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Behind the scenes with Loren Chavarría-Bechtel

Spanish senior instructor II

Loren-Chavarria-Bechtel-Main

“My personal experience as an immigrant in this country highlighted the importance the Spanish language plays in my cultural identity. I wanted to share the joy of being bilingual or multilingual with my new community in the United States,” says Ecampus Spanish Senior Instructor Loren Chavarría-Bechtel.

By Heather Doherty  
March 27, 2017

Ecampus Spanish Senior Instructor II Loren Chavarría-Bechtel came to Oregon State University in 1996 and has held a variety of positions, including Spanish senior instructor, associate director for engagement at the Center for Latin@ Studies and Engagement (CL@SE) and Spanish for Heritage Language Learners program director. Prior to Oregon State, she served as a Spanish instructor at Rogue Community College in Grants Pass, Oregon. She earned a B.A. in Business Administration with a minor in Spanish from Oregon State University and a M.A. in Spanish Literature from the University of Arizona.


Briefly describe your role as an Ecampus instructor.

“I develop and facilitate Spanish courses directed to native and heritage language learners. Most of my students grew up in the United States in Spanish-speaking homes. Their first language was Spanish, but once they entered kindergarten, their academic preparation happened in English. They take my courses to further develop their literacy skills in their mother tongue.”

What made you decide to get into this field of study?

“My personal experience as an immigrant in this country highlighted the importance the Spanish language plays in my cultural identity. I wanted to share the joy of being bilingual or multilingual with my new community in the United States.

“I also wanted to enable more Latinxs in this country to have a professional advantage by being able to position themselves as bilingual teachers, doctors, counselors, caretakers, etc.”

What do you like most about teaching Spanish online?

“I enjoy the diverse backgrounds of the students in my courses; it allows us to have deeper, more meaningful conversations. My students not only listen to the different Spanish pronunciation and vocabulary students from a different country of origin have, but they also learn from the broad array of personal experiences and opinions each brings.”

Briefly describe the different tools and techniques you use to make learning a language online a similar – or equally engaging – learning experience to an in-person class.

“It is important for me to get to know my students on a personal basis. Throughout the length of the course, I include oral and written activities that encourage them to share experiences about growing up, about their cultural and family traditions, about their dreams and objectives, etc. I pay attention and value each personal story, and encourage all participants to do the same. I rely on a method of facilitation that places the learners’ ideas and lives at the center of the discussions. The result is the construction of a learning community where participants feel significant and valued by each other and me. The use of VoiceThread and peer editing have been central to achieving this goal.”

“I include oral and written activities that encourage them to share experiences about growing up, about their cultural and family traditions, about their dreams and objectives, etc. I pay attention and value each personal story, and encourage all participants to do the same.”

Loren

“I constantly advise my students to make the most from their educational experience. To complete courses that help them discover who they are and who they want to be; that challenge their ideas and transform them into engaged and productive members of their communities,” Loren says.

Are there any myths about learning a language online that you’d like to dispel?

“I teach the same courses face to face and online. I substitute the class discussions with asynchronous conversations via VoiceThread. The rest of the experience is the same.

Heritage language (HL) classes have different instructional goals than their equivalent for second language learners (SLL). HL education recognizes the strengths that learners bring to the class both in terms of HL and heritage culture (HC) and aims at building upon learners´ knowledge and abilities. Spanish for HL courses offer students opportunities to study Spanish in an academic setting in the same way that native speakers of English study English language arts. The aim is to foster language use for authentic purposes, especially for critical reflection on social, historical and individual issues of concern to learners. Since HL acquisition typically begins in the home and in most cases does not continue to develop at school, HL learners often have stronger listening and speaking skills in family settings, while they need to develop the proficiencies fostered in formal schooling that would help them function in a professional setting. In addition to responding to their linguistic needs, HL courses must attend to the HL learner’s socio-affective necessities. Many HL students have been criticized by family members for their ‘español mocho,’ and stigmatized by the dominant society for being Spanish speakers in the U.S. As a result, their linguistic self-esteem tends to be very low in comparison with that of SLL, for which speaking a second language is a praised asset; hence the importance to place a focus on addressing issues of identity, biculturalism and bilingualism that tap into HL learners’ cultural expertise.”

