Helena Talaya-Manso, Ph.D / Assistant Professor of Spanish / Oxford College of Emory University
Teaching Methodology and Efforts to Improve Teaching
Here I am describing pedagogical strategies that I have implemented in some of my work.
Over my teaching years, I’ve spent much time reshaping my classroom materials to work better for my students. The feedback I received from the end-of-the semester students, as well as informal mid-term evaluations of the class, has helped me to modify and update my courses.
Creating a positive classroom environment
When I start a new class I want to set a friendly tone. I begin with a personal presentation, introducing myself as a Spanish native speaker as well as an English learner. Then I ask the students to introduce themselves and conscientiously respond to each introduction individually. I want the class to know that I'm interested in getting to know them personally. I also take advantage of this first contact to start modeling the proper use of the language. I have a double objective: first, that from the first moment they feel comfortable and less intimidated in a Foreign Language Class and second that they start using the right vocabulary and structures when they speak.
Another aspect in which I have revised my teaching is how now I correct students when they make mistakes. When I first started teaching, when an error came up in class work, I didn’t want to correct students openly because I was worried that that could provoke student anxiety and prevent them from participating more actively in class. Through feedback, I learned that students wanted to hear more from me to let them know whether they were on the right track or not. I now tell students the first days of class that critical to developing proficiency is judicious error correction. In real-life situations, errors are allowed to pass uncorrected unless they interfere with communication. The classroom is different. I explain that I will be correcting them because establishing good language patterns from the beginning is crucial. (See appendix- PPT 1st day of class).
Improving Communication with Students
When I taught my first elementary course, I naively assumed it would be relatively simple for students to work together and discuss several different assignments within a single week. I soon learned that students did not have time to get together and it was therefore unreasonable to expect that students could complete an script or memorize a dialog – even a short one of 2-3 minutes length- in a single day, or even in a couple of days. I also didn't account for the fact that such projects involve a lot of effort and that this too takes time. For that, I have changed the class calendar and one solution I've implemented is to alternate and collapse several class presentations into one, and give the students more time to work through them.
Improving Specific Courses
The first courses I taught were three sections of the elementary SP101. Later one I have taught again two sections of the same course, so this has allowed me to compare this experience with my first teaching experience. It was only after receiving the students’ comments and evaluations that I realized I had a lot to learn. Since then I have tried to incorporate the kind of activities where thought, theory and practice meet, making sure that the activities are closely related to real life situations.
Commonly, curricular materials for elementary language courses such as the SP 101-102 come from the textbooks that integrate the four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking. I did research to find a more adequate and effective textbook for teaching. In Fall 2012 I used the textbook Panorama for Elementary Spanish, and now I am using Vistas, a more comprehensive text that includes more cultural understanding with interactive grammar and vocabulary practice, media, and communicative tasks.
For my intermediate courses such as SP 201-202 I also have personalized the course content: instead of using the video segments that come from the textbook, now I use video segments that are closely related with real life situations downloaded directly from Spanish TV or other real news channels. (See Student Activities: Videos) For instance, when teaching new vocabulary about food, I know by experience that this is one of the most popular topics for students and easy to link to real activities. I provide them my own paella recipe, and I ask them to do their own favorite dish on a PowerPoint presentation. In my SP 201 last semester fall 2014 one of the students offered to cook for all of the class, and after the presentation we ended up eating her dish.
An important component of any language class is the students’ oral expression. Another new approach I have adopted when teaching this important skill can be seen when comparing the SP 202 course I first taught with the one I have taught later one. In this last course I have incorporated a more engaging way to manage the students’ oral presentations. To promote interaction among them I’m using now technology: the discussion thread at the Blackboard site. For instance, students download their own oral presentation and the rest of the students must make comments on their peers’ oral presentations. This way, through the use of technology, students keep up with the discussions that take place on virtual message boards. (See appendix SP 201 Oral activities: screen shoot BB site). This new way to get students to use language outside of the class has been productive, also leaving more class time for Q&A. To me, the use of Blackboard to create class-discussions on-line is one of the greatest things about using technology in the classroom setting.
The methodology I use in the elementary and intermediate Spanish courses is different from the one I use in the advanced courses such as P 212 Advanced Conversation and Culture, SP 300: Reading in Spanish, SP 311: Introduction to Literary Analysis in Hispanic Literature and SP 385: Special Topics: Introducción a la Cuba de hoy. Third-year students have a greater understanding of the value of autonomy when compared to beginners. As a common practice in my upper division classes I rarely lecture. I very much limit my role to a facilitator presenting the material that students prepare and share with their classmates. Every student periodically is in charge of presenting the topic and leading the class. Doing this, students are more engaged and take more responsibility for their own learning.
In summary I have progressively shifted my teaching from lecture towards a more interactive student-centered approach to teaching and learning. Early evaluations helped me understand that I needed to change my teaching to create quality courses better suited to my students, and recent evaluations suggest I have done just that.
~ Student videos
~ Student activities