“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.”
—Margaret Mead, Cultural Anthropologist
Transform World Language classroom practice! Enable learners to become connected digital citizens! Integrate 21st century skills into the World Language classroom! Redefine learning spaces! Interact with the global community outside our country’s borders! Activate students to communicate with native speakers!
As an educator, I wear many hats. Some are rather traditional roles: lecturer, researcher, learner, transcriber, note-taker, historian. But others are more progressive: facilitator, counselor, risk-taker, change-agent, catalyst. In my 20+ years as a World Language teacher, I have developed into a thoughtful educator who transformed her learning environment, and decided to spread her innovation to and with like-minded educators and students around the world.
My role is Spanish teacher, but three years ago, I earned an Educational Technology masters degree, and learned first-hand “the ways in which innovative technologies and emerging physical, virtual and blended learning environments empower educators and learners and impact society” (http://education.ufl.edu/educational-technology/). My personal and professional experiences along this path altered my thinking and teaching practice. Not only did I peruse a wide gamit of digital media and publications to guide my practice, but I also furthered my professional development both as attendee and as presenter at leading World Languages and at Educational Technology national conferences. By the same token, I consistently utilize current articles from educational journals to inform my research. I changed from a traditional, textbook-wielding teacher into an instructor who is a creator, collaborator, life-long learner, initiator, organizer, producer, adapter, and cheerleader. Not only do I aim to influence students and their learning environment, but also affect the many teachers I encounter at conferences, workshops, tweet-ups, webinars and in virtual spheres. Sometimes, I work within an interdisciplinary lens (in English language, Humanities, and Technology classrooms and review their standards); but their objectives align with the fundamental aspiration that holds true in a World Languages classroom: our primary aim is to refine our skills as communicators.
Taking into account all the targets of World Language education, my favorite exemplars that guide my teaching practice include the following:
– World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages
– ACTFL Performance Descriptors for Language Learners
– NCSSFL-ACTFL Can-Do Statements
– 21st Century Skills Map (result from collaboration between ACTFL and The Partnership for 21st Century Skills)
-Edutopia Core Strategies for Innovation and Reform in Learning
-Global Competency framework from Asia Society’s Graduation Performance System (GPS)
– International Literacy Association “Literacy Daily” blog
Specifically, I strive to connect technology and curricular content in practice as well as create contexts and learning spaces to inspire student inquiry, collaboration, creation and connection. The following are pedagogical paradigms that help me make meaning of my teaching practice:
Teachers–Facilitate and Inspire Student Learning and Creativity Administrators–Excellence in Professional Practice Teachers–Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership-21st Century Learning Skills:
Communication: Understanding, interpreting, speaking and writing to create
My Spanish students are social butterflies who truly enjoy active participation in class. As Marc Prensky expressed, today’s students are growing up in a “digital age as digital natives.” To be able to work successfully with students and keep their interest focused on academics, it is imperative that I explore and experience new strategies to facilitate students’ proficiency in the Spanish language, while at the same time delighting them in the process. By shifting my “teaching playbook,” I employ the strategies of differentiation within one class period; active and engaged learning through creative learning spaces (in centers and use of digital integration); nurturing of students’ global competence; and a remodel of classroom culture. I afford them various opportunities to think critically and communicate efficiently while creating and sharing. I challenge my students to succeed in the current global environment by interacting on the universal web as well as in person with their worldwide peers. The learning environment in my classroom consistently helps to prepare students to interact effectively with others in another language, and especially in their development of communicative competence reflecting real-life communication.
Innovative instructional practice in my classroom evolved through use of Project Based Learning, a digital Learning Management System, and teacher creativity and grit. Instead of solely relying on a printed textbook, I adopted the “Breaking the Spanish Barrier” e-book on the iPad and combined it with stimulating e-Projects. Coupled with themes from the e-book, I develop projects where students (as individuals and in groups) create digital artifacts and are afforded opportunities to choose which products to create, which tools to use, while using authentic language that is relevant to them personally (and while I guide or work with others at their level). For example, within one class period, the vocabulary lesson was noted as “family celebrations.” Middle school students at Spanish 2 level employ more rigorous vocabulary as well as complex past tense forms while Spanish 1 level students make use of simple family vocabulary and present tense grammar structures. The incredible digital application and LMS Schoology transformed my courses; I differentiate and streamline lessons so that course content is participatory, efficient and most importantly, engaging. By managing classroom time into chunks combined with small-group instruction, I am able to meet leveled needs of language learners. For example, I may present material to a small-group for 10 minutes, then switch to another group for critique and revision of their developing answers/projects, and then switch to another group to facilitate creative processes. In particular, student and teacher use of the iPad makes our language learning fun, as they seamlessly and easily communicate in Spanish in both written and oral form. Students truly enjoy the ease of Spanish activities; for example, switching between digital note-taking apps, camera apps, sound/video apps and productivity apps leads to dynamic and creative target language use. Such practice prepares students for the innovation-driven future that awaits them.
