By Ann Abbott
Critical Reflection. Because I combine Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) with Community Service Learning (CSL), all my students must engage in critical reflection using a framework that poses three questions: What? So what? Now what? They do this in class and outside of class; individually and in small groups; written and spoken; at the beginning of the course and at the very end. In 2007, after three years of teaching CSL, it suddenly occurred to me that I would benefit from critical reflection, too.
- Just like me, you probably think about your teaching and your students long after the school day has ended. When you reflect on your class, your week or even your whole semester, you learn a lot. Blogging about those lessons-learned and inspiration for future activities keeps your thoughts handy.
Sharing. When I began teaching Spanish CSL in 2004, there were very few resources available to guide my thinking and the curriculum I was building. There were some very important published pieces already, many by Josef Hellebrandt and Ethel Jorge. But I needed to know what to teach every day that I entered class. And I knew that the seemingly commonplace method of sitting in a circle and discussing what everyone had done in the community did not sit well with the task-based approach to language learning I had been trained in. In the absence of clear curricular guides, I built course materials based on the gaps I noticed in students’ knowledge and abilities. They didn’t know what bilingual education was even after two months working in a bilingual education classroom? I made a lesson. My community partners complained about students’ inability to take useful telephone messages? I wrote up activities to practice in class. Why not share them in the hopes that other people wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel? So I did that through my blog.
- Do you ever get frustrated at the lack of materials for your LSP course? Or do you find a lot of great authentic materials but then spend a lot of time creating the scaffolding your students need and converting the raw material into tasks? If we all share—on our own blogs or even on this NOBLE blog–, then we can use each other’s great materials.
Showcasing. Everyone says that CSL and LSP provide transformative learning. I wanted to show it. (And I wanted to streamline the way I handled students’ honors projects each semester.) So the honors students in my class have to contribute five blog posts over the semester. Not only do I get to highlight there very good work and writing, others who come to the blog get to see things from the students’ point of view, not just mine. I title all these posts “Student Reflection” so that they are consistent and easy to find. “Student Spotlights” are blog posts about students who have already left my class or graduated. This way I get to showcase students’ connections to Spanish long after they took the course.
- You’re just as proud of your students’ successes as I am. Consider showcasing them on a blog. And if they do it themselves as an assignment, then your blog gets great content that you didn’t have to write yourself.
Community. For two years, Darcy Lear was my colleague and companion in curricular innovations at Illinois. While we had each other, there weren’t many other people who shared our vision and passion for LSP and CSL. Then Darcy moved to North Carolina, and I felt pretty alone. (I have had the great fortune to be supported by the Heads of my department, Diane Musumeci and then Silvina Montrul.) Blogging was a way of feeling part of a community. Although I never received many comments, I did see the readership grow. And after I had been consistently blogging for several years, people would contact me to tell me that they had read my blog and got something good from it. So while it sometimes felt like I was writing to myself, I always knew that there were other people going through the same process of trial and error as I. In a department like mine, teaching and writing about LSP is a lonely thing; not only am I the only faculty member who teaches these courses, but no one else seems to even be interested. I had to find my community elsewhere.
- Teaching LSP, do you ever feel a little isolated? Do you wish you had someone nearby with whom you could talk over things? If you blog, you get to connect to the broader community of LSP educators. And if you do blog, I highly recommend you send your link to other LSP educators. Don’t leave it to chance for them to find you!
Learning. I’ll be honest: I had to teach myself a lot about business and entrepreneurship to be able to teach those courses. But I loved it! My PhD was in literature (which I loved), but I enjoyed reading business magazines (like Fast Company, and the now defunct Pink), books about innovation, and websites about business—in Spanish. It didn’t feel like learning. It was funny. It was a hobby. It was a personal interest of mine. Then I learned about social media and social media marketing, so I started incorporating that into my teaching. Lately I’ve been learning about graphic design and practicing it. Nowadays almost all my blog posts have (what I hope is) a catchy image, too.
- You’re an educator, so I’m sure you also love learning. Whatever your latest learning project is, consider your blog as your playground. That’s where you can make lists of the books and articles you’ve been reading about the topic. It’s also where you can share pictures of your messy desk while you’re sketching out lesson plans about the new material you’re learning. How about posting an imaginary “grade card” for yourself as you put together new pieces of information, ways of thinking and skills? Your creativity can really shine through your blog.
Modeling. When I teach social media marketing to my students, I am also modeling it for them. My blog is my social media foundation. It’s where I elaborate my thoughts and shape them into blog posts that I hope make for pleasant reading. Building on that, I share many of those blog posts as links or as bits of information on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Social media is part of most businesses today, and I’m modeling that for my students.
- You don’t have to blog all the time or about every single thing you do. If you feel like you already have too much to do, then don’t think of blogging as another heavy burden. Keep it light! Share short posts. Snippets of ideas. One example. A two-minute video of yourself sharing your idea—you don’t even have to write at all!
LSP posts that might interest you. Last semester, I taught Business Spanish using Éxito comerical, like I always do. And like many of you probably do. I wrote three blog posts about how I use the textbook but keep my classes fresh. (Scroll down to the bottom to see the links for the other two posts.)
- Maybe you’ll decide that blogging isn’t for you. Or maybe it isn’t for you right now. But I encourage you to follow other blogs (NOBLE’s, mine, Darcy Lear’s, Carolina Egúsquiza’s, and more) that address LSP issues. And even if you don’t have the time or inclination to blog, maybe you can start out by just leaving a comment on those blogs to begin building your community and sharing your ideas with others.