Creating Time

A teacher’s perspective on how tech helps address time constraints of language learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Gisele Vázquez Falls

CREDIT Tallwood High School Virginia Beach.jpgAs a language educator with more than 20 years of classroom experience, I’ve witnessed the countless ways technology can transform teaching and learning. From my first days of teaching in the early ‘90s to my current role as the World Language Instructional Leader at the Global Studies and World Languages Academy (GSWLA) at Tallwood High School (THS) in Virginia Beach, VA, I’ve relied on a myriad of education tools and resources—from textbooks and worksheets to SMART Boards and tablets—to supplement my classroom instruction. I have found technology to have the most impact and it has changed the way I teach. Creating a blended learning environment by seamlessly integrating technology into classroom instruction has not only made learning fun and more engaging for students in their core classes like math, English, science and social studies, but it has also played a critical role in my classroom by creating time during an already jam-packed schedule for highly personalized language learning instruction.

By utilizing a mix of technology, my students get valuable speaking practice on a regular basis that I am able to supplement with one-on-one instruction.

Currently, 354 students are enrolled at GSWLA, an academy within a population of 1998 students at Tallwood High School that prepares students for college and careers in the 21st century by integrating multicultural and international perspectives into their everyday learning. Students at GSWLA attend classes on a broad range of topics, from the more traditional subjects, such as math and science, to those less frequently offered in high school, like global economics and international business and trade. With every minute of the school day accountable and essential to a student’s learning, the introduction of technology has afforded our teachers and students the flexibility to make language learning more accessible and meaningful.

At THS, although we are not yet a 1-to-1 school, we have a variety of technology available for our students and encourage a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy. Putting this technology directly in the hands of our students has enabled our teachers to rethink how to best utilize the time they have for classroom instruction and create a more personalized learning experience for each student.

With eight language offerings – Arabic, French, German, Japanese, Latin, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese and Russian – personalizing instruction for nearly 400 students in the Academy may seem like a daunting task, but by utilizing online language learning programs such as Rosetta Stone, teachers at GWSLA ensure that each student is receiving instruction that is challenging, relevant and, most importantly, aimed at their proficiency level. In my own classroom I use a blended learning approach that is often station-based to ensure each student has time to focus on their specific language and gain proficiency in speaking, reading, writing and listening. By utilizing a mix of technology including SMART boards, laptops and Rosetta Stone, my students get valuable speaking practice on a regular basis that I am able to supplement with one-on-one instruction. Subsequently, students feel they have the reigns to language learning in their hands and are empowered to expand their studies beyond the classroom, whether it be at home, in an after-school program or during a free period.

As the World Language department chair, I often hear stories from my fellow teachers about how technology has served as an effective – and welcome – supplement to their language instruction. Before implementing BYOD, many teachers found their students struggled to build a vocabulary in the language they were studying because the time allotted for language instruction was insufficient. Using programs such as Rosetta Stone help students to feel more confident in their language skills.

Today’s technology is making language learning more personalized than ever before, and when combined with classroom instruction, it is providing students with the critical thinking skills they will require in college. As a world language teacher, I cannot overstate the impact knowing multiple languages can have on a student’s success in the 21st century. With benefits ranging from increases in achievement in math and reading and higher SAT and ACT scores to broadened career and life opportunities, we must continue to find ways to provide language learning for today’s students and tomorrow’s achievers.

Gisele is the Instructional Leader for the World Languages department in the GSWLA at Tallwood High School in Virginia Beach, VA, and has over 20 years of teaching experience. She is a self-directed, enthusiastic educator with a strong commitment to student development and the learning experience. Her skills include designing challenging, enriching and innovative lessons that address the diverse needs of students. She enjoys collaborating and sharing her knowledge by presenting at local and national conferences. Gisele is a National Board Certified teacher and completed a Master’s in Spanish Language and Culture at the University of Salamanca. Write to: Gisele.Falls@vbschools.com

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