Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Struggling as a Student

As part of my doctoral studies, it is necessary for me to take research classes, both qualitative and quantitative. Because I will have to write a dissertation in a few years, I am required to take these courses. I wish that I could say that I am enjoying these classes - the truth is that I am not. Maybe "enjoy" is a too strong of a word. I can say that I am definitely learning much on the topics, but wow, I am finding these courses so overwhelming at times. Having to wrap my mind around conceptual frameworks, research designs, research methodologies, validity, ethical concerns, leptokurtic vs. platykurtic designs, correlation vs. causal, t-samples, 2-tailed, box charts - oh my gosh, this becomes WAY TOO MUCH to wrap my "pragmatic-based, theoretical framework" mind around (Identifying my conceptual framework is about as far as I can apply my understanding of academic research at the moment, so I guess I should be happy for little victories here). 

I know that most students do not automatically understand this material right away, and I know that my professors all struggled too when they first learned about research. I also know that there are those out there who LOVE conducting, reading, and writing about research and can lose themselves in the material because they are enjoying it so much. I can honestly say that this is NOT me. I am SO sick of reading academic research articles, but I will say that the more that I do read articles, the more I am able to identify aspects of the academic research process (Again, I suppose that I should celebrate this as a small victory, but I am not doing cartwheels just yet).

Let me tell you personally: the affective filter is REAL!! Not that I feel panicky or anxious when dealing with my research classes, but I will also say that there is a degree of stress hovering over my head whenever I have do any work related to these courses. 

It is important for us as teachers to struggle, to feel anxiety, and to not comprehend a subject like our very own students in our world language classroom. The reason is because most likely, when we were students, we did NOT experience this at all. Most likely, as a result, we became language teachers, because language came easy to us. Because of this, it is easy to project this onto our own students - if learning a language came easy to us, then it should be easy for them. The flipside is a belief then that if students are not performing well in a language class, then it is their fault or that they are not "language material" students. I love how Bill Van Patten says, "If all students were like language teachers, then they would be teachers of language, and they're not. We're the weirdos." I also have taught enough years to realize that there is only so much which I can do as a teacher to enable students to acquire material and to pass my class - students must also take some ownership. However, as a teacher, I need to do everything which I can do on my part.

Another area to consider in realizing that most students are not like us is that as 4%ers, we are internally-motivated and possess enough meta skills to drive us to continue through difficult material. Better put, although we may eventually give up on difficult material, that particular stopping point is MUCH further along on the spectrum than the majority of students. We need to accept that most students will give up when presented with difficult material (honestly, there have been so many times that I have shut down in my research classes), so the challenge for us is how to make this material more salient. I am not saying that we have to dumb down material, but rather we must learn how to make our material more understandable and malleable, in addition to lowering students' affective filter. A major way to do this is to SLOW DOWN with the material and to be realistic with an instructional timeline. When we realize that after 4 years that students will only be at the Intermediate level of language proficiency, that actually gives us teachers a realistic view of language instruction and expectations. As Mr. Rogers puts it, "I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex."

One of the best learning experience in my life has been taking a Fluency Fast Mandarin class with Linda Li. I wish I could say that it was because I picked up the Mandarin language so quickly and was the star student. Far from it. In the beginning of the class, I struggled with the language, because:
  • it was not a Romance language based on Latin, so I could not make connections
  • it was a tonal language not based on an English alphabet, so even when the words were written in English letters, the words did not match the sounds which I was hearing. 
But, I will say that it was because of Linda Li's caring, patient attitude and her implementation of Comprehensible Input that made me want to continue so that eventually, everything just kind of "clicked" - I cannot tell you when that happened or how it happened, but suddenly, the sounds of the Mandarin language began to have meaning.

I only have a few more weeks left in my graduate school semester, and although I am looking forward to the end of my quantitative research class, unfortunately, I have to take an even more advanced quantitative research class next semester. I am hoping that time away from having to think about research during Winter Recess will help reset my mind for my new research class in the spring.

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