My Research-able Question

My research project this semester is pretty open-ended: basically, research something using a specific research model, reflect on the process and report out. The results of the research are not as important as the process for once!

I found myself narrowing my topic into something that intrigues me (the notion of competency-based education) and that I could bury myself into reading and researching… however, the process of coming up with the Research-able Question made me think about where the research could potentially lead me (like a final product, if we actually were to write “the research paper” at the end). My conclusion–this topic would likely lead me to a persuasive/evaluative paper, which sounds good, especially since that’s a nice high level with Bloom’s Taxonomy. BUT… it’s probably not what I need right now!

What I need right now is a SOLUTION to a PROBLEM! Isn’t that the ideal information-seeking-need?! (Plus, problem-solution information needs can also involve higher-level thinking, so I am not going to consider this chain of thought inferior to my other idea.)¬†Here’s my problem: I am team-teaching this high school Spanish for Heritage-Speakers course and it’s absolute chaos. We are in a “pilot year” and we are our own curricular and methodology leaders. We don’t have specialized materials or a set curriculum or even extensive training. We have each other’s strengths, prior knowledge of/relationships with the students, a daily prep period and a section of 18 kids. We are not being told or coached from above on how to do this and while we have formed some theories, this is truly trail-blazing for us. Did I mention it’s absolute chaos?!

Because this problem directly affects my daily work, stress level, overall happiness and self-actualization, this is the most motivating and in-depth information need I have right now… so here are my questions:

  • What do heritage learners need from a language course that foreign language learners do not need?
  • How can we motivate heritage learners to be invested in their biliteracy skills? What is the best use of class time for heritage language learners?
  • What course materials are appropriate for a multi-age, multi-ability classroom that could be used over two non-sequential years of a heritage course?
  • How can non-native-speaker teachers command authority and respect in a class of heritage speakers?
  • What is the best way to grade/assess heritage learners, especially within an institutional system of standards-based reporting?

Ultimately, the big question is, “What’s a girl to do in my situation?” Or,¬†what do non-native-speaker teachers need to have for and know about teaching heritage learners in order to improve biliteracy skills?

The good news is that I’ve already identified a few leads on paper and human resources that should probably help me in this quest, I just have to get cracking on the actual DOING!

(insert theory here)-ist practitioner

To be honest, I groaned when I saw that part of my course investigation this week centered around Constructivism. I have a constructivist colleague who talks about it like its the best thing since sliced bread and condescends about her “behaviorist” department cohorts. Indeed, some of the things she does are good teaching and kids learns, but kids also are learning well from her colleagues–which makes me wonder if their success comes more from relationship-building and the developmental levels and intrinsic motivation of the students, more than “the teaching theory” used.

Personally, my experience with a constructivist teacher at the university-level in the past was more frustrating/infuriating than helpful. It felt like it was an excuse for the instructor to pan off their lesson planning on the students by making run every class and presentation, under the guise of constructivism.

Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of good things about the theory too, some of which I share in my own philosophy, such as student-centered learning. The article I annotated this week actually made me retract my fangs a little bit on the topic (whereas the Thomas chapter seemed to push my buttons a little bit, reminding of those instructors I know who have a superior air concerning the theory.) Of the 12 descriptors in my article, I probably subscribe to 11 of them. Does this label me as a Constructivist? Nah, I’m sure that I also agree with large parts of other big learning theories too.

So, given these experiences and the additional research I’ve done on Constructivism (just to be sure I’m understanding it correctly), as a librarian, do I feel it’s important to operate under this or similar theories? Perhaps, yes, because your instructional style and philosophy should be informed by theory and best practice, however, not to the point that you are jumping on a bandwagon of the “next big thing.” Like fad dieting, I feel like it just isn’t going to end well, no matter how good your intentions. Instead, everything in moderation–for teaching and dieting.

To me, labeling yourself as a (insert theory here)-ist practitioner isn’t important. In fact, sticking to one approach actually could be negative if your approach excludes the learning style of some of your students. One-size-never-fits-all, I’m sorry. During my other Master’s program for Teaching ESL, the big theories in that program were “inductive learning” and “task-based language teaching.” After a while, I resented the expectation that these were being presented as the “only way” to teach things well. If this were a T/F question on an exam (i.e. The ONLY way to teach is to follow X theory…), the “ONLY” would tip most of us off that the answer is false. Why would teaching be any different?