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What a Time to Teach Languages!

Global communication, international messaging and translation concept, speech bubbles with national flags of world countries around blue Earth globe isolated on white backgroundWhat a time to be alive!

The whole world is inside our classrooms every day. I like to pretend it’s me bringing it to my Spanish I and II students, but really, they’ve had it in their pocket the whole time.

What a time to teach languages!

There are two things any language teacher needs to do to get students to learn a language:

  • give them a real, immediate Reason to learn it and
  • make them believe they can learn it.

Technology makes it ridiculously easy for us to do both.

Reason with a Capital R

Teenagers don’t really care if they impress you. They’ll turn in the work they feel like turning in and take the grade you feel like giving them most of the time (grade grubbers notwithstanding). But for local third graders in an ESL class? Nothing but the best. Presenting to bilingual leaders from the local community? They’re pulling out ALL the stops. And that guy from Spain they connected with on WeSpeke? He can correct their conjugation any day.

Audience is the most powerful motivator we can offer students in language classes. Why learn a language, if there’s not someone you need it to communicate with?

Technology opens up so many audience possibilities for us:

  • post videos on Padlet for classes to get to know each other
  • create a shared blog to comment and share common interests
  • set up Skype dates–for whole classes or small groups–to learn about each other’s communities
  • have older students set up WeSpeke accounts to find chat partners in other countries
  • find or invent hashtags for Instagram or Twitter or Vine to practice conversation with other students (some favorites are #InstagramELE and #spanstuchat)
  • have students share product or movie reviews in the target language for sites like Amazon or IMDB
  • give credit for students’ downloaded Snapchat stories recorded in the target language
  • use WeVideo or iMovie to create professional level presentations on important local issues

Sí se puede

Constant feedback is really the only way to make language learning feel doable. Paired with a consistent focus on realistic expectations for growth, it’s what keeps the kiddos pushing for more. If they know where they’re headed, how to get there, and that they have everything they need for the journey, they will follow you pretty much anywhere.

We decide and dish out the vocabulary, the language structures, the comprehensible input that leads to genuine communication. We must also let them know if the tools they’re using are working like they’re supposed to–they don’t know what communication looks like in the target language without us. We must be prepared to help them adjust if something is not working.

That’s why constant feedback is so crucial.

There are so many tools in this day and age that make regular, targeted feedback not only possible but also quick and easy.

Here’s how I use a few of my favorites to keep kids feeling prepared and aware:

Nearpod for frequent, immediate feedback. I post a question in the target language, and everyone responds. I remind them of AAPPL rubric (ACTFL Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages) performance levels before they post: “What you practice is what you’ll produce when it matters.” They write their responses, and I break down problem areas then and there, give them their estimated levels. They’re getting reinforcement on the expectations, and I’m observing problem patterns.

VoiceThread for targeted, precise feedback. My students have VoiceThreads for each communication skill: reading, listening, speaking, and writing. These are essentially their e-portfolios. They submit three samples for each skill every six weeks, and I can make quick comments–sometimes written, sometimes recorded–directly onto their samples to help where I see issues with spelling, grammar, pronunciation, or interpretive accuracy. And they can respond by updating with their own comments the next time around! Closing the feedback loop is key here, though–make sure they respond to your comments in whatever language makes understanding clearest!

ForAllRubrics for general progress overviews. I’ve created a stash of rubrics on ForAllRubrics (if you make a ForAllRubrics account, you can find them in the Library under the @SraSpanglish tab) based on the ACTFL Can-Do Statements. I use these to evaluate their VoiceThreads, marking each Can-Do as either emerging, present, or consistent and give them a percentage score that shows how close they are to demonstrating proficiency in that skill. Once they’re 100% consistent, they get a little digital badge they can copy to their e-portfolios to show how brilliant they are, and then move up to the next level! This means each individual student is working at a level that fits them.

Google Classroom for…everything. I make suggestions and comments for revision on Google Docs assigned through Google Classroom. I send private comment suggestions from AAPPL rubrics after an assessment to help them move up to the next level. I check all the names under “Not Done” for the day’s assignment and shoot out a quick form email offering my services if there is a problem (CC’ed to the now super-informed parental units). They know where they stand and what they’ve gotta do to get moving.

I don’t know about you, but I remember when assuming my students had a home phone was a no-no. Now 80% of my students could stream Mexican telenovelas from their phones at a moment’s notice. They can find a real live Venezuelan and ask them about their school day in seconds. And as soon as I’m done grading, they get an email or text with the results (which, granted, does make those 2AM grading sessions a bit riskier than before).

Teaching world languages used to be removed from the world: removed from real communication, removed from the real Reason for learning a language.

With today’s tools, we can connect language learners directly to any audience in the world and a steady stream of support.

The world language classroom is the world now.

[Ed. Note- Since this is a post about teaching a second language Laura graciously translated the entire thing into Spanish. To read it like that, please click here.]


SextonLaura is a project-based, passion-driven language educator and has been a Spanglish teacher for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @SraSpanglish or PBLintheTL.com

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Meriwynn Mansori April 7, 2016, 6:45 am

    Laura, what helpful and relevant thoughts and suggestions! I totally agree that access to countless resources from all around the globe are a huge gift to language teachers and especially learners. Let’s keep spreading the word.

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