Wrapping up a Semester of Spanish

Well, it’s time to wrap up a semester of my Independent Learning Project. This semester has flown by at record speed, and it seems like just yesterday I was attempting to set up a Twitter and WordPress account for this class. I remember feeling a lot of excitement to begin learning Spanish and working out all of the times Eli and I could meet throughout the week.

At the beginning of this experience, I was eager to learn. I loved meeting with Eli even to practice the alphabet, and I would practice wherever I went. As the semester went on, my motivation slowly declined. This, by no means, was Eli’s fault. He was an amazing teacher this semester, but I became so much busier with other aspects of my life (a new class after midterms, more volleyball practices, etc.) that I began losing motivation for my ILP. It seemed like we were doing the same thing every time we met, which was necessary to memorize letters and phonetics, but I began losing interest and focusing on other things. There was one week we didn’t meet at all. I practiced on my own, but it was even harder to keep motivation doing that.

At the beginning of the semester, I envisioned myself as a fluent Spanish speaker by the end of this process. Realistically, I knew this wasn’t a possibility, but thinking that made me more excited about the experience. Although, I wasn’t even close to reaching this goal, I’m still happy with the progress I did make.

I think the best part of this project is what I learned about Eli, who learned English after Spanish, and what I learned about myself as a student. Although there is no way to tell English is Eli’s second language, he didn’t learn it until he was in elementary school, and it was really interesting for me as a future teacher to hear about his experiences.

What I have learned about myself as a learner will make me a better teacher. At the beginning, I was excited about learning a new skill, and that’s not unusual. I think students and people in general are naturally curious and want to learn. We want to know more about those around us and the world around us. Typically, classrooms squash this curiosity. In order to foster my students’ curiosity, I need to keep them on their toes. Routines are necessary, but I can’t let myself or my students get stuck in them.

Attempting Canva

After looking reading classmates’ experiences on Twitter, I figured Canva would be the  better choice for me. Still I looked around on both Canva and Piktochart, but Canva seemed much more in my league for digital creativity. When I began the assignment, I was instantly overwhelmed with all of the different templates Canva had to offer. Popular design types include social media, presentation, poster, Facebook post, A4, and card. Others are email headers, events, ads, and many more. As you can see, there is A LOT of options. You can also create a “team” within the website ad share designs and folder with them.

Honestly, the one of most difficult parts for me was saving it… I know that sounds pathetic, but hear me out. At first I saved it in the wrong format and couldn’t upload it to my blog. After meddling around in the website for a while, I was finally able to fix my mistake. This just shows my lacking technological knowledge, but I think it’s slowly getting better!

My Canva creation is very simple. It is a picture of Eli (who is teaching me Spanish) and I with the words “Learning a new language is a great way to learn about a friend”  over it and “DigLit Class Spring 2017” below. I included this rather than other parts of our lessons because it is what I will remember most after this semester. Eli has been my friend since my first semester at Chadron State College (fall 2015), but we’ve grown much closer this semester. Other than just forcing him to spend time with me for my Independent Learning Project, I’ve also learned about his culture and experiences speaking Spanish and learning English. I think hearing about his experiences will help me teach ELL students as well.

One aspect of Canva I thought was especially cool was the ability to create book covers. This would be such an awesome assignment in an English classroom! When I was in junior high, we had to draw book covers, but I hated it because I’m not very artistic. I think creating book covers digitally would give students (like me) a wider range of creativity. Students could also create a fake flyer for an event in a book they read. If I included blogging in my classroom, students could create headers for their blog too. Now I’m just getting ahead of myself, but Canva is definitely a beneficial tool that I can see myself using in the classroom!

Switching it Up

Due to scheduling conflicts over the past couple of weeks, Eli and I have not been able to meet. Instead I have been reciting the alphabet on my own as well as attempting to memorize the words he has taught me. Today, we were able to meet for the first time since before spring break. We, like every other lesson, went over the alphabet, but instead of showing three weeks’ worth of practice, my phonetics had actually gotten worse. Somehow all of the practice I did at home and in my free time over the past weeks didn’t show.This both confused and frustrated me.

I have to admit, even I’m getting bored with my Independent Learning Project blogs. Although attention to detail is crucial in learning a new language, it isn’t necessarily blog-worthy. I felt myself getting bored with the same lessons and repetitive blogs, so I asked Eli if we could switch it up a bit this week. First after going through the alphabet normally, I practiced how letters sound in words rather than just how they sound in the alphabet. Exiting right? Just wait, it gets better. After completing the alphabet, we went on a walk around campus while practicing words, phrases, and complete sentences.

