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Teaching Philosophy

Christopher Bennett Vasquez-Wright

With each newly learned language you acquire a new soul.

-Slovakian Proverb 

My journey learning Spanish has been enriching. Learning new perspectives and values has been like acquiring a new soul. As a humanist, I feel called to help others gain autonomy in, and literacy of, a targeted language community. In my teaching philosophy, I first describe the structural aspects that I believe contribute to classroom language acquisition. This is followed by functional goal of my instruction, that is, to produce independent learners that are critically literate and prepared to integrate into the new community.

Communicative Teaching Principles

I believe that the abundance of meaningful and communicative language exposure is essential for acquisition to occur. For this reason, I make it a course requirement to attend class, be punctual and only use the target language. To ease comprehension, I use a lot of simple syntax, targeted vocabulary, pauses, gestures, images, and the student’s background knowledge. My class activities usually start as comprehension-based, such as responsive listening and surveys, before they are production-based which require speech and writing.

      Class time is used for as much Spanish interaction and production as possible. My students negotiate meaning with each other through pair work, group work, role plays, games, debates, and class discussions. I am the facilitator and the guide for these interactions. I monitor the students to assure communication in Spanish is achieved. The content in the comprehension-based activities correlates with the production-based activities. Material is also revisited in multiple modals to reinforce what is learned. Student’s responses are gradually less controlled, becoming more creative. As an incentive to interact with others in the target language, my students must earn daily participation points by actively engaging in classroom interactions.

      When a focus on form is necessary, activities are still meaning-based and tied to communication. I present new grammar features implicitly through activities that require personalized meaning-based responses using the focused form. Occasionally I use textual enhancement in attempt to make targeted features more salient to the learner. I rarely teach grammar explicitly in a class with communicative goals. If I do, it is briefly done as a review, after the communicative activities. Homework and quizzes can be used for explicit grammar learning. If however a curriculum goal of a course were to learn about the language and not just to use the language, I would teach explicit grammar.


Focus on Intercultural Competence

College students are adults. I believe they are able to use higher cognitive abilities to infer meaning and solve problems within new sociocultural contexts, even before they are considered ‘fluent’ in their production. In the world of the target language, students will face ambiguity, experience culture shock, and discover that they had relied on popular myths and stereotypes to make sense of their experience. Only with authentic contact with the culture, they would formulate new and more accurate perceptions. Classroom instruction does have its limitations in reproducing the real world. Nevertheless, I believe that this experience can be simulated to a certain degree. I believe that learners can become more critically literate through instruction. This depends largely through the use of authentic texts.           

      I carefully select and adapt authentic texts for activities. Authentic texts could be commercials, ads, music videos, poems, or any text that is produced in the native speaker’s world and uses the language in the cultural context. I select texts that can easily shed off stereotypes, allow cross-cultural comparisons and formulate a new and more accurate perception. My goal with these is to empower learners to independently infer meaning in the targeted society, in other words, develop strategies to infer meaning in ambiguity. I integrate these activities into the curriculum as an underlying and correlating cultural syllabus.

      Moreover, for the sake of enrichment and grasping student’s attention, I start each class with a short three to five minute cultural attention getter. I may show an artifact, a photo or play live music to stimulate interest and initiate a short discussion. Likewise, when relevant, I share brief entertaining stories based on my own cultural experiences. I may also briefly magnify some of the historical footprints and cultural cues that are marked on the language.

Rapport with Students

I believe that classroom challenges need to be faced with a constructive and positive attitude. My students are responsible adults. Like a colleague, I treat each of them with respect. I also strive to create a creative and fun language learning environment. To minimize anxiety, I do not over-correct errors. These are natural processes in language learning, but I do correct when communication is not archived. I save the most explicit corrections for feedback on written assignments and discrete grammar quizzes. I also make the students well aware of what they must do for the grade they want. The grade they earn isn't necessarily a measurement of language proficiency gain. It is rather a measurement of hard work.

      I will not stop learning in this profession. I am always evaluating and refining my practice through various types of feedback. I listen to my students through informal interviews, informative surveys and class observations. I always make changes to set and achieve goals. These constant changes keep my class interesting, engaging, interactive and valuable. After all is said and done, I reflect on my purpose. That is, if my students have acquired language in its cultural context and if class has enriched them with a new understanding and new perspectives of their world.