Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Social Classroom-An Interview with the guys over at The Tightwad Tech

Mark and Shawn over at The Tightwad Tech interviewed me for the podcast on using Social networking tools in the classroom. Check it out here:

I'd love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below. :) Thanks!

Monday, October 18, 2010

The (Mis/Over)Use of Technology in my Classroom

The number one most important thing you need to know about the way I view teaching is that I value student feedback. Students know what they need and want and that must be considered when lesson planning. Recently, I asked students to complete an anonymous survey to give me some feedback on how my classes are going this semester. I got the following wonderful comment from one of my students:

"The only thing I'm not sure how I feel about is how technological the class is. It's nice to be more modern but when your computer decides to not work for a night you're screwed. And it's difficult to remember to turn something in online that you already turned in in class. Which reminds me I need to go do that..."

At first when a teacher hears this kind of comment, I think our natural reaction is to think that the student is just being lazy or disorganized but when I start really thinking about this statement, I know I've been hearing it since the beginning of the semester. As you might imagine, if you know me at all, this is a complaint I get every semester and I have a tendency to let it in one ear and out the other because I do believe that incorporating technology is important and even though I teach Spanish, I also teach life skills to some extent.

However, I'm also a student and I've been using a lot of technology for presentations and work. My colleagues are always very impressed but it really makes me reflect on how much tech is involved in my classes. Just because I find using a website or blog instead of a PowerPoint easier, doesn't mean that it is true for everyone. This student comment really has me reflecting on the fact that I have two, quite large, major assignments this semester that are portfolio-style projects and they are both online besides the online workbook and other random online exercises. It occurs to me now, and it probably should have occurred to me earlier, this is too much!

To take a step back, I'm going to offer my students the option of completing one of the two projects on paper, if they consider it a simpler option. I'm also going to create a grade sheet to outline everything they have due so they can check each off as complete. (Thanks to Dr. Bonham for the inspiration on that one!) I hope that will help resolve my students' issues and help them focus on the subject matter and less on the technology.

The important lesson here is that is vital to listen to our students, take criticism well, and be prepared to modify lesson plans when it makes good sense to do so.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Online Learning


The primary issue in this paper is becoming aware of how moving courses online or using other technologies to hybridize courses, with a focus at the community college-level, can affect culturally responsive pedagogy. This topic was especially interesting to me because in addition for my own love of technology, my husband just finished a thesis on teaching composition online and how we must examine the ways technology is influencing our pedagogies so that we are still sticking to teaching the way we believe we should.

Smith and Ayers focus on ways that nonwestern learners may be inhibited by the use of technology in community college classes. By pointing out some fundamental dimensions of nonwestern versus western world views (see Table 1) and cognitive styles (see Table 2), we start to see how coming from background that emphasizes community over the individual can impact the way a learner approaches online learning.

They encourage remembering the following constructivist learning theory principles:

  1. Learning is contextualized in action and played out in everyday situations.
  2. True knowledge is acquired through active participation.
  3. Learning is a process of social action and engagement rooted in distinctive ways of thinking, acting, and communicating.
  4. Learning can be assisted by experts and solidified through apprenticeship.
  5. Learning is an important means of participating in a social environment.

Mostly, they propose being varied in activities and methods to be as fair as possible to all types of learners. I think it’s really important to remember that if you are designing online or hybrid classes, that not only has your classroom “location” changed, but so has the “environment.” It’s important to be aware of your own teaching philosophy and be sure you are really handling this new environment appropriately.

Smith, D., & Ayers, D. (2006). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy and Online Learning: Implications for the Globalized Community College. Community College Journal of Research & Practice, 30(5/6), 401-415. doi:10.1080/10668920500442125.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Looking Out Her Window: A reflection on Esperanza’s worldview

Sandra Cisnero’s book The House on Mango Street is a novel that is best described as poetry in prose. Each chapter, described as vignettes, or “short, impressionistic scenes,” contains a snapshot of the life of Esperanza, a young girl coming-of-age in a Chicano barrio in Chicago. The basic plot of the book is that Esperanza’s family has just moved to a house on Mango Street that they bought. It is the first house they have lived in that they did not rent, but it is not necessarily the house they always dreamed of. As Esperanza grows up, she learns lots of life lessons that could not have been learned anywhere else and gives us a unique perspective on life in this barrio. Each little vignette, while not always connected to the one before or after, gives a little picture of her life and some value or insight she learned.

