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Community Building in Spanish Class

Strategies used to foster community in Spanish class.

Forging and maintaining community in my classes has been one of my top priorities as it allows students to feel comfortable being vulnerable and making mistakes while learning Spanish together. I’ve taken some concrete steps that I’d like to share....

Students Joel Hintsa and Sydney Jones. 

Students Joel Hintsa and Sydney Jones. 

The first thing I did was create something I call “Peer Talk Partners”. I had my students find a partner from the beginning of the course that they kept meeting with throughout. They put their availability information on a spreadsheet with their time zones and they indicated if they were comfortable and available for outdoor meetings with masks on or not. They were given regular assignments with themes and discussion questions on Camino and had to turn in a selfie of their meeting in person or FaceTime, Zoom, or whatnot. They did not have to turn in recordings of any kind. I purposefully kept it very casual so that they felt free to form a real bond and discuss other things. It turned out I really enjoyed grading their selfies because it was moving to see them smiling together :). One student commented at the end that she was sad because she would miss her new friend!

The other thing that I did during class time was to make extensive use of breakout rooms. I use two google slide presentations to teach my classes, the students work on a copy of selected slides from my presentation with instructions to work on their activities together in the breakout rooms. At first, when I would pop into their breakout rooms it was very awkward! I was amazed at their tolerance for sitting in uncomfortable silence! Thankfully I got some constructive feedback from a student about the situation. So, I implemented a system where the breakout rooms always had “Capitanes” and a quick icebreaker question. The captains were assigned using letters of their names at a particular position in the alphabet and were responsible for someone that was responsible for keeping things flowing, asking for help, asking the questions first, etc. Thankfully, this system really helped the students complete their communicative activities more efficiently and effectively together as a team.

Finally, I had students complete self-evaluations of their class participation every 2 weeks with a google form. The form helped them be clear on my expectations and the goals for their time in breakout rooms. It was really nice to see that in general the students, by their own accounts, became more and more comfortable with each other throughout the quarter and were more and more willing to take risks and try to communicate more frequently and more complicated thoughts en español. As that was my goal, I was pleased to hear about the communities they felt they were building in my classes :).


About the Contributor

Ariel Schindewolf is a lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages & Literatures and has a Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics with an emphasis in Applied Linguistics from the University of California Santa Barbara. Her dissertation examined how creative dramatic activities shape students’ anxiety and confidence (affect) when speaking. 

Two students, Joel Hintsa and Sydney Jones