Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Fresh Way to Use a Traditional Textbook

by Ann Abbott

Using the textbook doesn't mean that your class has to be boring!

I use Éxito comercial in my Business Spanish class. It has a lot of very good information and activities in it, but I have to be honest and say that students (and sometimes instructors) take a look at page after page of text and feel a bit overwhelmed.

I love to read. I got a PhD in Hispanic literature and actually read every single book on the reading list. Every single book. I dislike magazines whose articles are too short. I lugged huge novels to high school with me and read them in study hall.

But even I know that it can be easy for people to disengage with textbooks.

So here's what I did to shake things up.

1. Before class I prepared two laptops and three file folders.
  • In one laptop I loaded the audio disc that comes with Exito comercial and put the photocopy of 1-3 Al telefono (p. 12) in the file folder. 
  • In the other laptop I loaded the video disc that comes with Exito comercial and put the photocopy of 1-7 Comprensión y comunicación (p. 20-21) in it. 
  • In the third file folder I placed photocopies of the geography information--Figuras 1-1 through 1-4 and the questions in 1-4 Actividades (p. 14).
I asked two students to set up the laptops for me in two separate corners of the room along with the file folders.  I asked another student to put the "geografía" file on a desk in the middle of the room. (At the end of the class I asked two different students to pop out the discs and pack up the laptops for me. Believe it or not, I think that giving students--even university students--these small tasks in the classroom has a positive effect. It makes us work together as a team.)
2. I divided students into three groups and sent each group to one of the "stations." Each group had to read the instructions on the front of the file folder, open it up to see the documents (photocopies of the activities from the textbook because I knew that several of my students wouldn't have bought the book yet), and get started.

Honestly, students seemed very confused and unsure of what to do. I think some of their thoughts included: What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to touch the computer? What didn't she give us more instructions? How are we supposed to do this? One student did ask me, "How do I get the dvd to play?"

This was exactly what I wanted! I wanted them to be resourceful, take the lead, deal with ambiguity, figure things out, help each other out along the way. JUST LIKE THE BUSINESS WORLD. It worked.

3. After twelve minutes, I asked each group for their first impression. They all said that it was hard. Some because the Spanish was hard to understand, others because the questions were difficult. Then they rotated to the next station.

After twelve minutes at the second station, I asked them which one was more difficult, the first station or the second. I also noted that one of the groups approached their station as two pairs instead of one team of four. I told them that there isn't one "right" way to tackle a project. Then they rotated for a third time. After those twelve minutes, I again asked them what the hardest station was. They all agreed that it was the audio exercise, where they had to listen to a telephone conversation and answer questions about it. Again, JUST LIKE THE REAL BUSINESS WORLD: PHONE CALLS ARE HARD. They make people nervous. People's palms sweat when they pick up the phone. Especially in a second language!

4. To conclude, I put up two words on the board: PRODUCT and PROCESS.

I told them that the product of their work projects were their answers, the pieces of papers they wrote on. And I quizzed them on the content, asking them geography questions from station #2.

Then I told them that their process was probably more important than the product. Without a good work process, team process, it's difficult to get a good product. I asked them to reflect on their team's process. What was their reaction to the work? What kind of role did they each take on? How did they help each other? How did they let others know they needed help? Or did they not ask for help? Did they establish trust in any way?

Frankly, the students didn't spend much time on this. I don't think they fully understood the importance of processes and our ability to step outside the details of the work itself and see the ways in which we are going to attack it. But we'll work on that this semester. 

That'll be part of our process.

How do you use your textbooks? Have you found ways to use the textbook as a resource while still creating a dynamic, engaging classroom environment? I'd love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

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