My experiences as a student have shaped me as a teacher and consolidated my core belief about education: effective teaching can inspire and motivate learners to be the best they can be —even when they are unaware of their potential. In short, I believe a teacher’s love and passion for her field can serve to awaken similar feelings in the student; inspiring and challenging my students is my goal as a teacher and scholar.
Be it in courses of literature, film or language, I think that it is important to provide an appropriate context so that my students’ experiences do not fall into a void. I endeavor to include a variety of tasks that engage my students and make them active participants in their own learning process. In my language classes, I follow a task-based approach that has a clear outcome and is meaningful for students as well as incorporating humor as a motivational strategy. An example is a task-based lesson plan that I designed to practice the comparative of inequality forms in Spanish: I divided the class into small groups and provided each group with a picture of a real but unconventional product —such as a garment-mop for babies that allows them to mop the floor while they crawl. I prepared the students for this task by showing them some “before” and “after” pictures with a handful of closed sentences which they had to complete with the targeted structure. The final task was an open-ended activity where students had to name their product, write a catchphrase, and design an advertisement campaign using the targeted structures and vocabulary. My students not only were very accurate in their use of the comparative structures, but they demonstrated great creativity in the target language, successfully incorporating their own perspective and humor into their end-product. (You can see a reflection and lesson plan on the design of creation of these implicit grammar tasks included in the PowerPoint El doble nos gusta más).
I also integrate audiovisual material and technology-mediated tasks inside and outside the classroom. In literature and film classes, I find that it is useful for students to produce written reflections in a class blog or similar computer-mediated platform. Here, students can develop their critical thinking by authoring analyses of literary and filmic texts, posting reviews of articles, integrating audiovisual material or through engaging with their peers in discussions of the works studied in class. I both evaluate this work as well as provide them with specific feedback on their performance.
In my language classes, although I find the cultural topics included in most textbooks interesting and necessary, I find “little c” culture (the everyday culture that makes a language and its speakers unique) more appealing and relevant for the students. For example, in a task that I designed around an advertisement that uses dubbing, I refer to the law that imposed dubbing on Spanish television during the dictatorship (“big C” culture), but I also bring to the students’ attention that the voice used in the commercial is easily recognizable to Spanish audiences, thus having particular connotations (“little c” culture). The goal of the activity was to reinforce a structural pattern of the target language in an activity that integrated culture. Once they completed the task, students filled out a short survey in which they stated if this kind of task was helpful in developing their grammatical and cultural knowledge. My students reported that the task was helpful and that they felt empowered, since they could understand an aspect of the target language on a deeper level.
I also try to incorporate students’ individual needs, interests and learning styles into the material that we use in the classroom. Therefore, every semester, I conduct several surveys to gather such information and I also formally and informally request computer-mediated anonymous feedback as to the students’ perception of class dynamics, the material, tasks, their motivation, in addition to my own performance. I always consider this feedback very carefully, and I revisit every aspect of my teaching to cater to the individual needs of the students and also to the class dynamic as a whole. I further complement this subjective feedback with small-scale empirical studies: I have conducted projects that study the value of subtitling videos or the differences in effectiveness between a deductive or inductive approach to teaching grammar.
As a teacher I am constantly learning—through experience, collaboration and constant professional development and training. I find that the community I create within the classroom, department and institution is a key factor in making foreign language acquisition, in particular, and teaching, in general, an enriching and learning experience for me, my students, and my colleagues.