The (spring) semester begins

petey (small)

Another spring semester has begun (albeit with 2 feet of snow all around) and HISP 305 has re-emerged in the course offerings. This semester, we did a couple of things differently. First, the use of blogs, iPods and Skype is clearly mentioned in the course description.

HISP 305: Communication in a Spanish Speaking World: 3 HU, CD
Second Semester. The goal of this course is to prepare non-native Spanish speakers for the rigors and the rewards of living, studying, or working in a Spanish-speaking environment. Using blogs, podcasts and voice-over-IP tools, students will communicate with each other and native speakers of Spanish to develop speaking, writing and listening skills. Attention will be given to the different registers of written and spoken Spanish, as well as effective strategies for communication in a variety of contexts.

Second, it is clear what the intended outcome of this course is to be: students are using this class to prepare themselves for using their language skills abroad… en el extranjero.

We have not yet begin to explore the ipods and the iTalk microphones yet (they just returned from Winterterm with a group that went to Japan) and quite frankly it takes a while to load music (all legal and from the lab’s collection) and Spanish podcasts on 18 little hand-helds… which actually might be a very good thing.

the ipods

As I think about last year and how I taught the course, I realize now that I jumped into every technology bell and whistle with perhaps too much vigor… it was overwhelming for me so I can only imagine it was even more so for my students. We did not spend enough time centering ourselves and getting to know each other as I would have liked. While I mentioned L2 acquisition theory in the syllabus and explained how research shows that writing should be an integral part of a conversation class, I did not do, I believe, a good enough job connecting with the class and their learning styles, that is, finding out how they learned and what constituted a productive learning experience for them.

(I did however ask them even before the class began what they wanted to get out of the class. 80% of the students expressed amazement over the fact that they were even being asked that question. As one student said “No one ever asks —us— what we want to learn”)

So this semester we have spent a couple of weeks talking about models for teaching and learning, bothj in a classroom setting as well as outside of it (we read a bit of The Wisdom of Crowds, Emergence, and excerpts from Paolo Freire’s
The Pedagogy of the Oppressed). I was pleased to know that some of my readings overlapped with one student’s course on Revolutions that is being taught in the Politics Dept. (heheheheh, my Latin American Studies degree rears its ugly head once more…)

Last week I also asked them to come to class ready to talk (in Spanish) about at least one moment where they feel they had a of deep, memorable learning experience (an exercise adapted from Rita Pougiales at Evergreen State College and brought to my attention by BG. The exercise is available on BG’s site…)

Some fotos of the exercise (and the colored post it notes that accompanied it) in my class…

Coming up… what this exercise revealed and what is going on in class… how social software tools are once again stretching our minds (be it language teacher or student!) as well as how blogging is extending the boundaries and the possibilities of the learning environment…

Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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  1. Sam Jackson · February 21, 2007 Reply

    Whose dog is that? Looks completely adorable, if a little unhappy about the cold! 🙂

  2. Barbara · February 21, 2007 Reply

    His name is Petey (named after Pedro Martí­nez, once of the Red Sox, now the Mets) and he is a springer spaniel we rescued from the pound about 3 years ago. He was our 25th rescue dog, and destined to be adopted just like the 24 that preceded him, but my husband declared that this would not be so. And so we have three dogs, all springers. The mantra I chant every morning is “my life is rich and full…”

    Petey has us humans figured out and lives quite comfortably. He has figured out how to open cabinets and cupboards (and eaten them clean too). Don’t let the face fool you. He just looks pathethic, but he is quite fat and happy here at my feet right now! 😉

  3. David · February 22, 2007 Reply

    Hi Barbara,

    I’m very curious about your course offering that uses Skype as one of the means for students to acquire the spoken skills. Are you going to let your students practice in the group conversation setting at Skypecast?

  4. Barbara · February 23, 2007 Reply

    No actually they are having one on one conversations with native Spanish-language speakers.

    We are partnering with a group in Spain and one in Colombia right now…the students in the Spanish speaking countries are learning English so we plan to “swop” language practice.

    And as you will read in the Feb 22 post, my students also have contacts abroad and are eager to connect with them. It is incredible to listen to the level of engagement this tool provides.


  5. David · February 27, 2007 Reply

    Just curious, based on your observation or feedback from the students, is it more effective to have one-on-one “swop” practice to have a group conversations even more non-native speakers?

  6. Barbara · March 3, 2007 Reply

    Hi David:

    I don’t think I understand your question. Are you asking whether the skype language exchanges are more effective than group conversations/ small group conversations/ classroom work?

    If that is the question, then my answer would be no. I want my students to use Skype as a means of augmenting what we might be doing in class, but not in place of it.

    Some students take to skype conversations like fish to water, but most students find such conversations incredibly hard. Ne’ertheless, having the knowledge that the person on the other end is less-than-perfect in your native language as you struggle in his/her helps a great deal too

    Let me know if I did not interpret your question properly…


  7. David · March 16, 2007 Reply

    Hi Babara,

    Sorry for my badly written question. Yes, you interpreted it right and thanks for your answer.


  8. Language Lab Unleashed! - it’s not your middle school language lab… » Teaching cultural literacies with social software · March 26, 2007 Reply

    […] We need to liberate ourselves from the notion that all learning has to happen in the classroom, with a textbook and with the teacher at the helm. When I did the deep learning exercise with my students, we came to remarkable conclusion: most of their most memorable learning experiences happened outside of the formal academic structure. […]

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