Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Finding Global Partners

This past school year I had the amazing opportunity to Skype with elementary schools in Argentina and Spain. The idea of connecting with other schools had been on my mind for quite some time, however, I did not know where to start. I wondered how teachers found partners who were willing to connect with their classrooms. Then I came across Twitter which pointed me in the direction of a few global collaboration sites worth exploring. Here is what I came across:

Around the World with 80 Schools- The mastermind behind this site is Silvia Tolisano, 21st Century Learning Specialist and Globally Connected Learning Consultant. The idea is to connect with 80 schools around the world through Skype. In order to be a member you must be involved with or serve students from grades PreK-16 or adult learners. I have had the most success with this site since this is where I came across my two abroad contacts. Because it started off as a Ning and later switched to its current site, the community is rather small but quickly growing. Also, this site includes a space for blogs to document Skype experiences.

Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC)-This site has many ongoing projects created by other teachers and institutes such as NASA. Once registered, it is recommended to post a collaboration (a description of your project and possible dates) and update it. One of my favorite features from this site is that it includes a directory of its members by country. I have had success finding national partners with this site.

eLanguages-This site was developed by The British Council, which is an international organization for educational opportunities and cultural relations in the United Kingdom. Their goal is to provide a secure global online community for teachers who are looking for international partners and who want to share their projects and resources. Teachers have the option of viewing other’s projects, joining them, or creating their own project. Another neat feature is the ability to upload a wide variety of resources that include PDF files, videos, and links. Also, this site is available in 23 languages and you can search for partners or projects by country, language, or type of school (i.e. elementary school, middle school, high school, adult education). I just recently registered with this community and have found members from various Spanish-speaking countries.

Collaborations Around the Planet(CAP Space)- This site also provides many ongoing projects posted by other teachers around the globe. Although I haven’t had much luck with this site, it is definitely worth mentioning.

Some More Tips

No Cost-Creating an account is free of charge for all of these sites. Also, there is no service or participation fee for joining projects.

Profiles- After you have registered for these sites, it is best to update your profile with school name, contact information, grade(s), subject area(s), interests, and upload a picture. This makes it easier for other members to contact you. Please be advised that once you register, contact information that you include on your profile will be made public to other members.

Messages-All sites allow you to send a message to other members. Some sites also give you the option of posting your email address.

Email Notifications-Some sites(CAP Space, CILC) have email notification features that contact you directly when someone posts a new project. Others have the option of sending email notifications when you have received a new message.

Groups- You can also join groups within these sites that pertain to your specific grade level or content area (3rd grade groups, Foreign Language Group, Math teachers). These groups also help in narrowing your search. A great start would be to post a message on the group’s page (much like a status update on Facebook or Twitter) and briefly introduce yourself and what you’re interested in doing with your students.

Outlining your Project- For CILC, CAP Space, and eLanguages it is recommended you create a collaboration or description of your project. Be as specific in terms of: 1)Project Title, and 2) Project Details- the activities you want to complete, age group(s) involved, content areas to be covered, time frame(one time conference, two weeks, once a semester), and duration for each activity(50 minute class periods, 30 minutes). It is also best to list possible dates for your project and don’t forget to take into account TIME ZONES. Usually, these descriptions are sent out to members via email and posted on your profile (CILC, CAP Space) or on a separate Project Page (eLanguages), where you can update the status of your project. This section is very important in giving other members an impression of what you are planning to do.

Another effective way of finding partners is by word of mouth. Once I have established a collaboration with a school, I ask my contact person if they would be interested in connecting with my other contacts. I make sure not to share any contact information unless I have been given permission to do so. Many times, my national contacts are interested in connecting with my abroad contacts and that’s how we spread the word.

I hope this information is useful in your quest for global partners. I have listed the links to these sites under my “Global Collaboration Sites” for future reference. What other ways have you found abroad or national partners? Are you a part of a global collaboration site not mentioned in this blog post? Please share!

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Language Journey Part IV: Beginning Career

After I completed college I was licensed as an elementary teacher. While I had an endorsement in middle school Spanish, I did not pursue teaching positions in this area. I was hired as a second grade teacher in an elementary school, where I taught for my first three years. The only Spanish I used during these short years were to translate for the few Spanish-speaking families we had at our school.

During my time as a second grade teacher, I tried to infuse multiculturalism in my teaching. I taught at high poverty school made up of mostly African American students. Many of my students have not been outside their neighborhood and much less have traveled outside the state or the country. In an attempt to introduce my culture, I taught mini-lessons in Spanish, where students practiced numbers and colors. I also designed a literature based unit and activities that reflected my Mexican culture. I read texts that depicted holidays in Mexico, such as El dia de los muertos. I also brought some pan dulce and had one of my Spanish-speaking parents make chocolate for our class. I can recall the enthusiasm and excitement among my students as they heard the story and sampled the treats. It was at this point when I realized that I loved teaching culture. However, the reality was that in a regular education classroom, opportunities like these were not a part of the curriculum. I was only able to infuse my multiculturalism on special days or whenever we had time at the end of the day, which was not frequent. The idea of being able to do this full-time was a dream for me.

In the regular education classroom, I was responsible for teaching all subject areas. I was under a lot of pressure and my students had to perform well on their reading and writing skills, especially since these were the most emphasized subjects in this school district. Despite my teacher preparation, I felt that I was ill prepared in teaching these subjects. As a result, I pursued a master’s degree in gifted education. After my three years as a second grade teacher at XXXX School, I was hired as a second grade teacher at my current school. And when the Spanish teacher left, I was asked to switch to fill her position. That was the best move for me as a teacher.

