Recently I had a major lightbulb moment about teaching and learning. To prepare for my upcoming trip to Finland this summer, I decided to embark on a quest to learn a new language, Finnish. For some this may sound like a walk in the park, but for me let me tell you, it is not easy.
I have never considered my self a “language” person. Three years of Spanish in high school was my own personal hell as far as I was concerned. A passing grade through Spanish III was enough to meet the foreign language requirement for an advanced diploma at my high school. That is all was interested in. To me each day of class was one day less I had to suffer though. I counted down the days to when I would be free of this dreaded requirement and would have another period open for a second art elective. Just walking into class would make me break out into an immediate panic and I tried to figure out how to become invisible, so I wouldn’t have to participate. Every time I spoke, I could never seem to get my mouth to move in the right way. The resulting sounds that came out were, I’m sure, barely passable as a comprehensible language. I am sure my Spanish teachers cringed each time I attempted to answer questions.
Learning a new language this time around couldn’t be more different. It sure isn’t because Finnish is an easier language to learn than Spanish. Instead, this time I really want to learn how to speak at least a little bit of Finnish. My major motivator, meeting family that is actually from Finland. I want to be able to, at the very least, have a basic conversation in their native language. The drive and excitement about learning Finnish is something I never experienced with Spanish.
So back to the lightbulb moment. As I was driving to work the other day listening and repeating Finnish phrases through Finnishpod101, over and over and over again it dawned on me. This is exactly what it is like for my third graders trying to learn new concepts in class. Math, reading, writing skills, whatever it is I am going over with them, they need to hear the information and practice it, multiple times before they can really understand it. Now I already knew this and I had learned about multiple exposures in college, workshops, PD sessions and discussed it with colleagues. But I had not experienced learning something quite so difficult in a long time. This is what it felt like to be trying so hard, but not really getting it until the hundredth time.
Learning Finnish has given me a new appreciation for learning and teaching. I can empathize with those students who are trying so hard and putting in 100% effort, but who are not quite there yet. This experience has reinforced a few things about how I should be teaching. The first is to model, model and model some more, what to do and what is expected in lessons. Just like listening to the same phrases over and over, and looking at the written form, students need to hear and see what to do many times. The second thing is practice, practice, practice! Students need the chance to practice what they are learning many times over before they will feel they have truly mastered it. I mean it took me a week and a half practicing saying, Minun nimeni on Katy (Hello, my name is Katy), before I would even share it with another person. Students need the same chances to practice what they are learning to feel confident enough to share that information with others.
There is nothing quite like when the teacher becomes the student. My Finnish has improved slowly but surely since I began a few weeks ago. And lucky for this learner, I have a captive audience to listen and critique me each morning at morning meeting.
Kiitos paljon (thanks a lot) for reading this blog post. I hope to nähdään taas (see you again) here.