Experimental Teaching

cc-carolineI’ve been having dreams lately. I say this because I don’t usually remember them. In fact, it’s been so many years that I forgot that dreams are peppered with little bits of reality.

My Delta class is wriggling into my nocturnal realm, as well. In the second session of module 1, we gave little presentations of a variety of alternative learning styles. One of the guys taught us a few words of Afrikaans using the Community Language Learning technique.

That night, I dreamt that my mom and I were shopping in a bazaar. When it was time to pay, she spoke to the shopkeepers in Afrikaans. There I thought she only knew German, so I was impressed that had another card up her sleeve.

Here’s what I want that dream to mean:  Sometimes, the road to success is surprising. ​W​hat seems th​e​ obvious way of getting somewhere ends up being totally different from how we actually arrive. Along that journey, facets of ourselves that we didn’t know existed show up (hence my mom speaking a Dutch dialect).

To grow, we literally must become someone new. A mom who is too shy to test drive her Afrikaans and negotiate a sales transaction in a bazaar, ultimately won’t be able to buy the dress she wants. A Jaime who is too stuck in her ways of teaching, who lacks repertoire, won’t be able to help as many students.

With language, as with many other areas of life, there are multiple ways to learn. As Delta reminded me, we’ve got grammar translation, direct method, Suggestopedia, Total Physical Respose, Community Language Learning, audiolingual, The Silent Way, The Natural Approach, the lexical approach, task-based learning, content and language integrated learning.  There can be quiet teachers, and cuisinnaire rods, and hypnosis, oh my! In my last class, I just sat blinking as ideas cascaded through my mind about how I might use color to teach TOEFL more effectively.

Rookie J scrambled every day during CELTA, trying to learn the tenets of teaching.  Rookie J really didn’t understand that teaching was so much like walking into a giant kitchen and having access to ingredients from around the world.  And gadgets. Endless gadgets. Would you like to peel, julienne, chop, or shred those veggies? Shall we bake, poach, saute, roast, barbeque, grill, fry or sear that meat?  Teflon, stainless steel, cast iron or ceramic?

The cooking metaphor might be extreme, but if you think about it, English teachers have just as much variety. A dozen approaches, millions of conversation topics and vocabulary areas, countless techniques, different lesson lengths, endless types of students.  The variety is mind-boggling.

A skilled teacher can take even a stuttering, nervous little wisp of a student and try dozens of different activities to coax out communication.

There is no one path to success — but for each individual student there is a best path.  The teacher gets the unique joy of searching, puzzling, experimenting.  (This is why I still love teaching TOEFL even after 4 years of doing “the same” stuff.)

I suppose what the Delta wizards want us to know is that we never know what kind of student we’ll have. They want us to see that a successful teacher can explain the same thing in different ways until the student finds a way that makes sense for her.

But that success is not just limited to teachers.  A student who learns the same flexible and creative thinking — so that if trying like this doesn’t work, and if the listener doesn’t understand, that student can switch tracks and try another way — that student will be successful even when mistakes are made.

And that, I suppose, is why my mom busted out her Afrikaans.