09 October 2017

Selfies and the Silent Period

So you've got an authentic audience: real live native speakers in the same room with your students. Maybe you're lucky like me and have a thriving Sister Cities exchange program. Maybe they're some or your fourth period heritage speakers' moms. Maybe they're local business owners or the ELL class from down the street. Maybe they're college buddies who have been traveling the world. Maybe they're your Mexican mother-in-law.

Whoever is there looking your language learners in the eye, you have rehearsed different questions the class could ask a hundred different ways a hundred different times. You know they've had enough input to be ready, to be more than ready. But still they ask.

"Do we have to talk to them in Spanish?"

Time was, I'd say,"Only if you don't want a zero!"

I mean, if I was going to go to the trouble to make these meetups happen, by gum, they were GOING to flex those interpersonal muscles!

I've been slowly warming to the idea of the silent period, ever since my mini mental breakdown over my Russian blank-out at iFLT last year. After my CI Liftoff experience, I'm still not 100% convinced that only 4% of language learners feel that they have to speak, but the words "Es obvio" have stuck with me since my iFLT language lab experience--the words and how they just came out when a student had a chance to crack a joke about the teacher.

Now I haven't let go of speaking assessment at the beginning of Spanish I, in part so consistent procedures are established, and in part so I have some sort of baseline from the beginning. I also think my graduated grading scale is plenty reasonable and allows me to communicate students' progress effectively and relatively painlessly.

But I did let go of the Sister Cities interview where I made them grill one of our visitors and record it.

I mean, 95% of the semester, these kids are surrounded by people who they have been stuck with since freshman year--even if a few of them did grow up speaking Spanish. So even on field trips where we would see other Spanish classes, I felt like I HAD to make them speak, while they had the chance. Moreover, I felt like it was essential to get this experience RECORDED. Scaling back on the number of samples required for portfolios has helped some with that pressure, but so has re-examining the Sister Cities experience.

Maybe combining the Public Speaking class "Discover Gaston" project with the Sister Cities visit to our school on a non-class day (yay early college Fridays!) Maybe it was because I had some of my own students on the trip last year, and they have been obsessing over the trip contagiously since last year. But looking at what I really wanted to happen when my kids got to just hang out on top of a mountain with kids from another continent, I decided the interpersonal evidence was NOT the most important thing.

It was the connections. The snap streaks and Instagram exchanges. The text groups and gossip. The girls coming up to me months after they got back to tell me they spent the previous night discussing racism in America--and/or cheese snacks that smelled like feet--IN SPANISH with "their Peruvians." THESE are the greatest gifts that Sister Cities and contact with native speakers have given me--to say nothing of the girls who went with me last year!

So this year I did not force output while we hiked to the highest point in our county with kids who live a few hours from the Andes.

I assigned a selfie, to be posted to Seesaw or Instagram. The Spanish would come in when they captioned it with what they now knew about their new friends. Did they have to speak in Spanish to them? Technically, no. But they did have to meet them and find out something about them, even if it was just their age or their favorite food. Could it be a group selfie? Absolutely. As long as everyone did their own caption.

So when one kiddo asked, exhausted at the mere idea, if the selfie was required, yes, I did say, "Only if you don't want a zero!"

But here's a photo of that same kid with the Peruvian who stayed by her the whole way up the mountain--and who got her to make a heart with her hands on the way up for Señora's photo op.

Did they talk in Spanish? I don't actually know. But I do know they both like My Chemical Romance and Hot Topic. And that my little non-Peruvian ended up smiling the whole trip.

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