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Hera's teaching portfolio 2005

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*This is a reaction paper where I explore the possibilities and benefits of the foreign language classroom becoming a refuge for it's students, and make them part of their own "community" within the school walls.

Can a foreign language classroom really become a community for its students? Can it be a refuge in where they can be shielded and protected from actual interaction with target language speakers? How well will it prepare them for that actual interaction? Robert J. DiPietro seems to think that the Strategic Interactive Approach can be all of those things, and helps students be successful learners of their target language.

DiPietro claims that students who are learning a new language through the strategic interaction approach are placed in situations that are similar to those that you may encounter abroad. They are real-life situations that will engage them in conversation, only that they will first be prepared, rehearsed, and then debriefed. I first found a problem with this, in comparison to a real life situation where you have no rehearsal phase, there are no breaks to stop and discuss with your classmates, or ask your teacher, and no one is going to debrief you afterwards, checking you grammar points, pronunciation, accuracy, and so on. As I continued to read, I became less and less critical of this Strategic Interactive Approach. So what if they get a chance to practice, thats what class is for right? But will it really prepare them for these real-life situations they may one-day encounter?

Before we answer that question, I think it would be best to first answer the question of whether the foreign language classroom can be a language community to these students or not. I would have to say yes. If you are taking into account the aspects of the foreign language classroom, and the support they are given in that classroom to use and practice their target language skills, it will absolutely be a community for them. The teacher selects and creates scenarios for their use and purpose. In this chapter, the author defines a scenario as a classroom activity that motivates students to converse purposefully with each other by casting them into roles in episodes based on or taken from real-life. When successful, the scenario promotes dramatic tension among the role players. The author continues to claim that strategic interaction, with the use of its scenarios, allows learners to rise to the challenge of human interaction, with all its uncertainties and ambiguities. The students are given free choice of how they respond, which allows them to concentrate on how they are going to use the target language, and take part in human discourse. This sounds to me like a community, where they all have one thing in common: They are trying to learn and use the target language. In fact the author states that taking into account the differences in mindsets of the teacher and the student, a symbiosis can still be achieved, and that such a symbiosis comes about when the teacher and students both realize that the classroom is a kind of minor speech community where are play roles and share in the instructional process.

So can we say this will prepare them for those real-life situations? Well, logically speaking, it can better prepare them for what they may encounter when actually in that real-life situation. It will give them the chance to practice what they may encounter. Yet this seems to be the hardest question to answer. No one really knows what will prepare them for what is to come or what language difficulties they will encounter. The author gives an example of an Argentinean boy who is fluent in Dutch was not prepared culturally for his experience in the Netherlands. Assuming that the scenarios in the strategic interaction approach also take into consideration cultural values and characteristics, it may very well help prepare the students for a situation abroad. If the scenario is well-written, it should capture the dramatic element of a human interaction and, in doing so, enhances the retention of what is learned when that interaction is performed. Here the classroom will act as a refuge for the students, giving them the tension, yet at the same time, the protection of the classroom, to pause, question, be supported. Hopefully this refuge will allow them to become more comfortable when the real situation arises.

Although we can not answer, and will not be able to fully define how well these scenarios of the strategic interaction approach will prepare a student, I think it can safely be said that it will help out greatly. It allows the student to use the language freely, and practice real life situations, which is good enough preparation as it gets. At the same time, it creates a community for the students. Its a safe and supporting place for them to learn and use their language, their refuge. It is probably one of the better ways to introduce people to learning another language, since it enforcing who we are as human beings through usage of communication and language.                                                10/27/03

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