As a former long-time teacher of both French and Spanish, I believe every person can learn a foreign language. I have taught all levels, from preschoolers through adult language learners in college, and have a wide variety of techniques and resources at my disposal to help students master skills and concepts. For me, it's the relationships I form with my students that matter the most; I like to build lessons around my students' needs and interests to keep them engaged in the lessons and to show them how they can use their new language for self-expression and in everyday life. I have several philosophies I follow when working with students: I stress focusing on strengths instead of concentrating on weaknesses, rewarding the effort instead of the outcome, and sticking by my students by being their biggest cheerleader.
I was very fortunate to graduate with an MA in French and a BS in Foreign Language Education from UW-Madison. During my graduate work I met my husband, then a graduate student in French, and we've had a wonderful life speaking French at home, traveling to French-speaking countries and raising our daughter bilingual French-English. As I am also a former Spanish teacher, living in Texas is like a dream - it's so easy to speak and learn Spanish in the Dallas-Fort Worth area (although I hear quite a bit of French here, too!) Any French or Spanish students are bound to find ample opportunities to practice their new language skills.
What is your teaching philosophy?
I value my relationships with my students first and foremost; I like to know what kind of people they are, what their interests are and what motivates them. Better and faster learning will occur if the student is comfortable with me. Knowing my students well helps me differentiate instruction to capitalize on the individual student's strengths. I don't believe education is a one-size-fits-all matter. We all have preferred modes of learning, and although I will expose a student to many different learning scenarios, I build up my students' confidence by emphasizing areas in which they have already some degree of mastery in order to show them how far they've come and what they can already do. I also like to meet students 'where they're at' instead of where the textbook or course says they should be. Often students who seek out tutors have not mastered prior material or are struggling with difficult concepts. Lastly, I teach the language through authentic and communicative ways, and grammar points can be presented in context; students can pick up so much from a poem, a song and using the language authentically.
What might you do in a typical first session with a student?
When meeting with a student for the first time, I would get to know the student by asking him or her questions not even related to the course material! I'd like to find out what his or her passions are and what he or she likes to do outside of school. This can be done in the target language if appropriate. What I aim for is common ground between us and developing trust between my student and me. Next, I would ask the student or the parent what the goals of the tutoring sessions were and where any perceived problems with the course materials occur. If the student were so frustrated that he or she could not articulate this information, I would put forth some assessment questions to determine his/her level and ask for some previous quizzes and tests from which to determine strengths and weaknesses. I would also ask about learning styles; how do you best learn the vocabulary for a lesson? How about grammar? What other subjects in school do you excel or struggle in? I also know of some paper and pencil learning style assessments that will help the student determine his/her preferred learning modes (hands-on, listening, speaking, etc.). If appropriate, the student and I could review recent lessons and selected homework problems, perhaps even get ready for an upcoming quiz or test. If we were able to pin point areas to work on by the end of the session, I would not assign the student homework problems, but emphasize areas to be on the look out for until the next tutoring session.
How can you help a student become an independent learner?
Becoming an independent learner in a foreign language is a journey that is best taken with others, yet there are ways a student can become comfortable with the material and less dependent on a teacher or tutor. Students can learn the patterns of a language, such as how to distinguish masculine and feminine verbs, how to conjugate verbs, etc. There are many online resources to not only learn and drill grammar, but to develop listen comprehension. Last of all, it is important that the student know his or her strengths and weaknesses; if the student struggled with verb tenses in the past for instance, he or she will know that extra time will be needed to master a new verb tense when it comes up in the course material.
How would you help a student stay motivated?
To keep a student motivated I would emphasize how much progress the student has already made towards the goal as opposed to how much farther he or she has to go. I'd also break a lesson up into manageable chunks and add a variety of exercises. By getting to know the student personally, the lessons could center on topics that are of interest to him/her. I also believe frequent breaks are necessary to optimize learning - sixty or ninety minutes of a lesson without breaks is too long for most adolescents and adults!
