Wednesday, September 26, 2012

21st century skills... without technology

So, I'm lucky in that students in one class have iPads (which I will distribute to them on October 1), but what happens in my other classes that don't have iPads? Most of them--but significantly, not all of them--have smartphones, but since students don't have access to the school wifi, our work with smartphones is limited. What's a tech-geeky teacher to do?

Though technology literacy is one of the pillars of 21st century skills, you don't need to use it all the time in order to infuse instruction with creativity, collaboration or any of the other skills identified as exemplifying the 21st century here, here or here (to name just a few). This year, I decided that I wanted to get to know my students a bit more and get classroom routines down before I introduced mobile device use. Here are a couple of things my students did without technology that still develop 21st century skills.

Tech-free Twitter
I am a huge fan of Twiccionario by Zachary Jones (@zjonesspanish). These are real tweets by native Spanish speakers grouped by hashtag categories and compiled in cool-looking worksheets. The Back to School Twiccionario is great to use with intermediate and advanced users. I used it in both my AP Spanish 6 and Spanish 4 classes in the first week of school. In AP, students read one of the two tweet collections, identified the emotion the tweeter was expressing and indicated agreement or disagreement with that sentiment. Then they worked in groups to find their favorite tweet, determine whether the language used was formal or informal, and identified "markers" of informal language like abbreviations, misspellings, emoticons and slang. In Spanish 4, students read a modified version of the sheet with 8 of the easier tweets, drew a face to indicate the emotion of the tweeter, and wrote "sí" or "no" if they agreed with the tweet. They also worked in groups to choose their favorite tweet. Partners were also helpful in figuring out new terms (like "ja ja ja"--they love that). In all classes, students wrote their own paper-and-pencil "tweets" about back to school ("el regreso/la vuelta a clase") in 20 words or fewer. Finally, they posted them to the bulletin board, where I had pinned up the "Volver" movie poster and added "... a clase" to make the connection of "returning to school." Here's what our class Twitter feed looks like:

All students interpreted authentic language, produced a brief summary of their thoughts in Spanish and contributed to the classroom environment in the first few days of school. This activity, to varying degrees, allowed students to communicate, collaborate, demonstrate minor problem solving skills and some creativity while integrating authentic media.

Instead of a Vocab Quiz
In Spanish 4, it's all about Spain. This usually means that September is eaten up by dry material like Spanish political and topographical geography and climate. I don't usually enjoy it and the kids don't either. I spend all this time finding authentic weather reports and creating visually stimulating Power Points to introduce and reinforce vocabulary that the students might memorize for a vocab quiz and then never use again. So this year I did NOT give a vocab quiz. Instead, for a quiz grade, students worked with a partner to create a poster advertising a certain area of Spain--its climate and topography and the fun things you could do there--complete with a slogan and drawings or images from magazines or the Internet, which they could find outside of class. Now, I have been anti-poster for years--when, in life outside of school, does one ever need to make a poster with markers, crayons and glue?--but I've decided I don't want to die on that hill. It's an easy way to tap into students' artistic and kinesthetic intelligences, and (bonus!) get student-made materials posted for Open House. And I am so glad that we did posters instead of a Glog or whatever, and certainly instead of a quiz, because they worked together to create some really innovative publicity campaigns:

"Climb to the top, show us what you've got." 

Those waves breaking? That's tissue paper.

"One place, two climates, three activities, four seasons... a lot of fun!"

This activity took longer than a vocab quiz--we dedicated about an hour over three class periods to the planning and making of the posters--but I think the students were much more engaged than they would have been if they had just been preparing for a regular quiz. They also mulled over deeper questions that I was not expecting to arise. For example, a slogan that works in English doesn't usually work in Spanish. Why not? Some groups tackled this and other translation-related problems with gusto, while others who maybe weren't ready to do so did not. Another self-differentiating aspect of this activity was the fact that the students had choices in the types of climates and activities they advertised, so ski bums learned a lot of ski vocabulary while sun worshippers immersed themselves in water and beach words. When the students finished, they did a "gallery walk" and voted for the posters they thought were Most Artistic, had the Best Slogan or were the Most Persuasive (a nice review of comparatives!) and the winners won stickers from me. We followed up with a recorded conversation in the language lab in which they chose a partner that they didn't work with on the poster, found out that person's preferences for climate and activities, and then recommended or did not recommend that they visit the area of Spain that they had advertised in their poster. This week of activities allowed them to develop communicative, collaborative and problem-solving skills along with creativity and media literacy. Time will tell, but I think the vocab is much more likely to stick with them after this series of activities and assessments, and they have been asking more questions about Spain and Spanish than students in previous years have.

How do you integrate 21st century skills in a 20th century classroom?

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