03 February 2015

Magic in Making Do: Collaborating close by

"Nothing up my sleeve! And..presto!"
I thought there could be nothing more magical for my students than real-time video chats with real live teenagers in Spain and Argentina. School schedules and time zones actually create more distance than geography these days, however, so sometimes we have to make do.

Maybe it's with an elementary school down the road. Maybe it's just between the class that meets before lunch and the class that meets after after. I mean, first and third period is not exactly a Meeting of Two Worlds type experience.

But there is still magic.

Mixed-Class Groups
I really like letting students choose their groups for PBL projects. I want kiddos to come together based on a shared vision. I mean, I know the end-product is not their sole criterion in selecting partners, and may actually factor in very little. But by letting kids choose who they work with, they already have a sort of built-in agreement that they WILL get along with these people, if only because they can all agree they want to make a music video. Or if it's because they are already planning to make their future kids go to the same pre-schools decades from now. Either way, I get buy-in.

I have a neat new wrinkle to this approach this semester too. As an early college, we got a seat time waiver for our kiddos, so Fridays are reserved for remediation, volunteering, and general enrichment. I get my Spanish II kiddos for 3 hours most Fridays! Sometimes we're out in the community, and my science amigo has cool stuff he wants them to do too, so it's not 3 hours of PURE Spanish delight, but it's cool. And it means we have time for groups from both classes to meet almost weekly.

But what to do the rest of the week?

Amigo E-mails
I've not had great luck with contracts in the past, mostly because things change. Things come up that neither the kiddos nor I would have thought of because they're blazing new trails, for goodness' sake. SO the mixed groups are kind of a blessing in that in order to progress, group members constantly HAVE to update each other to move forward. So they have to acknowledge each other's progress, apprise their compadres of their own progress and future plans, and make any requests in writing.

"linking rings" from johnny_automatic on openclipart.org
After trying a "just e-mail everyone and CC me" approach, I decided to create one email for all to respond to. If I were starting over, I'd send it with the instructions, but as it is, I took all of the CC'ed emails, pasted them in one email, and did the highlighting trick I picked up from Colleen (spelling, form, wrong word) to send them all under a uniform subject line with all group members' names I could find easily in my inbox--just be sure everyone hits REPLY ALL!

I'm also having each group submit one product a day each period. They decided their products early in the process, and made sure they had at least one interpersonal product, one presentational speaking product, and one presentational writing product (and maybe an interpretive product if the task required). Now, I made a Google Classroom assignment for the first product, but then a confused kiddo had a random idea that seemed even better: attach the product to the update e-mail! Maximum sharing!

Elementary Spanish Partners
We've worked ESL classes before and elementary amigos in Colombia before, and my Big Mature High School Kids are always in love with the little ones. And they feel a lot more confident dealing with people that are more inclined to worship than judge them. It was a stroke of pure luck that my amiga is close enough to arrange a field trip to really seal the public audience deal at the end of our Amiguitos reading project. And while her kiddos are still learning the language rather than mini Target Culture emissaries, this is proving even MORE useful for my novices too! Now not only can I discourage dictionary and translator dependence, there's a very real reason to stick to familiar vocabulary! They really have to reinforce their OWN knowledge to be understood, whether it's in their intro videos or VoiceThread surveys! They're learning more about their own learning by being sensitive to their amiguitos'!

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