I’ve waited a while before writing this post in order to protect the person who I am writing about. I don’t want anyone trying to guess who it was who did this. The point of this post is to make all of us think about what we do when we choose reading or listening material for our students.
One day, when I was having lunch, a fellow teacher was showing me a text that she planned on using with her class that afternoon. As I looked at the text, I wondered about the difficulty level and asked her if the students were going to be able to handle it. She exclaimed, “I know it is too difficult for them, but the students have been mentioning that the texts I have been giving them were too easy and they were finishing too quickly. I am doing this to put them in their place.”
I don’t know if my face was expressing it, but I was dumbfounded. I wasn’t sure what I should say in that moment. Why would a teacher punish her students for doing well by giving them something too difficult? Was it a control issue? Did she feel slighted by their comments? Not knowing what to say, I didn’t say anything and went on eating my lunch.
This event got me thinking about how we choose listening and reading material for our students. There are some who believe that we should be pushing our students by choosing more difficult material, while others feel that students should be reading or listening at a level only slightly above where they are at (ie. Krashen’s i+1). While I tend to fall in the latter category, I will give more difficult material from time to time, but only in small chunks. My reasoning is that students need to feel like they are progressing and when the material is perceived to be too easy, students will not be motivated to move on. On the other hand, large sections of difficult text on a regular basis will only cause students to become discouraged and give up. The same goes for listening.
My main concern regarding the encounter I had over that lunch time is in regards to the punishment meted out by the teacher. Maybe it was time for a more difficult text, but not as a punishment, and certainly not in the quantity she planned on using. I understand the frustration she was feeling when she heard her students complaining that they needed something beyond what they were being given, but to go to these lengths to “put them in your place” is just wrong. We need to put our feelings aside and look at the bigger picture. Her students were: a) wanting something more (ie. motivated to grow), b) taking control of their learning, and c) growing in their language skills. Yay! All good things! Sure, our personal pride can get in the way as we feel like students are judging us on how well we are doing in our job, but it isn’t about us. We are paid (at least most of us are) to help students grow in their language skills. When students express how they are feeling, that helps us know what to do next, not knock them down a few pegs.
I don’t want to come across as being judgemental here, but I worry that students will become discouraged and even quit. Listen to your students and put aside your pride for a moment in order to help them achieve their goals. Yes, sometimes they do know better than us in regards to what they need in order to grow.