I had the amazing opportunity to apprentice teach beginning French under the tutelage of the incredible Paul Kirschling, and work alongside Blair Richards at iFLT this summer. While I walked away with so many ideas and thoughts, the one that really stuck is the importance of going S-L-O-W-L-Y. For those of you who know me, you probably understand how difficult this is for me. My personality is such that I get super excited and carried away, and, as a result, talk super fast. But it took something as concrete and direct as "STFD" for me to really internalize the idea. (No joke, I literally wrote those letters on my hand during my teaching at iFLT as a reminder.) And some of you may have seen this photo on the Interwebs of the visual I created for my classroom to get me to, well, you know...
When I took a step back and thought about the importance of slow, I thought about my students. My high-flyers can keep up with me and enjoy my "carried-away-ness." However, I risk leaving a lot of students behind when I go too quickly. And what good is it to teach when you're losing kids? I love my work, and I hope that shows in my teaching. But if I get so wrapped up in what I'm actually doing and move too fast (as I am wont to do), in the end, I won't be comprehensible, or successful. And that's a humbling thought.
(PSA-The idea of slow really hit me hard when I was a student in Linda Li's Mandarin class at NTPRS in 2012. Being a student in a language that isn't one that I know was essential to my understanding of slow. If you have never had the experience of being a language student, find a way to do that ASAP. Seriously. It's a game changer.)
In addition to seeing Paul, the master of slow, work his magic at iFLT, I was also able to observe several other teachers at the Express Fluency conference in Vermont this summer who embody slowness: Tina Hargaden, Justin Slocum Bailey (who, incidentally has a blog post on this exact idea), and Elissa Maclean. Check them out, and then come back here in a couple of months. I plan on filming and posting more of my classes this year to hold myself accountable with respect to my speed.
I hope that this gentle reminder to STFD helps you reach all of your students and keep yourself grounded and, in the end, comprehensible.
Homework seems to be a four-letter word in the world of education. I totally get that students often spend WAAAAY too much time at home doing schoolwork, but then again, I think that American kids today are too over-scheduled. But that's another can of worms! (And let's not even get into what other countries do!!)
Anyway, back to homework in MY classroom. I assign it. Not often, and not a ton, but I believe it can serve a purpose. This is what I wrote to parents this year regarding my homework policy:
My philosophy on language learning is that the majority of the work we need to do happens in the classroom. Because I want to ensure that French is fun for students, I do not want it to become the subject of a laborious task at home. That being said, there may be times when students will need to practice some of our material at home. In addition, it can be fun and rewarding for students to show off what they have learned. Therefore, homework in French class will consist mostly of assignments that engage other people: retelling a story from pictures, describing or summarizing a video, reading a book or poem. The “audience” of these tasks will sign a paper indicating that s/he participated in the activity and indicate how easily the student completed the task.
Please let me know as soon as possible if your household does not have Internet access, or your child has very narrow parameters for working online. For homework that involves retelling or summarizing a video, I post those videos on my website for student to access. I will need to come up with an alternative assignment for your child.
Click here to see what I give to students when I assign a Movie Talk retell as homework.
Depending on the situation, homework may be applicable and helpful. I don't think it's a black and white issue. I do leave the mega homework assignments to the math and ELA teachers, but something it fits with what we're doing, and I believe in my heart that homework can accomplish a goal. It must be assigned deliberately and thoughtfully, but it can't be completely disregarded.
I do make my sixth graders memorize poems. I assign projects that allow students to express themselves in a way that fits their personalities and interests: a video, drawings, a PowerPoint or the like. I give students my Google Voice number so that they can leave messages, answering questions or summarizing a reading or video or story. But I never give an assignment "just because students need homework." (Plus, from a very selfish standpoint, I don't want to spend hours looking at student work!)
What are your thoughts on homework? Do you do anything differently depending on the level?
Allison Litten, the 2019 VFLA TOY, teaches French at the Marion Cross School, a public K-6 school in Norwich, Vermont. This is her twentieth year teaching, and seventeenth at Marion Cross.