3 Key Takeaways From a World Languages Educator at ISTE 2019


Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference. I, along with 20,000 participants including exhibitors, teachers, and other education leaders from across the U.S. and 80 other countries, convened at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia to learn about the latest ways technology is transforming learning.

As a first-time attendee, I was amazed at the variety of offerings both in the exhibit hall and on the mainstage, not to mention the history that surrounded us in the backdrop of the convention space.

Three days was just enough time to scratch the surface of the knowledge and expertise that was shared at this massive event—from tech giants like Google and Microsoft to startup firms showcasing robotics and coding applications to learning and communications platforms. There was something for everyone. With that, I would like to share some of the core lessons I learned as someone who participated in and viewed this event through the lens of World Languages education!

1. Risk Taking and Failure Are Essential to the Language Learning Process

As I was walking through the convention center Tuesday morning, I caught the conclusion of a simulcast of Alicia Duell’s mainstage session. Duell’s adventurous career path led her to roles at international schools across the globe before landing in her current position as Director of Technology and Information Services at Wheeling Consolidated Community School District 21 outside of Chicago, Illinois. She discussed how losing one job led her to discover the freedom to learn from mistakes, take risks, and experience career success. What drove me to stop was when she spoke about how rarely educators encourage failure as part of the learning process and how often students go out of their way to avoid it.

I witnessed this during my many years as both as a student and teacher of German. While the concept of “fail fast, fail often” is often associated with the tech industry and Silicon Valley, it’s a worthwhile social-emotional learning (SEL) lesson for educators to impart to their students as they strive to build their confidence in the classroom and beyond. Duell’s message is that educators have a role in encouraging students to embrace their mistakes along the pathway to successful learning outcomes.

As World Languages classrooms move toward proficiency-based models of language learning, students are evaluated on language production in the three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive, and presentational. This shift toward communicative competence (and away from grammatical accuracy) provides students with room to explore and express themselves in the target language, while making mistakes and ultimately gaining confidence and developing a growth mindset, which they carry with them into other disciplines and future endeavors.

Along with a safe place in which they feel comfortable learning from mistakes, students need access to target language content that offers comprehensible input along with learning activities that encourage whole language production. Check out HMH’s French and Spanish programs here.

2. World Language Instruction Can Be Improved With Edutainment

As students of the 1990s are now leading their own classrooms, they are excited to see Carmen Sandiego, this iconic character of early edutainment, brought back to life in the Netflix series produced by HMH and reimagined for the classroom! Carmen Sandiego drew an enthusiastic crowd to the HMH booth at ISTE, with virtual reality field trips powered by Google Expeditions, a Google Earth game, and dedicated open educational resources (OER). Students are reengaging with geography, culture, and learning about diversity and empathy through this compelling television show, and HMH has adapted these educational resources specifically for use in Spanish and French classrooms.

Whether through games or an animated series, I learned edutainment offers several benefits to students learning a new language. Animated series are both engaging and accessible to learners at a variety of levels. Students enjoy testing their interpretive viewing skills by watching episodes in their target language. They feel a sense of accomplishment when they understand what is happening on screen, and regular comprehensible input in the target language helps to build students’ confidence when they are faced with real-life communication situations. Games offer a low-stakes way to self-assess knowledge of geography and culture. The Carmen Sandiego episode guides with Spanish and French activities, available as free downloads, offer discussion and writing prompts along with creative project ideas that provide a fun way for students to practice the interpersonal and presentational modes.

3. You Can Enhance a Spanish or French Lesson With Virtual Reality

Teachers, librarians, and technology instructors are increasing their use of virtual reality in the classroom. Google Expeditions offers inclusive virtual access to far-away places that students might not otherwise get the chance to see in person. At ISTE, we had the opportunity to demonstrate HMH Field Trips powered by Google Expeditions and show how valuable a resource they are for the Spanish and French classrooms. These virtual experiences offer students the opportunity to experience the target language while being immersed in the virtual context of a wide variety of cultures across the globe.

It was wonderful to see educators put their “Goggles up” and guide them as they suddenly found themselves among the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, on the campus of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City, or taking in the sunshine among the palm trees on El Malecón in Puerto Vallarta. While many of our visitors might have lingered in virtual reality for a while longer, showing them how HMH Field Trips extends the virtual immersion experience with 40-minute lessons grounded in the ACTFL standards that include target language narration and communicative activities in the three modes of communication was exciting. Perhaps most beneficial of all, virtual field trips provide all students access to the target culture in locations all over the world without ever having to board an airplane or even leave their classroom.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of HMH.


Access Spanish-language audio narration for HMH Field Trips, and check out a variety of resources that promote proficiency in Spanish. You can also register for a demo of ¡Avancemos!

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