This week I have a special guest posting to my blog. After reading a thoughtful post to our internal community, I felt the urge to highlight it on Design Movement because it reflects the essence of a passionate and dedicated staff willing to fail inside the classroom with students in order to position them for college, career and citizenship. So, I asked Lisa Lopez for permission to share her story of norms, mindsets, and global learning. Lisa is the Lower School Spanish teacher at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and serves as the Co-Chair of the World Languages Research and Design Team. Enjoy!
When my family and I lived in Seville, Spain my children were in love with the Kika Superbruja book series by Knister, a German children’s book author. The books were so popular in Spain (and Germany, of course) that a movie was made. Currently, I am using children’s movies rom Spanish speaking countries with my Lower School students as a framework for language and culture acquisition. The digital format, the story, the images and the characters capture the children’s attention (they love every minute) and as I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post, they are immersed in the target language for four or five class periods (40 continuous minutes) asking questions and repeating high frequency words and phrases out of their own volition. In my opinion, this model mimics more adequately how we learn languages in a natural context. That is, we engage all our senses to acquire, process and consequently produce the language out of a natural desire or need to communicate.
So when we finished watching and working with the first movie “Kika Superbruja y el libro de magia” and the children expressed how much they liked it, I decided to do some research and found there was a sequel. These movies are not available in the United States (they are region 2 movies). Hence, finding it and finally clicking on the “place your order” button required skill and patience. Nevertheless, I was able to successfully secure a copy of Kika y el viaje a Mandolan” or so I thought. Nonetheless, I felt excited and accomplished.
When the movie arrived, I didn’t open the package. I had not seen the movie or read the book, so I wanted to share the anticipation of opening it and watching it for the first time with my students. I stashed it in my school bag and forgot about it.
The day arrived when we were scheduled to watch the movie. I recaptured the thrill with everyone else’s anticipation and opened the movie. Everyone was ready and eager to watch. Little did I know I was about to fail…up.
Turns out instead of Kika Superbruja y el viaje a Mandolan I had “Hexe Lilli die reise Mandolan” in my hand. I had somehow acquired the German version of the movie, and it had no Spanish subtitles! Excited faces peered, almost impatiently, at me. I had less than five seconds to decide what to do.
Fortunately, failing up is a norm at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, so I immediately discarded the useless emotions of guilt and worry. I turned my head upward instinctively to gain inspiration. The 21st century Mount Vernon mindset poster magically came into focus (I gained a new understanding of why we have one in each classroom). My attention gravitated to the attributes of a Creative Thinker and an Innovator. A creative thinker challenges assumptions, suspends judgment, imagines, improvises and adapts as new challenges and opportunities arise. An innovator explores and experiments in a climate of change, builds resilience through risk-taking and setbacks and creates unique ideas/products with value and meaning. My environment was urging me to take a risk, to experiment and to create unique ideas
Therefore, with one millisecond left, I decided to show the movie in German. My conservative judgment was saying, “No, it isn’t Spanish!” but the conditions urged me to suspend judgment and be a risk-taker.
It’s amazing how life-infusing risk taking can be. Your senses multiply their alertness and there is a peculiar exhilaration that pushes you to make the most out of every opportunity. Furthermore, you tirelessly seek to make connections.
As a result, among other things, I asked the children to identify, as soon as they became aware of them, the language differences between this and the other movie. They caught on quickly. Afterwards, we discussed origin, similarities and differences between languages. The children had great insight. They seemed to get a tiny glimpse of how language acquisition works naturally.
We also benefitted from spontaneous global exposure. It became more evident that the goal of exposing students to other cultures is to first and foremost expand on and develop awareness of their own self in order to adequately relate to others. Secondly, we uncovered that coming into close contact with other cultures allows one to develop and expand awareness of how we perceive others. By developing close relationships and having continuous contact with other cultures, we broaden the definition of ourselves. Becoming familiar with other beliefs allows us to recognize traits and commonalities that we share with our global connections. We become “more” by accepting we are all the same at the core. We do this with Spanish on a daily basis but the setback I experienced was adding another layer of exposure to our mosaic.
Surprisingly positive feedback came when one of my 3rd grade boy’s, whom I use to gauge my relevance in the classroom since he is (very) difficult to engage, said with slight excitement in his voice: “Oh, I see where German and English come together!” I felt a wave of ecstatic gratitude.
I then realized the potential for creating polyglots, and appreciated that I had begun a small and humble journey towards creating a unique idea/product with tremendous value and meaning. The children were once again mimicking and repeating sounds in German, in addition to making connections to their native language (and seeing themselves in a different light).
Finally, my exploring and experimenting in a climate of change allowed me to improvise and imagine. I do not speak German; furthermore, I was born and raised bilingual. I studied the French language in a very constrained and traditional environment so my desire and need to communicate were never ignited. Hence playing the movie in German allowed me to empathize with my students. I was learning, feeling, hearing, seeing and sensing what my students were experiencing right along with them. This “innovator” characteristic has given me a lot of data to reflect on and will surely take me in new and unexplored directions!
Luckily, my school encourages failing (up) as a springboard for learning. Not only have I seen the potential in my students to become polyglots, exposed them to one more layer of global awareness, but I have gained so much power as an educator in the process. I seriously cannot wait to see the next adventure failing up and the 21st century Mount Vernon mind will take me on.
Share your story of failing up?