Oh yes, it can be done, and over my bereavement leave, a few teachers at my school did just that (boy, you take one week off…).
I teach an interdisciplinary course called Multicultural Studies. More accurately, I co-teach with a Social Studies teacher. It’s one of my all-career favorite courses to have taught, due to the overarching themes of promoting understanding, acceptance, and diversity (buzzwords, to be sure, but descriptive enough for a blog post). Two of the main ideas we stress are 1) the importance of social action in promoting social justice and 2) the benefits of an inclusive society. In our introductory unit, we discussed a growing minority population at our school: LEP/ESL students.
We discussed the positives and negatives of our school’s ESL program, and even had one of the ESL teachers visit to give a frank talk about the current state of the ESL program, a topic about which our students were entirely uninformed. It’s hard to blame them; after all, there are deep dividing lines that run between the native English-speaking population and the ESL population, and in our case, both groups are partially at fault.
Collaboration #1: My co-teacher and I reflected on the topic after school one day, and we decided that we needed to follow Dr. Sonia Nieto’s advice and take the learning one step further by making it authentic. Let’s not just learn about the systemic inequalities and stroke our chins, let’s DO SOMETHING to CHANGE IT. We kicked some ideas around, and ultimately decided that we should get our class together with the ESL class in a lightly structured environment, provide some rated-PG social lubricant in the form of snacks and soda, and get them talking with one another about their respective experiences.
Collaboration #2: In the four days I was out, my amazing co-teacher not only arranged for this to happen with two of the ESL teachers, he pitched the idea to our 29 kids, had them prep some questions they would want answered, and executed one of the most valuable learning experiences in which students in this course have ever participated (top 5, no doubt!). Although everyone was a bit shy at first, the three teachers involved split the kids into small discussion groups, everyone got themselves some snackage, and kids talked – not about Twitteresque banalities, but really talked – mostly about their vastly divergent experiences living in the same country. Kids who have never wanted for a material good in their lives listened intently as other students told of walking for days to cross the US-Mexico border. One student showed the bullet wounds he received from a local gangster in his hometown. Most of the ESL students were Spanish speakers from Latin America, but there were also French-speaking Congolese students. Luckily, an Ecuadorian exchange student in my class also speaks fluent French, and was able to translate for them as well. By all accounts, the 85-minute session was a resounding success. I just wish I had been there to experience it, too.
Is our job here done? Not by a long shot. Without a continued connective presence, this will slip back into the category of, “Hey, Remember When We Did That Cool Project?” It’s up to us as teachers, but also up to the students whose community this is, to build upon what got started last week. We can schedule future “socials”, but the kids on all sides of the linguistic divide have got to follow up outside of the classroom, too. They alone can take down the classroom walls and continue building their own authentic, first-hand learning experiences that could, if they wanted them to, outlast high school. Those kids and teachers achieved many of the goals that “Web 2.0” folks (myself included) tout: collaboration, authenticity, meaning, personalization, and discussion.
And they didn’t get within a country mile of Wikispaces to do it.