Photo credit: Poudre School District (these are two of my former students)
By now, the posts are starting to trickle out…everyone who was at phenomenal IFLT conference in Cincinnati is starting to publish their reflections and takeaways. Originally I was thinking that I probably didn’t need to do a follow up post to IFLT because there are already lots of them out there. But then I started to think…this is a blog for HERITAGE teachers. Do I have takeaways from this conference that are relevant to heritage teachers? And as I reflected back through my big ah-has, I realized I did have some connections to the world of heritage learners. It turns out I mostly came up with a lot of questions, and not a lot of answers. But hopefully these five connections are helpful for you as you think about your heritage classes this fall.
1. Jahdai Jeffries did a lunchtime talk reminding us about the importance of recognizing our own personal bias and possibly, our own white privilege (if we are white) in order to reach all our students. Of COURSE this is relevant when teaching our regular language classes…but it is also highly relevant when teaching heritage learners, particularly when you are not a native or heritage speaker yourself (like me). I need to remember that my life experiences have been different from my heritage kids’ experiences simply because of the color of my skin. Mary Beth hit the nail on the head when she wrote in her post about impostor syndrome: instead of ignoring that voice of doubt, or simply drowning it out by proclaiming my ability to teach this class or my right to be here, we have a responsibility to acknowledge it. Recognize that I am different from my students. Recognize that I have implicit privilege for no other reason than my own skin color. The first question is, how good am I at recognizing and acknowledging this bias? And then: how good am I at continually asking myself, how does my privilege or my life experiences affect my teaching? How do these affect how I see my kids, or how I relate to their experiences?
2. During Carrie Toth’s session “Bloomin’ Taxonomy,” she reminded us to remember the big picture and to evaluate every class activity we try to fit in the schedule against that big picture. If you are working on a goal and you realize an activity does not fit that goal…then it needs to go in the “chuck it bucket.” This is definitely helpful when you are working on providing only comprehensible and compelling input to your students in your WL class. However, this is also incredibly helpful in the world of teaching heritage students, and in my mind, much harder to do. Perhaps that is due to the implicit freedom, the lack of standards, and the lack of horizontal and vertical articulation that seem to be the norm in heritage teaching?? Are these the reasons why the mantras “must do all the things” and “must fill the time with whatever I can” are more rampant with heritage teachers? Mary Beth and I presented the argument for making transferable academic literacy skills the big picture goal for heritage courses in our sessions at IFLT (I’m sure there’ll be a future post on this topic). For us, life got much easier after we had a clear purpose and plan for those heritage classes…anything that didn’t help students get closer to that goal went in the “chuck it bucket.” So the question becomes…do you have a number one, crystal clear goal as a heritage teacher? Do you have great reasons WHY that particular thing is your focus? And how good are you at filtering every activity through the lens of whether or not it meets that goal or not?
3. At Becky Moulton’s “Pass It On” session, she discussed the importance of mentoring teachers that were not quite as far along on the journey. She referenced several amazing visuals about the process of learning and getting out of one’s comfort zone. Many of us would agree that if we could pass on what we’ve learned about the amazing power of teaching with comprehensible input, we’d not only save another teacher’s sanity, but also affect the lives of hundreds (probably thousands) of students that teacher will eventually have. So this made me think…how good of a job are we doing as a community mentoring new(er) heritage teachers? Compared to what support is available to new CI teachers, the amount of support out there for new heritage teachers is minimal or non-existent. Most of us feel like we’re only a tiny bit ahead of newer heritage teachers…but we underestimate how much knowledge we have accumulated and how much that knowledge could serve other teachers. Are we writing blog posts about our experiences, whether they be amazing home runs or epic failures? Are we writing essays for the next version of “Practical Advice”? Are we presenting what we’ve learned at conferences? Are we available to the new heritage teacher at the school across town? You don’t need the answers…all you need (and already have) is the experience.
4. At Faith Laux’s “Every Moment Matters” session, she had a lot of great takeaways for me. She said, don’t look for a good first impression, look for a good first connection. She said, when we teach with CI, we give the gift of attention. And she said, any curriculum is great…if you personalize it for your kiddos. All of these statements embody, for me, the perfect comprehensible input classroom, because they all center on relationships with kids. So much of this is true for my heritage kids. In fact, in my experience, my heritage kids thrive even more on personal relationships and connections than my kids in my regular Spanish classes. I don’t focus on the teaching the interpersonal, daily conversation vocab with my heritage learners like I do in my other Spanish classes, but I can absolutely not disregard the importance of connection, attention, and personalization. I want to give my kids the right to take up space in my class, to be themselves, to be vocal, to know they matter and to own it. So my question becomes…when I am so focused on my goals of academic literacy skills, how do I find ways to make these crucial personal connections the foundation for our year’s work?
5. The last one is, for me, sort of the big enchilada. Walking away from yet another amazing, successful conference on comprehensible input and the power it holds to reach ALL kids with language, I can’t help but see that all of the teachers who have attended the conference are even more so advocates of this amazing approach than they were before. If you’re familiar with the hashtag #nationofadvocates, written about by Grant Boulanger in this blog post, you know that there is a huge movement of language teachers trying to reach as many administrators, teachers, and thus students, as possible with the power of comprehensible input…so that we can reach all kids. As proponents of comprehensible input in language classrooms, we are a #nationofadvocates. My question is…to what extent are we ALSO advocates for our heritage kids, and also for the classes that serve them? Are we making a fuss when things are inequitable, when no one wants to make something happen because “it’s a pain” or “it’s hard” but it would benefit our heritage kids? Are we our own #nationofadvocates for the unique needs of heritage learners? What could we do to be better advocates? How could we be advocates at the state level? At the national level? If you are an advocate for a CI classroom…are you also an advocate for a heritage classroom? How? How can we do this better?
Like I said…more questions than answers. But I welcome your thoughts, your reflections, your answers, and what questions came up for you. Asking the questions is the first step towards moving towards meaningful answers.