A little help from my friends: How my curriculum has been shaped by many

Let me admit it here and now: I am constantly using other people’s ideas. I love to look at activities that other people have developed and use them or adapt them for my own classroom. There are several reasons why I devour posts about activities. These range from the practical (I just don’t have that many innovative ideas at this point in my career) to the more esoteric (I like seeing how other people approach similar objectives – I am a one-man department, so I have no one to bounce ideas off of), but they always get a little Señor Fernie flair.

For example, late last week, I did a MovieTalk activity from Martina Bex from a Canadian prank show. It worked really well for multiple grades and ages from 4th – 8th grade. It is a funny video and it made for great input opportunities for the students. I highly recommend it for any time you want to try MovieTalk with your students.

This is not the first activity from Señora Bex that I have used and I am sure that it will not be the last. In fact, there are a lot of people in the blogosphere (is that still what I’m supposed to call it?) who have ideas and activities to share: Señora Bex and Señor Peto and Señora Cottrell and Señora Sexton and Señor Howard and Señor Stolz and Michael Linsin and so many more people have shared so many great ideas (see the “blogs I follow” on my blog page).

I didn’t always have this affection for adaptation. Almost everything I have has come from somewhere else (books, blogs, other teachers in my district) and I used to think of this as a bad thing, as something shameful. I thought, “I hope my administrators don’t find out that I’m getting my ideas from other people.

I have written before about how I was thrown into my position with a slap on the back and the advice of “Good Luck, Have Fun” by my previous principal. I had no idea what I was doing. Luckily, there were so many resources available online for me to start to make headway in designing a curriculum from scratch as a brand new elementary and middle school teacher. Google and I became far more acquainted than we ever had before. I adapted FLES curricula from different states, I devoured all the blogs I could find about FLES and Middle School methods, and I became an expert at Pinterest, still one of my favorite tools for finding new ideas.

Again, I was a bit ashamed of all of this. I felt that since I didn’t come up with everything myself, that there was something wrong with me, that I was some kind of charlatan and imposter who had no idea what I was doing. I had just finished a master’s degree in foreign language education, but I had no elementary or middle school experience and no books to use. I was lost…

…But after a little while…

…after some research, some panic attacks, a new baby at home, and blatant theft of other people’s ideas, I started to find my way. I figured out the work-life balance. I figured out how to grade (and, more importantly, what to grade). I figured out how to make things work and how to teach 430 kids once or twice a week.

As the next 3 years passed, I branched out and made the hodge-podge of methods and lessons into a cohesive K-8 curriculum. And things went pretty well.

Then, I went to a TPRS workshop. Now I’m starting all over.

The advantage that I have with starting over now, though, is that I feel no shame in using the ideas published by other teachers. I see no problem with using the activities, lessons, and curricula that others have developed and made available for the public to use.

I know that it’s tough to start out with no experience and with no materials. But, now at least, I know that there are LOTS of people out there who have helpful ideas. Not only do they post their activities, I guarantee (a guess, but it’s what I would want) that they are actively looking for feedback and constructive criticism; they want to know that you have been using their stuff and whether or not it has worked for you. They want you to let them know the adaptations that you’ve made that worked better for you than the originals…They just might use your new idea in their own instruction because in our connected world, collaboration is the name of the game.

If you don’t believe me, search for #langchat on twitter and you’ll see what I mean.

In the end, this post is for those foreign language teachers who feel like they don’t know what they’re doing or who feel lost in the shuffle of school life. This is for the foreign language teachers who feel like their program is just an afterthought to their school’s mission. This is for the foreign language teachers who feel like they are just babysitters who get to watch the kids for an indoor recess period while their “real” teachers get a free period.

Those words describe EXACTLY how I felt in the beginning, but thanks to the ideas of the people I mentioned above, along with the people at TPRS (who publish the Look, I Can Talk text that I currently teach from), I have been able to make my class compelling for the kids. I took a program made up of teaching 5 years of colors and numbers followed by 3 years of present tense regular verb endings and put together a program that creates students who are thinking in terms of proficiency and Can-Do Statements. Instead of (sort of) knowing verb endings, the students leave the school with conversational skills that they can apply outside the classroom (that’s the goal, at least 🙂 ).

The point is, I took lemons and I made lemonade and you can do the same. Some of the teachers didn’t start out with much respect for my program, but they definitely have respect for the students’ abilities to use the language.

We can all achieve this in our classrooms. The key is to borrow unashamedly from those who have been there before you. Take the ideas that you find and make them your own. Once you feel comfortable with your program and your abilities, then you can start your own blog and make your own activities or observations and share them with the rest of us out here in the blogosphere—I promise I’ll be among the first to use your ideas in my classroom.

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7 thoughts on “A little help from my friends: How my curriculum has been shaped by many

  1. You are the answer to my dreams! You simply say EVERYTHING I have experienced ! It certainly is nice to know that I am not as alone as I feel and look forward to more ideas and coming up with some of my own that I can share.

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  5. I’m only through “November” on your blog, here (it’s April 22), but I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have found it tonight. I’ve returned to teaching after being a mostly-full-time mom. I never thought I’d go back to teaching Spanish because the old way was so uninspiring. Through a series of events, I discovered CI/TPRS (and attended the conference in Denver last year, which was a huge help!) I now find myself teaching K-8, part-time (2x’s/week) at a Catholic school, despite being a middle-school teacher by training (sound familiar?). I don’t need permission to steal, but I *am* grateful for the likes of you and others from whom I have borrowed extensively this year (in fact, this is why I find myself reading your blog tonight, completely overwhelmed at facing the Kindergartners yet again tomorrow. And the first, second, and third graders, come to think of it. THANKS!

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    • Wow! I’m glad that I have been able to help. I also teach at a Catholic school. Feel free to use any ideas you find and please make sure to let me know if you improve them so I can try it too!
      Good luck in your teaching and please feel free to contact me if you have any cool ideas to share. You can share in the comments or by email: Senorfernie@gmail.com

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