Infused Project-based Learning with these easy steps!

How to infuse problem-based thinking into your world language classroom

Fews years back when I was teaching in an International Baccalaureate middle school, I started the year dreamy-eyed with this cool social media project.  I could not wait to implement it.  Coming off a summer of PD around the Personal Project, a design cycle research project for students, I was sure this was going to be the year that we do big things and tackle relevant themes such: 

  • How do we interact with social media? 
  • What digital footprints are we leaving on the world? 
  • How to use social media thoughtfully and responsibly?

 I"d walk my students step by step in the target language. Then it happened. My hopes were dashed.  This critical and awe-inspiring week was met with three challenges: 

  • We had no working technology in school
  • We had no access to computers 
  • We could not use the textbook 
This was not going to work because the whole  crux of my plan was to get them to design their own websites of something of import to them; then it hit me: 
  • How am I teaching them problem solving skills when I am vexed with a problem like this? 

Limited connectivity, no problem!

 So I had this paper website idea. The idea was for students to create a futuristic social media outlet dissimilar in style and purpose from the ones we have today. Essentially, they could not rebrand Facebook.  My 6th graders had to include the normal suite of buttons such as upload, download and the like (see activities below). They also had to think of a novel idea for the media outlet and a purpose it would serve- in basic Spanish. We charted our course with these essential questions:

If I could design a website in the future, what will it look like? 
How will it be useful? 
Who will be my targeted audience

For the final product (more to come on the brainstorming sessions and planning documents), they had to include the following on their paper website all in the target language:

  • Title (creative title in Spanish)
  • About me section (Descriptive adjectives, gustar, family)
  • Tabs and links (vocabulary for technology use)
  • Picture or description of service
  • Testimony (very simple) (persuasive writing)
  • Email links 
  • URL
The assessment for this activity as a presentation of their website to the class. I neglected to mention that students worked in pairs. 

(I will be doing this again this year, so stay tuned for the final format)

How did we prepare? 
To prepare, we work with the vocabulary beforehand. Students used something similar to this Vocabulario para la tecnología (free) sheet to familiarize themselves with the verbs. Students used activities such as   This activity helped students to:

  • Practice core verbs needed to discuss how they use technology 
  • Familiarize themselves with core vocabulary such las redes sociales, aplicación, etc. 
  • Engage in conversation about their social media usage. 
  • Share about their favorite sites and usage. 

Culturally-Infused Project-Based Learning 

Project-based learning sounds very daunting to do in one's native language, let alone transferring the principles to a second language classroom. Can project-based learning be accomplished in the world language classroom?  Yes, it can and many teachers engage in this level of learning at the higher level. However, the vexing question for me was: can PBL be accomplished and sustained with my Spanish I, Novice-mid-intermediate students?  

Click here for conference documents. Editable Word documents are included.

When I attempted to "solve for x" I was overwhelmed with crushing amount of information that I thought students had to know, in order to "PBL." At the heart of Project-based learning lies a problem. This was essentially my PBL, and the questions inevitably led to an instructional shift, a "can do" attitude (yes, ACTFL pun!), and a curriculum whose currents intersected at the nucleus of a student-centered curriculum. This nagging question of student ownership, discovery, and design sparked my journey into developing curricula that married language acquisition with inquiry-based practices. 

ACTFL Attendees 
So, if you are interested in learning about how to incorporate project-based learning principles into your novice curriculum or wanting to refine the tools already in your toolbox, join me Saturday, 11/18/2017 in Nashville. 

The session will take place at the Music City Center, Room 106c at 11:15-12:15. Following the session, I will post all materials referenced during the presentation here in this post. See the agenda for topics below. These questions posed will be answered through the concrete resources that participants will have access to following the presentation. 

Distance-Learning Participants
Not able to make it to ACTFL? No problem! You will have full access to the materials on this page!

Project-based learning materials from ACTFL 

 Novelas para la clase de español 

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