25 November 2014

Guest Post: Collaborating with #Pasión and Robots

@SraWillis came to visit and check out my class
...and decide if I'm human?
Kelly Willis is a Spanish teacher at Charlotte Latin School who shares my passion for technology, authentic learning, and  for novice learners--only her novices at the lower school are a lot smaller than mine. The cool part is that we're only about an hour's drive from each other, so we have been hatching plots to collaborate since this summer. Sra. Willis finally took the bull by the horns and came to visit my class a few weeks ago, and I asked her to share her reflections on the experience.

Here's what she had to say:

Jumping in
I’m not sure how it happened, but this summer I jumped into the deep space of the Twitter-verse and stumbled onto #langchat.  Initially, I’d only plan to scan a little of the twitter feed, or look for a quick link or post that piqued my interest. Yet, several hours later I’d wonder how and when it got dark out, look over at the pile of laundry still waiting to be folded, and decide my three year old could go digging through the mountain on her own to find her favorite blue Elsa dress the following morning.

I was awed and intimidated by all the information being shared, and I continued to teeter around the edges of Twitter, Google Plus, #langcamp, and Google Hangouts observing, not totally sure if I wanted to contribute to #langchat with all of these amazing teachers who seemed to be doing so much more than me. What if I said something stupid, or too obvious, or not worth the 140 characters taking up space on the Twitter feed? In particular, I wondered who this @SraSpanglish was, and furthermore, when did she eat and sleep? Was she a robot?

I finally got brave enough one night to decide to join a Google Hangout about technology moderated by Sra. Spanglish this summer.  It was starting some time after 9:00PM, but it worked out for me because my daughter was asleep. I figured I’d just audit the conversation, and maybe offer something up to the conversation about how I was using iPads in my elementary Spanish classes.  Mostly, though, I was just planning on watching while I cooked for my husband and myself.

No such luck.

It turns out that only Sra. Spanglish and I were ready to chat at such a late hour. By the end of our hour-long chat about technology, iPads, and apps, I discovered she’s not really a robot, and she teaches right up the road from me! The wheels in my head started to turn….. Fast forward a few months….

Class time
At the end of October, our students were off thanks to parent-teacher conferences, so I found myself with the three days open for professional development and a #genius just up the road. We teachers can easily find a reason to stay in behind in the office for a few work days. We always need to catch up on paperwork, write curriculum, plan lessons, search for resources… The list goes on. However, one of the most helpful things we can do to grow as teachers is to connect with others in our profession, and when given the chance, actually get out there to watch them in action.  

I made a plan with Sra. Spanglish to come out to observe her high school students working on their #pasión projects.   They had already identified a topic of interest to them and written down some key vocabulary words and driving questions they wanted answered, so the work being done on this day involved research and listening comprehension. 

Each student had to complete a search for several videos linked to their #pasión. They had to watch and listen carefully (no subtitles allowed!), write down ten vocabulary words they could understand, and also see if any of this information answered some of those questions they had previously written down about their pasión topics.  When the students protested that they couldn’t understand, Sra. Spanglish just reminded them that this is training their ears, and they don’t have to understand it all.

Despite being a Novice level class, all students were engaged and working diligently, and topics ranged from cosmetology, pop music, and cars to cooking, art, and quinceañeras.

Observations
I spent several hours watching Sra. Spanglish guide two different sections of Novice level learners into this day of #pasión, and by lunchtime I came away with these observations:

1. Novice learners are the same, whether they are 7 years old or 17.  

Don’t be afraid to observe another teacher just because he or she teaches students who are not the same age as your students. I laughed when a few of her students looked at me in fear and worried I was going to speak Spanish very quickly to them. My little guys in elementary school do the same.

2. Visiting another teacher in person can help you come away with even the smallest “tricks” and resources for classroom design and management.

I loved the idea of using a “call and response” tactic with lyrics from authentic music to regain students’ attention and focus. I took down the titles of some of the picture books in the front of her class, and couldn’t stop writing down songs from the playlist running in the background while the students worked.

3.   Collaboration doesn’t have to end with just one observation/visit! We’re already talking about a joint project between our students sometime in the near future. 

There is so much to learn from one another, and social media is a tremendous asset to connecting foreign language educators around the world. Yet, if we can get out of our own classrooms and into the classrooms of our peers, we have the chance to see first hand some #genius and #pasión that could leave us inspired. This is true about my visit to Sra. Spanglish’s classes. 

However, after witnessing how she manages the online individual portfolio assessments, projects, rubrics and resources for her students and courses, helps keep thousands of online colleagues connected alongside other super talented professionals, on top of being a mom and wife, I take back some of what I said.

She really is a robot.

PS Our secret collaboration plan involves picture books and possibly little library boxes...and possibly world domination.

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