Ending the semester, lessons learned (Part 2)

Lesson # 2: It’s not about you: actually, it’s always been about them

I believe that before you apply any of these new, disruptive, innovative, learner-centric tools to your teaching, you -yes you- have to embrace these tools first. They have to be a part of your daily life, something you not only know how to use and troubleshoot, but something you use yourself as a way to create, express, play…only then will you know what kind of potential they might have for your students’ learning. You need to do your homework… map it out, think it through…and then get out of the way and let them take it from there.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be an expert. Nope. You can (and should!) mess up right alongside everyone else. And you need to model messing up and getting support and learning from those mistakes for your students. Scary? Yeah… I’ll talk more about fear later.

Using these tools to their fullest potential is not about how pretty your class’ WordPress templates are or even how clever their iMovie Projects came out at the end of the term (even though they DO perk up the departmental website, now don’t they?).

It’s about using these tools because they fit your teaching, because they fit your ethos, because they mesh with your pedagogy, because you believe that in your students’ hands they will allow THEM to push themselves deeper into the culture, the lives of the people who speak the language you are studying.

Use these tools only if you are able to accept the idea that you cannot control what will happen when your students use them…and you cannot control how, if your students learn. You can guide, you can nudge, you can advise… but you cannot control. Learner centric technologies are just that… and if that makes you uncomfortable as a teacher, well, maybe this is not for you.

My students craved opportunities to create, speak, use the language in realistic, actual, messy, chaotic situations…my role was to support, nudge, prod the learners as engaged in the very same real-life sticky situations where they might find themselves in a few years time….but for the moment via blogs or Skype.

Your knowledge of the subject matter is important, but, brace yourself: it’s not about you. It’s about them, and about listening to them, and about engaging them, and about letting them engage with each other and with native speakers in real-life contexts.

It took my students a dog’s age to realize that I said what I meant and I meant what I said: that I wanted them to establish their own goals for the class. As long as we agreed that they were do-able and presented realistic challenges, my job was to keep them on track, remind them to document their progress …and get out of the way.

Teach as you live, live as you teach. If there is a disconnect between what the tools provide and what you want to control, you will know it, your students will feel it. It won’t be pretty.

It’s that’s simple. And that complex as well.

Series Navigation<< Ending the semester, lessons learned (Part 3)Ending the semester, lessons learned (Part 1) … (of what will be many) >>

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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