TTT is DOA


Embracing divergent communication styles is the current frontier upon which I am attempting to transcend to another level of teaching. It's at these moments of confronting my fossilized methodology that I most recognize the age difference between myself and my students. "In my day" the teacher didn't really care, much less ask for, my point of view. He/She was the expert and I was the dumb kid, and my job was to somehow develop the stamina to sit there and listen to him/her distribute knowledge. This isn't meant to criticize my teachers, most of whom were amazing people. Those were just the times we lived in. If your opinion was required, it would be elicited in a controlled, focused manner, using complete sentences and flawless grammar structures.

Fast forward to the present day, when 90% of my students never, ever stop communicating unless they are asleep, at which time they are communicating in their dreams. Embracing their discourse style and cultural framework has been an amazing ride. They have taught me a lot, but what they still haven't taught me completely is how to surf these waves of language and communication and still remain on topic. It's a kind of organized chaos, really. New teachers are usually sent to my classroom to observe me, since I have been at this school the longest and since I am about 50% of the way towards managing this organized chaos.

One example of how I deal with it is, I arrive early and write out all the grammar onto the board, including the rules and sample sentences. This satisfies the Asian students, and the more serious Latinos as well because there's the main course right on the table for them to start sniffing. I then give them an overview of what is going to happen in the class, framing the three hour session (yes, three), and then I give a brief lecture about the forms and vocabulary they will be learning. Essentially, the highly structured section of the class is right up front as they are still establishing themselves socially for the lesson. Then I turn to them and "take their temperature", offering them open-ended opportunities to tell about something from their lives using the form for the day. This does two things: Usually, it establishes for me, and more importantly for them, that they need to learn this. They are such fearless communicators that they will try anything I throw out at them, even if it means they fall on their faces immediately. Now we all agree that this is something which we need to learn and/or improve upon.

Another way I deal with it is I lean heavily on communicative pair work and discussion. Latinos tend to learn with their mouths running, with some exceptions. The third example is the one I'm least confident is correct. When it comes time to drill and practice the essential grammar forms, I lay down the law and make them be quiet long enough to let it settle in. This is partially out of respect for my Asian and Middle Eastern students, as well as my Latino book worms (both of them. Ha). But it's also for the motor mouths to stop communicating long enough to allow the new forms or words to impact the neurons in their excited brains.

I would much rather teach verbal students than silent ones, but they do present some challenges when it comes to their communication styles and how they differ from those with which I was raised.


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