Promoting Student Success, Pt 1

This will be Part 1 of an ongoing series of reflections and ideas for promoting students’ success in our classrooms. The idea is that with some activities, I have personally set up kids to do poorly. It’s not their fault, it’s mine. Now I’m going to do something about it. I hope that my ideas and reflections can help others to reflect on what they’re doing to help students to do well.

As someone much wiser than I said, “Success is the best motivation.” I wholeheartedly believe in this statement and I want my teaching to reflect it. Our students deserve to have every opportunity to succeed in our classes. I don’t mean that we should artificially inflate grades or ignore missing assignments give our students good grades regardless of their proficiency gains. These are examples of empty success. Doing these things would be the opposite of giving students the opportunity to feel true success at their given task. Instead of creating successful students, we would be creating students who feel entitled to good grades no matter what. That is not and should not be any teacher’s end goal. On the contrary, we should spend our time holding our students to the highest standards that they are able to achieve, based on their current proficiency levels and their abilities.

I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this notion in recent weeks. This year’s curriculum changes (using TPRS and CI methods rather than the grammar-heavy Skill-Building methods) have brought with them a philosophical change that I wasn’t really expecting. I wrote in a previous post, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” and I stick by that. The students and I should all be enjoying ourselves when we communicate in the Target Language. It helps their memory and cognition and keeps them from tuning out.

The other big philosophical change is that the students shouldn’t be set up to do poorly. A year ago, I would have said, “Of course we should set students up for success. We should give them all the opportunities to do well that we can. That’s why I let them use their notes and work with partners on grammar worksheets. They can help themselves, they can help each other, and, if they really need more help, I can help them, too.  It’ll be great. They are going to be sooooo successful.”

And I was wrong.

That is not the success the students should be working toward. Doing well on a grammar worksheet is not success; completing non-communicative grammar activities is not helping them to be able to communicate in the real world.

My realization came this week with my Hispanic Heritage Month Projects. Every year, I have done Hispanic Heritage Month projects with my 5th through 8th grade classes. They are the traditional things:  research on countries (5th grade), research on holidays (8th grade), research on famous Hispanics in the USA and in the world (6th grade), and research on the benefits of language study (7th grade). These projects have become my marquee assignments. They are big, pretty, Spanish filled (except for the reasons to study Spanish, which is in English) posters and power points that get shown all around the school. Their importance has been paramount to my program because they are great marketing. I can show them off to new parents on open house nights or I can show them to the other teachers in the school to say, “Look at the cool things my students can do.”

All the while, though, these projects have been setting kids up to be unsuccessful. Their visuals are almost always perfect, but they can’t speak a word of what they write-it’s just way too advanced for their Novice-mid to Novice-High levels. Granted, some students are more successful than others, but I wouldn’t count it as a win if only 5% of my students can sound good while presenting their information.

Next year, these projects are getting a major overhaul. I already overhauled what I am presenting to the students:  my lessons during Hispanic Heritage Month with stories that give some information about countries of the Spanish speaking world (pictures, cultural products, fun slang, etc—more posts about those aspects of the stories are forthcoming). Now it’s time to overhaul what they need to present or produce. They need to do communicative activities (in the presentational mode), but they need to be tailored towards their level. The activities need to be appropriate for the students.

I’m still not sure what that looks like, unfortunately, at this point, I have only pinpointed exactly what I DON’T want to do with projects like these.

(Any suggestions would be much appreciated…and shamelessly stolen 🙂 )

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