-Redesign of Learning Spaces
As students today are communicating and acquiring information in complex ways due to advances in technology, pedagogical practices need to be reimagined and redefined to include new multimodal literacies. Traditional definitions of reading, writing, and communication are evolving; thus, educators like myself ought to strive to connect technology and curricular content in practice as well as create contexts and learning spaces to inspire student inquiry, collaboration, creation and connection. Empowering students to engage, create, and connect in powerful and personalized ways turn the classroom into a model space for their future. Educators like myself act as facilitators and collaborators in learner-centered classrooms, with an emphasis on learners as “doers” and “creators.”
In like manner, I value 21st century competencies of critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, creativity and communication. My job as a World Languages teacher is to equip students to better develop their communicative competence and to succeed in their future environments. Through reflection, I find that in the WL classroom, I can encourage student innovation, inspire curiosity, provide safe environments for taking risks through exploration of ideas, and ultimately, foster amazing composition reflecting target language communication. Therefore, observing how work processes are changing globally, openly discussing practices within my PLN, and self-reflection, I constantly transform my learning environment both physically and digitally.
Learning space design can serve as a catalyst to support sustainable change in educational practice. The physical environment, or the “landscape” of the classroom, promotes engagement between members and affords opportunities for networked collaboration. New pedagogies focused on student-centered practices and active participation evolve the role of the teacher from distant lecturer to facilitator of learning. Shifting roles of teachers and students foster exchange of ideas and sharing of knowledge. Together in a technology-supported learning space, students and teachers as partners and co-learners explore as curators and composers of multimodal literacies. Therefore, as an instructor, I guide students to take ownership for their learning.
The same digital environment in my Educational Technology graduate degree program where I explored and designed my own paths to understanding across educational contexts serves as a framework for my current educational practice. In the same fashion that my instructors used Blackboard Moodles, I adopted digital learning management systems such as Edmodo and Schoology together with use of iPad productivity applications. Within the Schoology app, students access and submit activities, assignments, learning videos, online quizzes and class calendar. Using the Notability app, students annotate, draw, add images, fill in answers [on worksheets] and much more) as well as take notes. I myself also utilize Notability to write feedback and grade worksheets, activities and projects. My students and I create learning videos with both the iMovie and Educreations apps when a hybrid “flipped classroom” model fits the bill. My students work without paper because of creativity apps (Notability, Padlet, Thinglink, TinyTap, Haiku Deck, Puppet Edu, Tellagami, etc.), productivity apps (Keynote, Pages and Google Docs), organizational apps (Google Drive and Dropbox), and educational apps (Duolingo, Edmodo, Educreations and Quizlet). These “children and future generations have tremendous opportunities in store for them, not in spite of the digital age, but because of it” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2008, p. 9).
In the WL classroom, I employ physical centers to promote collaboration, innovation, and exploration. I transform rooms to spaces that are alive with action and integration of technology. In the same fashion, recently at SCOLT 2015, two colleagues and I conducted a PD workshop and modeled how students develop communication skills through content creation. Employing “Think-Pair-Share” practice with three different apps during my 45-minute “center,” I exhibited a sample WL activity and my own students’ digital artifacts from the activity. Next, teacher attendees created their own artifacts in pairs. Lastly, teachers shared their newly-created artifacts with the group and made suggestions for further applications of the technology tools with relation to WL themes and content.
