Reflections from the Chair Swing, Moving into the Summer

This entry is part 17 of 48 in the series Teaching Transparently

It has been a busy spring, what with our infamous birds and a remarkably rough and tumble college admission process for my eldest son. My energies, needless to say, have been diverted away from this space.

There has been a lot of chatter recently on Twitter over the past few months about “blogging being dead.” It’s not dead, folks. It’s just that life sometimes gets in the way and stuff stays embalmed in the drafts folder for waaaay too long. I agreeing with the findings of this twit poll and nodding furiously in agreement at this particular comment:

“Blogs are alive and thriving, I’d write a post about it, but don’t have enough time. “

I taught HISP 205 again this semester and it was remarkable in many, many ways. I am working on an article with a colleague and hope to explore some of my (not yet fully cooked) thoughts about the way this class was taught, and how students learned, there. Rather than rehash every nuance of HISP 205, I thought I would note a few things I learned this time around. Enjoy and Please comment.

1) The students I am teaching are more afraid of change than ever before: I will write more about this later (when I have the students’ permission to do so) but what I am seeing in my classroom are students who are more risk adverse vs less. It matters not if they have never seen a typewriter nor a LP record and instead have only gown up with i-everythings. The technologies they incorporate into their social spaces for communication and collaboration remain separate from what they are comfortable exploring in an academic course, with their peers, and their teacher, and for a grade. However, using some of those tools and seeking your own path for your own learning, based upon your passion and your interests, and allowing yourself to venture into the unknown and learn with people you may never meet, is foreign and weird concept to some of our students. And yet….

2) Project-based learning in the language classroom promotes deep learning and extraordinary growth: Asking students to create a series of related tasks (a project) that they feel they want/need to accomplish during a course, and then asking them to assess their own progress towards completing those goals, has been one of the most rewarding activities I have ever done as a teacher. Many students think it is by far the best learning they have done as students. For those students who dare to follow this path, and who dare to leap, it was incredible journey this semester. And yet, there were a few crash and burns…

3) Failure happens, and we need to let it happen, because it is a powerful teaching tool. There are some moments in this class I would love to have been able to have a “do-over.” There are some students who set goals for themselves and then did not meet them. Failure happens. And in many cases it provides one the most powerful learning experiences ever: for the teacher as well as the student. To have a student say “I just figured out that I wasted this semester by playing it safe and not pushing myself as much as I could” is painful to hear. But it is a type of learning that I daresay we don’t allow our students to experience enough. As teachers we are afraid of failure, of letting students fall. We coddle our students…we think of them as fragile tea cups that need to be wrapped up and protected. And by doing so, how are we preparing them for the rigors of a world sometimes unfriendly world outside of cozy Academia?

As teachers we are afraid of the negative feedback that a failing student might erupt, via our course evaluations, students’ feedback in tenure reviews or promotions, snarky comments in, etc. But failure is as uncomfortable as it is instructional: to have learned does not always mean you have earned A. Learning happens, and happens in a powerful way, even when you don’t succeed.

I am pulling together this semester’s students’ comments and their permissions to allow me to publish them online. I hope there will be more to follow.

In the meantime, I have a kid admitted to college and a trio cockatiels who continue to be the ambassadors of whimsy in our center (and on the banner on our center’s blog).

The summer has begun.

Bring on the learning.

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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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