Sunday, January 6, 2019

Do students really need to be able to produce commands with double object pronouns?

TL;DR: No. 😁

One of the things that I've really been enjoying about my job is the flexibility to teach what and how I want to teach. I opted not to use the existing textbook, since it's basically a grammar manual and didn't have a coherent design in terms of developing language proficiency. (This is true of every textbook I've ever seen, by the way. Some are better than others because they have better activities that do foster language proficiency, such as input-based activities and information gap activities, but all textbooks present grammar that students don't really need to know in order to meet the ostensible goals of the unit.)  Anyway, I've enjoyed throwing out stuff I don't think my students really need to know in favor of activities that help them communicate in the target language. It's worth noting that I'm not on the CI (comprehensible input) train. I appreciate various aspects of the CI approach, but research on language acquisition in adolescents and adults indicates that teaching structures can facilitate acquisition as long as it's meaning-based instruction (in other words, as long as you're teaching structures that help students understand and communicate in the target language). So I still teach grammar and will always teach grammar, because there's a lot of meaning that learners will never get if they don't receive explicit grammar instruction. That said, direct grammar instruction comprises less than 5% of my instructional time, because the research evidence also shows that learning the grammar rules of a language doesn't mean that we can use the target language. We need exposure to the language and lots of practice, so that's what we do.

I was looking over my spring units, and seeing that I have commands coming up in Spanish 2. Last year, I think I had a section on a test that required students to give commands, but as I was considering this unit, I had an epiphany. When will my students really need to give commands? And furthermore, when will they need to give commands with (double) object pronouns?  The answer for most of them is probably never. Unless they become Spanish teachers or are proficient enough in Spanish that they can use it in a work environment, they really don't need to be able to produce commands.  They do, however, need to be able to recognize when someone is giving them a command, and they need to be able to interpret pronouns that might be attached to a command. So this year, I will still be teaching commands, but I will be asking students to interpret them rather than produce them. (I'll also be asking them to interpret object pronouns, with and without commands.) So for all of my fellow grammar nerds, keep teaching that grammar. But it's worth thinking about if students really need to be able to produce a given grammatical feature, or if they only need to be able to interpret it.

On a related note, I've also started doing a soft introduction to the subjunctive in Spanish 1. When we're talking about verb endings, I point out that the endings are really important because a lot of times the verb ending is all the information you get about who's doing an action. After we'd been working on present tense endings for a few weeks, I told students that the appropriate vowel is also important because if you flip the verb endings (hable instead of habla, for example), you're now producing a different verb form that's used for hypothetical situations. I'm not formally teaching the subjunctive until Spanish 3, but by the time they get to Spanish 3, they should have a (very) basic understanding of what the subjunctive is and what it looks like. For that matter, I also focused on interpretation when I taught the subjunctive last year in Spanish 3/4, because (surprise!) the research indicates that while students are capable of learning to manipulate structures, a lot of times they do this without really understanding what they're doing. But if you first work on teaching them what they structure means, they'll be able to use it appropriately (given sufficient input and experience, of course).  If you're interested in this topic, I recommend reading VanPatten's many papers on this topic, starting with the classic VanPatten & Cadierno (1993).

Working on habit formation in the new year

I have a few things I want to work on in 2019. I don't like calling them resolutions, because resolutions are easily made and easily broken. I've been working on habit formation, because habit formation is what leads to real change, and I only do things that I can maintain long-term. For example, after my son was born in 2014, I started walking. I walked very slowly and for short distances, but I committed to walk regularly. The next year I had free access to a gym, so I started working out on an elliptical. Since the gym was at my job, an hour from my house, I also bought a trampoline jogger and started jogging on a trampoline when I couldn't get to the gym. When my job ended, I decided to bite the bullet and join the Y near my house in order to have access exercise equipment and childcare and started going to the gym almost every day. I don't go to the gym much anymore because I don't want to be around people after I've been at school all day. But I realized that if I wanted to keep improving my fitness, I needed to step up my exercise to get my heart rate up, so I started jogging. I started with a mile, and gradually added distance and am now at 3.25 miles. So what's my point? If I had resolved to start running in 2014, I would have given up pretty quickly, because I wasn't ready to start running. Instead, I made a small change and turned it into a habit, and then as my fitness level has improved, I've pushed myself more, both in terms of quality and quantity. I feel good because I'm making changes that I can live with, instead of trying to push myself to do something that I really don't want to do. I've done the same thing with my diet; rather than make a drastic change that I won't want to stick to, I've made small changes that have added up. The main thing is that I've cut way back on sugary drinks, but I've also added a few more fruits and vegetables to my diet. My diet is still far, far away from being considered a healthy diet, but between diet and exercise, I've lost 60 pounds over 4 years, with plans to drop another 15 in the next year or two. It's been a slow process, but I feel confident that I won't regain the weight because I haven't made temporary changes; I've slowly changed my habits so that I can maintain my progress. I still have my sugary drinks because I still love them, but I only have them on the weekends (and in much smaller quantities than I used to). I still eat wings, nachos, doughnuts, cookies, ice cream, etc., but I eat smaller portions and adjust my total daily calorie intake accordingly.

So one of the habits that I want to form this year is going to bed at the same time every night. I think this will benefit me in many ways...if I can go to bed on time, I'll get a decent night's sleep. I think more clearly and more quickly when I've slept well, and I also eat less...when I'm tired, I just want sugar so that I can stay awake. So my new habit formation goal is to go to bed at 9:30 every night. This will give me a little time to read in bed and still hit my goal of sleeping for 6.5 hours (ideally it would be more, but I'm finding that as I age, I just don't sleep as long as I used to even when I'm not setting an alarm). To assist me in my habit formation, I've set a 9:30 reminder on my Fitbit. However, I've had the 9:30 reminder on my Fitbit for the last year and a half, so the thing I need to change is to stop laughing at the Fitbit when it gives me the bedtime reminder and actually go upstairs and go to bed. 😂

I also joined the 40-hour teacher workweek club this semester. I appreciate the approach of picking one thing from a list to change to make work easier and lighten your load, as I think it keeps it from being more work/too overwhelming to think about. I'm apparently already doing a lot of things that are recommended (batching, simple wardrobe, simple meals), but I'm hopeful that there will be suggestions for my prep time that will help me cut down on the number of hours I prep each week.

Anyway, Happy 2019! This year, I will continue doing all of the things I've been doing, and will be introducing a few small new habits into the mix. There won't be a "new me" this year, but check back in a year or two. I certainly never would have dreamed that I'd be running 3 miles regularly even 2 years ago, and yet, here we are. Pick something that you can do and stick to, and start doing it.