Raquel Williams, NJEA memberAs the world becomes more interconnected, the need for our students to study world languages, learn about other cultures, and connect with others around the world is more important than ever before.As a world language educator, my challenge is to engage my students and enable them to develop 21st century skills. My aim is to adapt my instruction so that my students develop their capacity, to the greatest extent possible, to become fluent speakers of the target language. I want them to be able to communicate their thoughts and ideas and interact with native speakers. While grammar forms a foundation for language facility, many of us focus too narrowly on verb tenses and conjugations rather than on language as a means of communication. Using that language will help students interact and develop cultural literacies as well as appreciation for world culture.

The world has changed and the students I have now are different than those I taught only a few years ago. They are wired differently than we are, and many of us educated during the 1970s, ‘80s, or even the ‘90s are constantly trying to catch up with technologies that are natural part of their everyday existence. I know I must go out of my comfort zone to offer the best instruction to my students. But how can I prepare meaningful lessons that will enable students to collaborate, use their creativity, solve problems, communicate, and at the same time motivate them to learn? This is not an easy task, but in my experience I have found that technology has opened for me and my students a wide variety of strategies and tools to develop and sharpen many skills--especially oral proficiency.

By integrating technology, I am able to create a classroom atmosphere where students become authors of their own learning. Students, as digital natives, are able to use a variety of educational technology tools to produce knowledge and achieve meaningful learning.

How it all started

My first encounter with technology applications in education occurred five years ago when reading a book about podcasting. I realized that podcasting could help students overcome their reluctance to speak the language.  At the time I was struggling to keep my students engaged and motivated in learning a second language. I was tired of worksheets and homework that was never done and tired of parent phone calls complaining about their child’s lack of interest and attention. I was so energized by the potential of podcasts, I decided to change things around the very next week.

The first time I used podcasting in my class the students were excited about this new strategy. They could not wait to use their cell phones to send me a podcast based on the prompt I had given them. It was unbelievable; I had 100 percent participation on the homework assignment! Some students even took the time to plan out what they wanted to say before recording their podcast. I was impressed! I made them talk and write!

That was the turning point of my world language class instruction. From that day on I began to infuse more and more technology-based applications in my class. The exciting outcome? My students excel when I give them opportunities to create and use digital tools.

 I am definitely a different teacher today. My resistance to and fear of technology vanished the day I realized that technology brought my lesson plan to life. My students now see how language can be connected to their lives.

Spreading the word

This article is not only about integrating technology to improve oral proficiency in a world language class, it’s also about what can happen to an educator when she embraces a new approach. Podcasting didn’t just change my students’ level of excitement about my class, it changed mine too.

As a result of what happened in my classroom, I have been sharing what works for me. I now work as an educational technology consultant for Digital Teaching Solutions LLC and have developed and delivered professional development for school districts on a variety of topics, ranging from ways to infuse technology in the classroom to up-to-date language acquisition theories in world language classrooms. In addition, I have presented at several conferences, including the NJEA Convention, the NJEA/Richard Stockton College Technology Integration Conference, Edscape, the New Jersey Educational Computing Cooperative, and others. I have also organized a technology conference held in my district called WETECH. Our second annual event was held earlier this month. It is open to teachers outside of West Essex so be sure to keep a look out for next year’s conference.

A few final words of advice: I have learned that it is important to take advantage of students’ technological expertise. Together we have learned how to use these tools to maximize our language learning. Also, I found it extremely helpful to be part of a professional learning network and collaborate with other educators. These interactions have made me aware of the latest educational tools that I can use to keep my students engaged in learning while having fun with the language.

Finally, I will say—just take the leap! It may be scary at first, but when your students are finally the ones “doing the talk” in your world language class, you’ll be happy you did. And so will they.

Raquel Williams is a passionate Spanish teacher and a technology enthusiastic at West Essex Regional High School. She has a master’s degree from Rutgers University. Contact her at rwilliam@westex.org or go to her wikispaces at http://digitalteachingsolutions.wikispaces.com/.