I have been very fortunate during my seven years of teaching at UCLA to have had the opportunity to teach seven different courses in the Spanish and Portuguese Department as well as serve as a TA Consultant. At the same time to teach a variety of courses at several community colleges and finally arriving at Fullerton College where I am very exited and happy to be. This diversity of experience, in addition to my own education, has allowed me to develop and expand my views about teaching.
As a teacher, I make it a primary goal to generate a positive learning environment, one that produces a strong interest in my students and encourages their participation. To accomplish this, I employ many strategies. Each semester, when classes begin, I treat the first three sessions as especially crucial. I try to connect with each student in the classroom because I strongly believe that if I show them that I truly care about them as individuals, they will respond in a positive manner. On the first day of class, for example, I ask my students to fill out biographical information sheets on which they tell me about their hobbies, their interest in the Spanish language, their favorite authors, and so forth. I then use this information to personalize my lesson plans, making the subsequent learning more familiar and interesting. My students’ interests become a part of the characters I make up for class discussions as well as test questions. I also share examples and stories about my family and children; in this way, my students not only feel like they are an important part of the class, but they also feel they can relate to me as well. I sense this makes them more comfortable seeking my assistance during the semester when they need help.
In addition, I believe an important part of a positive learning environment includes helping students relax, have fun, participate and feel that it is okay to make mistakes. One of the things I do to accomplish this is to act very light hearted and dramatic. I frequently act out words and parts of stories; in this way, my students not only benefit from seeing memorable visual images, but also through my acting silly, they discern a relaxed atmosphere that makes them feel comfortable. Since I act out things in a melodramatic fashion, the students feel less afraid of “looking silly” when they participate. My students seem to appreciate this teaching technique, making comments like, “She made the class really fun by acting out the words for us” and “I particularly enjoyed your teaching method, especially how you act out things so they are memorable.”
I also use other means to foster a positive learning environment, encourage participation and make the class more fun. During the first two weeks of class, I try to make sure that my students recognize each other’s names, so I include several activities that lead toward this goal. I feel this allows the students to develop a better relationship with each other and makes them more comfortable actively participating in the class. I also teach my students that it is okay for them to make mistakes when they answer questions. I believe knowing it is okay to make mistakes helps them participate more. Once a small group of students starts to talk, the shy students follow. I believe all the students learn more when they participate, and once they join in, they really enjoy the class more. One of my students once told me, “I always look forward to going to your class everyday.” This kind of comment really makes me want to give more energy and encouragement to my students.
I find organization and enthusiasm to also be key elements of the learning process. Students do better and learn more when an instructor is well prepared and displays a real passion for the class and the material he or she is presenting, so I work hard to employ innovative, interesting and constructive teaching methods. For the major grammar points I present, I prepare a handout illustrating the grammar point and giving at least one example. The next day, I do a review incorporating not only what they learned the day before but also incorporating other points they learned previously. One such review that my students enjoy very much is a Jeopardy game; this activity is a great way to have fun and review not only grammar but vocabulary and verbs. I view my role as a guide instead of as a transmitter of information. When I teach I try to lead the students to form hypotheses and reach conclusions; and when they make errors, I guide them with questions rather than supplying them with the answers. I believe my teaching approach, organization and activities motivate my students to learn. As one of my students commented, “I have worked harder for her than any other teacher because she works so diligently for the class.”
I also always strive to act as an encouraging force to my students, offering them extensive visual aids, extra assistance and empathy. Since Spanish is studied by students who are unfamiliar with that language, a lot of time the students feel frustrated because they are unable to express their ideas as well as they can in their native language. To help with this frustration, I often incorporate hands-on examples of things students are familiar with into my lessons. I believe that seeing familiar objects helps students feel more comfortable with a new language. For example, I bring in things like fruit baskets, my child’s toy doctor kit, miniature cars and airplanes, and other tangible visual aids. I know that learning a new language is difficult because I have experienced learning two new languages, myself, and I understand the struggles my students often go through. Spanish classes usually meet twice a week, but I know that is not enough for many students. Some need more one on one attention to succeed. Therefore, I strongly recommend that students come to my office or stay after class for any questions they may have. When I return their papers, I always offer to set up personal appointments with students who want to do better, so I can personally review my comments with them and make suggestions for a revision.
Another thing I feel is important when teaching language is to put the language into a context. Therefore, in my classroom, I not only teach the language but I also incorporate aspects of the culture into my lesson plans. I think once students understand the culture that goes with the language they are learning, they enjoy it more and gain more from the class experience. To this end, I discuss practical things in class like comparing and contrasting the different postal services from one country to another. I want to encourage them to learn about other people, experience different parts of the world from a new perspective, and understand the increasingly interdependent world arena.
My ultimate goal is to not only to strive to open my students’ eyes to the richness of the languages and culture of Latin America and Spain but also to endeavor to help them acquire skills they will be able to use beyond the scope of my sixteen week Spanish course. After having left my class, I want my students to have acquired a love of learning. As a language instructor, I feel my goal is to do my best and make my students learn the material and enjoy the class. Even though every student is different, I believe that if I show them that I really care about their learning and success, and respect them as individuals, they will appreciate this, do their best to support me, enjoy the class more and ultimately learn a great deal.