COVID life has surely added new dimensions to planning for learning -- language learning is no exception. Teachers, parents, and coaches in numerous learning landscapes have stretched the bounds of creativity: some guide learners to interact in the target language face-to-face while ensuring increased safety measures such as social distancing, while others engage students in virtual spaces where the cues that advance the give and take of a conversation have had to be relearned. Many do both. In my experience, language educators are unceasingly creative people, but the push to generate new ideas for engagement within a new set of circumstances can be exhausting, even for the most flexible thinker.
What wells can we draw from to continue moving forward for our learners? If you are a teacher, a parent, or a coach, you may have been on a quest to unearth and vett a new world of resources. Maybe you have joined a virtual professional learning community, or maybe you have made a point to seek out virtual conferences such as SCFLTA, NFLC, and Global Cred. As you continue on your quest, remember that who YOU are is important to the learners that you lift up every day. You experience the world, and your students are experiencing it too.
I was reminded of this a month or so ago. My toddler, like many toddlers, likes to be active. We don’t really have a great yard space for her to play in, so I have typically been very grateful for public outdoor spaces. Lately, given that most of the public parks we would visit have closed their playground areas as a health precaution, we’ve had to start thinking outside the box.
We do have a driveway, and sidewalk chalk is a favorite activity. One Saturday, when the air started to feel a little cooler, I was out there making sidewalk chalk drawings with my toddler -- stars, circles, pumpkins, simple outlines of animals, a sun and a moon. She looked at me and said, “Mommy, I need a playground.” I reminded her that unfortunately, we’d have to wait on playgrounds for awhile but that we had plenty of other things to do. She said, “No, draw me a playground. Draw me a swing.” I drew a swing set with three swings. She sat down on one and asked me to sit in the one next to it. We sat there for awhile. Then, she said, “Mommy, can you draw me a slide?” I drew a chalk slide. She then informed me that she couldn’t use it without steps to get up to the top, so I had to draw that. She walked to the top, waved to me from the top of my chalk creation, asked me if I would catch her at the bottom, and then (more or less) slid down, jumping onto her feet at the bottom and cheering. This continued for some time -- she told me she needed “a big playground,” and we co-constructed it with her telling me what to draw and where, me drawing it, and her testing the integrity of the pink, blue, and yellow chalk structure.
After this impromptu sidewalk chalk extravaganza came to a close (and as I washed her chalk-covered clothes), I reflected on how this child had stretched my mind. It never would have occurred to me to draw a playground for her and ask her to pretend it was real, but it occurred to her. This got me thinking about the creative contributions that students -- and all learners really -- can make in helping us design learning experiences for them. I wondered how I could create space for creative contributions from the people I work with in professional learning groups, and I pondered how student agency can look in different environments. Certainly, it would not always look just like my experience that day, but it got me thinking.
My experience with my toddler that Saturday helped me make a connection. It was a kind of resource that added to my learning. Wherever you are, I hope you know just how valuable you are to your students and to the people whose lives you touch and that YOUR experiences doing life are valuable resources to tap into.
What life experiences have you drawn from?