A Recalibration: Finding the Positive Hidden in the Negative

1000 Days

1000 days ago (1001, to be exact) I wrote a post about having fun in the classroom. I wrote another one (about 870 days ago) about variety and avoiding boredom in the classroom. Somewhere along the way, I lost sight of these things. I got bored and I started being the kind of teacher I always told myself I’d never be: unadaptable, stuck in my ways, unwilling and unable to see that what I was doing wasn’t working, and refusing to try something new. I committed 2 of the biggest teacher sins: losing sight of why I’m even teaching and blaming the students for not being successful.

It’s hard to say that out loud.

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Start a Language Teaching Blog. Seriously, Do it!

Another Year Gone By…

Today is my 2nd Blogiversary. It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since I began sharing my reflections on teaching with the language teaching world and it’s even harder to believe that anybody has been paying attention to them!

Thanks to everyone out there who has read and commented!

Writing this blog has had a lot of benefits for me as a teacher. I recommend everyone start your own blog about your classroom! Lots of different teachers have lots of different blogs. Mine is a more confessional/look-at-what-my-students-just-did/Here’s-how-I-dealt-with-a-tough-situation blog. It started out as something for me to refer back to and has grown into something that matters (hopefully…a little bit…) to other teachers. Other teachers create activities and tasks to share with the world; others talk about the science of language acquisition; others talk about a specific method (like TPRS or OWL); some are written by teachers just starting out and trying something new; some are written by experienced teachers who want to pass what they have learned to another generation of teachers. Whatever category you fall into (or even if what you write about is in a whole new category that no one has ever thought of), writing a language teaching blog is wonderful.

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This Year’s Main Lesson: Every Kid Has the Potential

Update

And we’re back! I have had a great spring break-went on vacation to DC and ate some of the best food I’ve ever eaten and then I got home to FL and went immediately to the NCEA conference in Orlando with my whole faculty team and learned about all kinds of new things to use in class. Unfortunately, not many of the sessions were specifically for teaching Spanish, but I was still able to get a lot out of the general education sessions (brain-based learning/memory strategies, talking about “Hot Topics” with kids if/when they come up, etc).

Spring Break = Time For Reflection

School starts back up on Monday, 4/13 and then it’s a mad dash to the finish line on June 3 (last day for the kids). This time away from the classroom has been a great way to recharge my batteries and it has given me some time to sit back and reflect on the things that the kids have achieved this year. Over the last few years, I taught using more traditional methods-conjugation tables, straight-forward grammar instruction, rule memorization, etc-and I found it boring and difficult for me and the for the students. They didn’t know any better, but I knew that it wasn’t working. The best of them, the ones who are the most motivated to study every night, could do a pretty good job of memorizing everything I taught them and could regurgitate it on a test, but they couldn’t communicate and they couldn’t understand.

This year has been completely the opposite. I’m 99% sure if I gave the students a grammar test after these last 8 months, they wouldn’t do so well. But when I give them a writing assignment in Spanish, I can get 10-20 good sentences in Spanish from kids as young as 4th grade! I couldn’t get last year’s 8th graders to do anything near that.

Of course, I must note that this is not the previous year’s 8th grader’s fault. It’s my fault. I was not getting their best from them because I was not teaching them the best way. They all had the ability. This year’s improvements are testament to that.

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#Teach2Teach Question 3 – “What has been your most troublesome experience with teaching and how did you handle it?”

A Tough Question With A Simple Answer

I have been blessed in my language-teaching career to not have too many bad things to deal with. I am definitely lucky. After some thinking, though, there are some things that have not been great. The most difficult experience I have had was being a first year teacher with no support. I was hired as the 1st – 8th grade Spanish teacher with a 6th grade homeroom. At the time I was hired, I thought it was great! I was happy to just have found a job that was in the field that I had studied. I was ready for the challenge of teaching so many new kids. Until that point, I had only taught university level (with lots of other TAs and we made department-wide tests and used the same department-created syllabus) and had an internship at a high school. I was definitely a newbie and I had a lot to learn and the principal who hired me (not at our school anymore) gave me the keys to the classroom and said, “Have fun!”

That was the extent of my orientation to the world of elementary school Spanish teaching.

So, August, 2010 rolled around and I started. But then…there was no curriculum; there were no materials from previous teachers other than the textbooks (originally published in 1987, 4th edition published 2000). I thought it was weird that the principal only gave me the textbooks and no scope and sequence documents or curriculum documents, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to rock the boat. I just got hired for my first real job and I wasn’t going to ruin it by complaining.

