Just what we needed

5 min read

I don't often write about anything that goes on in my classroom, not because it isn't good, but because it isn't Pinterest- (or other social media-)worthy. You see, I don't FlipGrid, Gimkit, Kahoot or Blooklet. I don't Canvas or Boom, and only on the rare occasion do I even YouTube or Google slides. When I see social media posts about all of the techie stuff that teachers are doing with their students, I break out into a sweat. So, there is no TOY (teacher of the year) stuff going on in my classes where I marry all things 21st century with language that originated so many years before.

What I do focus on always - the people.

My students are college-level, ranging in age from late teens to early forties. Some come knowing language from wonderful feeder high schools, and others haven't taken Spanish in almost twenty years. Add to that, like for so many of us, a good percentage of my students' education has been affected by the pandemic. What skills might have been easier to evaluate three years ago are simply not there at present, and that is okay. Let me explain.

After evaluating the first formal writing assessment, I determined that students were either not well-versed in the skills of writing, or were having trouble transferring those skills to Spanish. By and large, their ideas were expressed in one long chunk of sentences organized by...well, they were not organized at all. AND, that essay was a simple personal narrative. 😳

Good grief, I thought. I need to intervene.

So I did.

Their second writing assessment was to be on the politics of Venezuela and how it relates to the book, La vida es complicada, which we're reading as a class. For weeks we had been discussing Venezuela with the help infographics, short videos and conversations via the internet with a college-aged venezolano (shout out to Eugenio who is part of the production team who creates the audiobooks of my stories). So, with all of the preparation, it was time for the rubber to meet the road. For them to put up or shut up. Test their mettle. (Terms used for dramatic effect. My class is a good time! 😂)

First, we wrote down all of the general ideas that we COULD mention in the essay. I'd like to say I did this on some fancy app, but since I have no tech chops or ganas to use it, I wrote them on the whiteboard (mercifully, I don't even have to contend with a smartboard in my classroom). Then, students worked in groups to create an outline of their choosing AFTER creating a topic sentence of sorts. Is this the way language arts teachers do it? I have no idea. Does it make enough sense so that I can explain it to my students en español? Yep.

By the end of the outline creation, students knew that this assignment would be an in-class group effort. I sweetened the pot by offering extra points for writing their own rough draft (without dictionaries and as a HW assignment) that they could use the following class period. Oh sure, in my classes there is a lot of points-tossing like the beads in a Mardi Gras parade, but I don't care. It's all geared toward DOING, as the simply act of DOING will be better than doing nothing.

The week of the essay I was filled with anxiety: lots of personal deadlines, a global pandemic, geopolitical malarkey, not enough sleep or exercise - you know, life in 2022. That particular class period I actually took my own advice - advice that I had given to teachers in a webinar just the evening prior. I pulled an Elsa and just "let it go." I didn't even have a specific lesson plan in mind beyond the group essay. Turns out I didn't need to have one. I gave the students the assignment, turned on the instrumental Latin jazz station on Spotify and watched the magic happen.

And it was magical, too. For the entire hour and forty-five minute class, students worked together on the essay. I heard discussions about "what [they] can say" and "what word is better here." Students laughed and shared ideas, they helped each other, and even related on a human level. They asked questions of each other and of me, all while the music played in the background. It was lovely, so much so I couldn't help but saying that more than once. It was the most relaxed I'd felt all week. And it was true. I can't wait to do it again.

The essays? They were good, too. Better than the first time 'round. Maybe that had to do with the organization, but I'm sure it had a whole lot more to do with the feelings - theirs and mine - about the process.

Takeaways from my not-so-21st century lesson: create "less is more" plans (busier -and more complex- is not always better), provide the necessary tools for the students to complete the task, and then let them do their thing. Oh, and turn on the music. 🎵

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