"What’s the point?" is a question I hear frequently from school students either in regards to them learning a modern language or when I ask them to move seat. Recently, I have been asking a litany of "What’s the point?" questions. Not the kind of questioning techniques I have been taught on my CPD.
"What’s the point of taking Spanish classes, especially if in my next job I teach only French?" I started learning Spanish three years ago partly in response to the shortage of language teachers in schools.
"What the point of taking classes in my free time or on an evening, when I am swamped with marking or if my head feels it is going to implode with lesson plans, targets, observations and information in 3 different languages running around in my head?"
"What the point of learning a new language, when I could be researching new teaching methodologies or spend more time writing?"
"What the point in me taking the Spanish GCSE?" I have done my exam thing in the younger years, I gave up countless hours doing a string of qualifications. I have done my time! Jane, my Spanish teacher, has recently been persuading me to sign up for the Spanish GCSE before it gets harder especially when I did not sign up for the AS level this year. She said it would be easy. I know I can pass it. However, I have my own added pressure of trying to get an A or A* if I can claim to call myself a languages teacher.
The "what’s the point?" question also crops up at time when my students get bored about studying the environment or the many shades and ranges of eye and hair colour. I must admit the GCSE can be boring at times and unlike geography you cannot get into elaborate discussions about the environment. It can be fun to talk or write about your holidays, however discussing it with every grammatical structure conceivable can kill it and actually makes language artificial. GCSE conversation is very different from real life language. Every week I talk with my friend Paco from Spain about our jobs, technological gadgets, family issues, cooking or just to poke fun at our wives.
At the end of the day, as I always tell my students, the government tells us what we have to do and we just have to do it. Furthermore, in life to reach a goal we have to do some boring stuff. This argument could persuade me to do the GCSE, at the end of an extra qualification which can only boost my cv. However the other day in my Spanish class, all my “what’s the point?" questions were obliterated! - I was having fun. The class started with a listening exercise, then we proceeded to do a speaking task, some grammar analysis and then a translation; after that we started reading a play before finally listening to a song. There was no success criteria and if the lesson had been forced to fit Ofsted standards it would have lost it poignancy and spontaneity. Spanish all of a sudden seemed a lot more alive – it reminded me of why I first started learning a language, like a mission from Star Trek to explore new worlds. Another thing I realised is that in an unpressured environment you can learn so much more.
When you are having meaningful fun, then everything has a point and I do not mean the bingo, edutainment type of fun – I'll leave that for another post. Sadly unlike ten years ago, I have lesson time to base my lesson plan around meaningful activities or real life situations. Instead I am increasingly pressured into getting students to reach unrealistic target grades rather than to explore. I now plan my lesson around spoon feeding information and analyse exam answers rather than getting students to revise, analyse and refer to sources. Furthermore introducing cultural experiences to students is also getting harder, nothing can suffice their appetites since they have become more like greedy consumerists where learning has become about quick results and quick fixes. So unfortunately, at times, I ask myself "What’s the point?"
Paul Chandy teaches modern languages in South East England.