30 September 2011

Bringing my classroom to the community

A la panaderia
I have heard it called "the elusive 5th C." When I started teaching Spanish, I was more than a little put off that I was expected to do something so unheard of in any other discipline. As Skype got fancier, however, and Twitter opened up connections and communication possibility previously beyond my rural North Carolina reach, I started to warm up to the idea of obligatory community interaction.

And I started to make it happen.

Sure, it was one thing contacting people through Epals or Skype in the classroom, something where "community" had a broader, more global (or at least national) sense. It was quite another, however, to find means and opportunity and excuses to take class on the road, so to speak, and get them talking to people face to face, within blocks of our very schoolhouse. But I did it.

I got clearance from the man, I bribed the one certified bus driver on staff with promises of free Mexican snacks convinced a colleague to transport us, I got out the permission slips, I made fliers and spoke with proprietors at eight cooperative locations in the "Little Mexico" shopping center a few blocks from my house, I had classes come up with questions related to our text, I whipped up a notes sheet  (and some stickers that said "Por favor, no me hablen en ingles"), I texted/called/emailed parents of students without permission slips, and I did it. I took each of my two Spanish 2 classes to Plaza Latina to "interview" people at local businesses: to find out where they're from, what they do, and how they feel about Plaza Latina. And to have a bite to eat, of course.

Just as America's walk to school is described in La llaman America, so my students will be describing a walk through the Plaza. Well, theirs will probably be more of a guide to the Plaza. And they actually know the people's names, not just where they're from and what they do. And I hope they got a similar sense of security in the small community that the 9-year-old character from our book got.

Meanwhile, we've used their notes from the trip to have some semi-scripted interpersonal discussions using saber and conocer as well as object pronouns; students had to find two things for each student in class that both they and the other student knew after the trip. Then I quizzed them on people they met, a round-robin who-knows-whom sort of thing.

I have to say, that turning the community into my classroom was pretty taxing in the preparation. But the confidence of the students who "ACTUALLY UNDERSTOOD!" afterward and the sense of belonging fostered by at least being introduced to people that might have been hidden to them otherwise definitely made the trip worth it.

I'll just have to remember to get permission slips for the other teacher's class that I drag along next time, and I think that'll take care of the last wrinkle!

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