Friday, March 25, 2016

A Hard Lesson Learned the Hard Way

I've been in my own head a lot lately. I haven't meant to be, but this year I've been working on my master's thesis, which has caused me to become more introspective and much less aware of what is happening outside my own mind.

This wouldn't be so bad (it still wouldn't be great) if it was limited to missing world events. However, I've been so wrapped up in my thoughts and theories and writing that I forgot to watch my students.

The warning signs started in early November, but I was getting ready for my presentation at ACTFL so I attributed my students' restlessness and distraction to the upcoming holiday and heavy work loads from other classes. When we returned after Thanksgiving break, I was scrambling to compose and organize my research into something I could turn in to prove I had spent the semester researching my thesis topic, so I attributed some of my struggling students' difficulties with the readings to not paying attention, because this was easier than stepping back and reassessing my approach, and I didn't have time to do that anyway. I already more or less had the rest of the semester planned, so why would I take valuable thesis time to change all of that?

I had a lot of excuses, and my students lost out. And lost faith in me. Latin was becoming "hard."

I had originally planned to write a blog post between Fall and Spring semesters, because finally, after turning in my research and turning my attention back to my students right before finals, I realized the mistake I was making, and felt I should share it.

I didn't write it, however. I had also been failing a little as a mother, and decided to turn my energy during the break toward my son.

Luckily, the delay means that I get to report a happy ending to all of this struggle.

The year is by no means through, but I am already seeing the result of my rethink. I did my best to start over this semester with my students. I had them read something light to refresh their Latin at the beginning of January, and from that point on I have focused on repetition, slowing down, and making sure there is enough reading and practice that my students really understand the new material.

One of my students who commonly struggles, and who was acting out the most at the end of last semester and the beginning of this semester (I had to earn his trust back), is now participating and comprehending and has declared our most recent reading "easy." My students who were not paying attention or struggling against me because they were frustrated are beginning to to return to me as the charming people I knew them to be last year. Slowing down is working.

It is easy to forget how important it is to go slow and make sure all of your students understand and truly comprehend what you are reading. It is easy to get caught up in goals or time restrictions (either your own or imposed on you). Even though I've been teaching with comprehensible input strategies for twelve years, it was easy for me to get involved in my own ideas and forget to notice my students.

It is easy. So, we need to be mindful. Studies show that students need comprehensible input to successfully acquire language, and moving too quickly takes even simple readings and makes them incomprehensible to students.

Sharing my failing isn't easy; I don't think this is my best-written post, because I have had to work to find the words. But Miriam and I promised when we started this blog to share things that didn't work as well as the things that did, and moving too quickly did not work.

Hopefully this will help someone else think about pace and consider whether he or she is moving too fast for the students in his or her program.

Don't be afraid to go slowly!

(btw, I've been catching up on the blogs I didn't read while working on my thesis, and I came across this post by the great Grant Boulanger, and it also stresses to go slowly!)