The shift from a regular education teacher to a foreign language teacher was difficult at first. I had to adjust to serving half a school and planning for multiple grades. I was also under the impression that teaching language meant teaching vocabulary and grammar in isolation. It was through my professional development, graduate courses, and experience that I was able to transform how I taught. Teaching was not linear anymore, but rather presented in themes and chunks. I also used more hands-on activities and projects in my teaching. And recently, I have stumbled across ways to integrate technology to connect globally and make learning more engaging and relevant for my students.

During my three years as a Spanish teacher, I have earned an Ed.S. in Reading Instruction as well as an English as a Second Language endorsement-having taken 30 hours of ESL language learning theories, instruction, and assessment. As for now, I do not know what the future holds for my career. What I do know is that I am drawn to teaching languages and including a multicultural/interdisciplinary approach. Whether that will take me back to regular education as a language arts teacher, out of the classroom as an ESL instructor, or as a Reading Coordinator or Specialist, only time and intuition will tell.

My Language Journey Part III: College Experiences

In college I established my identity as a Latina and a Spanish-speaker. I attended college in a small town, far from home. This was the first time in my life where a majority of my peers did not look me, sound like me, or even had similar experiences as me. Fortunately, my roommate was a close friend I had known since middle school. This made my transition much easier.

My communication with my friends shifted from an all-English environment to one that included code-switching. I noticed that I used more Spanish with other Latino classmates and friends on campus. It seemed that we used the Spanish language to stay connected to our roots and to feel like home. I further maintained this connection by choosing to major in Spanish and Elementary Education. Although I had no formal instruction in Spanish, I felt very comfortable in these courses. The courses in Spanish literature were my favorite because they exposed me to different Latino perspectives, and it was through these courses that I realized that being Latina was much more than being Mexican.

As part of my program I was fortunate enough to study abroad for a semester in Argentina, where I lived and studied in Buenos Aires. During my senior year I was also a teaching assistant for an introductory Spanish class. With this class, I was able to visit Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic for spring break. These experiences further shaped my own identity as a Latina and introduced me to the diversity among the Spanish-speaking world.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Language Journey Part II: Adolescence

It was during middle school that I started to reconnect with my love for the Spanish language. During my elementary years, I was quickly immersed into the English language that it felt I somewhat neglected the Spanish language. After watching many Spanish news broadcasts, shows, and listening to lyrics for different songs, I wanted to use the language in ways that went beyond speaking and listening. At this point, I began to take an interest in reading and writing in Spanish. This new interest was also motivated by my need to communicate with my grandmother in Mexico. I started to write her letters and sound out words. My mother assisted by proofreading my letters and also building my vocabulary. I remember her using more advanced and less common words. It is no doubt that this time in my life opened my eyes to the many possibilities available in Spanish.

In high school, however, for my language requirement, I chose French over Spanish. I chose French instead of Spanish because I was curious to try out a new language and culture. Though I took French for four years, the language proved to be more difficult and my interests and efforts towards fluency quickly declined.

After having studied language acquisition on the graduate level, I attribute my failure in learning French to my own habits as a learner. As I reflect on the whole experience, I could point out many things I could have done to make my learning experience more successful than it was. First, I did not use my knowledge of the Spanish language to help me learn French. This approach could have assisted me in learning grammar. Second, I did not practice speaking or reading French outside of class. Somehow I expected to learn what I needed in the context of the classroom. A combination of these factors had an impact on my attempt to learn a third language.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Language Journey Part I: Childhood

I have had a distinctive relationship with language. I feel like I am from two worlds: the English speaking world and the Spanish speaking world. While I was born and raised in the United States, my home environment was far from American.

My parents were born and raised in Mexico. They immigrated to the United States as adults, where they eventually met and married. Growing up, my family spoke only Spanish in the household. My mother would always tell us that we would learn English at school and maintain our Spanish at home. She kept our Mexican culture alive through frequent visits to Mexico and by exposing us to various Spanish media outlets. During my childhood, we would listen to the news and radio in Spanish. I can recall her love of music and remember listening to popular as well as folkloric Mexican songs she would play for us.

While my parents strived to maintain an appreciation for the Spanish language and culture, they also embraced the American culture and its language. I can recall listening to many Motown hits and other popular music during the 1980s. We also celebrated American holidays such as Halloween and Christmas the American way, which was something our relatives or friends did not do.

In school I never enrolled in Bilingual or ESL classes. Although these services were offered at my school, my teachers did not see a need for them in my academic or language development. From the beginning, I loved school and never struggled academically or socially. I was a shy student who followed the rules and who played school when I got home. I knew from a young age that I wanted to become a teacher when I grew up. Overall, my positive experiences with school quickly shaped my attitudes towards English.

It was during elementary school that I truly learned English and connected with the language. At school, I would speak to my peers in English and eventually started using it with my own brother at home. I had teachers who encouraged us to maintain our heritage as Spanish-speakers but who also pushed us to become better English speakers. My proficiency in English progressed each year. In fact, my English was so fluent by the fifth grade that my parents utilized me as the family’s translator. While I loved the language, I did not particularly enjoy ordering pizza and disputing bills over the phone.