South Orangetown Central School District

Each week, Tappan Zee High School Spanish language teacher Claudia Arietta reviews grammar, introduces new vocabulary, discusses concepts and global events. What is new is that she’s doing this via twice-weekly Zoom sessions and Google Classroom rather than in-person.

“Last week, the seniors and I discussed the pros and cons of the right to bear arms, sparked by an article they read the previous week about Covid-19 and a spike in arms sales in the US,” Arietta explains. “We had mini-debates, followed by an essay to prepare at home.” Students are also tasked with preparing two-minute weekly Flipgrids (video responses to a question posted by Arietta in this social learning platform) summarizing news from BBCMundo, Univision or a Spanish Youtube channel.

Spanish II and III students are also required to complete weekly Flipgrids, such as video complaints to AirBNB B hosts. Spanish III are developing cooking videos for upload this week. “A typical Spanish III live lesson covers grammatical concepts for a few minutes, a five-minute Youtube video in Spanish, discussions in breakout rooms in Spanish and a closing activity where we all engage,” says Arietta. “Their exit ticket out of our Zoom meeting is to orally incorporate what they’ve learned and share.”

The biggest challenges? “Zoom lessons fly by and I wish I could have longer blocks of time,” she notes. “There’s also less room for spontaneous interjections in larger classes of 20-plus students, because you get static feedback if more than one person is talking at once. And most importantly, I very much miss the ‘energy’ one gets from teaching in-person. There’s nothing like human-to-human interaction and connection. That can’t be replicated remotely. Some students who were extremely active participants in a classroom setting are now much more quiet. You sense a lot from individual students in a live setting–if they’re down, happy, excited. We do so much more than just teach the kids on any given day and that falls nearly entirely away with virtual classes. I can no longer get a ‘read’ on how they’re feeling.”

On the upside, Arietta has seen some increased engagement. “Quiet kids who might not raise their hand in class direct message me with questions during live lessons,” she says. “Also, with Fridays ‘open,’ I can split up my classes and work with small groups. I’m dividing my Spanish III classes to work with one half on Thursdays and the other half on Fridays to create a closer connection. I’ve also had students ‘stop by’ on Fridays just to practice speaking. With more time on their hands, some are willing to do extra work.”

No matter what the format may be, Arietta feels that strong relationships are fundamental to effective teaching and learning. “I have a real connection with the kids, so it works regardless of how and what we do,” she reflects. “I am thankful for my Spanish Department colleagues–Adolfo Godinez, Kristy Walsh, Odette Santiago and Suzanne Grinberg–who I am extremely lucky to work with, and for the District support in helping me to learn these new technology platforms.”

TZHS Spanish teacher Claudia Arietta