I floundered for a while. I didn’t get a lot of respect from the older kids because I kept teaching them things they already knew. I still didn’t say anything about the missing curriculum documents. I just kept trying new things in later chapters in the text. I told them, “Review is good, it’s good practice and you’ll need it for high school.” I kept my head down and just plowed through the year, hoping that I was doing a good job.

The more I taught, the more I found my voice in the classroom. I am not a quiet teacher; I am not laid back or subdued. I am wild and crazy and loud and do whatever I can to engage the kids. I have no problems with embarrassing myself for the good of their education. The way I handled it was to keep trying new things and to keep trying to do the best for the students. My goal is for them to communicate in Spanish. It’s taken me a while to figure out how to do it, from new textbooks, to units I’ve created on my own, to finding and using TPRS and CI Methods. I have just kept trying new things to achieve my goal.

I guess you could say that that answers the question in the title, but there’s so much more to it, so much more that I have learned from my troublesome experience of being an (almost) unsupported brand new FLES teacher.*

Blessing in Disguise

 In some ways, being thrown in head first…

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FLES TPRS Story – Opuestos (Opposites), Pt. 4 – The Final Part of the Story

This is the final part of the story that I began at the beginning of January with my first and second graders (part 1; part 2; part 3). The target vocabulary terms are opposite adjectives – tall/short, fast/slow, nice/mean. It has been super fun in class. The other terms in today’s story were

Necesita ayuda – needs help
Va a – goes to
Le dice – says to him/her

Up to this point, I have reviewed the adjective vocabulary with TPR actions and the kids can do the actions when I say the words. I have found that the best way to practice this is to play Simon says with the TPR actions.

One problem that I encountered today was confusion with nice/ happy and mean/angry. In the future, I will have to differentiate the TPR actions and the words much more so that they are completely different to avoid confusion.

The story is below:

DV es antipático. DV necesita un amigo. DV no tiene un amigo. DV va a el chico bajo. DV le dice, “Necesito un amigo.” Chico bajo le dice “No. Eres antipático.”
DV va a el Chico alto. DV le dice “(same statement)” el Chico bajo le dice, “(same answer).”
DV va a la chica rápida. DV le dice, “(same question)” La chica rápido le dice, “(same answer)”
DV va a la chica lenta. DV le dice, “(same question)” La chica lenta le dice, “(same answer)”
DV va a la chica simpática (student number six from the first day). DV le dice “Necesito una Amiga.” La chica simpática le dice “sí sí ven aquí!” (chica simpática and DV give each other a high five)

Darth Vader is mean. DV needs a friend. DV doesn’t have a friend. DV goes to the short boy. DV says, “I need a friend.” The short boy says, “no. You’re mean.”
DV goes to the tall boy (same statement and same answer)
DV goes to the fast girl (same statement and same answer)
DV goes to the slow girl (same statement and same answer
DV goes to the nice girl. (Same statement). The nice girl says, “yes yes! Come over here!”
They give each other a high five.

I made sure to give an extra special round of applause for the students who played Darth Vader because I wanted them to feel loved by their class. I didn’t want them to think that no one wants to be their friend.

Reflection on the Entire Story Unit
I think that the story presentation was great overall, but there were some things that could be improved:

1. Fewer vocabulary structures–the kids had trouble keeping track of the words. I think that if all of the parts of here story were as repetitive as the final part and only focused on those few terms, the kids would be able to acquire them better.

2. Better TPR actions–the actions for alto and bajo and rápido and lento were easy for the students to understand, but, as I stated before, the actions for nice and mean where too similar to previous actions we have done for happy and angry and this caused some confusion.

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Variety = Success

“Kids can be so mean. It’s like they don’t even know that their words carry emotional weight. They say something and it just totally cuts you down…”

That is how I used to think. And sometimes it is still true about the emotional toll that the words of children take, but I’ve learned to not take it personally. I have realized, after a great long while, that their words and reactions probably have nothing to do with me or my class. Sometimes, people are just in bad moods. I think about how many times I have been curt or short with them because I was having a bad day and it reminds me that they are just kids and they lack the self-awareness that (most) adults have.

Boredom in Class

The reason that I bring all of this up is that I had a bad day on Monday. My first period (on a Monday) class didn’t want to do the work that I had planned. I had planned to do an embedded reading from the “Look, I Can Talk” text that I have been using. The kids did the reading ok, but then, when it came time to write, they hemmed and hawed and complained…and whined and protested and told me how sick of writing they are and how they don’t like writing about the stories.

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