Spanish Prof Brings New Kind of "Happy Hour" to Class
When passing by the first ten minutes of Dr. Michelle Farrell’s Spanish class in Canisius Hall, you’re likely to see students milling around the classroom, chatting with each other in Spanish, glancing at questions on the board while upbeat music plays in the background. That would be Farrell’s “Happy Hour,” a daily warm-up that Dr. Farrell, assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese from the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures in the College of Arts and Sciences, created to promote a low-stakes environment to encourage students to use the target language to converse, negotiate meaning, and become a class community.
Half past twelve in the afternoon on Mondays and Thursdays isn’t the most traditional time for a happy hour, but in Dr. Farrell’s class happy hour has become a permanent and popular way for students to practice their Spanish. This informal and fun setting keeps them from feeling self-conscious about making mistakes in front of the entire class. Students practice conversational Spanish in a natural environment similar to the milling and casualness of an after-work happy hour.
Each class starts out with Dr. Farrell’s “Happy Hour” to warm-up the students and get them in the “Spanish mode.” Students stand up, find a partner, and begin chatting in Spanish based on questions Dr. Farrell posts on the projected computer screen. While they talk to each other, lively music plays in the background to set the atmosphere. Questions are prompts for communication, which use new language skills based on homework assignments. The first question tends to be “What did you do last night?” to help students warm up and reduce classroom anxiety. The subsequent questions are more tailored to the previous night’s homework topic allowing a space to practice with peers before whole-class activities. For example: What would you do differently if you could revisit last semester? Or, What will you do after Fairfield? After several minutes students switch partners and begin again, while Dr. Farrell floats around the room listening to some of the conversations.
The Happy Hour has become popular among her students. “It helps us with participation,” said Mike Callahan ’16, a Spanish major and psychology minor who has taken three courses with Dr. Farrell and is now in his fourth. “It really wakes people up, which is good,” he added.
Dr. Farrell began developing her Spanish Happy Hour while she was teaching at Georgetown University during her PhD. She was looking for the best way to warm-up a class to encourage her students to practice speaking Spanish with each other and to take an active role in their learning. “I needed a way to get them to speak and get ready to use their Spanish from the beginning of class to go from zero to 60 miles – really jump start them,” she explained.
And Happy Hour lets students move around, which Dr. Farrell discovered was very important to them. “When I surveyed students while teaching at the University of Pennsylvania about the Spanish Happy Hour, one comment I received was that it was great because it was the only class where students were actually able to stand up.”
Shauna Dresel ’17, a nursing major and Spanish minor in her second course with Dr. Farrell said that Happy Hour was a great way to start the class. “It gets you in the mood and really makes you more comfortable speaking,” she said.
Happy Hour has spread in popularity and has been adopted by other universities including the University of Pennsylvania where lecturer María Paredes recently wrote about Dr. Farrell’s Happy Hour in an online site for innovative education. Professor Paredes, a course coordinator at UPenn, explained in the site “Higher Edgy”, “I shared Michelle’s happy hour activity with my instructors, and soon an entire multi-section course was utilizing this as a warm-up.” Dr. Farrell has given a workshop on her Happy Hour and Warm-ups at the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese Annual Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has also used the Happy Hour as a warm-up while leading a workshop on communicative activities at the 2012 American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Annual Conference in Philadelphia.