I chose this book because I teach Spanish but am a nonnative speaker with limited exposure to Hispanic culture. This book gave me an intimate insight into this culture of Hispanics living in the US. I was moved by, and unfortunately could identify with, one passage titled, “Those Who Don’t.” Here is a short excerpt:

Those who don’t know any better come into our neighborhood scared. They think we’re dangerous. The think we will attack them with shiny knives. They are stupid people who are lost and got here by mistake…All brown all around, we are safe. But watch us drive into a neighborhood of another color and our knees go shakity-shake and our car windows get rolled up tight and our eyes look straight. Yeah. That is how it goes and goes.

There is a lot written by and about Hispanic culture that explores this idea of “otherness” and how it affects the way we perceive each other. It is a bit chilling to see this through the eyes of a young girl and realize we are all being very silly and ignorant.

One of my favorite vignettes is called “A Smart Cookie” and is one in which Esperanza tells about her mom reminiscing that she “could’ve been somebody” but didn’t because she didn’t have nice clothes. This really reflects some of the cultural norms that some of us overlook. I come from a low socioeconomic background and my clothes were mostly secondhand growing up. I can remember being picked on school for not having name-brand clothing but I don’t think I would have ever thought of it as an impediment of that magnitude. I think that the culture norm engrained in me of not caring what others think, kept this from affecting me the way it did Esperanza’s mom.

My absolute favorite is the chapter called “My Name,” probably because it focuses on the way the language barrier effects how Esperanza thinks about herself and it is the language and the sounds it makes that most interests me. The majority of this passage is also quoted at the very beginning of the book.

In English my name means hope. In Spanish it means too many letters…At school they say my name funny as if the syllables were made out of tin and hurt the roof of your mouth. But in Spanish is made out of softer something…But I am always Esperanza.

She identifies as just herself even though she recognizes that she isn’t seen the same way by different people.

There are so many cultural experiences that are totally foreign to me in this book, like visiting a fortune teller and playing Double Dutch, but there are some that ring very true as well, like reflections on being smart instead of pretty and the sometimes fickle nature of friendship. This book has helped me see that no matter how different we are, we all have something in common and we all have something to teach each other. Although she is a fictional character, by the end of the book I feel like I’ve made a new friend in little Esperanza and I’m glad to have gotten to see out her little window on the world.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to catch a new perspective on the world. Whether your interest is Hispanic culture in particular or not, the book is a wonderful insight on our neighbors here in the US. This would be a great text to use in the classroom in a variety of ways. The short length of each vignette makes it perfect for any assignment. You could have students read the entire book, which is only about 110 pages or only one or two short passages. The level of depth and research on any one piece could be adjusted based on your learners and the time you have. Another interesting aspect to this text is the multiple ways to approach it. It could be approached from most any discipline. There is the “coming-of-age” piece that might be relevant to young high school students. It could be used for reading comprehension or literature analysis. As I mentioned above, it takes a very insider look on the idea of “otherness” that could be explored from a literary, political, cultural, or historical perspective. There is so much depth in this little novel. I imagine it could be useful to most teachers in some way, even if it is only as a personal reading to expand your own perspective on a culture that, in all likelihood, some of your own students share. Take a look out of Esperanza’s window too and you will not be disappointed at the richness you find there.

Given as presentation for a course:

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Motivating Students with Authentic Assessments

Yesterday I was at a meeting for the eLinguaFolio pilot and I had the privilege of hearing Betsy Burton, from Caldwell County Schools, speak about Using LinguaFolio to Motivate Students.

It was really inspiring to listen to Ms. Burton talk about the way she approaches her ESL class and I wanted to share a few of her thoughts. She encouraged us to value what our students don't know and to show them that what they don't know is just an opportunity to grow. She said that when students come in and say "No hablo ingl├ęs," she responds with "Oh, that's fantastic! There's so much for you to learn then!" This really impressed upon me a different way of looking at learning that is so well exemplified in the LinguaFolio project. The "I can" statements are followed by the choices, "I can do this" or "This is one of my goals" but to really think of goals as opportunities for learning is a wonderful perspective.

This is the way I like to approach implementing authentic assessments in my classroom. At FLANC on Friday, I gave a presentation called Getting At What They Really Know: Simple ways to create authentic assessments and keep students motivated. I really believe that the key to keeping students motivated is letting them make some choices and set some learning goals. Human beings want to learn--it's why we're alive. The trick is to get students to see and reflect on what they want to learn.

For example, I have my students write a paragraph about our unit topics. While students are constructing these paragraphs they are using the structures and vocabulary of the chapter (what I want them to learn) and they are asking me, "How do I say..." (what they want to learn). These authentic assessments allow me to structure what I teach to focus on who I teach and keep them interested in what we're doing and motivated to learn.

Check out my FLANC presentation website and my site It Just Keeps Getting Better, which highlights my research as I develop my thesis, to continue exploring the topic of authentic assessment and student motivation. I'd love to hear what you think! Please leave your questions and thought in the comment section below. Thanks!