Research within different disciplines’ best educational practices and inspiration from fellow Personal Learning Network colleagues led me to create my “WL Vocabulary Task Cards.” I employ these in my Spanish classroom and have shared them at workshops, conferences, within my PLN and through personal Professional Development seminars I conduct. They cater to the left-brain creative student as well as to students who enjoy productivity technology applications. Out of the 20 cards, each student chooses one to complete within one-two class periods. As the teacher, students create artifacts to a central theme, but with the vocabulary list assigned to their individual level. As students complete the artifacts, they next work in centers to interact with the artifacts. Students from different levels may work together and both benefit from center work, no matter the level. Task artifacts mostly serve as formative assessments, but in actuality replace summative assessments as student learning is made clearly evident. When assessing student learning and performance, I noted that with Task Card activities, student engagement is higher, student long-term retention of concepts is greater, performance levels are achieved more easily and with greater success and engagement!
Moreover, learning space can be reimagined to include digital spaces. In light of this, one of my favorite activities is “Mystery Skype.” With the Skype and Google Earth apps, I facilitated four separate “Mystery Skype” activities with students in Spanish-speaking countries, where my students were “forced” to speak Spanish in order to figure out the school location of the “opposing” school. Each school prepared “hint sentences” to give clues to their home location. Then orally using the target language, students took turns communicating and working to figure out the other school’s location first. My (competitive) students claim that it is one of their favorite language activities ever.
-Student Development of Global Competency
In the global context, WL teachers ought to view their classroom as an extension of the great community in which all world citizens live and prosper. The digital natives are in tune with the fact that they are not isolated from the world, but may feel overwhelmed by its magnitude. Correspondingly, ACTFL “stresses the application of learning a world language beyond the instructional setting.” By creating authentic situations to use language to speak with native speakers and cultivating effective partnerships with peers in worldwide classrooms, I magnify the effect of my WL teaching practice & expand our reach globally. My interest is the students’ learning; therefore, I pique their interest and find ways to connect them with global peers. Within global projects in my Spanish classroom, individually and/or collaboratively, students’ process of creative expression and later final production of digital artifacts force them to approach the WL material more affectively and reflectively.
Taking into account that when TL peer students identify with and understand target language culture and especially TL peer students’ situations and feelings, the end result is empathy and later personal connection, it is imperative to include global projects in the WL classroom. With a little help from Sr. Vitria-Marca from the Ministry of Education of Spain, beginning in December of 2013, I started a global project between my students of Spanish and a Madrid classroom of students of English. Interactive activities were incorporated into our own target language lessons, and then molded to cross over and connect with students of the opposite classroom. Specifically, Inés Guillorme from Colegio Decroly in Madrid and I enrolled our classes into the Global Happiness Project in efforts to “investigate the world.” Correspondingly, within our individual classrooms in an in-depth inquiry project, we probed the aspects of a happy and healthy society within our local school and city communities, compared our findings with those of our Spanish peers, and then weighed our perspectives. Next, in order to communicate ideas more formally, students were paired (two from Spain with two from Clearwater) and collaborated to create a digital artifact reflecting their findings. Inés and I structured the initial project for the students, but the students decided how and what to create for their final artifact.
Specifically, the Spain and Florida students collaboratively and digitally wrote/sang/produced their own “reaction” with regards to their two separate hometowns in one project. Sequentially, students utilized favorite applications such as: Google Earth (to find each other) at the same time using Skype (to talk to each other live as a classroom) and Edmodo (to talk/write asynchronously). Next, students chose two songs in which to co-write “parodies” and employed Google Docs and Skype simultaneously and asynchronously again to work. Instructors used Nearpod in conjunction with Skype with both groups simultaneously in an exploratory exercise at the beginning of the project. Later, students met in person (one time) in Spain for three hours, where they examined and tweaked their written parodies; took pictures and video-recorded pieces of the song, both singing and acting silly; and enjoyed some simple “kid-connection time” with food and play. Afterwards and asynchronously, our kids used GarageBand to record the song pieces; Keynote and Haiku Deck to make/arrange the images in the forms of slides; and finally iMovie to put it all together. The best part is that each student and teacher of our project has ownership in the digital memento that we keep forever to remember the experience; we also published our video to a public audience on the world-wide web, sharing it with worldwide peers. Not only do our students interact with cultural competence and understanding, but rather through publishing, our students call others to take action and to likewise partner up and investigate alongside worldwide peers. This experience clearly demonstrates how our WL learners “use language both within and beyond the classroom to interact and collaborate in their community and the globalized world” (ACTFL).
