10/24/16 Stacey M. Johnson
For 16 years, I have taught Spanish in post-secondary and community settings to students from across the spectrum of age, racial/ethnic background, socio-economic status, and with varying levels of preparation. Since 2007, I have also taught education courses including language teaching methods, an ESL teaching practicum, as well as courses on adult learning theory and leadership. Teaching in a variety of settings to diverse populations has allowed me to research and experiment with approaches and methodologies, and to convert my teaching philosophy into a teaching practice. The hallmark of my teaching, whether in a graduate level education course or a first semester Spanish course, is a focus on two things: real-world applications and intercultural competence.
I believe that good language instruction prepares students to engage in authentic communication with real people in the real world. So, I make instructional choices to provide my students with authentic language input as well as opportunities for authentic communication. The first step to promoting real-world language skills is to emphasize communicative proficiency over analytical language skills. While learning about language is useful for promoting metalinguistic awareness and critical thinking, it is not the primary goal of my instruction. I want my students to actually communicate with other people in the target language with the goal of exploring others’ perspectives and working together to solve the problems that affect us all. Learning activities and performance assessments in my classes are designed with the ACTFL performance descriptors in mind. By the end of their first year of college-level Spanish instruction, I want at least 60% of my students to have moved into the Intermediate Low level of oral language proficiency. With student-centered, proficiency-based activities, this goal is achievable.
Not only are my students gaining practical language proficiency, they are also studying authentic culture. I require my language students to participate in cultural events or service learning in the Hispanic/Latino community as part of all of my language courses. Technology can also be a wonderful tool for connecting students to the outside world. Through the many resources available on the internet, the virtual classroom can become a portal to the world.
In my education courses, I also emphasize the practical application of learning. Teacher candidates in my methods class engage in real teaching and research whenever possible. In addition to field observations and practical projects, my methods students this semester attended the state language teaching conference and assisted me with a presentation on problem-based culture teaching. I have also invited advanced students to co-author short pieces. Graduate students in my adult learning class conduct participant observation in a museum after reading an article about museums as sites of cultural politics. Students in my ESL teaching practicum develop an advocacy project that requires them to conduct interviews with professionals in the field, work with these professionals to identify a problem or challenge in local language education, and then design and implement a campaign or resource that addresses the problem. My students explore real-world applications of their knowledge and skills.
As a result of the emphasis on real-world applications, students begin to develop an awareness of their own cultural perspective. As we draw on authentic resources to explore and discuss relevant social, political, and cultural issues, our language classroom becomes a safe space to explore others’ perspectives and expand our own. This process of thoughtfully exploring and discussing differences across cultures is the key to intercultural development. Intercultural competence is not gained through simple contact with authentic communities and cultural resources. Learners must go through a process of critical reflection and integration in order to make sense of the multiple cultural perspectives discovered in the authentic resources.
I find the experiential learning cycle useful as a model for this kind of instruction. After viewing a music video or attending a community event, students reflect on the language and culture and connect their learning with broader principles. Finally, language learners in my classroom actively experiment with using language in culturally appropriate ways based on their experiences. Through this kind of reflective practice, my students, most of whom are taking Spanish to fulfill a language requirement, report becoming more aware of diversity in their own communities and in the target culture. They also report becoming more interested in seeking out opportunities to build relationships with people of a different cultural background.
My education students also develop intercultural competence. For example, in my graduate course called Adult Learning and Leadership, we explore learning theories from multiple perspectives, including several adult learning models from non-Western cultures. Students come to my classroom with preconceived ideas of how learning happens that are rooted in their own educational experiences. We move beyond our own limited experiences by reading research from a variety of cultural settings and thinking about how to apply learning theory in classrooms with diverse populations.
With these two objectives, real-world application and intercultural competence, at the core of my teaching philosophy, my language courses focus on authentic language, culture, and community. Similarly, my education courses focus on practical experiences to prepare students to engage in teaching and scholarship in diverse settings. Students who take my classes should leave prepared to apply what we have learned in a diverse world.