Teaching Transparently: HISP 205-09

During the second semester I am teaching a Spanish Conversation course. This time through I have decided I am going to blog (here) about my experiences getting this course set up and put into place…and then blog about what happens as the course unfolds throughout the semester.

(Insert sound of 16 year old son mock-yawning at the mere notion that someone might be interested in this…)

I have blogged about my teaching on this site with some fits and starts and this time I hope to be more consistent about it. And I hope by starting NOW, maybe some of you oh so faithful readers will help me find the resources I still need so I can do it well.

Rather than take up valuable real estate on this here blog, I have created a page where I will plunk some of the important stuff… the course description, the email I send to the students who ask to be consented into the class, the syllabus, links to wikis I am setting up with materials for the students to consult..etc etc etc. All are welcome to take a gander and offer a comment. I will ask that if you “liberate” some info from here that you remember to cite this blog, and if you do something cool, then let us (all) know how it goes.

BTW The tag I am going to use for blog posts on the subject will be TT (for Teaching Transparently)

Why am I doing this?

First of all I don’t believe for a moment that I can pull together all the resources and information on the types of tools I want to share with my students all by myself. I need help. From you.

Second: I am asking my students to take a risk an write/blog about their learning in the class. That’s really scary to them. Writing about what I teach while I am teaching is really scary to me. Fair’s fair, I say.

Third: this class is taught in Spanish, and it is taught quite differently from other courses in the HISP catalogue. This is gonna be a head-scratcher for some of my students.

Comments that tend to pop up in the first week, among others are: “Who is this crazy lady” “What does she mean by student-centered, project based learning” “Really??? OMG..no textbook?” “Why don’t you just tell me what I need to know like everyone else does?” etc

So my idea is that if I write –here, in English– about some of my objectives for the class, hopefully, my students will see some method in my madness. Or maybe they will just run. This all remains to be seen.

Fourth: I want to get smacked down. I need the community to keep me honest and on task. I need feedback from my students, from you, from strangers, from whomever. I need the larger community of educators and learners to keep me honest. I am NOT writing about HISP 205-09 to toot my own horn. I am writing about my class because I am asking for help, advice, support, knowledge…

So here goes. Hang on, its gonna be a bumpy ride.

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. Ryan · December 10, 2008 Reply


    Thank you for doing this … for taking the time and finding the energy to explain your methods and your madness, for sharing your experiences with the community that we might learn from them, and for being willing to learn from what the community has to offer you and your students. Many of us no hablamos español, but care deeply about the day-to-day struggles and successes associated with using technology and social networking in the classroom, and would love to engage with you and your class.

    I very much look forward to hearing more!

  2. Iñaki Calvo · December 10, 2008 Reply

    That sounds really well, I’ll keep an eye on your blog. I’ll try to give you some feedback too. Thanks a lot for giving us the chance to peep on your teaching practice!

  3. Barbara · December 10, 2008 Reply

    Thank you, Ryan and Iñaki, for your kind and generous comments.

    I’m not kidding when I say I need help from others as I plan this class. For good or for bad I never teach the class the same way twice, and never have the luxury of re-using a syllabus again and again. Right now, as I think about it, that sounds pretty gosh darn overwhelming.

    And yet, I truly believe in the potential of the “backwards syllabus,” that is, a syllabus that you co-create with your students during the evolution of the course. It’s backwards in the sense that you have something to show for where you have been at the end of the semester, but sometimes you don’t always know the path you are going to take until you get there.

    The only way this works, I have found, is if you have explicit and clear goals about the intended outcomes for the class, for the students, for yourself…and constantly “check in” to make sure you are on track…or at the very least not careening off the track and into the abyss.

    More on that later. But in the meantime, thank you for being here and thank you for agreeing to keep me honest 🙂


  4. Barbara Ganley · December 10, 2008 Reply


    I found that blogging my teaching opened up a whole network of thinkers to me and then grew a community, both in my class and out in the blogosphere. I also found that the reflective practice helped me to think more clearly about what was going on in the emergent, open classroom, and pushed me to get creative, to think well beyond any classroom. I definitely became a better teacher because of it.

    My students loved reading my take on the class, the course, and myself. Several of them are still reading my blog, still commenting, still contributing, years later.

    Bon voyage! (I don’t know how to say the equivalent in Spanish!)


  5. Barbara · December 10, 2008 Reply

    Oh thank you BG for peeking in.

    You have always been my model for keeping things transparent. I can only hope that my students in their second (and sometimes third) language can accomplish what your students were able to do in their first language.

    Writing is hard in a second language. Finding your inner voice in a second language is even harder. Expressing your passions for something while engaging with a native speaker (whom you may never see) in a second language…yikes.

    And yet time and time again, I find that when I raise the bar there are some students who want to raise it even higher than that. And the results are breath-taking.

    I look forward to hearing from you, BG, often. As I said to the other kind commenters…I need each of you to keep me honest and to keep me focused. And feel free to slap me around if I ned it.


  6. Jackie · December 11, 2008 Reply

    I applaud your endeavor and am excited to watch the progress. I would say that I am a kindred spirit in my teaching and have done some unconventional things with courses I have taught. One of the things that I found to be very important you are already doing: explaining to students what you are doing and why you are doing it. In fact, I would recommend doing it regularly during the semester so it is constantly before them.

    So many students just want you to tell them what to learn, so a course like yours puts them way out of their comfort zone. One thing that I have done with classes that challenge students’ preconceptions is tell them that I will email each of them or meet with each of them before I turn in grades to give them a chance to discuss it with me. That seemed to allay some of their fears. I wish it weren’t always about the grade for them, but, alas, it usually is. Suerte!

  7. Barbara · December 11, 2008 Reply


    Thank you for your kind words. Yes, reminding them (and me!) of objectives and intended outcomes, constantly, is important. More important still is that they form their own objectives and stay true to them.

    Grades and assessment and “what am I gonna get?” always seems to creep into the picture, no matter how hard we try to push it aside and talk about “but what have you learned, and how do you know that you learned it?” Yes,I think, it is a function of being de-centered and anxious.

    I hope to do as I did last year and have the students create rubrics based upon the criteria they feel needs to be measured in each assignment, and let them rank/rate/grade each other. My opinion becomes one of many vs the gatekeeper.

    I also try and meet with each of them for 10 minutes (one on one) 1 X a week to see how things are going. (Yeah, its time consuming, but what about teaching ISN’T?) And I never want them or anyone to think that “all of this technology” is a replacement for the important face-to-face component of the class.

    Thanks for being here. Please come back.


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