Move your teacher self out of the way: It’s blocking your view of the human beings in front of you.

Recently there was a debate in a teacher group about the use of Classical dictionaries.  Passions were vibrant.  I debated within myself wondering where I stood.  My guess is about half of the responses were in support of teaching students how to use Classical Latin paper dictionaries and about half were opposed to the need for a paper dictionary.  Is the debate important?  As I’ve reflected, I think the debate is more important than I want it to be.

Did you know that in recent years Millennials became the largest group in the workforce?  That is a big deal.  Here are some facts about Millenials.

Back to the discussion about dictionaries.  Does it matter if learners of a language use a paper dictionary during their study of a language?  If the answer is yes, there must be some way that looking up words in a dictionary connect the learner to language or comprehended input in a meaningful way.  If the answer is no, the process must be disconnected from comprehended input and viewed as a waste of time because messages are not processed in the target language.

But what if those are the wrong questions?  Does using a paper dictionary create some language learning experience that cannot happen through another means via technology?  Data about depression rates in Millennials seems to demonstrate that personal connections and experiences are important.  The debate over the use of dictionaries seems to demonstrate a divide between different kinds of learners more than it does about any special learning experience that might happen in the process of looking up words we don’t know.  Honestly, it probably doesn’t matter if looking up a word in a paper dictionary creates some kind of language learner experience.

Remember the idea from above that Millennials expect on demand feedback at work?  Now we probably don’t have high school students who have Millennial parents yet in general, but the students we have are being raised by the same parents who raised the Millennials.  This generation doesn’t just want immediate feedback.  It expects it.  Looking up words in a paper dictionary is not going to cut it for Millennials and the next generation.  And, although I use my paper dictionary in writing often, I can’t help but agree with the following meme as I think about the future in which students will become adults.


Get out of the way teacher self as the students in front of me know what they need.  So how can we bring looking up words we don’t know into line with the Millennials’ expectation for immediate feedback?  We don’t really have a strong online way to do this.  Yes, there are dictionaries online, but these simply speed up the process of looking up a word in a paper version.  I think it begins with the creation of image based definition resources that give learners more information about meaning instead of form.  Adding target language synonyms based on acquisition of high frequency terms seems useful to me as well.

But my guess is the answer to more immediate feedback hasn’t been thought of yet.  Perhaps we should look to the Millennials to help us solve this problem.  Is there a way to revolutionize how we look up words?  If there isn’t, it is even more important that we focus on meaning and activities that guide students toward a natural order of acquisition.  Not because it is a waste of time to look up a word in a dictionary but because learners will expect more than that.  If we are not connecting with the human beings in front of us, we become an obstacle to comprehended input.

This leads me to another question.  In what other situations am I an obstacle to comprehended input for my students?  In what situations do I need to move my teacher persona out of the way?  Let me know what you think.


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