Innovator | Feature

Teaching Spanish With Social Media

Daniel de Leon
Daniel de León

Daniel de León, a modern language instructor and educational technologist at Sandia Prep in Albuquerque, NM, is our Innovator of the month for January 2014. Here, he talks about how he uses social media to teach Spanish.

Making BYOD Part of the Plan
Being an independent school can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to educational technology. We aren’t tied to any requirements, but without such guidance it’s easy to get lost. So our head of school recently commissioned the Technology Leadership Committee, which I chair, to draft the school’s first technology strategic plan. We spent all last year doing that, and in the process we were able to assess our strengths and our immediate and longer-term needs. Out of that, we decided to formally implement a BYOD policy. This was a big step for us. A lot of teachers, including myself, have been allowing our students to bring their devices, but through this formal process we can look on a schoolwide basis at what our students have, what more we need to provide, and how the technology is being used in classrooms.

Why I’m a Believer
By making technology more available to all students, we are personalizing the instruction process, giving all learners the opportunity to go at their own pace. The stronger learners who might otherwise become bored can move ahead and explore something new, and those who need more time can search for information and resources that will bring them to a level of proficiency. As a teacher, I can facilitate that and see where students are getting stuck—which may not be the same at the same point for every student. The other important component is collaboration. For this generation, sharing information is very intuitive, and that’s enabled by technology.

Opening New Avenues Through Social Media
Last year the curriculum in one of my Spanish courses involved using social media in the educational process. Everything students created had to be communicated through a social media platform of their choice. All of the classroom lessons were designed and recorded by the students with video and text presentations, they were put up on the social media, and the students had to include some type of interactive communication. This increased accessibility made it easier to get an understanding of the language. But beyond that, with social media you remove the walls of the classroom and invite others to participate. People from outside the class were responding to our posts, and they were asking good questions about what we were studying, as well as recommending other sites to reinforce what we were doing. Unlike using a static, finite textbook, [using] social media sparked interest in pursuing other avenues related to language.

How I Got Here
Before I became a teacher I was a business owner, and used technology quite a bit in running health clubs. When I started as a teacher here in 2000, it just made sense to use aspects of that corporate environment to be more productive. It was a perfect moment for me to be coming into education: Everyone was talking about building 21st century skills, which had a lot to do with instructional technology. Being in the language department, the first thing I wanted was a language lab: a computer center with software to play videos, record conversations among students, and have them listen to the dialogue. At the same time, we started seeing the emergence of mobile devices, and I realized that bringing these devices into the classroom would be much better. You no longer had to interrupt the flow of learning by taking the students to a new physical space to use technology. A few years ago, I piloted a program to bring in Netbooks, and showed the administration how having them in the classroom was a much better model. So today, with so many students having mobile devices and with all of the applications that they have, BYOD makes so much sense. 

Where We Are Headed
I expect secondary education to follow the footsteps of post-secondary in moving toward blended learning and massive open online courses. At the initial stage, students who want to take courses that we don’t offer could be allowed to take MOOCs. Ultimately we could offer them, as well as blended courses. Schools and districts are starting to see that the traditional form of delivering instruction isn’t the only way, and that we have to listen to our clients — the students and families — about how they want to learn.


About the Author

Dan Gordon is a freelance writer based in Agoura Hills, CA.

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