Today I’m diving into the first National Board World Languages Standard: Knowledge of Students (pages 18-21 here). (Read my last two posts to play catch up on why I’m talking about National Board Standards and what the heck NBCT even is).
First, the Standard statement:
Accomplished teachers of world languages actively acquire knowledge of their students and draw on their understanding of child and adolescent development to foster their students’ competencies and interests as individual language learners.
In three words: KNOW YOUR KIDS. There are some great reminders sprinkled throughout these pages that focus on why investing time in student relationships is so important. For me, there are three main take-aways.
1. Learn about the kids in every way you can.
Accomplished teachers use every method at their disposal to learn as much about their students as possible. The Standard references three ways to do this. Firstly, engage directly with the kids: informal conversation, personality surveys, informational surveys, attending extracurricular events, and baseline language assessments. Secondly, gather information from the other important adults in kids lives: their families, other teachers, counselors, and administrators.
Thirdly, make sure to stay informed about adolescent development in general. Being aware of how teens communicate and develop socially, and staying informed about the challenges your particular community of students is facing, is critical to developing appropriate learning goals inside and outside the classroom.
2. Leverage what you know about them to engage them.
As you gather as much information as possible about your students, you’re able to leverage it to drive your instruction. The Standard references the enthusiasm and energy that adolescents naturally have about the things they’re passionate about, and their intrinsic desire to talk about themselves and their interests. Luckily, our whole goal as language teachers is to get students to express themselves, so it’s just a matter of tapping into their natural tendencies. I’ve written before about how I love differentiating my instruction by giving kids an opportunity to inject their passions into the thematic units typically required by school curriculum. Our challenge is to find ways to do that day in and day out.
Beyond letting student interests drive instruction, the Standard also reminds us that teaching students skills to help with their social and personal development is key to helping them succeed not only as language students, but also as individuals. Learning a language requires taking risks, setting goals, making mistakes, and developing the confidence and self-efficacy to continue trying and failing over and over again. As language teachers, we give them the tools and opportunity to practice doing so in a supported environment, which engages them on a level that goes far beyond our learning content.
3. Take advantage of your learning community’s network.
For me, the most challenging part of this Standard is the repeated reminder to utilize the learning community connected to your classroom as much as possible. The best way to do this is to increase family involvement. Engaging family members through frequent communication helps you to learn more about the students’ needs and goals, and having support at home can only help you work as a team to get each student where they need to be.
Additionally, family relationships provide you with a wealth of experience that helps you bring language learning to life. Using family members as guest speakers, or even just guest judges in a PBL project, reminds students that what they are learning has real world implications. Students who speak a different language at home can bring to life the importance of being bilingual and the richness that comes with being a part of different cultures. The Standard challenges us to be informed about what resources we have available in the family networks we become a part of each school year, and also to bring those resources into the classroom whenever we can.
Concluding thoughts on Standard One
This first Standard to me affirms the natural tendency we all have to build and leverage our relationships with our students in order to drive instruction. However, there are many things in this Standard listed that are difficult to accomplish on a regular basis. For example, I’d love to say that I had a beautiful monthly e-newsletter and an Instagram account for my parents to follow, but systemic parent communication isn’t something I thought I had the time to prioritize. This Standard reminds me that a little effort in that arena can go a long way.
With this in mind, as you read these Standards, give yourself a high five for the things you know you do on a regular basis, and pick one or two items that you aren’t doing already to help support your teaching. We all have items in each Standard that we are naturally drawn to, and ones that are more difficult for each of us. The goal is to affirm what makes you a good teacher, and help you to become even better, not to get overwhelmed by all of the things you aren’t doing yet. Good luck to those of you on your NBCT journey, and to those who are just getting to know your students to start the year! This Standard is a good reminder that the time you invest in building those relationships is well worth it.