Creating A Spanish Language Learning Community In A Virtual Environment: El Segundo Capítulo

Creating A Spanish Language Learning Community In A Virtual Environment

This is a follow-up to el primer capítulo (the first chapter) of Creating A Virtual Spanish Language Learning Community published on April 28, 2016. In that chapter, I shared the free resources we used, our theoretical framework, development of the curricula, and the initial self-evaluation tool I created for learning community members.

Bueno, aquí estámos en el segundo capítulo de esta aventura de aprender español con bibliotecarias.

Well, here we are in the second chapter of this adventure learning Spanish with librarians. Here is how we created  a virtual Spanish language learning community.

With community members from public libraries all over Indiana, we needed a way not just to collaborate in the virtual environment but to get to know other language learning community members' roles and their organizations' goals, to be honest with each other and ourselves as we explored and discovered, and to support each other in challenging ourselves.

First and foremost, this community is based on the principles of self-determination in adult learning, and experiential, inquiry-based, and guided discovery approaches. In order to respond to learning needs, I carefully observed community members' challenges and successes in learning Spanish while facilitating our weekly virtual classes. Whenever necessary, I changed my approach (e.g. how much Spanish I spoke vs. English) and the content to best suit community members' needs and goals. Reflexivity is the name of the game, y'all.

Start With Honest Communication From Facilitator To Learners

I am not a native Spanish speaker, and I did not want to position myself as the language learning community authority. As a facilitator, I organize meaningful content, guide community members' discoveries, cheer them on, and encourage celebration of their accomplishments. I do not expect perfection from community members or myself. We are all learners.

To establish a basis in honest communication with learners, I posted the following welcome message to our Google Group:

Hola, bienvenidos.  Encantada!

My name is Emily; I work in Certification at your Indiana State Library. I started learning Spanish in grade school and continued all through college. I've spent a period of time in Mexico City and a summer in San Luis Potosi (the capital city of a beautiful state in central Mexico) which included a trip to El Museo de las Momias.  

I've used Spanish in human services work with adults and social services work with adolescents. Sometimes I'm too shy to speak up in Spanish out in the community when I know it would be helpful to someone, so one of my goals here is to get my confidence back up!

What's your story?  Share with us:

  • What's your name?
  • Where do you work and what do you do there?
  • Have you taken Spanish in the past (or any other foreign languages)?
  • How will learning Spanish help you in your job?
  • What are you excited about for our class? And what are you nervous about?

This group is for you! I have a basic structure and specific activities for us that will guide our conversation practice, however we will keep it fun and flexible.  

I've curated a number of resources to get us started, but this is a learning democracy! We will work together to locate other resources that support our own and our colleagues' goals.

Vamanos pues! (Alright then! Let's go!)

Be A Detective

I responded to each language learning community members' introductions to welcome them personally, to share their excitement, and to honor their anxieties.

Fancying myself a kind of Nancy Drew, I combed their introductions to gather information on community members' backgrounds, interests, and fluency levels. For example, a number of community members are children’s librarians with an interest in creating or improving their Spanish or bilingual storytimes. Community outreach and circulation vocabulary (i.e., checking those materials in and out, signing patrons up for library cards, and so forth) were other particularly common language learning goals.

Get Everybody On La Misma Página (The Same Page)

As a facilitator, I have had to make a greater effort to clearly communicate intentions and expectations in training. When learners don't know what the point is or what you expect them to do, you lose them (I have). This was an opportunity to improve on a weak spot.

I had created 8 weeks of lessons and activities for beginner and intermediate Spanish speakers and posted them to our Google Group for community members’ review. Every week we explored vocabulary and practiced conversation relevant to library work. For their personal/professional and their organizations' goals, language learning community members did not need to learn vocabulary for animals on a farm or identifying household items. We kept it relevant from start to finish (with regular tangential fun, of course).

Qué Es Tu Meta? What Is Your Goal?

I could assume ways in which library professionals envision implementing Spanish in their work, but we know that’s not a best practice. The learning is not for the instructional designer or the facilitator, right? It’s for learners, and, if it’s not going to support achievement of their goals, what’s the point?

So, why do Indiana public library professionals want to learn Spanish? What impact do they see language learning having on their libraries’ results? Community members had 10 days to think about and write up their Spanish language learning goals and how they hoped to implement what they learned.

My wonderfully service-oriented colleagues shared their goals to:

  • Increase outreach to, patronage of, and library presence in Spanish-speaking communities.
  • Make referrals to community resources.
  • Offer computer classes, Spanish and bilingual book clubs and children's storytimes, programs for Hispanic Heritage Month, and Latin American holidays.
  • Enhance and promote print and digital collection to meet Spanish speakers’ needs.
  • Assist patrons with computer use, answer questions about library policies, and provide better customer service, generally.
  • Speak directly with parents instead of through their children as translators.

Naturally, in virtual meetings, we focused on these goals by developing our language skills, of course, in addition to checking in to share our successes and non-successes with challenging ourselves to explore outside our comfort zones. 

Whoa, Vaquera! Whoa, Cowgirl!

Are you one of those kinds of instructional designers or facilitators who obsesses night and day over her projects and bringing learners together for their learning experience ever? Me too. But I have to reign in my enthusiasm sometimes (possibly more often than "sometimes," if I'm honest).

My overzealous Google Group posts included:

What do you think? Too much??

You may correctly suspect that response to my zillion articles and on and on was very limited. Completely justifiable. Not everyone has time for that (or an interest, although that's hard for me to fathom!). I respect it. 

That said, a number of community members shared that they enjoyed the videos, found the suggested apps helpful, connected with one another on DuoLingo, and shared an explanation with the group on the Total Physical Response Method for language learning.

Reminder to the ever-enthusiastic facilitator that your learners probably don't eat, sleep, and breathe your training: The resources they share with one another are more meaningful to them. Emphasize those.

Did It Work? Did Language Learning Community Members Actually Feel Part Of A Community?

Para muchas, sí. For many, yes.

On our 4-week Smile Sheet (sample questions shown on Work-Learning Research), 80% of Beginners and 50% of Intermediates selected "Camaraderie and feeling a sense of belonging to a community of learners" as one of the 1-3 most valuable parts of their experiences.

Our final Smile Sheet (at the end of our 8 weeks together) will contain questions for the Intermediates asking about the meaningfulness or desirability of community to them and, if meaningful and desirable, how we might foster a stronger sense of camaraderie and belonging.

Colorín Colorado, Este Capítulo Se Ha Acabado!

"Colorin colorado, este cuento se ha acabado" is something parents might say to children after reading a lengthy story.

Cuéntanos, entonces! Tell us then! What steps have you taken to foster a sense of community among your learners? What did I miss that I should add in the future? What have you subtracted from your efforts to create learning communities? Definitely cooling it with the myriad of supplementary materials that are "nice to know" but not "need to know," myself.

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