18 August 2017

GUEST POST: Hope for Higher Ed

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I have the pleasure of picking Dr. Karen Tharrington's brain regularly on #langchat, and once as a co-presenter for SCOLT! @kltharri is a Senior Lecturer and Methods Instructorat North Carolina State University and an advocate for online Professional Learning Networks, technology and online learning, as well as future language teachers everywhere.

Also, she constantly renews my faith in university-level language learning.


I love the idea of PBL, I preach about it with my methods students. We develop ideas that could be used in the language classroom. We read this blog.

But I’ve never been able to fully implement it in my own classes.

I am an educator to the core, but sometimes teaching at the Higher Ed level is challenging. We don’t see students every day, the contact hours are so much shorter, college kids are “too busy to collaborate” these days, blah, blah, blah….

And then I met my academic soulmate.

Dr. Goknur Kaplan Akilli is a TEFL professor from Turkey and she was invited to give a talk at my university this summer. I was intrigued by the description – designing an instructional technology course for pre-service teachers who are technology-resistant – so I made the drive to campus during my summer break. And wow, was I rewarded for it!

She began with a Polleverywhere, talked about wanting PBL to lead her course design, instead of the other way around; I couldn’t stop nodding my head. And then she shared her syllabus – an INFOGRAPHIC!!

People, I’ve NEVER seen a college professor use an infographic, in the words of Taylor Swift, “like, ever.” And it was beautiful. It showed learning as a journey.

She went on to explain how the course is set up. Think Harry Potter meets Game of Thrones in an academic setting. Students receive a letter à la Hogwarts at the beginning of the semester, inviting them to bring their WANDS (Wifi-Accessible Now Devices).

Throughout the course, students engage in digital learning and teaching WHILE digitally learning and teaching…whoa. She takes gamification to a new level and does it IN HIGHER EDUCATION. They compete in “challenges” with each other through collaboration, their reflections receive “Wordsmithing” badges instead of grades, and there’s a “Master” certificate at the end.

For example, one challenge required students to watch the Ron Clark movie and answer questions; simple and typical, but the way she formatted it was literally a game changer. With stars in my eyes, I started imagining all the ways I could implement this in my classes (insert dreamy music here).

I snapped back into focus and was reminded of what she said at the beginning – if she wanted students to use technology in their classrooms, they had to learn via technology in their classroom.

Just. Like. World. Languages.

By the end of her talk I was ready to ask for her hand in academic marriage. I want to collaborate with this woman! I want to learn from this Yogi! She has the same challenges but she gets it. There’s hope for Higher Ed yet.

Now, excuse me while I level up my online course…..

13 August 2017

You Can Do This: Promises for the first day of Spanish class

How and why are still probably the most important questions to answer for learning a language, but I forgot a very important question last year. There is one burning question that every novice language learner needs answered before they can even begin to explore purposes and strategies.

And it's a question that no one else can answer for them:

Can I do this?

Of course we've got the 4% who just thrill at the mere thought of diving into a new language, but when they find out Spanish class is not just going to be memorizing lists and facts, even the 4%-ers are bound to have doubts.

It is my job to cast those doubts from their minds, to show them the answer. This means I have to

  1. get them using the language and
  2. assure them that I am on their side all the way.
Now, my idea of what "using the language" means has evolved over the years. So after a little call-and-response to get them simply parroting the language as evidence that, yes, Spanish can come out of their mouths, this year, I tried a card talk to prove that, yes, they could understand when I spoke Spanish to them. 

And because I have decided to chill about the 90% TL thing for the sake of complete trust and transparency, we discussed--in English--how they felt about the activity and how much Spanish they were able to absorb. We even talked about whether or not they needed to speak the language as desperately as I felt I did at first, and decided to revisit the conversation later (over half said they did want to speak sooner rather than later though).

And then I made some promises--in Spanish.

Each promise was on a separate slide, with 3 clarifying mini-promises underneath. I had been careful to use cognates and as few words as possible, but I walked them through exactly what I meant by each. 

Basically, I promised to exercise the 3 basic skills M. Slavic and Mme Hargaden emphasized in the workshop I attended this summer:

I tried very hard to demonstrate doing these things as I went, and boy those eyes said a lot when we were talking about how I needed to watch them and use it! I did ask them to help let me know when I wasn't going "despacito" (see, we got Justin Bieber and Luis Fonsi in there somehow!!), complimenting kids who stopped me to clarify when they needed it.

Overall, I think they were believers by the end of class, but I'm doing three other things to emphasize those promises and keep them at the front of my mind and theirs:
  1. We revisited them Day 2 and made them the first page in their interactive notebooks. I had them match the mixed up mini-promesas to the three main promises with table teams and then discussed again what each promise looked like and why I would do it.
  2. I made posters that will go up Day 3 for us to review again so that they can...
  3. ..grade me on my promise keeping. I made little score cards which I will use as exit slips periodically, hopefully at least once a week. 
I decided to keep the score cards anonymous, too, though I would really like to be able to pinpoint who needs more help. I think it's more important to get an honest overall read, though. But if they want to talk or let me know they need more from me individually, I'll leave the option of signing their names too.

My hope is that these promises will help keep me honest and connected with my kiddos this year.

And that they will continue to answer that burning question the same all semester and after:

Yes I can.

My first day promise packet is now available on TeachersPayTeachers.