The past three weeks have been intense weeks of learning. Dr. Powell often referred o Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning and shared that tension exists when learning occurs. Many of my learning experiences in Costa Rica provided tension including: living in the homes of strangers, becoming acquainted with instead of fearful of new night sounds, experiencing frustration with communication skills in order to support my needs for food and transportation, dealing with time management—schedules—academic assignments, no computer and limited internet café access, dealing with weather conditions (muchas juvia!), missing friends and relatives at home, and experiencing the grief at saying goodbye to new Tico friends. Did I experience tension only because I was in a new situation or because I was learning?
For my final blog, I decided to use Cambourne’s Conditions for Learning as a benchmark for the course. Did I experience learning, and if I did, what did I learn? I remember the conditions for learning as immersion, engagement, demonstration, use, feedback, expectations, approximation, and trust.
IMMERSION—By design of the course, travelling to a native Spanish speaking country, living with Spanish speaking host families, and enrolling in a Spanish immersion language school created an immersion learning experience. I know if I had stayed in English speaking hotels, I would not have learned as much Spanish or as much about the culture of Ticos. If the Spanish immersion schoolwere not part of my daily routine, I would not have spent as much time studying Spanish. Did I learn Spanish as a result? Yes! I can now read and write Spanish MUCH better than I can pronunciate it. In three weeks time, I have learned enough to feel confident about enrolling in a Spanish I class!
ENGAGEMENT—My reason for taking this Costa Rica trip/course were to learn Spanish for professional and personal reasons. There are many Spanish speaking within my immediate community and certainly within our country at large. I want to be able to communicate with them and understand their culture while sharing mine with them as well. Time and Time again, we discussed strategies we might use in our classrooms to benefit all students, but especially ESL students. Our experiences in Costa Rica were opening our minds and hearts to the challenges of second language learners first hand.
USE- Again, by design of the course, the course work provided a demanding schedule of school visits for observation and participation, professional development workshops, four hours of daily Spanish classroom instruction plus nightly homework, an academic research project that required research in Costa Rica, maintaining a reflective blog, relating to Spanish speaking families— their personalities--their schedules, communicating with local merchants to purchase supplies, toiletries, transportation, food, souvenirs, learn new vocabulary and language skills, participate in field trips to rainforests, cloud forests, volcanoes, coffee plantations, participate in two service projects addressing the needs of Nicaraguan immigrant children and families and planting coffee in the fields of a local coffee co-op. Were we engaged using new information? By all means—academically, professionally, personally, and emotionally.
Demonstration—When we visited two primary schools, we read with them in English and Spanish. It was definitely a time of demonstration based on our Spanish language development as well as the literacy discussions provided by Dr. Powell. She demonstrated a whole language experience to provide strategies for our classroom visits. This prepared us for the reading and writing assignments we prepared and delivered during our classroom visits. Dr. Huber demonstrated several AIMS experiments that aided our successful science classroom experiences as well. Additionally, Dr. Huber was instrumental in explaining the cloud forest environment that we found ourselves living in Monteverde. Dr. Powell’s and Dr. Huber’s demonstrations served us well based on the motivation students displayed when we taught the classes, collected their work, and evaluated their participation. Surely the lessons we learned from Dr. Powell and Dr. Huber will serve each us long into the future.
Feedback—Feedback for our progress in this course came from many sources including taxi drivers, merchants, Spanish instructors, UNCW professors, host families, peers, our real families, children in the Costa Rica schools, and our tour guides. On any given day, feedback was available by a minimum of four sources. It was always constructive and proved the motivation when I was tired or challenged and felt like giving up –especially when my language skills were deficient in meeting my needs.
Expectations—Before leaving Wilmington, Dr. Powell arranged class meetings and provided informative emails and handouts outlining the course description and expectations including the written and technology objectives. She and Dr. Huber provided clear expectations about responsibilities regarding schedules and arriving promptly for scheduled tour events. Our host families had expectations for us for living in their homes, sharing their meals, and for joining their social engagements. Our families and friends at home had expectations for us to make wise choices that would promote our safety in a foreign country where we did not know the language. Our Spanish instructors had expectations about our learning commitment, participation, and homework. Our tour guides had expectations for us to meet promptly, to engage in the activities, and to inform them of our needs. My peers had expectations of one another with some of our shared assignments. Lastly, I certainly had expectations for myself as a learner.
Approximation—I have certainly made efforts to learn and use Spanish as well as to understand living in a country, community, and school where my native language was not spoken at all times. Was this experience always a successful experience for me? No, but every experience was a stepping stone towards the best experience. I have chosen to look at each experience a positive move forward.
Responsibility—Dr. Powell, Dr. Huber, our Spanish instructors, our tour guides, our host families have all shared in the responsibilities of supporting us and holding us accountable during this creative learning environment and experience. In their own styles, they have provided the support needed for us as students to shift from passive learning to active engagement and success learning.
Trust—Is it possible to develop trust with strangers in three weeks? Consider--new professors, new people with different roles in our daily lives, new peers, and a challenge to develop a new trust within ourselves to embrace these moments—could I do this in three weeks? I believe trust develops at different rates for different people for different reasons. On this trip, I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by genuine people whose being have made it easy to trust them thereby creating a a foundation for my positive, engaging successful learning experience. Thanks to Dr. Powell and CPI Costa Rica for their diligent efforts at making wise choices for the high standards and safety for our learning experience!
In conclusion, assuming Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning are a valid measure, then yes, this course has been a successful learning experience for me. I feel this trip has met my academic needs for learning how it feels to walk in the shoes f a second language learner in a new country. Equally important, it has made me a better person since I am able to understand and appreciate Costa Rica, its people, and it’s incredible sense of responsibility for the environment. Some respected news sources write that many of the world’s happiest people are Costa Ricans. I personally believe that folks who understand and respect their ‘natural world are ones who are more understand ‘human nature’ and are comfortable with themselves and how they fit in the world at large. Ticos, in my opinion, understand and live it. Thank you, mis amigos, for sharing your beautiful country and friendships. Pura Vida!