I consider myself an active life-long learner. Learning is one of the main values in my life and I try to act upon it every day and in every area of my life. I believe that there is no end in education, and formal education should prepare the student. In my opinion, education should not end after getting a degree. If anything, formal education should serve as a starting point, as a springboard to further learning opportunities; it should provide them with the skills to own and manage their own learning process and prepare them for learning from every opportunity they find, regardless of whether it occurs inside or outside the classroom.
As a language teacher, I believe that I have two main roles: a living example of my language and culture, and a learning coach.
As an educated native speaker of Spanish, I believe that it is my call to provide the students with as much real input in the language as I can offer. That is why I used the target language in class whenever possible. That is almost always, even with beginner students.
Many people ask me how I manage to speak in Spanish almost all the time with students who do not know a word in the language. The answer is simple, I make the input comprehensible for them. For that purpose, I always make an effort to adapt my speech to the level of the student -which is easier said than done-, and I use a variety of resources so that the student is able to figure out the message. I create the context for the communicative situation, I use body language, drawings, pictures, sounds, or anything that I think can be useful. In this way, the students leave the class feeling proud of themselves because they were able to understand a message in a language that was completely foreign at the beginning. For example, the first day in a complete beginner lesson, I introduce myself at a slow-paced speech and using body language. I write my name in the blackboard (or chat) and I repeat the whole sentence. I look at there faces looking for signs of understanding or anxiety. Then I write the whole sentence and repeat again. With that example, I pose and write the question for them. Using my body language, I encourage them to introduce themselves in Spanish. From time to time, I encounter a student who feels very anxious about this task. I am usually sensitive to those students because I have been there before. I do not force them to speak when this is a real problem for them. Instead, I recognize the complexity of the task, I let them know that mistakes are welcome, and I do my best on creating a relaxed as much as active classroom environment for them to feel confident enough to overcome their fear and thrive as a language speakers.
That said, I'm not against the use of the native language in the classroom. I strongly believe that raising awareness of their own language and the differences with the target one is helpful in the learning process. I am also aware of how beneficial a short explanation in the student's native language may be in some situations. Translations may be very effective too, always being aware of the hazards of literal translation. For example, it is useful to translate literally a sentence or idiom in Spanish into their native language, so that they can analyze the structure and spot the differences with the construction they would use in their mother tongue. On the other hand, translating literally from their language to the target one leads more often than not to error. In that vein, I try to raise awareness of this fact, and, although they can try (and succeed sometimes!), they should be cautious and sensitive to the possible impact of their words, the reaction in the listener or the corrections in a classroom situation.
In a nutshell, I think both the native language and target language have their place in the classroom. In that sense, I seek to use them strategically and in the best interest of my student, even if that means more preparation or taking unconventional actions.
Along with language teaching, I bring my own culture to the classroom, always making clear that I am just one example of many and conveying the great cultural variety that can be found in the Spanish speaking world. I encourage my students to take a cross-cultural view by developing sensitivity to the main differences and their underlying reasons, by using critical thinking and by dispelling widespread myths.
As a learning coach, my main goal is to guide students through their learning process; helping them with goal setting, motivation, strategic planning, learning how to learn, and providing them with the best tools to pursue their goals. I believe that every student should work on becoming an autonomous learner, and my job is to guide them through that process. To this end, I use my knowledge about the psychology of learning and language teaching as well as my own experience as a language learner.
My teaching method is based on the communicative approach and action-oriented. I advocate learning by doing methodology. I aim to create realistic communicative tasks in class so that they can prepare for using the language in the real world. I also believe that learning through games and role-playing is applicable to all ages and levels. I am passionate about creating activities that are fun as well as educational. Another activity that boosts learning is teaching others, and this is not only true for continuous teacher training but in relation to peer learning. Students are not empty vessels when they enter the classroom. They have valuable skills and knowledge they can apply to new learning experiences, and that they can teach to their peers too. Furthermore, an excellent way to make the new information stick is to teach it. I make the point of using this in my classroom by getting them to prepare different topics to share with their classmates.
As for the mistakes, I believe they are a wonderful learning opportunity. I let the students know that they are welcome to try even when they are not sure. Experimenting with the language and making mistakes is one of the best signs to know that learning is happening. In the same way, I use these mistakes as an opportunity for them to improve by letting them try again. By doing so, they develop the ability to find their own mistakes and self-correction. I use this strategy for speaking and writing by highlighting the sentence or part of the sentence they need to fix and adding a comment if needed.
Therefore, I like to focus my classes on a student-centered approach, which is who builds his own learning, without losing sight of the extraordinary opportunity that provides having a group of students working together towards a common goal: learning a language.
As I previously mentioned, learning is one of my core values, and I am lucky to say that I get to learn from my students at least as much as they learn from me. That is why teaching has become my passion.
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