What are the benefits of online learning?

“Learners complete all reading, writing, grammar and spelling exercises at their own pace outside of the classroom. Extending learning to the online environment allows me to use a variety of instructional strategies that enhance both individual and collaborative student engagement – to include more images, audio and video to increase cultural immersion as part of the learning experience and to incorporate frequent low-stakes assignments with rapid feedback.”

How can earning an undergraduate degree in Spanish help students in their futures?

“There is an increasing need and demand for graduates with professional-level skills in Spanish in a wide variety of fields given the demographic changes experienced by the Latinx population in our country, especially in the last 25 years.

“A degree in Spanish also affords heritage/native speakers a greater understanding of their culture, their history and their own identity.”

How do you build a genuine connection with students who, in many cases, you’ll never meet in person?

“My interaction with the students enrolled in my Ecampus courses is constant. I give them individualized feedback every time I correct their assignments. I respond to their comments in VoiceThread several times per week. We communicate by email and phone anytime there is a need for clarification.

“Likewise, I request feedback from participants at different times during the term and in various forms. Before the start of the course, I ask participants to complete a questionnaire (Ayúdame a conocerte un poco mejor) devised to gain a better understanding of their individual language goals, study habits, learning styles, feedback preferences, etc. This information informs the way I give feedback to each participant throughout the term – some of them ask me to be direct, but respectful in my observations, while others prefer to receive comments about their performance the ‘Sandwich style’ – mention strengths at the beginning and end of the conversation, and remark on one or two areas in need of improvement in the middle.

“Most of my students will complete the entire third-year sequence with me; this allows all of us to get to know each other much better.”

“Incorporating the latest education research into my work, I design and facilitate courses that utilize a student-centered approach emphasizing learners’ involvement, independence, responsibility and growth.”

How have you evolved as an educator since you began teaching classes online with Ecampus?

“Incorporating the latest education research into my work, I design and facilitate courses that utilize a student-centered approach emphasizing learners’ involvement, independence, responsibility and growth. My entry into distance education gave me the tools to successfully implement the ‘flipped’ classroom model, which I easily embraced because it offers an alternative to what Paulo Freire referred to as the banking concept of education. Instead of acting as passive receptacles of information, now students complete most reading, writing, grammar and spelling exercises independently and at their own pace. They can read an excerpt or listen to a segment more than once to gain full comprehension, without being afraid of slowing down the rest of the group. This approach also allows students to be part of the learning process; if a grammatical explanation is not clear enough for them, they can search online for another. If they need additional practice with certain orthographic rules, they find their own interactive exercises and recommend them to the rest of the group – this is how I have learned about valuable resources.”

Briefly describe any current research projects you’re working on.

“My desire to provide relevant learning experiences to my heritage/native language learners encouraged me to incursion in the fields of immigration studies and service-learning, and lead me to develop relationships with Latinx communities across the Willamette Valley. My advising and advocacy roles required me to develop basic knowledge in a variety of areas, including race and racism.

“Currently, I am following closely the impact of recent policies from the Trump administration on Latinx communities across the country and in Oregon, in particular.”

What would you say is the most fascinating aspect of this field of study and/or your research?

“We are currently experiencing a situation that has a strong impact on our Latinx students and their families, and as a result, on their ability to focus on their studies and do well. It is very important for educators to be aware of this and to offer additional support throughout this time period.”

What advice would you like to give to students?

“I constantly advise my students to make the most from their educational experience. To complete courses that help them discover who they are and who they want to be; that challenge their ideas and transform them into engaged and productive members of their communities.”

What are your favorite activities outside of work?

“I love to read and to go for walks with my dog, Rusty.”

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