Instructional Minutes – Less Important Than You Think

I got this question from Michelle in Australia:

Q. I really struggle to match the effortless way you stay in L2 and I feel like I’m not giving enough CI.

A. Your point here is a valid concern, of course, but not if you think about it in terms of how much time it takes to acquire a language vs. the amount of time you have. Here is something I wrote about this topic just yesterday:

Whenever you find yourself stressing about “losing instructional time” just stop and think about how it takes 10,000 hours of working with a language to gain any degree of command over it.

Then think about how in a typical 7th grade survey course lasting 9 weeks, for example, you have only 25 to 30 hours. The math tells us that you have 0.25% of the time you need. In Mandarin Chinese and other non-Roman languages, you have 0.1% of the time you need.

These numbers are not much better in high school classes, in which you have available to you in entire four-long language classes only 2.5% of the time you need to bring the students to high levels of proficiency.

Can you see what you do to yourselves and your students when you fret about making sure that the kids are prepared for the fictitious “next level”. It’s pathetic. Our goal should be confident students, not high-scoring students. When will that farce finally end, right?

There is always a next level. And when the students arrive at the next level, they are never going to be prepared in the way that the teacher waiting for them wants. You know the drill on this and there is no need to discuss it further. Language teachers are rarely pleased with what the teacher before them has provided their new matriculating students. It’s just that way.

What is the lesson here? It is obvious. Instead of providing your “next level” teacher with a few students who memorized everything for the A and a large amount of students who, because they were not successful in your class, don’t even want to take the class in high school or at university or whatever the next level is, why not provide the new teacher with an entire class full of happy and confident students?

That is your real job – to make your students want to become life-long learners of the language.

All that to say that as long as you have happy and engaged students, you are doing it right. There is a new game in our profession now – we can quit teaching for massive language gains, but for what all of our students are capable.

The irony is, of course, when they have fun in your class, moving along slowly and surely while focused on the message and the laughter instead of the words and how serious it all is, their gains eclipse the old ways of teaching languages by leaps and bounds.

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