As Kevin Mclaughlin mentionned in his great post Set learning free in 100 words, we as teachers should “try not to overplan, forget the detail and be confident in changing direction as and where learning takes you.” This is exactly what I attempted to do with this project I set up last year with grade 7. It all started when we were listening to a Spanish song at the start of each lesson. At that time, we were listening to Manu Chao’s song Clandestino. The students were really enjoying the song and I started to think about what could be done more in depth with the lyrics, rather than just translating them. I decided to leave out the curriculum for a bit and to initiate a creative project.
First, the students completed all the activities related to the song which I found on the amazing website Formespa.
Then as we discussed the life of illegal immigrants trying to move to Europe and how they might feel being clandestine, I thought about making the students pretend they were one of them and make them write a diary about their journey to Spain. Of course, because it was a grade 7 class (which meant that this only was their second year learning Spanish), we had to go through several steps and I had to give them samples of work to help them start writing. I had to do some research myself to find out how the journey of an illegal immigrant trying to go to Spain was. I read a moving article from El Pais where two journalists travelled with a group of immigrants from Casablanca in Morocco to the Canary Islands; and I started from there.
Creative writing – Diary
(You can see and download all the resources used in my curriculum wiki.)
Each lesson or sometimes each week (depending on how much and what they had to write) was about a new page in their immigrant’s diary:
- Describing the immigrant. Students had to decide on a name, family background, where he/she came from, physical description and reasons why he/she wanted to move to Europe. This page was a great way of revising how to describe someone and his/her family. Students not only reinforced their Spanish knowledge, they also tapped into geography as they had to look for a country in Africa to explain where their immigrant came from and also at reasons why immigrants would want to leave their own country to start a new life.
- Getting ready for the trip and saying goodbye to family and friends. Again it was a great way of learning and revising vocabulary related to clothes, food, equipment you would take on a trip to a new life. At this stage, students also had to learn how to form the present perfect in Spanish. We spent a couple of lessons learning how and when to use this tense in Spanish. Grammar was learned for a useful purpose and therefore students assimilated it better.
- The start of the journey. The immigrant was meeting his “dealer” and other immigrants taking part. He/she was scared and had to pay the “dealer” to make him cross the Mediterranean sea. This led to a discussion about who dealers were and what their jobs consisted of. As for Spanish, students had to convey feelings and emotions.
- Reaching the Mediterranean sea.Students had to describe the journey by car crossing the desert to get to the Mediterranean sea. They had to use lots of different verbs in the present perfect and to describe the feelings of the immigrant.
- Crossing the sea. Students had to describe the trip on the sea and if the boat was caught or not by the Spanish “guardia civil”. Here, some students got very creative and imagined that their immigrant would drown. They even wet their diary so one could see the drama!
- Future life. Students brainstorm on the future of these immigrants. They made two columns, one for an happy ending (they are not caught by the police, they find a job, they can get official papers/documents and stay in Europe…), one for a sad ending (they have to return to their country, they can’t find a job and live in the streets, they die…).
As we were going along with this writing project, I found out that grade 3 students in lower school were also working on immigration as part of their PYP unit of enquiry. So I asked their teachers if my students could present their diary to their students. Of course, they had to translate in English but I also wanted grade 3 to learn something in Spanish. My students had to do an engaging presentation which main goals were to explain the journey of an illegal immigrant to Spain and to teach some key Spanish words about immigration. Last year, I asked students to do an overall presentation to grade 3 but I thought it was not engaging enough so this year I decided to change the format. Each student would present his/her diary to a small group of 3 to 4 grade 3 students. When planning their presentation, they had to think about the format (PowerPoint, with pictures, with music, map…), how they were going to teach some Spanish words (cards game, repeating the words…), how they were going to know grade 3 had learned something about their presentation (quiz, game, competition…). We also talked about the way to present a diary in an exciting way. Just reading it was going to bore grade 3 students to death! My students had to think of ways to make their presentation interesting to listen to. Not only did they work on their Spanish speaking skills, they also worked on how to give out a speech and how to teach others. They worked hard to deliver inspiring presentations and I was very much impressed by the maturity they showed when talking to the younger ones. Each one of them had prepared a game, a quiz or an activity for their group. They had brought pictures, maps, cards. At the end of the session, they were all eager to tell me how it had gone and how grade 3 students were engaged! Grade 3 teachers also told me how happy their students were to have learned from the grown-ups! It was a success!
I guess Kevin Mclaughlin is entirely right: “Let the learners control the learning, give them opportunities to decide what they want to learn. Take back learning in your classroom.”
What about you? Have you changed direction in your planning?