Along the path to proficiency, we encounter many things in our classroom, in our department, and in the field. In this series, we would like to share some notes from the field from educators who have made an impact and have learned something impactful along their journey. Here they will share their notes from the field with us and how their learning has helped shape them, as well as its impact, as they help their students along the path to proficiency.
The path to proficiency is really the path to life. Let’s be honest. Isn’t what we do with our students every day something we could apply to our own lives?
I have never doubted that teaching Spanish was what I was meant to do, but certainly, my teaching and learning transformed about nine years ago when I finally found the path to proficiency. I felt like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz when she started down the yellow brick road. “It’s always best to start at the beginning”, said Glinda, the good witch. And that’s exactly what I did.
In 2008 as the SCOLT teacher of the year, I journeyed to ACTFL where I met Toni Theisen. Her first words to me were, “Do you wiki?” I knew then that I had to step up my game. I have been fortunate to meet amazing world language teachers from all over the country. My involvement with FLANC, SCOLT, and ACTFL opened my eyes to new possibilities. After meeting Toni and rethinking how I approach language teaching and learning, I jumped into the driver’s seat – I became the department chair at my school and started teaching the methods class at Appalachian State University. Everything was coming together and I knew the journey would be challenging, frustrating, and awesome!
I researched other states looking for a starting line and landed in Jefferson County in Louisville, Kentucky. I explored their themes and “I can” statements and then IT WAS ON! I suggested to my department that we revamp our themes and create student-friendly learning targets. Over several years, we tweaked, wrote, deconstructed, re-deconstructed, and color-coded (yes, even color-coded) our “I can” statements into learning target types – knowledge, skill, reasoning, and product. After all of this – our path to proficiency was born. We knew where we wanted our students to go – what they should know, be able to do and understand. And the best part is that the students knew it too!
In 2013 I submitted a session to ACTFL called, Global Possibilities for Students. I decided that teaching a world language or any subject for that matter was like using a GPS. You and your students MUST know the destination before you begin the journey or start down the path to proficiency. The first thing you do with a GPS is to is to put in the address, the destination. So why not do that same thing in the classroom when planning a unit/lesson? It’s simple backward design!
Then something even more amazing happened. Nicole Naditz, 2015 ACTFL Teacher of the Year, shared an infographic that she created detailing her syllabus for the upcoming school year. “Yes!” I thought. This is exactly what my students need – a visual of how to build proficiency. She inspired me to design my own infographic – a path to proficiency for my students which became my classroom bulletin board.
And so the GPS analogy began to change as it evolved into a student-centered approach to reaching the destination. The GPS theme was something my students could relate to as they all were getting their driver’s licenses. And the path to proficiency offered the constant reminder of how to be successful in the language classroom.
Having this guide led to students setting SMART goals, creating a learner profile, reflecting on their progress, and me conferencing with students to offer them “roadside assistance”. In 2015 I met Rosalyn Rhodes at the FLANC spring conference. What a life-changer! Rose’s idea of choice boards allowed me to build time in my schedule to offer one-on-one conferences with students. It held them accountable for their own learning, made them verbalize where they were on their own path, and led to student empowerment.
My students used this new GPS to pilot their own path to proficiency at their own speed. They could stop off for food and gas when they needed to or turn around and go a different direction if they saw something interesting. They could speed to the end or take their time getting there. The path to proficiency in a world language classroom is not a one-way street. It is an opportunity to offer multiple paths and the freedom and encouragement to explore those paths. It is a matter of helping students reach their end destination and that destination is going to look different for everyone. As long as they are meeting their goals then they are on the way to navigating their own unique path to proficiency.
So when someone asks me about my path to proficiency, I tell them that it has been an enduring journey. It is about helping my students become lifelong world language learners as well as my own chance to learn. My path has been beautiful, uncertain, scary at times, but extremely worth the trip. I still haven’t reached my destination and still have so much more to learn and experience. It is about working hard, helping others, training, learning as much as I can, and reflecting as I go. My path is full of passionate and inspirational people, enthusiastic students, and lots of roadside assistance. Maybe meeting Toni Theisen, Nicole Naditz, and Rosalyn Rhodes was like Dorothy meeting the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. I needed them to help me along my path. And what I have learned from my amazing journey down my version of the yellow brick road is that the key to the path to proficiency is being open to what it has to offer. It is my path to life. Where will your path take you and your students?