Yep, it’s the Saturday night before the semester begins and that can mean only one thing: I am having syllabus panic.
I am anticipating the looks of confusion and concern in the faces of my students when I explain my (fervent) belief that this class is intended to address their needs, their developing competencies in the language…and no one else’s predetermined idea of what constitutes a conversation class. That this class needs to get them ready for the world around them, the world many of them want to explore via study abroad, travel. internships, life. That the amount that they grow in this class is equal to the amount of time they invest in the language. My job is to nudge, push, prod them towards their goals.
My struggle, yet again, is about balance: between modeling effective practices and all-out directing and dictating… between creating a syllabus that is like an Arthur Murray Dance routine with predetermined steps and turns and an open ended “wonder what would happen if we just stopped and talked about this here?” freefall experience…between snorkeling through the content and deep water scuba diving in the sharktank of learning.
Knowing that my students will have had many a teacher/textbook/syllabus directed language class in the past (“if it is Tuesday then this must be the preterite”), I am worried about scaring them off in the first class, the first week. I have been quite up front about the tools we will use in the class and how I hope they will approach these things. And I plan to explain in the first class the rationale for creating more contact time in the language using these technologies. And re-iterating that that this is not a tech class it is a Spanish conversation class (and for that reason any tech support, training will be done in English not Spanish)
Actually, it’s not the tools that I think will unnerve them. I think it is the fact that they will be asked, from the get go, to define for themselves what they want this class to look like, feel like. Each of them has chosen this class for a reason, for a purpose. This class is not obligatory and it is not a prerequisite for anything. They made a choice to be here. Am I crazy to believe that I can weave their wants and desires together and craft a schedule of events that will give them the time, the space, the support they need to make their personal learning outcomes happen?
It’s the weekend before the semester begins. Students are dribbling back to campus. Music is blaring from dorms, sledding parties are being formed, the local watering hole is packed to capacity. Meanwhile, I am sitting here, plotting, fretting, and hoping that once I meet them and hear their stories, once we begin to learn more about each other, once (fingers crossed) we create our own wee learning community, it will be the beginning of a really interesting journey: for me as well as for them.