Here’s a goals-related question I occasionally ask myself:
Now, the fact that I would consider something annoying or a waste of time in my own language learning doesn’t automatically mean it’s not worth my students’ while. We shouldn’t assume that our students are versions of ourselves, whether it comes to interests, temperament, neurology, or motivation, though what we read and observe about human nature in general makes a good starting point. There may also be significant ways in which learning in a classroom differs from learning elsewhere. But if I’m pushing tasks (including assignments and assessments) and materials that I would truly consider a waste of my time, no matter where I were, that might be a good sign that they’re a waste of my students’ time. This is doubly bad if students themselves perceive them as a waste of time.
How does this relate to goals?
If I choose to make my students do things that I would consider a waste of my own time as a language learner, my choice exposes at least one of these things:
- I think my students should learn languages for different reasons than I learn them.
- I think my students would benefit from activities and materials from which I would not benefit.
- I’m just assigning busywork.
- I haven’t thought enough about how the activities and materials I propose relate to actual language learning goals.
- I’m too lazy as a language learner to do the things that I think language learners need to do.
I’ll set #5 aside right off because, though I’m lazy in other areas, I’m not a lazy language learner. Here is a brief commentary–and invitation for your comments–on #1-4.
1. Do I think my students should learn languages for fundamentally different reasons than I learn them?
Well, no. People should learn languages in order to enjoy doing so and/or in order to do desirable things that require or are enhanced by proficiency in a particular language. But, even when people have different reasons for pursuing proficiency, the main mechanisms involved in acquiring a language are, presumably, similar from human to human. If one person wants to run a marathon for glory, another person for riches, and another for love, they still need to engage in the same basic practices that make one able to run a marathon.
2. Do I think my students would benefit from activities and materials from which I would not benefit?
This might be a good reason for having students do stuff we would not do ourselves. I am open to the possibility that there are such activities and materials, especially for students who have not yet developed the ability or desire to do things like read extensively for pleasure, select their own suitable target language content, or strike up a conversation with a speaker of the target language. I just want to be careful not to have my students do stuff I wouldn’t do for reasons as unconsidered as “because they’re in school and I’m not.”
3. Am I just assigning busywork?
If so, why? Can I just not assign it? Can I assign something more useful?
4. Have I thought enough about how the activities and materials I propose relate to actual language learning goals?
Here is where I think the disconnect often lies. It’s really easy to think that we are justified in assigning, or even have to assign, certain tasks simply because they seem language-classy or because they were done in a class we took or because we’ve heard of other teachers doing them. Similarly, it’s easy to think that we are justified in using, or even have to use, certain materials–specific textbooks, readings, videos, apps, etc.–simply because they are somehow language-related or because we’ve seen them used in other language classes.
Do you have your students do things you wouldn’t do yourself as a language learner? Do you have reasons for doing so other than someone else’s forcing you to? Am I missing good reasons to do so? Let me know!