If a student has difficulty learning a skill or concept, what would you do?
When a student has difficulties learning, I usually would try to relate the skill or concept to something the student has already mastered and draw parallels to the known material. I would also break the skill/concept down step by step or present it in number of ways so the student gains more perspective about the skills/concept. I often use a timeline to illustrate the difference between the imperfect and the simple past tenses; often a graphic depiction of this concept helps the student grasp the differences between the two.
How do you help students who are struggling with reading comprehension?
The first way I assess reading comprehension is to ask the student to read aloud. Is he reading fluently with comprehension? Does she hesitate when reading certain words spelled a certain way or usually misses the verb in the sentence? In French, many problems arise from the spelling of the words and a quick lesson on phonics is needed. In Spanish, often the personal pronoun is omitted and the form of the verb is not easily ascertained. In this case a review of the verb forms would be needed.
What strategies have you found to be most successful when you start to work with a student?
When beginning work with a student, I find getting to know the student personally and discovering what interests and motivates him or her to be the best place to begin. It builds trust between us and gives me information that I can use as we work together. After an initial 'getting to know you' conversation, I would begin the academic discussion: what are your goals? Can you identify some problems you're having in class? Let's go over a recent quiz or test and see how you did. Last of all, there are learning style assessments one can administer to determine how the student best learns a foreign language.
How would you help a student get excited/engaged with a subject that they are struggling in?
Keeping students engaged in a subject can be tricky. By knowing my students personally, I can tailor the lessons to fit their interests. For instance, if they like football, instead of just practicing adjectives in Spanish I can ask the students to describe the football player they admire the most. Other ways to keep students engaged are to begin with easier material and material the students have already mastered as a warm up, and then gradually transition to more difficult material. One can also to change up how the lessons are presented, switching between reading, drills, a short conversation, a You Tube video, etc. to keep the momentum going. "Reward the effort, not the outcome" is my mantra as both a teacher and a parent. If students are struggling it is imperative to show how the work they put in usually pays off in better grades.
What techniques would you use to be sure that a student understands the material?
Since foreign language acquisition is a skills-based subject, it is important to do little comprehension checks along the way instead of doing a large assessment at the end. These comprehension checks can range from simply answering yes/no, to complete a sentence with a single word, then multiple words, to solving problems on their own.
How do you build a student's confidence in a subject?
To build confidence in a foreign language, you emphasize the students' strengths and are mindful to highlight what they have already mastered. During the lesson you begin with easier material, move on to harder material and move back again to the easier material. You make sure they see how far they have come and how much closer they are to their goals.
How do you evaluate a student's needs?
There are several ways of determining what a student needs: obviously one can ask the student or parent, or if the student is enrolled in a course it will be somewhat apparent which material and skills the student will need to acquire. An analysis of old quizzes and tests are useful, too. In foreign language there are many websites to help evaluate a student's language level and learning style. If the student is not enrolled in a formal course, I find using the Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) very effective for learning another language.
What types of materials do you typically use during a tutoring session?
When teaching foreign languages, just about anything can be used to teach: the usual paper and pencil/books/workbooks, etc., but also poems, songs, stuffed animals, dolls and doll houses, pictures, comic strips and videos from the internet.
How do you adapt your tutoring to the student's needs?
To adapt to each student's needs, I would first assess the student's level in the foreign language by looking at old quizzes and tests, the course syllabus and direct questioning: what parts of class does the student like the best? The least? What material is the easiest? Hardest? By moving between the writing, speaking and listening to the language, one can ascertain the student's strengths and weaknesses. When I was a teacher, I was instructed to 'teach to the eyes,' to determine if the students were still engaged in the lesson, which is possible both in person and via video. Offering a variety of short exercises instead of one long one can help maintain interest and utilize the student's strengths while also shoring up their weaker areas.