why’ behind a colleague’s or student’s actions and consider my own actions based on that.

I spend my breaks at work with students: talking, listening, and helping.

I get to know my students interests, goals, and abilities before designing learning and evaluation situations.

After uncomfortable, hinky …arguments… with friends or family I don’t talk about it. Time passes, then we drift back to a certain homeostasis.

I feel hurt and angry when I see teachers do things like yell at students, call them out in front of their peers, apply classroom expectations inconsistently, yet I do not know how to approach the subject with them for fear of creating an adversarial relationship.

So. Though I advertise that relationship-based learning is fundamental to who I am and what I do, I do not always take care of relationship the way I would like to. But I do think it needs to be taken care of and I work each day to get better at this. It’s hard work. Which lets me know that it is worth working at, thinking about, improving. But as it stands, some of my actions fall in line with that belief while others very pointedly don’t.

Another So. This morning I wrote a post called ‘I believe..’. Does any of that really matter? They are things that quicken my pulse but unless they are followed through with action, they are merely words. Belief then, is important as much as it provides a context for action but not so much on its own.

I believe that…

I believe ...

image used under cc sharing license. Click to find source.

…pedagogy and student success need to be priorities
…technology integration is NOT about technology integration
…students (and some teachers) need to be taught how to use technology ethically – how to be ethical digital citizens
…first we need to care, then we need to know what we are teaching, and only then we can find the proper tools to help make learning happen.
…teachers need differentiation of PD as much as students need differentiation of learning activities
…listening is important when wanting to make change
…grammar should not be the focus of language learning
…technology is but a tool. It is not a literacy.
…we can’t assume that students know what we think they should know by now

Learning, Naturally

…or is that Acquiring, Naturally?

I’ve been thinking a lot about language learning lately, as I bring a group of students towards final evaluations in a few weeks’ time. This group is small, though of the 9 students there are 6 different levels I need to evaluate. So, I repeat, I’ve been thinking a lot about language learning lately :)

A few lines from Mr. Krashen:

“Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.”

” Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication – in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.”

” The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.”

Do I like what he says because this is how I ultimately end up teaching? I can’t stand drills, grammar exercises, worksheet after worksheet of sentences and vocabulary. I can’t. It would bore me to death – all of that paperwork and its organization or, ultimately, disorganization as they all look the same and can easily hide behind each other. All of that subterfuge just gets in between me and the learner and what he or she knows anyways. Besides which, after 16 years of teaching, I know myself well enough that I won’t get around to correcting paperwork in any timely kind of manner.

So maybe it’s my lazy teaching correcting style that keeps my classroom free of worksheets and workbooks. Instead, we talk. I let them talk in English, even. It’s all for the purpose of better understanding French. But they always do some kind of talking and listening in French. At first I was following some kind of instructional format (like, today we will learn about past tense, or today we will learn vocabulary words for sports) but that made everything too…unnatural… and, ultimately, boring. It drove me nuts. So I told them to stop coming up with sentences about sports they used to play and to talk about the things they like to do now or the things they dream about for the future. I let them write it out in English and then they had to translate. We used dictionaries, translators, me, other students, whatever they were comfortable with and by going through that process they began to take more risks in speaking. Since I have all those levels I can’t quite have conversations with all of them at the same time so I’m happy for the tablets we have access to. There’s no waiting for their turn to talk, they practice talk into the tablet. Then they listen, erase, and practice talk some more. I make my rounds and record something as well, so they have my voice to listen to even if I’m not there.

Basically, the classroom is just a spot where we experiment with language. I think it grew out of my lazy correcting practice but just by listening to my students experiment with French, taking risks they would not have taken a few months ago I can say that being a lazy corrector may just have made me a better teacher for this group of learners.