Saying hola to new teaching strategies


Ashlyn Gillespie

French and Spanish teacher Blair Hopkins evaluates Spanish 1 students’ speaking abilities during a speaking test. Tests in the third quarter are taken outside the classroom for 3 minutes to evaluate the curriculum learned in that unit. “Since we’re in-person, each student has to scan the QR code to be outside the classroom,” Hopkins said.

“I can’t hear you.” 

“Please turn on your screen.” 

“My screen can’t be on while you are presenting or my computer knocks me out of Zoom.” 

“There is such a lag with what my teacher is saying and what the screen is showing on my Chromebook.”

These are all realities that teachers and students faced while working to learn a new curriculum in a new format.

“Almost everything had to be adapted. I did a tutorial on every feature of Zoom. I did a lot of trial and error; I did a lot of asking the kids ‘does this work, do you guys like this, do you feel like this is helping you?’ to figure it out,” French and Spanish teacher Blair Hopkins said.

Coming back in the building, language teachers used masks with a clear strip surrounding their mouths, so students could see how words were pronounced and to better comprehend the content being said.

“The clear masks were an attempt to allow students to see our mouths as we speak. I feel like it was a good attempt, but was unsuccessful. I have only worn them a few times, but prefer the masks I made for daily wear,” Spanish teacher Jessica Verweyst said.

Most world language teachers came across complications while trying to teach both in-person and online students simultaneously and providing students with valuable feedback.

Spanish teacher Francisco Navarro checks in with students on Zoom during Spanish 5. (Isabel Collop)

“For me, and I think a lot of teachers would agree, [teaching students in both formats] is the number one biggest challenge. You really can’t give equal attention to the room and equal attention to Zoom. I still think it’s a really big challenge, especially if somebody is struggling on Zoom while I also have people in the room—that’s really hard. I think as long as we do it this way, as long as we are learning like this, that will be the hardest part,” Hopkins said.

Educators also experienced difficulties forming relationships with their students, as well as getting the participation needed for a world language class. 

“Teaching conversational strategies and providing daily feedback was far harder online than in the traditional classroom experience. It was difficult to form strong relationships with students and I feel like many students struggled with getting daily speaking practice. Since this class focuses on the ability to produce language [by] speaking and writing, I felt like each day was a struggle just to get students to participate,” Verweyst said.

Hopkins saw that beginning students had more hurdles trying to learn new words and pronunciations than in a normal year. 

“With French 1, it was incredibly difficult for them to have any pronunciation practice. At first, I thought they could unmute and I could hear them repeat before I knew that the entire class cannot unmute at once. With French 1 and Spanish 1 it is really hard to get the basics of speaking the language when there are not that many opportunities for pronunciation practice,” Hopkins said.

Spanish teacher Francisco Navarro found interactions with his students to brighten his day when he came back to school.

“Getting to know students in-person [has been my greatest reward]. That’s been really nice. Being in school and being in-person is much more fun; Zoom is just not fun,” Navarro said. 

Another major change this school year has been the switch from semesters to quarters. Navarro and other teachers were unsatisfied with the 10 week or longer gap that students had between quarters. 

“Semesters [are better] because we have more time and I think it’s important to have that content with the teacher in that class for an extended period of time. Despite having less time each day, I think it’s important, especially in a language, to see the students every day, and for the students to be using the language every day,” Navarro said. 

Even though there were obstacles to overcome, Verweyst taught each day with a positive mindset and believes students will persevere through the end of the year.

“Breathe and take each day at a time, today for today. Worrying about tomorrow just wastes valuable time today,” Verweyst said. “We are resilient. This year was difficult, but we have all been challenged, and I feel like all Parkway West High teachers rose to the occasion.”