This week’s lesson made me ponder two things. (1) In order to completely master a skill, not only is constant practice necessary but also attention to detail. My coaches always say they would rather players practice a skill slower while making sure it is done correctly than sloppily at full speed. This also applies to my Spanish-speaking endeavors. Instead of just practicing as much as possible, I need to make sure to practice well. (2) Students have more fun when they aren’t doing the same activities during every lesson. Every lesson Eli and I have had appealed especially to auditory learners because we were speaking and listening throughout. Later, we advanced to writing words and phrases which I (a visual learner) appreciated. Although I’m not a kinesthetic learner, today’s lesson has been my favorite. I loved getting to move around while still being productive. Most of all, I loved that it was different.

This got me thinking about my future classroom. In my high school English class, we did the same thing every day for years. While I didn’t mind, I’m sure some of my other classmates couldn’t help but be bored out of their minds. As teachers, we must remember to not only teach the method that is easiest or how we were taught but switch up our lessons to effectively teach the entire class.

The Power of Progress

This week’s session was just like any other. We started with the alphabet; however, rather than taking over ten minutes to pronounce all of them correctly, I finished this week’s alphabet in record time (probably, I didn’t actually time it). Although Eli was jokingly bragging that it was only because he was such a good teacher, it was so great to see progress! We then moved on to the bathroom terms again. I found that I was able to remember more words and meanings than our last session. We moved on to phrases using some of the bathroom terms, and we ended this week’s session going over a few new words.

Eli and I have also begun greeting each other in Spanish. Although these conversations are very brief, it is great to have to have to think on my toes about what each word means. It sparks conversations with those around us as well. People seem really interested in the fact that I’m learning Spanish! I also like the way my name sounds with a Spanish accent better than the way I say it (the Spanish version sounds like “Theemee”)! Today, in a class Eli and I have together, he asked me what I would say if I needed to use the restroom and was very impressed that I remembered, “Necesito ir al banol.”

Something substantial I noticed from this week’s session was a gain in confidence. After reciting the alphabet (almost) perfectly, the rest of the session was completely different. I was more confident in reciting words as well as their meanings. Moving on to phrases, my accent was smoother, and I think it was because I was more confident in my Spanish-speaking abilities.

After our session, I began thinking about my future classroom and the importance of progress. Not every student will be an A+ student by the end of the year, but I as a teacher need to recognize the progress they do make to build their confidence. Being a positive role model for my students will inspire them to do the same for other people in their lives. As students, teachers and just as humans, I think we too often focus on what we didn’t do; however, we must always remember the power of progress.



I also included two pictures of notes I have taken from our most recent sessions. At this point, the bathroom terms are review, and the phrases are becoming more familiar. The terms in the last picture are new to me.

Finding Friendship Through Learning

This week was very similar to most, but because of scheduling conflicts, I only met with Eli once for two hours rather than twice for one hour. We again started with the alphabet, and although I still struggle pronouncing many letters correctly, especially the ones that have the “eh” sound, I am able to see definite improvement from week to week. Last week, I started spelling bathroom words like toilet, shower, towel, etc., and I tried to remember the meanings of all of them this week. Then I practiced spelling them. The last activity we did was form very simple sentences such as “I need to go to the bathroom” and others like that. Although there are many more words now that need to be memorized, I am finally starting to feel like I can actually communicate.

After our session ended last week, we talked about some of the culture he has experienced living so close to Mexico as a child, especially the food. He complained that all of the Mexican food in the Midwest isn’t “authentic,” but he does enjoy the queso at Escaramuza’s. This week, he brought it for me as well as tortilla chips and told me more about his experiences as a child. Beginning this project weeks ago, I thought Eli and my time together would be very formal and classroom-like, but I have been pleasantly surprised. We often enjoy snacks and very enjoyable conversation throughout our sessions. I have not only been learning Spanish but about the culture as well and have been creating a deeper friendship with Eli along the way.

Realizing this this week made me think about the personal learning networks (PLN) we have begun creating. Although Eli and I meet in person and not online, I think we still get some of the same benefits; we are sharing (he is doing most of the sharing) knowledge with each other. Also, since Eli began tutoring me in the language, other Spanish speakers on campus have approached me and asked about the experience and offered help as well.

Although this is more of a physical network rather than the digital ones we have begun creating, I am beginning to realize how helpful sharing learning experiences or knowledge with others can truly be. Learning Spanish on my own would have been a much more intimidating task, and I probably would have ended up choosing a different ILP; however, with the help of others, especially Eli, it is possible. This is something I need to remember when I start teaching my own class in just a few years. Although (at that point), I will have years of preparation, getting help from others, and helping others, is never a bad thing.

Accepting Slow Progress

This week I split my time up into two one-hour sessions. On Tuesday, I met with Eli for the first time this week. To begin our session I practiced the alphabet, and this ended up taking most of the time again. After we got done with this, I practiced spelling. Thursday’s session was similar. I met with Eli in the afternoon, and we AGAIN started with the alphabet. It didn’t take quite as long this time, and we were able to move onto words earlier. This time, we practiced bathroom words: sink, shower, toilet, etc. At first, he said the words, and I would spell them. To end our session, I practiced saying the words I had spelled.

