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Adult Students


My philosophy of teaching is largely a nexus of my experiences as a language learner, Spanish teacher, and teacher educator. I was introduced to exploratory foreign language study at a young age, and my understanding of the discipline was shaped very early by passionate, enthusiastic, and caring educators. My most memorable experiences included short bursts of Spanish in classes that had me participating frequently by describing objects, using small chunks of language to share my preferences, and talking about my own world. In contrast, as a language teacher, I often hear individuals say, “I studied Spanish in…and I can’t say a thing.” To be fair, I also confronted numerous obstacles when I recognized significant gaps in my own language capacity after traveling abroad for the first time following a decade of Spanish study. Quite possibly for these reasons, communication serves as the primary goal of all of my classes. It is my goal that language learners can communicate within and across cultures in the United States and abroad.

As a teacher, I recognize the challenge that American learners face when studying another language especially much later than I began. Being proficient in another language requires years of meaningful exposure. Many learners still struggle to use language beyond simple sentence level discourse and familiar everyday topics upon post-secondary graduation. In the world language classroom, reaching the challenging goals in which learners use language to explore abstract ideas, justify opinions, and formulate hypotheses necessitates consistent, authentic and meaningful exposure to the language and contexts that require interaction.

To assist learners and because I see communication as the primary outcome of language teaching, the principles of communicative proficiency-oriented teaching undergird my pedagogical practice. Because language input is a critical component in contemporary language teaching, I use Spanish to the maximum extent possible regardless of the level of the class. While using the target language, however, I rely on strategies like paraphrasing and using gestures, images, and cognates. My goal is for students to use the language rather than to merely listen to me—thus, I create opportunities for them to hear, view, read, write, and speak the language consistently.

To assure that my students develop communicative competency, a typical class begins with Can-Do statements.  These performance-based objectives are level appropriate and are directly tied to what learners should be able to do by the end of the class. In second semester Spanish, for example, learners at the Novice High-Intermediate Low proficiency level should be able to create with the language about their own worlds (e.g., my school, work, friends, classes). Learners are aware of proficiency expectations from the moment they enroll in a class as syllabi and calendars include performance-based checklists based upon their expected level of proficiency (e.g., I can describe my preferences regarding food and restaurants; I can give recommendations to a new MSU student who desires to have a successful experience).

To meet these objectives, learners are engaged in scaffolded activities that build from simple to complex. A glimpse into my class would allow you to see learners using a subway map to give directions around Madrid, calling a lost Uber driver telling him how to arrive to their home, listening to airport announcements, making sense of information from a train schedule, or writing letters/emails to a future study abroad host family. Authentic documents like these logically serve as a foundation for connecting to real world tasks.  Further, using this type of source that is created by the target cultures fosters opportunities for learners to make connections and comparisons to others’ way of life. To aid with productive skills (speaking and writing), students often complete information gap activities and communicative tasks. For example, learners might discuss what is in their backpack and then decide who is most prepared for class. They might ask one another about their past weekend and decide who had the most exciting time. They also engage in reading/listening-to-write activities. Students, for instance, might listen to a description about me and then through writing respond to the question in Spanish, “¿Eres igual a tu profe de español?” (Are you like your professor of Spanish?).  This conscious decision provides learners with appropriate modeling and support before they are expected to create language on their own.

Assessment is woven into every class. The three modes of communication—interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational—are the basis for all lessons, and integrated performance assessments that reflect tasks completed in class serve as summative evaluations. Completing these types of tests requires learners to use information gleaned from a reading (e.g. an infographic about families in Mexico—interpretive communication) in order to speak with a classmate comparing Mexican family structure with their own (interpersonal). Then, learners write to a host a family of their choice using this information—recognizing appropriate discourse for communicating respectfully across cultures (presentational due to focus on process).  Further, throughout learning pathways, I provide feedback that encourages learners to elaborate their responses, and consequently, they are taught expressions that are culturally appropriate when hesitating, asking for confirmation, and requesting information. Learners are active—their interaction with each other, with me, and with the language via multiple contexts forces output in structured ways. It is also culturally-relevant as learners might explore McDonald’s in Argentina versus Starkville; movie theaters in Mexico City; the living wage in Panamá versus the United States; and humanitarian crises in various countries. Students consequently work toward becoming globally competent as learning trajectories are purposefully designed.  

As a pedagogue, communication serves as the framework for my work in training and supporting future and current teachers as well. To prepare for class, graduate students write three thought-provoking questions that are used to guide my lessons. They explore relevant theories of second language acquisition as well as empirical literature and respond in dialogue journal assignments. For example, learners are expected to speak and record themselves answering questions that demand them to make connections between theoretical knowledge and practice (e.g., what are three theories that are most reflected in your practice?). As a result, learners focus on thinking, acting, and communicating as educators.

To connect directly to their growing practice as educators, most classes include a studio component in which graduate students create various artifacts (e.g., a philosophy of teaching, lesson plans and materials, assessments, syllabi) with guidance from me and their classmates. Artifacts require students to connect to the World Readiness Standards. They also typically require learners to apply what is learned from other expert class speakers: K-12 educators in the community, college/university language faculty, teacher educators across the country, and scholars. Thus, the classroom encourages lifelong learning and the acquisition of knowledge by becoming part of a community of learners. Studios also encourage a collaborative environment for graduate students who consistently engage in conversations about what it means to be an effective world language teacher and use that information to improve their own praxis. Most artifact creation is an iterative process as I provide feedback and pose questions repeatedly throughout the process. Further, some artifacts are revisited at many points during the semester as graduate students become more knowledgeable about language pedagogy.

In summary, a common thread about my teaching is the belief that the purpose of language is communication. While the context, purpose, and mode of communication might vary based on level and certainly given the course taught, ultimately application of content relies on interaction with others in meaningful, authentic ways. For learners to excel, instruction must rely on a tight connection with and frequent use of assessment practices. Further, regardless of class, learners must be given multiple opportunities to succeed—a reflection of an iterative process, modeling, and scaffolding. In short, my philosophy can be summarized by an insatiable desire to enhance student learning, foster critical thought about the world in which we live, and to promote the virtues of lifelong learning.  As a reflection of these core pedagogical values, my philosophy will continue to evolve based upon new trends, empirical findings, and the plethora of self-reflective, learning opportunities that the world language classroom affords.

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