However, there was one thing that has been a highlight of my years and the favorite of my students every year that I have taught, The Country Project. I like teaching with a PBL (project and problem) approach. I think it is good for students and everyone has a clear sense of direction at all times. In terms of content and culture, my students learn a lot about the facts and customs of specific countries and people. In the past, I always felt a wave or pride surging when they presented their final projects to the rest of the class or to guests who came in to observe them. They would have snazzy, glossy digital presentations and were speaking in Spanish for 5-8 minutes in fluid language.
But, But, But.... this year when my students were working on their country project, I felt conflicted and uncomfortable every step of the way. It was almost as if for 1 month, I halted the proficiency bandwagon we were on to work on the project. So, I will dissect it here so that I can clarify in my head about why the Old Country Project is NOT compatible with a proficiency based approach.Even though I insisted that they find some Spanish sources and that the discussions be in Spanish as much as possible, the reality was the following:
Research: was done in English and translated by students.
Discussions: Done in English
Digital presentations: Took entirely too much class time
Writing out the project: Translated from English to Spanish with feedback from me. Corrections were probably where most learning took place.
Learning process: A lot of memorization
Final presentation: Students memorized very well but as I looked around the room, not a single student was truly engaged and understanding what was being said. The entire presentation was strictly for my benefit. Even the students themselves didn't know what they were saying completely.
When the month was over, we were all disoriented and trying to regain our footing. Students asked me if we were ever going to do songs, El Internado, homework choice and blogging again. We had set aside all of those things during the very long month that we were working on THE COUNTRY PROJECT! The news to me was that they missed those much simpler activities that we were doing which were proficiency based.
By the way, one of my life's mottos is "It's feedback, not failure". So, I have no regrets about the country projects of my teaching past. They served their purpose but it's time to put them to rest.
I am not saying that I won't do country projects again, but I will never again ask Novice High to (some) Intermediate Low students to deliver a country project at the same level that I would expect them to do it in English. These are my new guidelines:
- In order for proficiency to be the main goal, the tasks must be at their level of proficiency.
- I won't attempt to prioritize technology over language. Having students spend 2 class periods Photoshopping themselves unto important sites and monuments in Spain or Mexico, cool as it may be, does NOT advance their proficiency in the language.
- I will streamline content so that it is compatible with proficiency goals. Less width and more depth.
- Pinterest, info-graphics and short authentic readings in the target language will be the main sources for the next projects.
- I will answer the following essential question for the next project: "How does this activity/project further the students' proficiency goals?"