I did my internship at the English Language Center. I was fortunate in that I was able to have the teaching I was doing there qualify for internship credit—so this was essentially a paid internship. During the internship, I taught one class of Linguistic Accuracy—Level C and a brief class wherein we reviewed the weekly vocabulary tests. At the beginning of the internship, I decided I would make a formal attempt to get more out of this semester of teaching than usual. To that end, I kept a far more detailed, daily record of what we did in class and I also tried some new activities. I also tried to get more out of what I read in and out of classes, and I spent more time digging. With my focus being on gaining more than usual from my teaching experience, my internship became quite valuable. The value of what transpired this semester can be summed up in two key areas: theory versus practice and engaged learning.
The ELC is a lab school. We know what that means, but I think it will be useful to get into some detail about what a lab school is and the inherent potential of this type of school. This type of organization tends to have teacher training as a main focus. I think this is valuable. I also feel like it might be somewhat limiting if the institution is not always making efforts to find new approaches to teacher improvement. I say this because it seems conceivable that the typical teacher who works at a lab school might have a particular trajectory. This teacher might end up at the lab school a true novice—having only done perhaps some observations and some practicum teaching. This teacher, at this point, is a hungry teacher who is eager to gain knowledge, skills, and coping strategies. Motivation is based on an eager, fervent desire to do a good job but also a need to not drown in the myriad responsibilities of teaching a second language.
Thus, this novice teacher goes to work and the curve of his progression and improvement is quite steep. He learns to manage a classroom and to create effective lessons that lead to terminal objectives. He does this over the next couple of semesters. And then he hits a plateau. He feels he has things under control and he can replicate systems and approaches for whatever the school throws at him. In language learning, we call this fossilization. I worry that a lab school might suffer from this type of plateau-ing if there are not programs or systems in place to keep that teacher stretching.
I think that an internship with a few well-designed, periodic assignments and an involved supervisor is an example of the type of program that should be required in a program that has a lab school attached to it. I also feel that mentoring opportunities should be an expected part of the lab school experience. These opportunities would keep the teacher from hitting a plateau and staying there for a while—they would keep that teacher stretching further and in different directions.
This essentially sums up what I learned about theory versus practice. I feel that there is much theory discussed in many of the Linguistics 500 level classes, and that the new 600 level classes that are worth only two credits seek practical opportunities for students—but still in the classroom! Classrooms and lab schools, particularly the ELC, are very controlled environments that, while not sanitized, are free from much of the pressure, worry and hassle of real world situations. Now, I’m not suggesting we artificially manufacture the grit of the world in our classrooms, but I think it might be more useful for grads and the local community if we tried something else.
What I would suggest is a materials development class that goes to a local school that has some ESL special needs. The students in the materials development class could then perform a needs analysis in collaboration with a teacher or administrator in that school, then actually create a real set of materials to be used in that school.
Do you see what this would offer our graduates? They would have to contend with folks in the real world—professionals who know their stuff and students who have real stakes at play. What is more, the students would have to balance the need to conform to local school district standards while creating practical, innovative materials and systems. This, to me, is real application of theory into practice—in a truly authentic situation.
The other area I learned the most about during my internship was about engaged learning. I have been reading a book called Engaging Learning by Clark Quinn, and in connection with that book have been viewing videos, reading articles, and interacting with professionals around the world. It’s an undeniable fact that today’s learners are, in some truly fundamental ways, different from yesterday’s learners. These students are absolute digital natives. They haven’t known a world without Internet or cell phones, and in a few short years, will not have known a world without texting. These students’ attention can jump as fast as it takes to go from one hyperlink to another.
We must, as teachers, adjust what we do if we want to be effective. Completely outdated are the old methods of lecturer handing down knowledge like Prometheus granting the boon of fire to humanity from Mount Olympus. Today, the instructor must do what it takes to engage learners. Of course learners have a responsibility to make the effort to become engaged and stay engaged in their learning, but that does not reduce the responsibility teachers have to present their knowledge in an accessible way. Look at this like Krashen did: comprehensible input + 1. It’s not too far afield to claim that tradition-bound approaches of handing out codified learning are, to our digital native students, incomprehensible input.
So teachers—wherever they are—must see as part of their duty as teachers the need to utilize technology and vast amounts of multimedia to good purpose in their classrooms. They need to see learning as a collaborative, organic experience that need not be linear all of the time. This is not all to say that we must throw out old approaches. Indeed, the Socratic method is very effective with learners who like to discover knowledge on their own. This is all to say that we must be sure to plan how we will engage our learners in learning that will be considered fun and absorbing. To do this, we need to understand our learners better and we must also understand the technological potential and possibilities that are available today.
So all in all, my internship taught me that there is still so much to learn, experience and do. My internship taught me that my field is still young and vibrant, and that I have a great deal to offer if I can continue to hungrily seek after better, more engaging and effective ways to involve learners in their learning. My motivation is no longer how I can swim in the deep waters of the myriad responsibilities of teaching—rather it is how I can teach my students how to navigate their own deep waters of the endless world of knowledge around them.