Some people have natural language learning ability. My wife, for example, seems to be one of these people. She is Mexican, so her first language is Spanish. But she speaks near fluent English, and has begun picking up French, German, and seems pretty open to learning Italian. She seems to take it on with ease - while I have been immersed in Spanish for almost a decade and still have problem areas.
My wife, like many other people out there, have a natural gift to learn other languages. If you get one of these people in your class - great. They’ll likely push you more than others, but you’ll likely see faster progress.
But then there’s the rest of us. The ones that don’t have a "language talent." How can teachers develop classwork that encourages and even creates an environment for top performance to happen for everyone else?
Fascinating read: "Why Talent is Overrated."
"The essence of deliberate practice is continually stretching an individual just beyond his or her current abilities. That may sound obvious, but most of us don’t do it in the activities we think of as practice. At the driving range or at the piano, most of us are just doing what we’ve done before and hoping to maintain the level of performance that we probably reached long ago." (Geoff Colvin Talent is Overrated.)
Classroom App:Redefine Practice
Do our practice activities simply rollover the skills our students ALREADY have?
I fear that this is a common situation - and finds itself in my own life. I have been playing the guitar for about ten years, but have never ventured out of basic chord progressions like G, C, D, F, and E. I stay there because it’s easy and safe. I can play those chords with ease and confidence.
When I try to play a bar chord for example - I enter new and often painful territory. It doesn’t come easily, and often sounds HORRIBLE.
Can you guess what happens to my "practice" time? I stay in the nice and easy zone. Even though I often feel frustrated with my lack of progress and the limited music I can produce, the prospect of enduring the awful sounding new is just too much. And we’re not even talking about the difficulty of managing new hand positions and commanding fingers to sluggishly stretch to new spots.
But practicing just beyond my skill zone (read: comfort zone) is vital to improve performance.
How well are we pushing students past their comfort zones? For example, when they are able to describe things they are doing RIGHT NOW(present continuous) consistently and correctly - what would happen if you suddenly used the same tense to describe something you were planning to do in the future: (I’m flying to Madrid on Sunday.) And then ask them to produce the same thing?
It’s important for students to feel like they have mastered something - but it’s VITAL to keep them pushing back their comfort zone.