Owing to the iPads, student experiences were dynamic and engaging. Their curiosity was piqued and the iPads were the perfect tool to foster their innate desire to learn as well as aid in their foreign language communication development. I believe the iPad has already greatly impacted school and work environments, and I observe how work processes are changing globally. This work including the integration of technology and the passion behind “our story” ignited us to take it further.
By the end of the project in May 2014, students developed their communication skills in native and target languages, created multi-cultural understanding, and experienced a taste of future workforce preparedness. But most importantly, they connected emotionally with real people, made new friends, and did what all kids love to do: they talked. Communication is authentic, with native speakers, in the target language! Beginning in summer of 2014, Inés and I began another global project, leading up to what in June 2015 will be called “Conquistadors Connect.” Inés, Jennifer Williams, and I have developed this intensive assimilation program providing an interactive overview of Florida history, marine science and technology and host-family experience. Middle school students from area Clearwater families will host the visiting Spaniards from Colegio Decroly, as well as participate in the two-week program. Students will have another opportunity to develop cultural competence and better understand international peers.
-Remodel of Classroom Culture
As important as the academic content, I emphasize an intentional school culture within my classroom. Be it within the four walls of a physical classroom, in kayaks on intracoastal waterways with international students, or within a digital space, I try to create an environment where all students will thrive. My passion drives my vision, and my personal mantra “good brings good” serves as a constant checkpoint.
I view the learning environment as student-centered, and the physical environment matches. Students sit at tables of four or five students, but may change positions or seating dependent on the task being performed. Sometimes, my classroom is virtual and the groupings are determined differently; at times, discussion posts encourage participation by all and sometimes, student work is individual. Student voice proliferates through choice of tasks, choice to work alone or with partners, and choice in assessment. Students are given constant opportunities to display independent responsibility. With the help of the LMS Schoology, and differentiated instruction and tasks, students complete tasks. Collaborative decision-making takes place within project pairs and artifact productivity and creation. Equally important, patience is learned while some students take more time to master material, and responsibility is gleaned when students find new work to advance themselves further.
Through cultural discussions about current events, holidays, and unique images of target culture, students and teacher alike learn thoughtfulness, tolerance and empathy. Conversation is encouraged; I enable students to speak with international partners and to share digital artifacts with them in order to further global peer relationships. Interpersonal relationships are valued, self-awareness by students is enhanced, and I myself remind students how much I learn from them. It is truly a culture where stakeholders are teachers and learners.
I call myself forward-thinking. Instead of educational posters on classroom walls, I mount international masks and hats, funky world maps and sparse but unique colorful pottery and plants on shelves. Physical space is simple, even with including two counter-top tables with barstools for tiered seating. Homework is given infrequently; however, some students spend extra time at home on technology projects out of pure enjoyment!
I model collaboration for my students when I share with them the different conversations and/or reflections I garner through conference attendance and presentations, my digital PLN, Edcamps, and Twitter. My students happily support me when they allow me to share their projects, activities, pictures taken, and even student voice recordings. Upon my return from such conferences, my students take pride in learning how their work and attitudes make a difference in the influence upon the teachers I meet.
Over the last couple years, I have seen immense success with learners owing to technology integration and reimagined learning space and culture in my Spanish courses. My Spanish students consistently exhibit how they develop transferable knowledge and 21st century skills. In fact, my teaching practice so greatly impacts students in that many graduate 8th grade and matriculate in Spanish high school courses (encompassed in Pre-IB, magnet, and competitive college preparatory programs) two levels above the average freshman as well as attain highest scores in their class.
-Collaboration within Personal Learning Networks My greatest professional asset is my recently-evolved personal learning network (PLN). In many arenas of conferences, summits and school visits, I have developed a complex web of connections. These connections have afforded me opportunities to share knowledge and communicate constantly in the ever-changing world of education. Whether I am facilitating a community sharing of ideas during an Edcamp session, or working alongside educators informing them of the newest creativity and productivity apps, or acting as an Educational Technologist or Educator Voice for emerging technology companies, each experience contributes to who I am as an educator today. If I were asked to give my best advice to a novice teacher, I would definitely urge him/her to connect with same-discipline educators on Twitter and to take advantage of all professional development opportunities, especially attendance at conferences and Edcamps. Teachers are communicators and great-thinkers; just like our students, we educators ought to be flexible and seek support from leaders and peers.