Sunday, February 21, 2016

ACTFUL, Connected Learning, and the 4C's

The ACTFUL Position Statement
     As I read the position statement from ACTFUL, I was pleased to see that it fit right in line with my hopes and beliefs about the World Language Classroom.  There was nothing with which I could disagree.   I sense that the majority of instructors also very much appreciate this understanding of technology in relation to the acquisition of a new language.
     I had the unfortunate experience of watching the Middle School exploratory program in my district dissolve.   I had poured my passion and experience for sharing the beginning excitement of learning a new language into this program for 18 years.  When the French teacher retired, the district decided to replace her with a Level 1 OddesyWare package and a teaching assistant to monitor the classroom.  As can be imagined, it was a real disaster!  The students were confused and frustrated, the assistant was at wits end because there was no ability to connect with or help the students, the principal in charge of grading was overwhelmed since none of the students understood the curriculum and parent phone calls kept pouring in.  Needless to say, after 1 year of this, they totally cancelled the French/German/Spanish classes.  In their place they started a Skills for Digital Aged Learners class.  I was very disappointed to lose the language program, but I was privileged to be part of the new curriculum for a year.  I learned so much, and with the collaboration of our team of teachers and assistants, had the opportunity to introduce the 4C's to the  students through PBL projects connected to the core subjects.  It was an experience that truly enriched my understanding and teaching skills!
     Now, I am back in a Spanish classroom at the High School.  I have started to put both sets of skills and passion for facilitating positive learning experiences together in this new setting.  That is why I was so pleased to be able to enroll in this course.  This story leads to my choice of a key sentence in the Position Statement: ALL ACTIVITIES SHOULD BE INTERACTIVE, MEANINGFUL, AND COGNITIVELY ENGAGING.  Without a qualified instructor to facilitate, lead, and encourage the students, no real learning takes place!   In fact, the atmosphere is destructive and may result in a worthwhile program being discontinued, to the detriment of students who would benefit from it.  
     A language classroom is first and foremost about communication.  Technology can be a marvelous tool to increase that communication and also add the other 21st century skills.  It needs to be quality technology managed by a competent instructor if it is to enhance the critical learning of the students.
     The only point that I feel may be missing from the Position Statement is that there needs to be time, connection, and support for the language instructor to build a set of technology tools and work with them so that the students receive the most benefit from their use.  That is what I would say is my goal for technology in my classroom.  I need time to explore technology tools that will work for my students and for me.  I need time to learn how they are best utilized and how their contribution to my classroom will make my students'  learning experience Interactive, Meaningful, and Cognitively Engaging.

Connected Learning
Connected Learning not only acknowledges, but celebrates the chance for students to learn in as many ways as possible.  It encourages links to not only teachers, but other students, academic experts,  and people and experiences around their community and around the globe.  With the proper technology tools in place, this opens unlimited opportunities that some students may have only dreamed of before.  It allows students to become equals on the academic stage and encourages them to make their dreams of success in their area of passion come true.
     I recently read a profound statement that spoke of education in a whole new light. "We should not ask our kids what they want TO BE when they grow up.  Instead, we should ask them what problem in the world do they want TO SOLVE."  This simple sentence sums up the idea of Connected learning for me.  The students will be focused and excited about using their special and unique talents, in collaboration with others to make a real world difference!   There can be no better learning than that!
     Because I was able to interact with students in a PBL format last year, I have come to truly appreciate how it changes the vision of the students from doing a teacher-led task, to really exploring their own interests through the use of the subject matter. I do a semester-long PBL project in both Spanish 1 and 2.  My second year students pick a Spanish-speaking country of their choice.  They start from the beginning of a "virtual trip" and explore the many attractions, events, and festivals the country has to offer to its tourists.  They find appropriate flights, hotels, transportation, and restaurants, in addition to native foods to pass-times to enjoy on their voyage.  They then put together a digital presentation of their trip, using simple Spanish, to share with the class.  The students have impressed me with their attention to detail about their journey and their creative talents in displaying their trip to the class.  Almost every one of them says, "I can't wait until I can actually take this trip for real!"  It is my hope that this "learning experience" ignites the passion for learning and for sharing the amazing talents they have to offer. 
     I hope to add to this project in the future.  I would like to have the students learn about daily life in their chosen country and possibly "virtually visit" a school.  I would hope to be able to use technology to set up meetings with students in that country to get a first-hand view of life as a young person in their culture.  I would also like to find a larger audience than just the class to view the projects and support the learners' effort.

21st century skills
    The 4 C's that will allow our students to become avid life-long learners and successful contributors to our world are Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.  
The jobs and careers that our current students will need to be prepared for in the future are often not even thought of today.  We can't send our young adults out into the world with a finite set of knowledge and skills that will be obsolete before they even settle in behind their new desk.  We need to provide our learners with a set of skills that encourage them to keep learning, developing, and growing to meet the needs of the future.  Because both the work and the workplace are being redefined, our students need to be good critical thinkers,  They need to be be flexible and ready to evaluate and synthesize information to solve problems with their teammates.  Knowing how to collaborate with others, looking to maximize each person's strengths for the greater good, will be essential to a successful career.  The need to communicate positively and effectively with others, both like ourselves and different from ourselves, will also be a requirement.  Their world is truly a global one and sharing ideas and needs in a productive way is required to create a positive environment where great minds can flourish.  And finally, creativity will be what really allows us to be the problem-solvers that can make a difference in our community, country and world.
     I try to incorporate the use of all these skills when my students work on projects.  My Spanish 1 classes research a famous Hispanic person of their choice.  They think critically about what information needs to be shared and the best way to research that information.  They collaborate with a partner to choose appropriate facts and to decide how to share them. They communicate their findings through a creative presentation to catch the interest of their peers.  
     I find this project time consuming and students still need direction on how to research and how to be creative in the presentations.  But it is well worth the efforts because they truly "own" the final project and learn so much more by working through the problems on their own with minimal direction from the instructor.  I do my best not to give them answers, but to lead them to think critically about their own process of discovery.

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