Implementation of Exploration Learning

A Three-Sided Reflection: What does it mean to be a Spanish teacher?

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A mural in Victoria, Chile

The Philosopher

Who am I? Well, I’m a human being. I’m a man, a son, a brother, and a husband. I’m a friend and a colleague. I’m a Christian. I’m an adventurer. I’m a gringo who speaks Spanish fluently. I’m also a teacher, a mentor.

My role as an educator is constant, but what it means to me, and the way I choose to act in my role, is ever-changing. I’m constantly searching, learning, exploring, applying, adapting, and refocusing. If you ask any of my colleagues they’ll casually respond that I teach Spanish. I see it differently. I teach what I love, and one of those many things just happens to be Spanish.

I’m a lifelong learner and that happens to suit me wonderfully as a teacher. The questions that I have about who I am and what I do keep pushing me forward. The hunger I have to learn more about the area I teach keeps me growing. The combination of my own passions (travel, language, culture, growth) is what brought me to where I am today.

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Exploring in Reykjavik, Iceland

Richardson’s article hit very close to home for me. “The most important thing we can impart to our kids is a love of learning and the skills to learn well.” I couldn’t agree more. Our job is not lecturer or manager or babysitter. Our job is to light a fire for learning within our students, regardless of the topic, so when they leave school they are better prepared for the world we live in. I truly believe that part of my job is to learn alongside the students that I teach, and Richardson clearly believes the same.

We cannot simply teach “stuff” or “facts” about our subject matter. We must help our students recognize the value of learning. As a teacher I 100% expect my students to take some of the responsibility for their learning. Do I expect them to learn Spanish without my help? Of course not. It’s an exchange, a partnership, a mentorship.

In his article, Richardson cites Sir Ken Robinson: “The key is not to standardize education but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.” I wish school was conducted this way when I was a student. Thankfully, my own personal drive and my parents’ support enabled me to start exploring the world and my passions at a young age, but not all kids have that luxury. As an educator, I have a unique opportunity to enable my students to explore their dreams a little bit. I can give them the chance to delve into articles of their choice, experiment with new resources, and even engage with communities outside our classroom walls.

It ultimately boils down to this question that Richardson words so nicely: “What if teachers and students were co-learners, co-creators in the process?” What if my students and I can create a dynamic where they get to explore and I get to help them?

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3 English students and lifelong friends of mine from Saudi Arabia, Japan, & Palestine

The Idealist

Who am I? I’m a dreamer. I color outside the lines and I think outside the box. I put on my creative goggles and I go to work painting reality with my imagination.

If obstacles weren’t a factor in my classroom, students would soar. I would love to implement a language program based more on exploration and less on the grammar and vocabulary lists that our textbooks offer. I want my students engaged and invested in Spanish, not because they have to pass my test but because they can’t get enough of it. Knowing another language opens so many doors and provides avenues for so many connections that otherwise aren’t there. The best thing about learning another language is that it can easily be applied to any topic, which enables students to learn more about their own passions.

Dan Pink commented on a unique practice: “Another way of personalizing learning, among many others, are DIY report cards. An educator in upstate New York did these DIY report cards, and they changed the way he taught.” This is something that never would have occurred to me. Richardson referenced the fact that teachers today are limited by the teachers that they had as students. We do what we know. While I do agree with this, for the most part, I also believe that best practices transcend time and place. If something is truly good and purposeful, it will remain so. Even if the outer appearance changes, the core essence of teaching should generally remain the same. We have to teach them the love of learning, because that’s what life is all about.

If I were to dream away, my mind takes me to a classroom that allows for the following:

  • The teacher presents new ideas in a succinct way
  • The students explore how this concept is used, how to learn it, and why it matters
  • An open conversation takes place between the students and the teacher
  • The teacher is able to push concepts beyond the walls and into real life
  • The class is able to explore the world virtually
  • The students communicate with people in the target language around the world
  • The students investigate their own passions in the target language
  • The students forget that they’re learning Spanish and recognize that they’re already speaking it

Some of these things are already happening in my classroom, but not all of them, and not all the time. Some are yet to take flight. But I hope to get there soon.

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English Opens Doors, Santiago, Chile. Teachers that were also willing to be learners!

The Pragmatist

Who am I? I’m Alex McKay. I’m all of the people listed above but I’m also real. I’m not perfect and I do make mistakes. I live in an imperfect world with limitations. But that doesn’t mean I stop dreaming, nor does it mean I stop chasing the dreams that I create.

I am very thrilled about the beginning of this school year. For the first time in my life I’m teaching Spanish 4. I’ve always taught Levels 1 & 2, which are mandatory for graduation. I now have the chance to teach a class that my students are choosing to take, and I could not be more excited. My expectations are high, but not unreachable.

The very fact that I’m teaching this new level will allow me to slowly implement some of my idealist thinking. My plan is to come up with 2-4 core activities, projects, and big ideas and slowly put them into practice. It is very possible that they crash land, but I’ll never know if I don’t try. I continue to speak with colleagues, do research online, follow quality educators on social media, and pursue professional development opportunities.

These practices will allow me to stay relevant in my field. I would also like to collaborate with some of my peers at work on presenting a formal PLN program for our school. My experiences and research from this class have shown me the value of PLN’s and made me question why no one at my school ever said anything to me about getting connected. Shouldn’t there be someone in charge of equipping new educators with meaningful online resources to guide them on their quest to become lifelong learners and better teachers? This is something I’d like to see remedied.

As mentioned above, this year I plan on trying out a few new ideas that I’ve been sorting through. I’m very intrigued by Pink’s idea of allowing the students to set their own expectations. Obviously my school will not allow me to be that extreme, nor would I care to, but I can allow my students to create a digital set of entries as the year goes along. They can start off by detailing their own expectations for themselves in regards to the Spanish language. Little do they know that I’m going to allow them to use Spanish as a means for exploring other passions that they may have.

I’m curious to see how the students take to the approach that I’m working on. Spanish Levels 1-3 are very grammar driven at my school. Speaking and listening unfortunately take the hit and I’m setting out to change that. I want my students to engage with each other, with me, and with the online community to make Spanish meaningful to them, beyond the traditional textbook and workbook.

My plan for this year is to dabble, to experiment. I have no idea how things will go, but I want to find out. I’m going to take my own notes and journal my own thoughts as the year goes along. This way I can reference how things went without having to recall everything from memory.

Year two will be dedicated to the following: honing the best practices, reshaping the ones with potential that were possibly misguided, tossing the bad eggs, and trying a few new ideas that surface along the way.

The following year I plan on sharing my successes and failures with my colleagues in a more formal manner. Obviously I’ll be collaborating with them along the way, but I would like to share my best practices in a more professional setting.

I think that the way world languages are currently taught is severely lacking. The current textbooks are so outdated that it’s painful. I want to continually rethink the way we teach Spanish so that it becomes practical, enjoyable, and purposeful. It may be the idealist in me, but I think I might be onto something. We’ll see how it goes…

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Andes Mountains, Chile. Never stop exploring!

 

 

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