Saturday, July 27, 2013

At the beginning!


On Immersion Teaching Goals
By Marty Chen

After teaching for several years now and talking with many experienced teachers and administrators, I have developed a list of goals that I believe can help teachers to a better start in the immersion classroom.  There are more goals than this list contains, however I think we should keep it simple to start with. Being overwhelmed is not a healthy and productive state.  

See it as an all-you-can-eat buffet: the purpose is to satisfy your hunger and fill your stomach. Everything might look yummy and tempting at first glance, but we should only put what we can eat on our plate. We should have a variety of food that can nourish our bodies.  We arrange our choices nicely on our plates so we can observe, eat, and enjoy every bite. We can then go back for more after we finish the first plate.  On the second trip, we might try something new, or we might stick with what we like as long as it works for us.

The Chinese often say:水能舟亦能覆舟: the tide can bear the boats but can also swallow them. Too many rules, principles, or goals might be as bad as none at all.  But consider these important ones:

1.    Believe.  
Belief is what you tell yourself.  You believe you can or cannot achieve something.  If your belief is positive then you will swim above the water; if your belief is negative then you might drown.  As a teacher, you need to believe that you can teach and that students can learn.  When a teacher shows doubt, students can sense it. Believe in yourself and stay confident. One important belief is to believe in teaching 100% in the target language.

2.    Stay 100 % in the target language in the classroom.
This is the only way to do it. Students will try to figure out the message. English is their safety net. The students won’t take risks during learning if they can fall back on English. Let them survive in the target language.  Help them foster survival skills, and stick with teaching 100% in the target language.

3.    Be a role model. 
What happens when students see and hear you speaking English? If you do, make sure it’s not in the classroom.  During my fist year, students thought I didn’t speak English. I later realized it was not entirely necessary, as long as I only spoke Chinese in the classroom. I believe in demonstrating positive behaviors. If I only speak one language, what reason do I have to ask my students to become bilingual? I want the students to know that I speak their language well and can teach and live in a foreign country. I wish to inspire them rather than fooling them.

4.    Integrated teaching.
Time is limited, so do things efficiently. Make subjects connect with each other. Recycle the language throughout the day.  Show students that the vocabulary they are learning is not lifeless. Use vocabulary in meaningful sentences, and use vocabulary in real situations.  Act it out, make it fun, make the words part of their lives.  Generate interest in vocabulary so they use the words in different subjects and different situations.

5.    Caregiver speech.
Students only can hear the target language from you and in your classroom.  Provide as much context as you can. Weather changes? Talk about it every day. Clothing items are different, mention and point them out everyday.  Think out loud and invite students to do the same. Describe things in detail and invite students to say it. Describe events in sequences and invite students to say it too. Offer warm and comforting words when they are hurt or sad.  Offer funny comments and laugh with them.  Students have strong memories of emotion.  Let students know you care and let them hear your caring voice all the time.

6.    Comprehensible input.
Don’t assume. Use gestures, pictures, realias, TPR, multimedia and props to teach the message. Check their understanding and listen for responses in the target language. When I show you an eggplant picture and I say “murasaki”, what did I just teach? Purple or eggplant in Japanese? When I have many different purple objects and I say “murasaki”, can you make the connection that I am teaching the color purple?

7.    Backward design.
Have the end goals in mind. Think about the purpose of each lesson first. Don’t teach because it’s cute or it’s fun for you. Think about what you want your students to hear, say, read, and write.  Think about how can you evaluate the learning outcomes!

8.    Communication. 
Don’t assume! Talk to your partner teacher.  Talk to other teachers.  Talk to your principal.  Talk to your staff.  And talk to the parents.

Does this seem like a lot to keep in mind? Integrate these goals, just like you teach.  Together, all of these goals can be combined into a single act: effective teaching. 

Remember your main purpose:
·      Teach contents to your students
·      Students’ language production in target language
·      Inspire your students to love learning


Teaching is rewarding. Enjoy every moment!