28 February 2013

A form letter: making the case for Skype access

Does your district require justification for downloading any software to school computers? Convince them--no DAZZLE them--into adding Skype if they have not done so already. Feel free to take as much of the letter below as you need to make your case, filling in your own blanks--and/or links--as needed.
Dear principal,
I recently connected with a Spanish teacher in ____________ whose class is currently working on a food and cooking unit, just like my Spanish I class. We have come up with an idea for a collaborative project that would allow our students to practice their interpersonal communication skills as well as their interpretive reading and listening and their presentational speaking and writing with an outside audience.

I have put together a wiki at http://comidacompartida.pbworks.com where they can communicate asynchronously, but in order to get the full interpersonal experience, my colleague in ____________, @lisajmch, and I would like to arrange video chats between small groups of our students as well. Video chat is ideal because it allows not only for the tonal inflections that provide context and meaning to spoken interpersonal exchanges, but also the additional context provided by body language and facial expression that is so essential to authentic person-to-person communication. Of course, if the video option is not available, at least the opportunity to communicate in real time with the benefit of vocal inflections, pauses, and other audio cues is the next best thing to being able to see our collaborators.

With Skype installed on multiple machines, students would have the opportunity to communicate individually, which would maximize the use of class time with full participation in an actual conversation with an audience beyond our own classroom. Alternatively, if they are ever to have the chance to practice the actual speaking of Spanish beyond our class, students would only be able to take turns as we Skyped class-to-class. The class-to-class option means that large portions of the class are sure to tune out for much of the session and that only a fraction of the time would be spent ensuring each student got a chance to engage in conversation. 

We will be sharing audio and video files through the wiki, but according to language acquisition theory, this presentational mode of communication is wholly distinct from the back-and-forth exchange afforded by an actual Skype "call." In fact, the interpersonal mode is emphasized far more at the novice level, according to North Carolina's Common Core Essential Standards (see pages 12 and 15-20)  as well as national American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Of course, text chatting is an alternative that would still meet the standards of interpersonal communication. However, the real world application of language study extends much further and into more areas of life if students are allowed to actually develop their oral and aural skills as early as possible.

I appreciate your consideration and support for this opportunity for our class!

Thank you,
Your devoted world language teacher

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