Alright, we've all been there. We join a social media platform to expand our personal and/or professional horizons and we have no idea how to go about connecting with other people—let alone making sure those connections are legit. Let's take twitter for example. While scrolling through Ricky Martin's and NPR's feed, we may feel left out because we see others fully engaged in meaningful dialogue and we wonder: How can I become part of the conversation? Is there some sort of unspoken social media etiquette that I must follow? And, why are women still wearing leggings in lieu of real pants? Well, I can most definitely help you out with the first two questions. However, I am still baffled by the third.
the power of the hashtag
Fortunately for us teachers, there are fantastic educational conversations that occur weekly. These discussions bring dedicated teachers from all over the globe to share opinions, inspiration, successes, failures, advice, lesson ideas, resources, and everything in between. And unlike the fictional 'members only' crew from Mean Girls, everyone's invited!
So how are you able to actively participate in these chats?
1. Google and find teacher hashtags that best suit your needs and/or click here for some suggestions. Since I'm a foreign language teacher, I found #langchat
2. Once you know the chats you want to participate in, find out when they occur. #Langchat meets on Thursdays and Saturdays.
3. About 5-10 minutes before the chat begins, set up tweetdeck. If you're unsure how to do this, go here.
4. Right before the chat begins, the chat moderator will post the session questions and explain the response format.
5. Once the first question is posted, let loose! Oh, and don't forget to always include the group hashtag in every tweet!
3 charm school tips
4 more helpful tips
1. Curious? Or just want to observe? Twubs is for you. It allows you to follow the chat thread without actively participating
2. Chats are often extremely lively and fast-paced. You may feel overwhelmed with all the responses. That's OK. If you want a recap of all the action for #langchat, go here
3. Don't forget to follow people you find interesting and connect with
4. Eager to share something or see what others are saying during non-chat times? Simply add the chat hashtag to your tweets and search the hashtag for updates
I recently participated in my first #langchat and it was awesome! Lots of amazing input! I strongly encourage you to try it out. Hope to see you there!
Martina Bex recently wrote a great post about curriculum planning that directly or indirectly stirred the pot between Text-based vs.
Task-based teachers. She then wrote another great, reflective post about the aftermath of her previous post. Whether or not people agree with her opinions or point of view, it has made many (re)analyze and possibly rethink their methods of teaching. For me personally, it has made me ask myself: What am I really doing here? What are my expectations for my students really? Am I doing this whole "teaching Spanish" thing right?
stories are just stories
Or are they? Recently, like this past Friday, I had my unannounced observation from my school principal. I wasn't nervous or disappointed that he came when he did. Friday or not, my students and I have a lot of work to do. However, this particular lesson that he sat in on was different from my norm. Sure, we did a warm-up, I went over the target structures for the day with examples, but then, I had them illustrate a story that I narrated in Spanish (using the target vocab). I've never really done this activity before to this extent, where I spent the majority of class time on this type of activity. Now, the students were very interested in the story. Why? Because it was an adaptation of Martina Bex's El Secreto unit story. And they just could not believe that Antonia was not being faithful to Dennis! You see, on the surface, this story seems like just another dramatic Real Housewives of...(New York, Atlanta, Orange County, etc...) episode. Can somebody please tell Vicki Gunvalson that Brooks is bad news?...Or was that, like, two years ago?
Anywho, the point is that yes! It is just like a reality show! However, it is also the "hook" that engages my students to comprehend and feel comfortable using: poder, querer, traer, and saber in the preterit tense. My students LOVE stories like this...the more drama the better! But is this all there is to it? Just being able to use some verbs in the preterit tense and feel like we should all be on Watch What Happens: Live? Hmmm... I fear that on the surface my principal will think I am a wacky teacher, who may possibly still have a hang up with a cheating boyfriend from the past (I assure you I don't...really, I don't!), who thinks that teenage drama should be front and center in my lessons and has a peculiar, off-the-beaten-path way of teaching Spanish (where is that yellow brick road?).
OK. ¡Me rindo! I am guilty! I am guilty of all those things (except, I assure you, the cheating boyfriend thing). I love personalization, which, unfortunately, we didn't do much of during the lesson because I really wanted them to create their murals. Yes, I am kicking myself now for not focusing on this more! Although, I plan on doing this for a good length of time next class. I know, and you do too, that high school students really only care about themselves and drama. Therefore, stories like these easily engage and entertain them. On the surface we are just "having fun," but underneath I am giving them so much more.
do you see what i see? (nope, it's not a dancing star)
Illustrations yes! But there is so much we are going to do with the illustrations that will add tons more repetitions and comprehensible input! Re-tells, Before/After Communicative variation, True/False Story Quiz variation, Listening Comprehension quiz, Top Ten, and Pick the Pic.
Now, as I said before, the story is just a "hook." I am going to further their comprehension and cultural knowledge by infusing the following activities from Martina's El Secreto Unit:
And to inject even more culture and personalization, and seamlessly lead into our next unit of study: Art, I will supplement with:
So clearly, this unit as a whole, is not just about some goofy, and ultimatley unrequited love story. There is more to it than that. Will my principal realize this? Or will I end up at the waiting room near his office, waiting with trepidation, sitting next to a student named Nadia who can hardly stay awake for three minutes in biology class and when she is awake has an insatiable addiction to Snap Chat? He only saw a glimpse. The beginning of the story...
