(This is a post I started a month ago, but only now am finishing.)
Last night, I was helping to facilitate a webinar with the inspiring Laura Sexton, who is a leader in the use of project based learning (PBL) in the target language. I have seen Laura present before at ACTFL, and always look at her blog for ideas and inspiration, so I wasn't really expecting a big Ah-ha moment last night. But, I was wrong.
Laura said something that really resonated with me. We (WL teachers) are the medium for our students viewing the world. Without WL education, students rarely see and experience the culture of other countries beyond their own towns. How powerful is that???
There is so much focus on target language use and comprehensible input that I know sometimes I miss the bigger picture. I am not a just a teacher of the Spanish language. I fell in love with Spanish so many years ago, not because I can conjugate verbs or know the difference between the preterite and the imperfect. I fell in love with the Spanish speaking world....and that led me to travel to many other countries to discover a love of other cultures as well. This is what I want to do, I don't want to just teach Spanish, I want to open the world for my students.
Exposing students to culture is sometimes very easy. I plan trips to Costa Rica, Peru, etc and the small number of students that accompany me get a real picture of the world outside the US. All of my students know that almost every Hispanic movie has a sad ending. :( However, I think to really open up the world for our students we have to open the door for them, teach them something they can relate to in another country. Then, we need to encourage them to take what they learn as a stepping stone to learning more.
Students have to have time and the freedom to make some choices in their learning. That is when learning truly becomes their own and has the added benefit of wanting to continue their Spanish (or other language) learning to continue to learn more about the world around them. So, when you hear people talk about 20% projects, Project Based Learning, or other methodology, remember our job is to facilitate the learning. Just teaching is depriving our students of so much life has to offer.