Even though I am learning alone (hence the independent learning project), I can’t help but feel behind, so I continued studying on my own. I started the habit of reciting the alphabet in my head whenever I think of it. I used this website if I forgot how any of the letters were pronounced. I study the words Eli has had me spell so far and tried to remember their definition. Eli told me that once I get the pronunciations and phonetics down, we will move on to simple sentences and more challenging words. I was expecting the process to be slow, but I didn’t think it would be quite this slow. Eli is a great teacher, and I enjoy and appreciate learning from him, but I can’t help but wish my process was a bit quicker. I have put in over twelve hours to this project, and there are letters in the alphabet I still struggle pronouncing.

Although this is a frustrating experience, I know every new opportunity to learn is a good one. I have become proficient in a few skills since a young age, but it has been a long time since I have attempted learning a new one. I began playing sports in the second grade, and I started taking piano lessons around the same time. Over the past ten (plus) years, I have been improving my skill in these crafts, but I have not picked up a new one. Remembering this reminds me that I must be patient. I have also noticed some definite progress which is very encouraging, and every time we go through the alphabet, Eli is impressed with my improvement. Although I was hoping to be more knowledgeable of the language by this time, I am learning to appreciate any progress, even if it is slow.

El alfabeto español

Beginning this project, I thought that I would make great progress with five hours of my week being dedicated to learning Spanish; however, it was much more difficult than I had originally realized. My first day (January 24) was a snow day, so I couldn’t meet with the friend Eli who has agreed to help me on this journey. Instead, I spent about an hour and a half studying the Spanish alphabet and different sounds from a multitude of YouTube videos. Because I spent so long studying just the alphabet and still didn’t have the sounds even close to memorized, I wondered how much progress I would be able to make this semester. I wasn’t expecting to be fluent in the language by May, but I realized how much time and work this process will really take. Although we are required two hours every week, I can see now that much more time will be needed to even come close to mastering the language, and it will take much longer than just one semester as well.

On Thursday, I was able to meet with my friend Eli mentioned above. His first language was Spanish, and he is also an education major, so I figured he would be a pretty good teacher for this project. We planned to meet for two hours since we weren’t able to meet on Tuesday, but I originally assumed we would run out of productive activities to do. I was sure wrong. We worked on my pronunciation of the alphabet for about an hour and a half. I’m sure I pronounced each letter over a hundred times before he would let me move on to the next one. I’m a collegiate athlete and get frustrated on a daily basis, but this frustration was something completely new. The letters I thought I pronounced well were always wrong and the ones I thought I did horribly were “not bad.” After I went through the alphabet a few times, we finally moved on. For the last half an hour, Eli would say basic Spanish words, and I attempted to spell them. Then we moved on to simple sentences, and again, he would say them, and I would write them.

For an hour on Friday morning, I repeated my last two exercises from Thursday but with a different friend. He would read words and sentences while I wrote them down. I also practiced the alphabet on my own for half an hour, trying my best to pronounce them the way Eli told me to. Over all, this week’s ILP experience was frustrating with a few breakthroughs, but I look forward to seeing improvement in the future.

Nunca dejar de aprender (Never Stop Learning)

Photo CC- By Barry Pousman

I have talked with many people who have taken this course in previous semesters, and this segment of the class is what I have been most excited about. There has been many skills I wish I would have learned or activities I wish I would have done, but I can never seem to find enough time or the right time to fulfill these desires. The extraordinary thing about this assignment is that it forces students to partake in activities they (a) are very interested in and (b) wouldn’t normally find time to do.

There was a lot of ideas I came up with and that friends suggested for this assignment. One was learning to do makeup well. I have scrolled past countless tutorials on Facebook, but I can never find the time or motivation to attempt these new looks myself. It doesn’t help that I give myself about thirty seconds between the time I wake up and the time I scurry out the door in the morning. Another idea I came up with was dedicating two hours of my week to reading and digging into literature that challenges me and broadens my horizons. I have recently discovered an addiction I have to ordering books, and I now have countless unread books sitting on my desk. I have also been an on-and-off piano player since I was six years old, and I think the hours would fly by while sharpening my piano-playing skills. I have recently also had the desire to learn the ukulele. I have heard it is one of the easier instruments to learn, and the sound of it is really beautiful. A friend of mine also suggested doing yoga. I feel sore most of the time from volleyball, and this activity would help alleviate some of that soreness as well as improve my flexibility.

While all of these are suitable choices and things I hope to do one day, I ultimately decided to learn a new language, Spanish in particular.  My step-dad is an elementary principal in a heavily Hispanic school district, and he has always stressed the relevance of knowing Spanish for people working in education. I have had a desire to learn a new language for a while now, but the thought of it has always intimidated me. Spanish-speaking students make up a large percentage of the ELL students in this country, so this ability will look great to future hiring principles. More importantly, this skill I am planning on acquiring will help me connect to and help all of my students, and not just the ones I share a first language with.