Tech tools like Drive, Quizlet, Socrative and Vista Higher Learning’s VHL Central have made my job as a Spanish teacher easier. Through news outlets like Univision, RTVE, my students and I have access to authentic resources and voices from around the Spanish-speaking. We have many tools to drill and practice in the language. We have multiple platforms to communicate and collaborate on ideas. As these tools become more embedded in what we do, I find myself asking important questions about our use of the tools and our work together. How do these tools present good examples of discourse and dialogue? How do these tools distract or detract from face-to-face conversations? Where and when are connections happening, whether real or virtual? What habits are we creating around critical thinking, curation and organization?
Over the past few years these questions have come up in certain units and in certain circles. I have found that they come up more and more, as they well should in today’s classrooms. With that in mind, I am going into this year with a stated communication plan. My hope is that these principles become a guide or larger conversations among teacher and students, not a “Gotcha!” set of strict rules.
This year we will have more modes of communication than ever before. We are adding Gmail and Schoology to an already nested network of real and virtual communication. This means we will have opportunities to connect, correct, clarify and collaborate. This also means that we will need to both patient and persistent as we establish good habits. Each of us will establish patterns of communication that fit the task at hand. This will happen in class and across the community. Nevertheless, there are some general guidelines that we can establish now.
1) Whenever possible, use Spanish. This is and has always been the fundamental communication policy in class, from level 1-6. Using vocabulary, gesture, phrases and, later, periphrasis help students increase control, comprehension and confidence.
2) Be aware of how your tone fits the audience and the occasion. “Yo” is both a first person subject pronoun and an app that I don’t fully understand. It is not a way to begin any form of discourse I want to be part of.
3) Be aware of the power of your role as public. Who are you as a reader? What is your role? How can you support your peers while using different tools to grow your own understanding?
4) Debate, disagreement and discourse are welcome. Just make sure it it respectful. This is both a synthesis of 1-3 and a statement on what I want in my classroom environments.
5) Be mindful of the clock. Just because you start your Spanish work late does not mean that others–or I–will be available. I like the asynchronous nature of comments and clarifications, however, I am no good after a certain hour. Planning your schedule and connecting to your learning network are essential skills.
6) Know where to find what you need and how to share it out if appropriate: Schoology, Gmail, Drive, public computers, personal devices, etc. There are two sides here, one simpler than the other. On one side, we have the 21st century versions of “The dog ate my homework.” These would be “I left it on the printer” and “It’s on my computer at home.” Now that we are fully up on GAFE, there is no reason to lose anything and very little reason to print. Most of what we do will stay in Drive. On the other side, we see a more valuable set of questions. What is the best tool for what you need to do? How can you create and share in Spanish? With whom are you sharing this assignment? What are the expectation for proper use of public machines? How can you use what you have in your pocket to improve your Spanish?
7) Remember that a face-to-face conversation is always preferable to a message: this builds trust and eliminates many sources of confusion. This simply needs to stated. I think students need to hear their from all adults in a school community.