Dipping My Toes in the Water of Project Based Learning

During the TeachThought 30 day blogging challenge, one of the prompts asked us what learning trend we were most interested in. Writing and thinking about that post got me thinking more about Project Based Learning. It sounds neat. Letting the kids learn my subject the way they learn the things they really care about – at their own pace, out of their own perceived need. I was a little curious how that would look in a language class, but why not? After all, we already learn new words (in any language) every day as we need them. And a language class isn’t just about learning words, is it? No, of course not!

So I looked at my yearly plan for Spanish 3. We’re dealing with the past tenses in depth this year. I was just starting a unit in which we focused heavily on our own memories and relating things that have happened to us, as well as pushing to include more detail in our descriptions. And what to do next? Well, it turned out that a 3 week mini-unit would fit perfectly!

Today, I started class by asking my students how a person could change the world. This was a tough, higher-level question for my Novice High/Intermediate Low Spanish 3 students. They had thoughts, but trying to express them really pushed them out of their proficiency comfort zone. They asked to speak English, but I persevered, and after some re-wording (and simplification) of questions, we had a bit of a discussion.

Next, I showed a very quick Prezi that I threw together this morning to introduce them to a few important names and faces. We talked a little about some of them; they recognized a few of them (Selena, of course).

Then I gave each student a name. Yesterday (during a teacher inservice day), in collaboration with a couple of English teachers and a history teacher, I generated a list of influential and important Hispanic and Spanish people. They ranged from Poncho Villa to Che Guevara to Dalí to Rita Moreno to Pablo Escobar and more. Along with one of the English teachers, I tried to match each student with a person that I thought they would find interesting. For my baseball-crazed, Pittsburgh Pirates fan, Roberto Clemente was an obvious choice, but they weren’t all that easy.

Some of the kids recognized their names (Dalí, Picasso), but most had no idea. We had a quick chat about what we were going to be doing for the next three weeks, and how I would give a final grade for this unit, since we wouldn’t have a “test” like we had taken on Friday. My Summative Assessment for this unit is an essay and a presentation on their assigned person.

That was about as long as I could hold their attention. Of course, all the kids who didn’t recognize their names were dying to figure out who they had, so I released them to the iPads for the last 5 minutes to do some initial research. They also had lots of questions during this time as well. We discussed why it’s better to write the essay (and the presentation) in Spanish, rather than writing in English and then translating. On a related note, we talked about why, if I were in their shoes, I would prefer to use resources in Spanish because it’s easier to read and then reword all in Spanish without having to worry about translating and then putting it in my own words without plagiarizing and still having it make sense.

So that was today, here’s what I’m thinking for the next three weeks:

  • Lots of time in class for research. I told them that I would prefer that they utilize resources in Spanish, but if they’re doing the research in class I can gauge how much they’re actually doing that. I do want them to be exposed to lots of authentic language during this process, and the research is by far the biggest opportunity.
  • A mini-lesson every day on a different person of influence. Someone from the list I made, but who is not assigned to a student. This will guarantee that they’re getting some Spanish input from me, and will hopefully broaden their horizons. I want them to learn a lot about their person, but I also want them to have some idea about other influential Hispanics and Spaniards.
  • Maybe I’ll make a note-taking guide? Something to help give them direction while they’re doing their research, and keep them thinking about that “changing the world” theme. I want their presentations to be more than just a summary of the person’s life, so perhaps some guiding questions will help get their own brains working and forming opinions, comparisons, and the like.

That’s where I am now. I’ll let you know how it goes! Any advice for me as I embark on this new adventure?

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