Teaching Philosophy

​Damián Robles


Los hijos, señor, son pedazos de las entrañas de sus padres, y, así, se han de querer, o buenos o malos que sean, como se quieren las almas que nos dan vida. A los padres toca el encaminarlos desde pequeños por los pasos de la virtud, de la buena crianza y de las buenas [...] costumbres.... Sea, pues, la conclusión de mi plática, señor hidalgo, que vuesa merced deje caminar a su hijo por donde su estrella le llama, que siendo él tan buen estudiante como debe de ser, y habiendo ya subido felicemente el primer escalón de las ciencias, que es el de las lenguas, con ellas por sí mesmo subirá a la cumbre de las letras humanas... la pluma es lengua del alma: cuales fueren los conceptos que en ella se engendraren, tales serán sus escritos....

Don Quijote al Caballero del Verde Gabán, DQ II: XVI


Language education is a powerful source of social harmony and historical heritage. Its instruction is thus in my view a cornerstone component for second language acquisition and the perpetuity of civilized worlds. Based on my training and teaching experience, I implement multi-modality (Sefarini 2010) and performance-based approaches (Airasian 1991; Wiggins 1998) for language instruction, proceeding from the tenets of Systematic Functional Linguistics (Halliday & Hassan), ACTFL’s Standards for Learning Languages (2015), and the Multiliteracies framework for teaching (New London Group 1995; Kalantzis and Cope 2006; Paesani 2010). These methodologies emphasize the idea that language is a social activity carried out through immersed, contextualized, purposeful, and meaningful environments. For this reason, I conceptualize the teaching and learning of a second language as a fundamental skill, suitable for the demands of the 21st Century emerging globalized world.

            In the application, I conduct the aspects of multi-modality and performance-based instruction and assessment through integrating multi-genre texts that build classroom communication in the L2. With these approaches in mind, students can develop both linguistic and paralinguistic competencies through the three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational. In other words, students do something with the language across these modes of communication by having meaningful interpersonal conversations with each other. In addition, they do this by interpreting beyond the multimodal texts they are reviewing, and finally by presenting multimodal projects that enhance their syntactic and communicative complexities of the language. At the same time, they acquire literacies in different registers of communication and societal norms. In addition, in order to maximize the learning opportunities of a second language, students are put in dialogue under the five C’s: communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities. With the practice of the five C’s in my curricula, I am able to develop deeper meaning and foster a sense of belonging which is important to cultivate in my students' values of importance, community, and empathy towards themselves and others. Hence, implementing all these approaches leads students to the employment of students' collaborative work and the flourishing of their individual interests by considering the diversity of the classroom setting in terms of learning styles and multiple intelligences, and in preparation for inclusive, equitable, and diverse lesson plans and materials.

            In the classroom, the content moves from the known to the new knowledge. The transition is made possible by having a clear structure with guided instruction, communicative-based objectives, and outcomes, all of which are connected under the umbrella of planning, executing, and grading. With a coherent layout, each activity and lesson has purposeful goals and instructions which correspond to the course’s curriculum and work towards accomplishing the course’s final objectives. Another milestone component of my teaching in the classroom is guiding the learning process which should target the presentation of authentic texts (modified if needed) in both oral and printed forms, the use of simplified language: use of cognates, comprehensible and simplified input (VanPatten, 1993, 2005), voice and tone adaptation, gesturing; forced output (Swain, 1995); binding (Terrell, 1986); scaffolding (Duffy & Roehler, 1986); guided discovery (Ellis, 2008), co-construction of meaning, or negotiation of meaning (Lewis, 1989), initiation-response-evaluation or IRE (Mehan, 1979), and other high-leverage practices which make the instruction effective. These skills help facilitate and maximize the learning process. Nevertheless, it is my intention — through critical thinking and life experience connections — that my students make sense of their own learning experience. This way, by actively and critically engaging in dialogues, students can take ownership of their instruction and knowledge of the L2. One should never give out the answers without encouraging students to think, connect, and share their ideas.

            My language philosophy is for my students, as well as for the instruction, to cultivate the use of the target language at all times. Grammar is a livable and vital organism of their education. And as such, I strongly believe that, in order to build the mega-structures of language, one needs to start with their smallest building blocks. Otherwise, the architecture is likely to fall. Nonetheless, grammar should be learned through the act of reflection and oratory (as it unfolds from the student's immediate short-term memory) and through the use of co-construction and guided questions. With this goal in mind, language structures will be retained in the ultimate long-term memory. In addition, I design PACE models (Donato and Adair-Hauck 1992), where the language is inspected with real-life applications by contextualizing the task, implementing a co-construction analysis in order for students themselves to arrive at the rules, and then successfully applying then. Another effective way of approaching the learning of grammar through real-life implementation is the use of genre theory (Eggins and Martin 1997; Martin 2009), where students re-create a text and then decode according to socio-linguistic layers. For example, in an invitation as text, the students first learn what an invitation is (the target text), what's the purpose for writing such text, and what parts should be included in order to replicate a similar text. Thus, students learn from the top-down approach the different forms and uses genre-oriented learning gives, and in doing so, they acquire literacies and culture-encoded knowledge.

            Consequently, with all these approaches and methodologies, my role as instructor is to facilitate the learning process by bringing a teaching for excellence. Nevertheless, one of my main motives is that my students learn lifelong learning, where they consider education as the key for teamwork and mutual understanding beyond the power of knowledge; that they see the world with a different lens, welcome other possibilities, and be open for discussion. I intend for my students and me to work as a team — one that is part of an inner and outer community, enriched with diverse perspectives and backgrounds —. I strongly believe in Don Quixote's point that education starts at home with la crianza, but it is reinforced through the desire, curiosity, and passion for knowledge of the individual. One should feed into that. One should perpetuate values that make us a good citizen of this world: respect, resemblance, closeness, empathy. When I interact with my students, I make sure to let them know they are valued, respected, and their opinion matters; no one is an antagonist; they are equally important and all have equal opportunities. I promote a climate where anyone in the classroom can back each other up through a someone answers the phone philosophy, or by encouraging anyone to make mistakes because through the doing of such one can achieve learning. Therefore, my students are the main characters in my book. What keeps me motivated and reminds me of my passion for teaching despite the times of uncertainties and incivilities are their voices which call to me, "just thought I would let you know I am optimistic about this class [when we moved to hybrid learning] and appreciate your hard work trying to accommodate everyone during these weird times." We should then remind ourselves that the renaissance and light come after the struggles of darkness: we are powerful, we are one, we are many.