Before my husband and I got married, I moved in with his parents for a few weeks to help plan the wedding. In Germany. Knowing very little German. He was working in another city, so I was on my own, so to speak.
My future in-laws spoke some English, but my goal was to learn German, and they were wonderful teachers. We went to the store together and learned vocabulary, they listened patiently to my painful attempts at communication and then gave me the word I was looking for, they helped me look in my dictionary or language books for answers, and, most importantly, they almost never corrected my grammar.
German grammar can be complicated. There are 3 genders, and then the part of the sentence matters as well. Indirect and direct objects require different endings, depending on what gender the noun takes. It can be overwhelming. Even for an English teacher with a good grasp of how to learn languages.
Much like how we approach toddler communication, they were open, took the time to listen to what I was trying to say, and then “named” what it was they thought I wanted to communicate. No judgment. And no nit-picking. I learned quickly and thrived in that supportive environment.
Most of us do a good job with this point when it comes to babies, toddlers, and even young preschoolers. We give them space to learn, accept their funny pronunciations or verb endings, and celebrate their progress with them.
Something happens, though, when our kids reach the age of formal schooling. For some reason, we as a society feel like we need to reach in and begin to micromanage their development. We correct and correct and correct. All in the name of teaching.
Don’t get me wrong – there is a place for correction. If my six year old mispronounces “wreath”, as happened today, I can and will correct him. But when he starts talking about the Louisiana Purchase and westward expansion (as also happened today), if he gets a couple details mixed up, I may overlook it. The point is that he’s curious and excited about learning how the US was formed. I want to share that excitement, not get bogged down in details.
I spent 5 years as a high school English teacher at a public school. During those five years, I marked thousands of essays. I came from the “mark everything that’s wrong” philosophy, so with my purple or green pen, I corrected spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and anything else that fell short of perfect. That was my job. Or so I thought. A few years into teaching, I happened to observe another teacher grading essays. He was a phenomenal teacher, the kind that makes a lasting impact, the kind that gets nominated for the “teacher of the year” awards. And he didn’t write a single thing on his students’ essays. Instead, he typed a carefully crafted response to the ideas the students had expressed and mentioned a couple areas of improvement. I was blown away – but I think he got it right. He honored those students’ efforts and built them up. And that’s what I want to do on a daily basis as well.