I teach high school Spanish in a school of approximately 1,300 students. Our building is modern, and the neighborhood is suburban and relatively affluent. My students are white, with notable minorities of Chaldean and Jewish students. Classes typically have between 30 and 36 students, though the classroom itself was designed for 30.
My classroom has a few technological offerings. I have my own laptop computer provided by the school, plus a projector and a Smart Board beginning this upcoming fall. I also have one older-model iPad that runs slowly. While my students do not have their own computers, nearly all students have an Internet-connected mobile device. These are useful but also problematic, as students are often distracted by text messages from friends, SnapChat, games and other apps. I also have access to a computer lab with reasonably up-to-date computers. However, it is often a challenge to have students use the computer lab in a timely manner, since a trip there requires travel time, time to boot up and log into the computers, and extra time at the end of class to close everything down. Often it is easier to find ways to perform activities without technology at all than to integrate, and so a small technological addition – video cameras available to use in the classroom – would make a meaningful impact.
With this project, I foresee my students accomplishing several content goals. Spanish language content goals include having students communicate in Spanish in a variety of modes. A video project as proposed supports several of these modes: presentational speaking (the video), presentational writing (any text that accompanies the video), interpretive listening (listening to others’ videos) and interpersonal writing (writing and responding to comments). Some of these forms of communication are challenging to meet in a traditional paper-and-pencil classroom. For example, interpersonal writing tends to be difficult to monitor and design in an authentic way, and presentational speaking tends to take up a lot of class time, and instead of interacting with the speaker in Spanish, student audiences are much more prone to disengage or use English to respond to their classmates. This video project proposal would increase the quality of both of these modes.
An additional content objective is that of authentic communication – students are presenting their own ideas in the language, and not merely reading or memorizing a script. Another is a goal of online Spanish communication, which includes learning and adapting language to an online context rather than the more formal writing that typically occurs in a classroom. This can be difficult in a classroom because it is an artificial environment. Connecting students to a true audience opens the door for more authentic communication.
A final content objective is that of connecting to other Spanish speakers outside of the classroom. This is one of the most challenging objectives to meet, since it often requires a personal connection of the teacher to a Spanish-language person or community and significant coordination to integrate that connection into the classroom. A project that is published online is in fact an ideal opportunity to introduce students to the much more accessible online Spanish community.
I envision having my students using small, portable video recorders to record themselves speaking on assigned topics in Spanish, and then posting the videos to a website or blog. In addition to supporting the content challenges described in the section above, having video recorders available in the classroom resolves several technological and management challenges. For example, while I could have students record using their mobile devices, this causes complications because not every student will have access to a device, capabilities may vary across devices, and troubleshooting is more challenging when everyone is trying to do it differently. Acquiring a class set of pocket video camcorders that I can keep in my classroom will enable students to prepare and record their videos within the same class period. A second class day for students to work in our computer lab to edit their videos and publish them online. Outsourcing some of the computer needs helps us to make the most effective use of time in the computer lab, which we must share with other teachers, and minimize the need to travel from lab to classroom and back again. Having students work on projects that are stored online also allows them to access their work form home if they need to finish outside of class, to interact and respond to one another wherever they have Internet access, and to share their work with friends and others outside of our classroom.
This project will engage my students in a number of ways that are supported by cognitive and learning research. One way is the creative factor that is an essential feature of the project. When students become creators of content, they step away from passivity and become agents in their own learning. This project is creative in another sense of the word as well – a video is a canvas onto which students can apply their own sense of humor, interest, personality and taste. This helps students to take ownership and pride in their work, resulting in a much higher quality of learning.
I also see this type of activity being highly motivational for my students. Many of them lack experience using Spanish in the real world, and they believe that it does not have a true purpose in their day-to-day lives. Enabling them to connect to the outside world using Spanish will help them to see how it can enhance their ability to interact with other, real-life people. Additionally, it provides the opportunity for students to be creative and expressive, since they will be producing original content in a way that reflects their own ideas and personality, and then sharing it with others. This community aspect will hold them accountable for producing higher-quality work aside from the wish to earn a good grade.
The SAMR Model
When implementing technology into the classroom, it is important to consider if its use is merely a gimmick for attention, or if it is in fact supporting and extending student learning. A model to help consider this feature is the SAMR model, which stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition. As educators integrate technology, their goal is to use it to achieve objectives that were previously unattainable without the technology.
Using video camcorders is a strong use of technology because in some ways it augments what we can do in the classroom, and in other ways helps students to accomplish tasks that were previously inaccessible to them. In this project, student learning will be augmented by technology is the presentational speaking function of the project. While students can present in front of the class, such presentations frequently take up significant class time and is a prime opportunity for the non-presenting students to disengage altogether. Using the video/blog format, students will access all modes of communication and will remain engaged with their own content and with the content produced by others throughout the entire project, interacting with one another and with the wider world in ways that were simply impossible without the technological aspect.
The primary way that technology redefines the task, that is, accomplishes something that was previously impossible, is that of connectivity to the Spanish-speaking community. Students in a classroom in southeast Michigan almost by definition have limited access to the wider Spanish-speaking world. While a language teacher can have students speak to one another in class, such communication tends to be limited, scripted, and inauthentic. Video recordings expand students’ reach to their classmates, to their peers online, and further beyond into to the digital Spanish speaking community.