What I Learned in 2014

As the New Year begins, I have been reflecting on what to write. I have learned some really valuable (and REALLY obvious) lessons throughout the last year and I’d like to share them with you.

Storytelling Rules!

There’s not really much more that I can say about it. It is awesome! It is fun for me, it is fun for the kids, and it is effective.

This is a time of big transitional changes in my department. As the only Spanish teacher, I have been granted the freedom to try a lot of different approaches to see what works the best. I am blessed with an administration that values experimentation and is encouraging when I find a new approach that might yield better results.

In addition to changing what the curriculum looks like (especially the change from a book-based order of instruction to a high-frequency-vocabulary-based order of instruction), the switch has also entailed a complete change in emphasis on what student progress looks like. I have been using stamp sheets to evaluate oral communication and I have been using timed-writing and free-writing activities to evaluate written communication. Gone are the days of teaching grammar for grammar’s sake. This doesn’t mean that I don’t teach grammar at all, but it’s never taught to be tested, rather I teach some things to help them to express themselves better. I will not test the students on verb endings, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t ever see that endings change for different subjects.

Student Success Starts With The Teacher

A lot of times, it’s easy to blame the kids for doing poorly in class – “So-and-so never turns in work,” “So-and-so sleeps in class every day.” It’s so easy to write off the kids’ misbehaviors and lack of success as problems that we can’t solve, but we can and those that we can’t solve, we can help to solve. It’s on us to decide what student success looks like in our classes and success in a language class doesn’t look like success in another subject. (See the Promoting Success tag below for more posts about this).

Feedback is super important.

Keeping up with grades is incredibly important for three reasons:

  1. If the students don’t know what mistakes they are making, how can they learn from them?
  2. For the sake of my personal sanity, I can’t afford to keep my desk cluttered with ungraded papers and the online grading system completely empty. It is the opposite of teacher Feng Shui.
  3. It’s important for legitimizing the Spanish program and making sure it is viewed in the same high esteem as the other subjects.

    When I came in, the attitudes of the school RE Spanish class reflected this. But I came in and I did my thing and I gave students “real” grades (in Middle School, at least, K-5 are still on a pass/fail scale). Parents began to consider this class as equal to the “core” classes that the students take.

When I don’t enter grades, though, I undo everything that I have done to make my program more legitimate in the eyes          of parents and administration. Instead of seeing my program as an equal to the other classes, they begin to see my              program as a bunch of fluff-courses that their kids shouldn’t take seriously.

In the end, I learned that if I don’t take the students’ work seriously, neither will they, neither will their parents, and ultimately, neither will the administration.

Kids Do Better When They Have Fun in Class

This title might be one of the most obvious things that anyone has ever written in an educational blog, but that doesn’t take away from the effectiveness of the statement.

I have incorporated more silliness into my instruction this year than I ever have before–storytelling lends itself well to being silly. The best part is that, for the most part, students respond really well to it!

An example:

I began class on the Friday before Christmas Break and had students (8th graders, no less, they can’t be bothered to like anything that’s related to school 🙂 ) asking me if we were going to be doing a story in class. We had short classes that day, so I hadn’t planned a story, I had planned games. The students (the ones who asked me about the story, at least) were DISAPPOINTED! They preferred the stories to playing games and talking with their friends. Needless to say, I was flabbergasted.

Another example, this time, with more feels:

The last 2 years, we had a Resource teacher, basically an ESE teacher who would pull students out of Spanish to help them with their English and Math, whichever they were having more trouble with. At the beginning of this year, this teacher didn’t return and wasn’t replaced immediately. The students who went to his class for help during Spanish had missed 2 years of Spanish and were nervous about starting in Spanish again after missing so much. Very nervous.

I assured them that they would be ok and I would work with them so that they would make progress. I don’t let kids get bad grades in my classes, which they don’t know (unless they’ve found my blog 🙂 ) and they are doing really well. They are all at different levels, but I am able to help them all to get past where they were. They are all excited about Spanish and are all hoping that a replacement for our Resource teacher isn’t found so that they can stay and have fun in Spanish class.

Fun in class is not the opposite of increasing knowledge and ability. In my case, at least, it has been a huge boost to both knowledge and ability in Spanish.

Kids Don’t Respond Well When Their Teacher Acts Like A Jerk

This is probably even more obvious than the last thing that I learned. I lost my cool on more occasions than I care to mention and it set me back each time. It made class a tense and unhappy place to be. I plan to avoid that feeling in any way possible.

You Are Not Alone

Mavis Staples was right. Just go onto Twitter and search #langchat. So many people, so much helpful information, and so many ideas are at your fingertips. Thanks again, Tweeps!

On top of that, there are so many blogs to check out, too many to name here. Look at those that I follow in the margin to the right of the posts on this blog. Each and every one of those people has been helpful in my journey as a language teacher. There are others that I have linked to and spoken about before and there are so many (just look at how many people on #langchat have their own blogs, then read each and every one of those religiously).

Those bloggers I especially want to thank because you taught me that it’s not just me out here in my little Spanish-speaking island at my school. There is a whole world out there connected and ready to help out in any educational situation. There’s no shame in it. Get help from everywhere you can!

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3 thoughts on “What I Learned in 2014

  1. What exactly do you mean by ‘curriculum’? I think this has a different meaning in Australia! For us, the curriulum is mandated by the government and dictates all the skills and content that teachers have to teach over a 1, 2 or 3 year period, depending on the subject area. and year level. I am not sure if there is a common term for the yearly/ semester/ term outline/ plan that teachers are responsible for writing/ creting in Australia!! I must find out!!

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    • When I talk about my curriculum, I am talking about what I do individually. I work in a private Catholic school and there is no set content that I must teach. Foreign languages in elementary school in Florida are not required, so we foreign language teachers, when we find jobs at the elementary level, are not beholden to any specific content or instructional requirements outside of our state foreign language standards, which don’t dictate what content should be taught each year but rather skills that should be taught. The curriculum is much more formalized at the high school level, where foreign languages are required for graduation.
      On top of that, my administration is really positive about me experimenting with different methods (like TPRS). My principal told me that the students we send to the regional Catholic high school are impressed with how much the students from our school know when they arrive, so she has given me a lot of freedom to try different things.

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