“Hola, chicos,” Señora Thoreson exclaimed as usual to her Spanish ll students entering the classroom. The ensuing activities, however, would be anything but usual. As an Instructional Mentor Coach (IMC) through the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System, Spanish teacher, Ayn Thoreson, has been supporting and mentoring fellow high school teachers in an effort to create the best learning environment for all students. In addition to that role, she remains a classroom teacher, and is working to lead by example.
The spark for an innovative approach in her classroom came from experiences Thoreson had during the previous school year. “I taught a basic Spanish for healthcare providers class at the hospital last spring, and as I was teaching that class, I was also teaching the medical unit in my classes at school. I got to thinking that my students could be doing this.” Shortly thereafter, Thoreson visited New Tech High in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and loved their Project Based Learning (PBL) model. It was then that Thoreson realized she could utilize the PBL approach for the medical unit with her Spanish students.
To launch the project, Thoreson followed the same process that she completed as a student while attending the New Tech High PBL Academy in Sioux Falls last summer. After dividing the students into groups, Thoreson gave them an entry document. It was a simulated letter from a healthcare provider. After reading the letter, students were tasked with creating a list of “Knows” and “Need-to Knows”. “There is lots of discovery for students in completing this process, and it helps to guide instruction. They tell me what they need to know, and I will make sure they get it so that they are successful,” said Thoreson.
“The next step is to address a crucial component to successfully completing the project, effective collaboration,” Thoreson added. To help lay the foundation, she assigned a low-stakes, team-building challenge. Groups discussed a list of roles, and after assigning one to each member, they were given four minutes to create a plan to build the tallest balloon tower, utilizing 22 balloons and eight pieces of masking tape. After the planning session, the challenge began and groups were allowed 10 minutes to create their towers. During the challenge, and as issues surfaced, students experienced how to problem solve on the fly, which added to the real-world example of teamwork. Students then debriefed the experience, and through the discussion, it was evident that the three elements present within each group who constructed the tallest tower included having a plan, good communication, and making sure that everyone had a task.
As the project moves forward, groups will be assigned to a healthcare provider from Spencer or the Lakes Area, with the goal of creating a guide or cheat sheet with basic phrases and questions in Spanish to help healthcare providers with Spanish-speaking patients who have limited English. Though Thoreson will be assessing their Spanish skills, the provider will be assessing 21st century skills such as communication, problem-solving, accountability and productivity.
When asked how she anticipates this will go, Thoreson added, “The end result could be as wild as the students’ imagination because this is uncharted territory for everyone involved, and there isn’t an exact expectation for the end result. The students can tailor it to each healthcare provider, and as long as the needs and expectations are met, the groups will be successful.”