29 November 2017

Swimming with Sharks - Authentic Audiences for Spanish Class

Last year I had an intricate schedule with at least two Spanish-speaking judges for every hour-long slot, including five different ninth graders' moms. I tracked down the freshmen whose parents spoke Spanish, got names and numbers and called them all weeks in advance. Then I composed a full-page letter--in Spanish--about how the day would go down, including when and where each judge would be each day, which I delivered the week before the presentations (Thanksgiving week, by the way). Then I dressed to impress to meet our tiburones for Shark Tank and carefully coordinated sign-in procedures from the front desk to presentation locations, including student escorts.

This year I lost the cards when cleaning and moving houses over Thanksgiving then just used our parent contact spreadsheet to start making calls the day before presentations started. I drafted a couple of Spanish 3 12th graders with room in their schedule to fill in for the slots when no 9th grade parents were available.

Sra. looks a little scary
without eyebrows,
especially by the end
of the day.
And I forgot to put on eyebrows this morning.

I think that inviting parents in to participate in project presentations--especially parents valued for a skill that in other situations might make them feel pushed to the side--is one of the best brain waves I've ever had. Authentic audiences exist within our local and even school community, and we strengthen the bonds with those communities by incorporating them into important academic work. It lets parents see what their students are (or will be) doing and it gives our students a chance to confront that nervous edge that makes them consider if they really are communicating in their second language and work with it.

But I also REALLY hate talking on the phone in general, which is REALLY not helped in a second-language, stranger cold-call scenario.

Now I've got some more work to do on making this whole product pitch project novice-appropriate, and I think I went from Spanish overload last year to monolingual overload this year. I'm considering taking the infomercial angle suggested by my SC amiga at SCOLT still further and maybe backing out of taking Spanish class time for presentations entirely. But still, there's that community piece.

So as I go back to the drawing board yet again in the eternal cycle, I want to keep some things in mind that might help me remember this is both worth doing and not as painful as I anticipate as phone number cards get shuffled house to house.

And if I can remind myself that this is not impossible, maybe it'll help someone else get up the gumption to invite some native speakers into the classroom as well. So here goes.

1. As with everything, Less is More

Guess which list is last year's and which is this year's. I do recommend keeping an electronic version too, in the event of a move.
I've been guilty of trying to open up every single possible option just to get people in the door. So I had 6 slots total this time, an hour a piece. Either they could make it, or they couldn't, and it's okay if they can't. Don't go making 20-minute slots or enlisting backups for backups. Make it easy for you AND for them to keep track of!

2. Streamline guest responsibilities 

I had all kinds of ideas about using the authentic reactions the tiburones might generate in response to presentations. I caught a quick video or two of what they thought last year, in fact. But the truth is that the videos were not in Baby Spanish, and there wasn't really time--or motivation--to have these people donating their time write out vast diatribes, much less ones that would be comprehensible to my little baby parrots.

So I adapted the "active listener" response survey my colleague made for his Public Speaking class, added a little español and bam! Justifications that my kiddos could understand.

There IS space on the back for them to write out advice and "felicidades" for each group. And all they had to do was decide how to split the money between two groups.

3. Ease 'em in

It was so much easier when I actually did call the tiburones this year because they almost all knew it was coming. I had mentioned it to the 9th graders and explained why I was gonna call. Next year I think I'll have a little RSVP invitations to hand out to those with Spanish speaking family at home--might even get some bites I didn't anticipate! But again, I gotta make it easy--name and number to begin with. THEN I call, see if they can show up, and MAYBE throw in a little survey about what they think is important for investing for some plan prepping too!

4. Snacks

I mean, we can't bring them into the college's classrooms, but I can do better than offering them a cupcake from the math teacher's birthday. I need a spread with some beverages and finger food--something inviting that they know I didn't just dig out of my cabinet drawer and that I can't just put back there. And they somewhere comfy they can enjoy them--especially when they show up early and have to wait on my hooligans before trying to figure out their Spanish.

5. Follow up

I'm pretty sure I still have a huge stack of thank you cards I made the kiddos write in Spanish last year and then failed to deliver. Those stacks are pretty overwhelming even without my name on them. I might have the groups that presented for each judge make one group card and explain one thing that this project helps them with in general, but if we're really building a community here for real?

I need to buckle down and make a few more calls.

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