Creating Memorable Experiences and Lessons in the FLES Classroom
Teaching a class only once or twice a week is just not enough time to provide input and foster language acquisition, right? Wrong. By creating memorable experiences through stories, personalization, and other brain-based strategies, we can foster acquisition in the leanest of scheduling circumstances. We can make our one or two classes our students’ favorites of the week and build their proficiency! Learn strategies to engage students and create experiences (and lessons) that they will remember.
- learn techniques and strategies to create engaging and memorable lessons for students who only have Spanish one or two periods per week.
You guys already know about me here on the blog 🙂
Me looking cool:
Me as a Narwhal:
What does this tell us about my classroom? I used this as a way to show off some of my students’ doodles and also to show that we don’t take ourselves too seriously in class, which is an important theme throughout the presentation.
About this presentation
Elementary and Middle School Foreign Language Programs…
…Can be amazing
…Can be frustrating
…Aren’t always given enough time to get anything done
…Or so it seems…
The goals I wrote on my presentation application are below
Learn techniques and strategies to create engaging and memorable lessons for students who only have Spanish one or two periods per week.
As you can see, that’s a pretty general and generic kind of description of what we’ll do. While thinking of what to do for this presentation, as I wrote it and thought over all the things I wanted to talk about, I found myself asking some questions:
- But what does that really mean?
- What should be the goal of a class that meets with elementary and middle school students only 1-2 times per week?
- If you could do anything in your classroom, what would you do and why?
A better list of the goals of this presentation is here:
- To get you thinking about the future, specifically, your students’ future.
- How will they remember your class?
- How will they remember your instruction?
- What content will they remember?
I teach each class from Kindergarten to 3rd grade once a week for 30 – 45 minutes. I teach all the other grades twice a week for 45 minutes each class period. This is great in some ways because I get to make sure all my vertical alignment is great, I get to know the students over their whole time at our school (my first kindergarteners are now 7th graders in my homeroom).
But there is a downside to this schedule: it’s just not enough time. I can’t get all the grammar that is expected of high school Spanish one into these kids’ brains by the time they’re graduating 8th grade because they forget everything between classes and I can’t make any progress. They are failing because they just can’t get enough practice on verb conjugations!
This reminds me of a student I’d like to tell you about:
D is a girl who came into our school in the 6th grade. She came from another school in our town and in her old school, she was the top of her class. Every test score, every stanine, every indicator showed that she was the most intelligent kid our school had ever seen. She was a genius, she was nice, she was a hard worker, she was humble. She was everything you’d expect the perfect student to be.
Until she came to Spanish class. She would come in and be a nervous wreck. There was no reason to think that she’d be unsuccessful. She hadn’t taken Spanish before, but I was confident that she would grasp the grammar and vocabulary concepts that we were learning about. She did ok. As it turns out, at the end of that year, I was the only class where she had a B average.
From February, 2012
Part of me thought, “Wow, I must really be challenging this kid. She gets As in every class but mine. How great am I?”
The other part of me thought, “Wait, why is she doing so well in everything? Why does she have the academic Midas Touch in every subject except mine? Is it something I’m doing?”
It turns out, the answer was yes. It was something I was doing…or rather, something I was not doing.
I wasn’t making the class engaging, I wasn’t making the class memorable.
I was teaching as I had learned in High School, where I had class every day of the week for an hour long period. As a student, I practiced every day. Danielle did not have that. She had 2 days a week in Spanish.
You see, in my school (then, as now), kids in middle school only have Spanish twice a week. I see one group on Monday and Tuesday and I see the other group on Thursday and Friday. That means that they have 5 days inbetween their Spanish classes. 5 days to have stress or to have events happen in their lives…Basically, it’s 5 days to forget everything they’ve practiced.
When I taught straight up grammar lessons (lessons out of the textbook), that is exactly what happened: Students who were A students, students in the highest percentiles on standardized tests, the Ds of our school were getting mediocre grades. And the students who weren’t as academically gifted…They fared considerably worse.
As a beginning teacher, I took my lack of high grades as a sign of my rigor. I was the badass teacher who didn’t give good grades. We’ve all had that teacher, the one who relishes in giving as few As as possible:
“Call me Mr. F, not because my name is Fernie, but because I LOVE to give students Fs!!!!”
Reflecting on D and the other students, I found myself asking the following questions about my lessons and about my teaching in general:
Where is the CI?
Where is there anything memorable?
What is it I’m trying to teach: communicative competence? Or how to correctly conjugate and translate verbs to English? Which should I be doing and why?
Should Spanish Class Be Difficult?
Part 3: The Good Stuff
I went to ACTFL in 2013 in Orlando. I went to a presentation about something called Brain-Based Learning and I learned about how stories help students connect with the material. I researched online and found lots of blogs, including the blogs of some of the other presenters here (who I’m totally geeking out about meeting—I’m like a 13 year old girl at a Beatles concert…). All these blogs kept mentioning something called TPRS. I looked it up, I tried it out on my own and found some success—students were more engaged, students were having fun, students were remembering and reproducing language. I went to a TPRS instruction course in late July 2013. I was hooked and in later July 2013, I changed the curriculum for 9 grades worth of classes (450 kids).
That’s where my journey started. Thanks to D getting her first B in her life, I completely changed the way I teach.
The first thing I did was to Ditch Grammar as the Basis of My Curriculum (otherwise known as not using the book)
Grammar became the supporting actor, the one who works in the background to help the hero but is not the main focus of the movie (think Obi Wan Kenobi in the original Star Wars).
So now that Grammar is in the back seat (or in the trunk of the car), what am I doing with my kids?
One Word Images
Persona Especial and other Interviews (as themselves and as others-characters, actors, etc)
Student-created/derived word walls
I have talked about almost all of these things in the blog, but I talked about them in the presentation, so I will now include the slides that I showed at the conference and will add commentary as needed.
What Do all of these things have in common?
If you want to create a memorable classroom experience, the students need to have personalized work—it has to be for them and about them and what they care about.
How do we keep kids accountable now that we don’t have grammar tests? We can use proficiency guidelines and Can-Do Statements from ACTFL to guide them and to guide us so we can have a framework for what students need to accomplish while they are with us (see my blog post about stamp sheets and proficiency).
I’ve talked a lot about stories and characters in this blog, but in the presentation I focused on the personalized aspects of it and how they make it memorable: I have the very basic framework and students come up with all the information about the characters, settings, and any other details.
Student’s ask how to say words, add them to a list that all of your classes can benefit from-they will all see what other classes are interested in and might find inspiration in what other students have asked about.
(I’ll have a more in-depth look at Interview coming soon!)
Given our scheduling situations, it can be difficult for our students to reach high levels of proficiency, but I argue that proficiency isn’t the only thing that we help students develop. We help them see the world in a way that they never would before, from perspectives that they don’t get to see in their communities. It might be more important that we allow our babies to grow up to be life long language learners than perfect young speakers.