Debbie Varga, OFLA Public Relations and Advocacy Chair
I have been reflecting quite a bit this school year on what an effective 21st-century world language teacher entails. Many things keep crossing my mind: the use of technology, student engagement and focus, global citizenship, and authentic formative assessment. I have come to the realization that what I did 20+ years ago does not work for today’s students. I constantly need to keep one step ahead so that my class can be a place for meaningful learning. Here are my reflections on some challenges and small victories that will hopefully lead to big outcomes.
I used to give points for worksheets, workbook pages, and flashcards but now that has changed. In order to make sure that the formative practice the students are doing is actually their own work, I have come up with strategies that will keep the students working authentically on their own (without copying each other’s homework, searching for workbook answers online via crowd-sourced textbook sharing websites, or taking pictures of homework and texting the image to their friends).
One activity that has changed the way I collect evidence of the students’ speaking is through e-portfolio recordings. Students respond to video prompts by using a recording app on their device (we are a 1-1 school). In order for this to be a very guided and structured activity, I have them face one direction to make sure that they are not using an online translation site to write out their script. I currently only select 3-4 students at a time for the recording, similar to station work. They are given time before the recording to write out what they want to say without the use of electronic devices (computers closed and phones in the center of the tables). I have found that the students reflect more on what they want to say and are challenged by not being allowed to access online translation sites. The students are also aware that I am there to watch as they create the recordings. As a final step, the students are required to upload the recording in a shared e-portfolio that they have made via Google Docs (we have Google Classroom).
Another type of tech tool that I have been approaching differently is Quizlet. Instead of giving students points on Quizlet for making flashcards (they can be easily copied into their accounts), I allow them to openly collaborate with other students. I also have been introducing Spanish-Spanish definitions and question prompts instead of the traditional Spanish-English format. We have been playing Quizlet Live quite a bit and it has contributed to a strong cooperative learning dynamic in class (students are randomly assigned to groups and must work together in order to win the round). Students seem to acquiring vocabulary rather quickly through this method.
Student lack of focus and test anxiety have been very prevalent with this generation of learners. The last few years I have begun incorporating simple breathing exercises before we take an assessment, and I observe most, if not all, of my students participating. Sometimes we do some yoga moves to also help us focus.
Finally, global citizenship at the preAP levels with a deeper cultural focus is another area that I have been trying to include more frequently with novice learners. Students make cultural comparisons between their communities and the Spanish-speaking communities (similar to what is done on the AP exam) from the audiovisual resources that are presented in lessons: music videos, short documentaries, Google Earth/Maps (street view), and photographs. I use a simple Venn Diagram format that will help with visually organizing their thoughts. We always tie in a share-out of the Venn Diagrams in class to help process that content that was understood.
The above activities were created via trial and error, and through observation of how today’s learners seek information via technology. They have also provided me a foundation to keep growing as both a lifelong learner and a 21st world language teacher in an ever-changing world.