by Julie Prentice
“foundation”: the basis upon which something stands or is supported
On the occasions when I’ve gazed on grand and glorious architectural structures, I must confess that I’ve never found myself thinking, “Wow. What a foundation that must have!” or “I wonder what the foundation materials are.” And yet, with certainty I know that were it not for a solid foundation, the entire edifice would soon crumble.
The Master Teacher, who reminded us to build on rock and not sand, and who was surely familiar with the many references of his ancestors to building plans and foundations, knew how indispensable true foundations were. Foundations of Truth, essential for life that is truly life. Foundations in language, pivotal for building the many levels and layers of skills needed for communication. Foundations in learning without which outcomes go awry.
“foundation”: an underlying natural or prepared base or support
In my experiences as a language instructor, foundation-building, i.e. teaching beginners, requires immense amounts of thoughtful preparation. Although it seems that low-level classes are sometimes assigned to beginning teachers with the tacit assumption that said teachers are not ready for advanced-level classes, might it be that the opposite is true? What architect would design a foundation not knowing what the entirety of the structure would be? Wise teachers of beginners have to keep the bigger picture in view. These foundation-builders work diligently to:
- sequence learning appropriately.
- control input so that the focus stays on the objective at hand.
- choose and/or create materials that are level-appropriate yet cognitively challenging, especially when working with adult learners.
- engage students in adequate practice.
- incorporate repetition.
- recycle learning objectives.
There is something about being a beginner, I think, that adds a sense of vulnerability to the complexities of learning. Perhaps it is this hard-to-define aspect of language learning that causes me to feel that teaching beginners, especially adult beginners, is a wonderful opportunity for nurturing and showing patience and respect. Just as the Master Teacher met people right where they were, we, as foundation-builders, can do the same.When I teach beginners, I hope I always remember they are linguistically capable, well-spoken, and articulate in their native languages and that this stage of their growth in English is not the final chapter of their language learning experience. I like to administer hefty doses of encouragement, reminding them that they will “get” this crazy language.
I speak words of hope to them, remembering that in my own life, I grow discouraged, too. I need to be reminded that there is more to the tapestry of my life than my present circumstances, that the discipline of foundations is not wasted, and that the foundational lessons from the Master Teacher are essential for my continued growth.
Definitions are from Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1980.