The purpose of a college level Spanish Conversation class, it follows, is to give students the tools and the language skills and confidence they need to use the Spanish language in the world. My job as a teacher of that class is to try and get them there.
There are moments when I think that my classroom, that is the physical space where I meet my class, inhibits our learning more than it helps us. And yet I also know that some students crave structure, order and the security of a specific seat to the left of the board to make their learning happen.
But sometimes we have to mix it up a bit.
A few weeks ago I had to miss class because I was going to a conference. Rather than canceling class altogether, I came up with a plan. Our college has a small but mighty bowling alley that is not usually open when my class meets… but maybe, just maybe, they would consider opening for us on that Friday? It was worth a call. And they said yes.
So I know what you are thinking: What? Instead of canceling class you sent them to a bowling alley? Where is the learning in that? Well, I am glad you asked….
In my class each student does a project that would require conversations in Spanish about a topic of their choice. Each student also establishes goals/outcomes for the project and also, at the midterm point and at the end of the class, is asked to assess their progress towards those goals.
Invariably I will have students create lists and lists and lists of vocabulary words. Why? Because that is how they have been taught in the past. You need to make lists, you need to know words. Yes, that is true, but isolated lists of words are less than useful without being used in a specific context and used with other people.
I announced to my students that they would have the opportunity to go bowling, but “the catch” they had to do it entirely in Spanish. (They were thrilled) I explained that it would be the class’ responsibility to find the words, phrases, terms used in bowling and teach themselves those words as well as use them in context. They could ask friends, native speakers, the internet for help, but it was their job to both find as well as teach each other those words.
Within three days, this google doc was created by at least half of the class.
Led by two of my former students, the class went to the bowling alley (“la bolera”). One of my former students brought along a camera to film what happened.
About a week later I got the “bill” from the bowling alley. It was 1/3 of what I expected (which was good because I only got a 1/3 of the donations from the student that I had expected, but oh well). Fearing a book-keeping mistake, an inquiry was made. No, the bowling alley said, we didn’t charge you for the full hour because they spent 2/3 of the time talking in Spanish and reviewing vocabulary and practicing the terms.
(Used with the students’ permission)
Sometimes the most important thing to know as a teacher is when to get the heck out of the way. The students’ response to the event was great: we need to do more of this. We need to get out of the classroom. We need to make meaning out of what we are learning.
This Friday I have to go to Ann Arbor for a meeting. So, the students are planning their own mini classes and their own topics to discuss. The requirements are:
1) you have to speak Spanish for 45 minutes with someone and about something you care about
2) you have to have a goal, an outcome for what you want to get done in those 50 minutes
3) you cannot be in a formal classroom.
Here’s what they have planned: (click to make larger)
They will report back later about their learning and this adventure. And with their permission, I will report that here.