Monday, July 18, 2016

3 Skills Every Student Needs (Inspired by Aaron Hogan)

As I prepped to participate in one of my favorite Twitter chats (#tlap), I found a blog post that truly resonated with me on many levels.  Aaron Hogan wrote a post titled, "4 Skills Every Student Needs" that highlighted the importance of the vital dispositions our students accumulate in our classrooms that may never be in our textbooks. I found this to be an especially timely post in light of the tragedies, violence and conflict in our country and across our world. I would HIGHLY encourage all teachers to read his post thoroughly before heading back to school, as the summer can be a perfect time to intentionally map out the "soft skills" we want to prioritize in our classrooms.

Here are my honest reflections after reading Aaron's post:
  • My greatest weakness, personally, of the skills he listed is that all too often I tend to disagree with people, not ideas.  Ugh! I hate even writing those words. It is an important distinction that my passionate heart and language-loving-mind tend to ignore.  I want to model this. I want to teach this. I want to find this in more people.
  • The concept of seeing multiple perspectives should be an easy fit into a world language classroom!  I love how he mentioned it's involvement in literature, but I couldn't help but think a classroom that elevates learning another's language has to be the embodiment of this value.  This is one way I tried to bring up this skill in class. My inspiration came from articles like this one & quotes like this one...
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  • If we do not plan these conversation, they simply do not happen.  After all, they are tricky to write about when I have hours to do much more challenging would they be to suddenly initiate out of no where?  When there is a tragedy in your community, discuss it.  Process out loud with your students in an age-appropriate manner.  Set aside your curriculum and show them that these types of things matter even more than their upcoming vocab quiz.  Be real.  But, in addition to planning conversations around these points in response to an event, we must be prioritizing these lessons this summer for the entire year.  I think we would all agree our job is much, much wider and deeper than our content area.  So, shouldn't the time and effort we put into these lessons reflect the level of importance we claim they have?

Inspired by his articulate reflection of often intangible concepts, I wanted to add 3 skills that I believe every student needs in addition to what Aaron wrote.  So...

3 (more) skills every student needs:
  1. Defend your beliefs without becoming defensive.  To do this, students must first and foremost know what they believe.  This might involve researching the issue above and beyond repeating what their parents or more vocal friends have said. In addition, students need the ability to listen to and understand people who oppose their thoughts.  Finally, this skill takes a lot of thinking on your feet!  Being "put on the spot" is stressful sometimes, and a lot of people react by raising their voice, attacking the other person or shutting down. Perhaps in our classrooms we can stage debates and play "devil's advocate" just enough to coach students through these scenarios.  I am a firm believer that after the scheduled conversation or activity is completed, though, we talk to kids about what we just talked about.  Verbally walk them through why you just directed the conversation in that way.  Or, re-frame a point that was brought up so that it really sinks in to the class.  Help them learn to be well-informed and confident enough that they can have conversations about their firmly-held viewpoints without getting their feelings hurt.
  2. Ask pertinent, thoughtful, and thought-provoking questions.  To really listen well, understand other perspectives and learn at a deep level, students will need to know how to know what they don't know!  Instead of coming up with the questions to scaffold one of our students to success, why not let another student volunteer that information?  I love trying to peak student's intelligent curiosity as it relates to cultural concepts.  Or, as we often try to fabricate real-life conversations in our language classrooms, let your students gain that practice of thinking and writing deeper questions.  Open-ended questions, by the way.  Opinion-inducing questions.  This is difficult for many people in our native-tongues...even more so as we learn to ask these questions in a different language.
  3. Honestly reflect and alter personal weaknesses.  We talk a lot about "self-motivation" or "self-paced" curriculum.  And our culture greatly values independence and self-reliance.  But, in many of our middle school, especially, there are students who have never been taught how to take an honest (read: HARD) look at themselves and evaluate what they should change.  They allow our feedback to replace their own self-evaluation.  We can change this!  This skill can relate to Spanish class (vowel pronunciation, word order), school in general (organization, friend choices) or it can be much larger than that (fitness habits, relationship with parents).  How can we lead students to begin a life-long journey of admitting shortcomings, forming a plan to fix them and persevering until they are no longer problems?
After reading Aaron's post and my thoughts, what would you add?  How are you going to bring up these important topics in your classroom? Let's truly "facilitate thinking, support struggle and engage minds"!

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