So now, let's go back to the beginning. Why did I start off mentioning Martina Bex's posts about text-based vs. task-based. Well, by infusing more of BOTH, maybe I could feel better about myself and my teaching.
you say potato, i say potato
In my opinion, I have not found textbooks to be valuable teaching resources in teaching Spanish. Maybe this will change. I hear textbooks are adding more and more CI activities. Regardless, I know that others may feel the same but are required to use it, and that others do not feel the same as I and truly find value in them. No love loss here. Use what works for you (great article by Valerie Shull)! Fortunately, for me, I do not have to use a textbook, I just have to make sure I align my units with the curriculum. You see we are all tied to certain mandated standards. No matter how we get to the end goal (progression in student proficiency), we may choose to, or have to, use different paths. And ultimately, one might not necessarily be better than the other. As long as we make sure to provide our students with meaningful, comprehensible input, the mediums as to how we do it will vary. This cannot be one size fits all. As long as we remain responsible educators who continue to grow professionally, consult with our peers, and value research and best practices, then we are doing the best we can for the students we teach.
I will always try to find the perfect balance (if it truly exists) between providing the right amount of comprehensible input and allowing/guiding output. If the goal is to supply tons of CI (which I personally believe to be the case), then the major focus (at least in novice levels) should be in providing input versus being concerned about output, which should theoretically happen when the student is ready. Remember, first we learn to listen.
For most, this might make you feel uncomfortable. At times it does for me. Why am I doing all the "work"? But my lessons also need to be "student-led/centered." That is why I plan and implement activities that provide different kinds of output (writing, drawing, speaking in response to readings, discussions, and videos) that are level-appropriate and encourage students to "fill in the gaps" and become accountable for their language learning. The activities vary in length of time and difficulty. They also differ in response time. Additionally, they promote group work and cooperative learning. Many I have learned from Ms. Bex.
CAN-DO: I CAN LISTEN AND RESPECT OTHER'S OPINIONS AND CAN READ LABELS ON A RECYCLING BIN
Come on—we can't lose our humor!
I too, like Martina, initially thought "CAN-DO" statements just didn't jive well ("apples and oranges") with how I go about teaching Spanish. Now, after reading her aftermath post, I now know that the ACTFL Can-Do Statements are examples, and that we, as the captain's of our own ship, can write down our very own statements that effectively align with our units.
I am excited to incorporate more Can-Do's, to continue to reflect on my teaching methods thus far, to continue to create and implement an environment for successful language acquisition to the best of my ability, use more #authres (great discussion points about #authres by Ms. Placido), and to add meaningful tasks in my units. I think my solution for the latter will be influenced by student choice and ensuring differentiation and modification as needed. Kristy Placido touched on this on her blog recently. I wish to continue the conversation (stay tuned). This way students may complete tasks (output) at their own pace without feeling "forced." I want them to practice with the language, not memorize scripts.
"...in the end, it is not what they know about the language but rather what they can DO with the language."- Alyssa Villarreal
I could not agree more! So no matter HOW we get there, let's get there!
WHY HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE MISSED THE LEARNING CURVE?
I've heard many sayings about taking precautions when about to speak your mind, "Closed minds should come with closed mouths," "When in doubt, say nowt," and the infamous, "Think before you speak." Well, frankly, and I am going to be very frank in this post (be forewarned), Fran Lebowitz says it best with, "Think before you speak. Read before you think." I have become absolutely stupefied by the things some foreign language educators espouse in regards to the field of foreign language methodologies and approaches, as well as how second language acquisition occurs.
In my previous post, I reflected on the topic of text-based vs. task-based as presented by Martina Bex on her blog. Since writing this post, I have continued to reflect on my teaching practices. Why do I teach Spanish the way I do? Does CI really trump form altogether, or can there be a happy coupling of the two? How can I improve the efficacy of my lessons? The list can go on and on (and it does). Amid this thought stream I realized that I am always looking to improve my methods in order to serve my students better, and I know that I am not the only one that does this. There are many FL educators that are out there that do the same. However, what seriously pushes me to the edge is encountering FL educators who are absolutely unwilling to do this. And what has recently pushed me off the edge is when said educators preach"truths" at the top of their lungs about things that they have little or no knowledge about! This happens on both sides of the "us vs. them" saga, and it needs to END!
I know you are, but what am i?
Ok folks, it's about to get real! I'm going to share a few scenarios that I have personally experienced throughout this school year that simply frosted my cookies:
the easy fix
There is one, but, ironically, it is the most difficult one: Have a civil, meaningful, and educated conversation between both sides of the table. Why would this prove difficult? Because many (not all) who spout opinions about best practices or resist change haven't researched and/or done their due diligence in the area of second language acquisition in order for a productive dialogue to be had. Read before you think. In order to put a stop to this "us vs. them" dilemma we must learn how to have an intellectual conversation, while putting our egos aside. We need to be able to question theories and practices, but in a constructive way! We need to be open to change! However, if we choose to change our methods we must first understand the method itself and then implement it to the best of our ability. If we are unsure of the why's or how's, we need to feel comfortable in asking for advice without becoming defensive or being offensive to those who are trying to help.
Why does this conversation rarely happen, if ever? Because the big elephant in the room conveys fear, resistance, and lack of understanding that stems from lack of knowledge. If an educator, in any field, has stopped learning and growing professionally, they need to find another "job." It is my personal belief that you could be the most knowledgeable foreign language teacher in terms of knowing the language inside and out, but if you are missing the other crucial component of understanding how second language acquisition occurs, then your knowledge of the language, although valuable, will not (effectively) transfer to the students you teach. And yes, a portion of the research in our field is based on theories. As such, it is up to us to critically think about how we can exploit and/or quantify our methods responsibly by studying them, understanding them, and questioning them.
In the end, even if we agree to disagree, valid points from both sides can be shared and respected as food for thought, and an attitude adjustment could bring more happiness, professionalism, accountability, and value to our field.