"Cracking open" the semester isn't hard…but saying goodbye IS.

One of the many tensions that is present in a classroom that encourages experimentation and growth and reaching outside vs hiding inside is that of THE CALENDAR. It would be so wonderful if we did not have to be put in the position of altering the flow of learning and the shape of a discussion because of THE CALENDAR. But we work in academia and all good semesters must come to an end because, alas, our lives are dictated by THE CALENDAR.

At the end of my HISP 305 class each student had a 45 minute oral exit interview in the target language (Spanish) with me. I told them from the beginning that this was not an “exam” as much as it was meant to be a way of pulling together the various bits and pieces of the term, to talk about what they had accomplished as a Spanish speaker to date, what they hoped to do in the future with the language, what worked and what did not work in their final projects, their plans for the future… in Spanish… 45 minutes X 18 students. It sounds overwhelming..but it was not. It was, in fact, delightful and something I am going to try and do throughout the term (perhaps in small groups?) outside of class. A couple of the conversations went on (again, in Spanish) for an hour or so because we lost track of the time. Huh, when was the last time THAT happened in a language class.

(oh, did I mention we were talking IN SPANISH?)

I cannot imagine a more positive outcome for a language student after 16 weeks in the classroom than to have the ability to sit down, with grace and with ease, and talk with someone about a variety of topics in a second language (for one of my students this was his THIRD language). It was marvelous.

About ten days before the semester was to end, I realized I had not planned for it to end. This probably came from my secret desire for it –not — to end. Why is that? Well, about 3/4 through the semester when the sparks began to fly, the connections began to gel, the confidence began building and some amazing and truly learning started happening… it was like an adrenaline rush. And no matter what you do, you cannot predict nor control those moments of utter engagement and excitement. Having taught this course now a couple of times all i can say is if you set the stage and prepare the path…it will happen and will happen in a big way. The syllabus falls by the wayside, the calendar becomes insignificant. And yes, as a result, the teacher finds herself in a remarkable place: not wanting it to end.

But end it must. And as rational human beings we need closure. Enter the suitcase.

My dear friend and co-conspirator Barbara Ganley suggested that I adopt the Russian tradition of “sitting on the suitcase” to allow our class to think about where they had been, where they thought they were going, and to offer a few words to the students who would be taking this class in the years to come. I brought empanaditas and taquitos and juice and fruit and cheese. (and a 20+ year old bottle of Inca Cola that my then novio now husband brought to me when we worked together many years ago). Erin kindly recorded the “suitcase talks.”I invite you to watch these videos. Watch the commraderie and support between Caitlin and Robin. Watch the glee with which Claire talks about connection with graffiti artists whom she had admired from afar, never imagining she would actually converse with them. Look at the friendship that grew between Emily and Sean. Ariana offers a few helpful hints to the students who will be coming my way in 2008. And please please please, listen to how Karin (a biochem major with extraordinary hidden talents) says goodbye to the class.About 80% of my students want to continue using their blog even though the class is over. They want to stay in touch with others and with the language. Some are in Spanish-speaking countries now and will be adding sound files and images upon their return. So it seems that they too, perhaps are having a tough time letting go?

I just checked… comments are still coming in. Karin just received an interesting comment from an individual in Guatemala in regard to his questions about the upcoming Presidential elections…

…como guatemalteco te puedo decir que todo lo que has escuchado de la senora Menchu son mentiras. Esta senora ha sido utilizada por organizaciones extranjeras para crear una mala imagen de Guatemala lo que ha ocasionado mayores problemas internos al pais

And Emily finally figured out what YOK means

And so I am about to head off to the post office and mail the final written evaluations I promised my students at the end of the semester. Yes, they all got grades…but as we quickly realized grades are weird and somehow incongruous when trying to assess this type of learning experience. So I wrote down my thoughts and observations about their work this term and will be mailing them off. They were written a while ago…but I have put off sending them (sigh).Thus endeth the formal part of the class. But as Karin and Emily and others are showing all of us…its not the formal part that is fascinating…it’s those informal spaces and the connections that happen there that are truly extraordinary.
A Flickr slideshow from HISP305 2007

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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