Have been thinking the past couple of days about how my students are doing and comparing this to my own achievement in a foreign language class. This then led to a comparison of teaching methods; they say one teaches the way one was taught, but this is definitely not the case with me. Some background...
I began studying Spanish in the seventh grade. Dad (as well as Sesame Street) had given my little sponge brain a nice little primer (numbers, basic greetings, feelings, etc) growing up, and I took to the subject eagerly and naturally OK, I'll be honest: I was and am, academically speaking, a dork in that I LOVE the hallowed halls of academia, so taking to the subject naturally wasn't too much of a surprise, if I can say that without sounding too arrogant...**grimaces**...what DID surprise me was how much I LOVED the subject itself! Math, science, even English--I loved the fact that I could succeed in these courses with little effort, but Spanish...I just LOVED learning it for its own sake. And I learned the traditional way--textbook vocabulary lists, grammar exercises, workbook listening and speaking exercises, etc.--with an almost innate ability to take the grammar rules I'd learned and put them to use in real-life situations.
So I go to college, double major in English Ed and Spanish, and wind up teaching Spanish in a non-magnet school environment (my high school environment was accelerated, AP-type stuff), and, sho nuf, I taught they way I was taught: worksheets, verb conjugation charts, etc. At the end of the year, though, something was odd: my students could conjugate the heck out of a verb or two, meaning that they knew grammar rules, but they didn't know Spanish; if someone came up to them and asked them ¿Qué hora es? they'd be stuck. So I investigated TPR--Total Physical Response--and it claimed to address this very problem. I read a couple of books on it over a summer, and implemented the stuff I gleaned from it the following year.
It was (and is) amazing. My students, in terms of actual communication, can do more after three months of instruction in TPR than my kids in traditional schooling could do after a whole YEAR of instruction. Rather than focus on grammar, we take phrases (already conjugated somehow) and assign an action to them, and every time I say the phrase, they do the action until the sound of the word triggers the meaning. Then, we put the words (along with the words they've already acquired) into a story (which they make up, mostly) and they can oftentimes retell the story with relative ease. They even write their own stories--over 100 words in nine minutes at this point for many of them--and we have quite a bit more fun than I remember having in my own, traditional Spanish class (aside from the dorky, "Wow-this-is-nifty-'cause-I'm-learning!!!" fun, that is).
So why the comparison? Well, like anybody who naturally achieves at something, I find myself feeling as though I'm depriving my kids. TPRS (the S being for Storytelling) doesn't stress formal grammar, correct conjugation, etc) like traditional learning, so it's hard for me not to cringe when I hear my kids say something like, ¡Mi necesitaba fue baño, Señor! (a horrible version of "I need to go to the bathroom, sir!") It's made me realize exactly what it is that I do when I take all those grammar rules and run them through my head real quick-like to communicate in higher-level Spanish: it's like doing calculus in one's head. On the one hand, I know there are bright kids who can handle the grammar, who can use the grammar (as well as the extensive vocab units) and go onto AP stuff. But the majority of these kids...man...this is just getting them to do basic (read: ROUGH) communication in Spanish; the use of the more intricate grammatical functions is and most likely will be lost on them.
So it's a matter, imo, of doing the most I can for as many as I can, and trusting that the ones who will go on and succeed are not going to be killed by going more slowly than I'd like (the premise of TPRS being "Teach less...but teach it more") and that, if they want to continue in this they'll catch the vocab later. It's difficult being someone who got all the vocab words and irregular verbs the first time he heard them; Lord grant that I would act wisely, without embittering or embarrassing those who do not have the gift You've given me.
Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy! And blessed be the name of the LORD.