Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Responses to Comment - Complexity

The following is part one of a response to a comment.

Someone recently asked on a comment:
Hola Jeremy - this is really funny and I've very impressed. I teach Spanish I and I'm in awe at the complexity and level you're introducing to students. I'm really interested in knowing more about how you pace your content and your lessons (in 90 min classes and shorter periods). Just a suggestion for a future blog post. Gracias!
First and foremost, thank you for your comment!  I don't get too many. And I appreciate them because I post things to reflect but also in case it could be of any encouragement/help to other educators!

I would like to answer in different parts because your comment is loaded with different comments/questions! :-)

I hope my response helps you visualize my classes more! If you have further questions, please let me know. I enjoyed writing for the purpose of answering a comment!

Part 1: "I'm in awe at the complexity and level you're introducing to students"

I'm glad that you're impressed with what my students are able to understand!  If I would compare this to when I was first teaching through a textbook, I NEVER would have had the level of comprehension from students that I do now. (Nothing against them. I just didn't know what I was doing!)

Nevertheless, I wanted to touch on the word "complexity". If you are speaking in grammatical terminology such as "why are you throwing in stem-changing verbs, imperfect tenses, irregular verbs, conjunctions, indirect objects, and present subjunctive, as well as vocabulary words that they would never see in a Spanish 1 textbook," I completely get what you're saying since the language used in the embedded readings does (by that standard) have complexity.

The other day on TeaWithBVP (a podcast you should check out if you haven't!), if I understood him correctly, Bill VanPatten was talking about how with vocabulary and grammar, we learn regardless of a perceived complexity.

My understanding of what he was getting at was that my students can learn a phrase such as "le da" because they hear it enough just like they can learn the vocabulary word, "baño".  If either of those are relevant to them they will acquire away.  Their ability to know the phrase or the word does not necessarily give them explicit knowledge of the ins-and-outs of the language. They just have tied meaning to those phrases and understand them in context.

It doesn't mean that they will accurately take a leap and tell me "I give to him/her" when given the opportunity. Some might say "yo le da" because to them "le da" means "gives to him/her".

The best way for me to get them to improve in that regard is to continue to present new circumstances for that phrase to be used in new contexts and change it around.

What I am getting at is the language is only perceived as complex when we look at it from a traditional mindset of vocabulary/textbooks, etc.

It's also important to note that while my students are awesome, and they are able to read a good bit of the embedded readings (after we have worked on the structures in our own stories), they still have difficulty understanding when something is in the past or the present when they translate. They also do not produce the language at the level they read (as expected).  So just because they can read the presentation I showed, I have to be honest and realistic that that sort of language doesn't spill out of their mouths. But the best way for it to eventually spill out is by presenting them with rich comprehensible language as much as possible!

Secondly, while my students are doing great at this point in their understanding, I am still not satisfied with where they could be!  Are any of us satisfied or are we always wanting to push them farther?

My question: How do you view language complexity in your classes?

*I hope I don't come off as a jerk. If you believe differently, I completely understand. Since I have children now, I tend to see language more as chunks and not as much via grammar.  It's quite the paradigm shift. I have blogged about it before: here.

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