One of the elements that made this lesson so different from how I usually teach is the focus question. A bit different from the essential question that might drive a unit, this question was quantitative. It has one answer or at least a series of answers, and the goal I set for my students is to be able to answer that question in the target language with some authority by the end of the instructional day or "chunk."
What's the big difference in that? Well, mainly that I don't answer it for them. I ask the question or even guide them to the point in which they ask the question, I hand them the materials and the "to do" list and I get out of the way. I don't present a lesson on hostels or explain to them how to get through an international airport without problems. I ask the question and then let them figure out how to answer the question. Is this a mini-version of PBL? I don't know. Maybe it is. All I know is that they are working hard (well most of them are) and at some point they know I am going to be coming around to ask them the question for real, and I will expect they can answer it. The most I am doing is stealing instructional methods from the workshops my boss puts on for us.
The question we are working on now is "What do I do in an international airport?" and it is a part of a larger unit called Taking a Trip. The culminating goal for our students in this curriculum unit is to be able to explain a travel problem they had and how they solved it, so this knowledge is essential to all students even if their personal experience with international travel is limited. I don't want any student to feel isolated from this learning because he or she has never flown in an airplane before, much less on an international flight. Maybe, just maybe this lesson will teach them more than just the Spanish I want them to know. Maybe that student who has never flown will have an idea how to help his family navigate through the airport because he took part in this lesson. A teacher can hope, right?
What this question has done for my students and I is given a reference point to come back to no matter what their questions are. For example, when a student asks me, "How much of this graphic organizer do I have to complete?" I can say, "Can you answer the question completely? Are there any steps I won't know from your answer?" And what about every teacher's favorite question, "Is this a grade?" No one has asked me that question because the answer is, "Well, yes." The grade just doesn't happen to be on the paper itself.
Do I have students who are off task? YES. It's mid-April. Of course I do, but what I do is head to that group and start peppering them with questions in the target language. I want to get to a point that they can't answer because when I do that we all know that the work isn't done yet. They can't reach the goal because they can't answer the question, so they have to refocus their energy. I guess they could choose not to, but I haven't really seen any just flat quit. I do have to monitor and continually walk around the room, look at their work and stop to test the waters, especially in my non-honors classes, but that is just reality.
Today, I watched a group of young ladies in my 6th period honors class complete the required reading for the lesson, finalize their notes, and then take control of the situation. For the next 15 or 20 minutes these ladies just sat and asked each other questions in Spanish about what happens first, second an last in the airport. They asked questions about who they should speak to regarding seat changes or what documents they would need for certain parts of the airport. They asked the questions and answered them, too. I bragged on them to some of their classmates, and some of those other students came over to watch them go! I didn't have to ask them to, I didn't prepare a prompt or even give them practice questions. THEY DID IT ALL. What was amazing is that they were working harder than me, and even more awesome is the fact that they knew it and were so proud of themselves! I have to say, it was quite impressive.
Tomorrow I will visit each group with a rubric and ask them questions about what I need to do in the airport at different intervals. I will assess their ability to answer and be understood as well as their ability to use the vocabulary they've learned to answer the main question, "What do I do in an international airport?"
No worries at all. They've got this.
Maybe the truth is that sometimes we teachers do too much and over-complicate our lessons. Maybe every lesson boils down to one question. Maybe we just never let our students be the one to answer it.
P.S. Thanks G