The Most Powerful sound in a language: your voice
(As published in EMWS Ecolessence 2014)
If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.
– General Erick Shinseki
When I was a child, I used to appreciate teachers who had a peculiar and rather particular way to conduct activities. I remember I once wrote a note to literature teacher for teaching Cien Años de Soledad (100 years of solitude) as if it was all family gossip. I still wonder if originality was easy to attain, or whether my classmates and I were easy to please. Thus, considering the amount of information and stimuli out there, both in live and virtual environments, I wonder what is the standard of good learning experiences in these days?
So, what was different this year in comparison to my two last years at École? Certainly, it is possibly the year when I have shared my class control with my students. I have disrupted what could be considered a routine so many times that some specific learning moments are almost the result of an idea that one of my classes implanted in me, and another class gave me the forum to address it. This was a very busy year, but it was the most productive yet as well.
When I was learning English, one of my EFL teachers used to tell us: “think in English” every time that we attempted to produce a good idea and ended up structuring sentences in a Spanish-like construction for we had not yet developed that je ne sais quoi that makes learners sound like real speakers of the target language they are studying. To date, I am still unable to comprehend what it means to think in English, French, Spanish or any foreign language one can be studying. I wish some of my EFL teachers had said, instead: “use your voice in English!”
If I were to mention a common practice among the classes I taught this year, the use of students’ voice would definitely be my favorite pick. My 6th graders conducted a phone interview with some Spanish speakers living in Mumbai; My grade 9 and 10 students participated in Skype conferences with speakers from other latitudes in the world; my grade 11 students ‘designed’ some case studies and sent them to IB schools in Japan, Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi, eliciting solutions, and they got a response from IB Spanish SL and HL students; and last but not least, my grade 12 students read excerpts of the book Días de Rojo (Days in Red) by Pablo Argente, wrote a letter to the author criticizing the ethical issues in La Tomatina (the central topic of the book), and got a response from him. In small or big quantities; with a strong accent or without; with plenty or no hesitation at all, students were making use of their voice, most undeniably.
I do not if this is how we create relevance in a foreign language class, but for me, this is how we fill our experiences with substance and create content. These experiences have allowed students to use their language skills with a goal in mind, getting a taste of its flavors; and their reflections will certainly serve as parameters for comparison when other students take part in these kind of involvements and then have the chance to read what others found out and evaluate their own experience.
I have enjoyed witnessing the ‘telling’ moments when students share their stories in their respective learning experience; I have become fond of the way in which their narrations motivate me share this new content instantly via twitter or my blog. I have realized, truthfully, that telling the stories that transpire in my classes at École adds value to my students’ and my learning.
I have repeatedly said to some colleagues of mine that it feels good to be in a constant state of creation, and maybe this is how I bring to life the words of Alan Kay when he said that the best way to predict the future was to invent it. It is hard to know whether there is some kind of future in the making here, but I am certainly enjoying the sounds that are produced as ideas are generated, as I ask my students to let me hear their voices, and read their thoughts.
This is my voice in English, with Mexican accent.