This was my first year completely putting CI as the focus of my instruction. I implemented various techniques gleaned from Twitter, fellow colleagues, the Mitten CI called conference, as well as TPRS methods I learned through various blogs & websites. At the end of the year, I asked my students to fill out a survey that would give me insight into their reaction to the new way of learning. Here are my reflections on the year as well as on what I learned from the student surveys. I want to do this publicly so it would give me some accountability as to the changes I plan to make for next year. I learned a lot throughout the school year, the most important lesson which is that I have a lot more to learn, which is a tough pill to swallow after 16 years of teaching. Nevertheless, I know that pulling CI at the center of my classroom instruction will lead to better communication and understanding of Spanish and I am pleased with my first try at it. As one of my students once said, the first pancake is never the best. I had some great successes and some failures along the way. I will learn from both of them and strive to get better.
Setting up a safe classroom environment based around strong relationships with the students has always been a strong suit of mine. Survey results seem to reflect this as well. I believe that implementing Capturing Kids’ Hearts training also lead to stronger relationships throughout the classroom. However, it’s tough to maintain this throughout the year. One of the biggest challenges that I have always had teaching is making sure to form relationships with every single student. That can be very daunting, especially when there are 180 students to get to know personally. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get to know every student personally. I want to focus on doing better. I tend to know some kids better than others and that is something that I’ve never been truly happy with. Next year I want to be sure to engage with the students on a personal level more often.
Also, while we’re on the topic, some students expressed the desire to have one with more one on one conversation with me in Spanish throughout the year as opposed to just midterm and final. That is definitely something I’m going to work on next year. I want to provide more opportunities for the students to have conversations with me, both formally and informally, to both improve their language and improve our relationships. Students actually like to speak Spanish with the teacher! I, of course, do too.
One classroom environment area where I failed is my transition to a deskless classroom. Students especially felt uncomfortable in this city environment, primarily because it was difficult to sir & take notes without a desk. I think this reflects more on my practice then the actual seating arrangement. I believe I try to maintain an more traditional way of teaching in some aspects. I change the classroom seating without changing the classroom practice. If I did more activities in which the students just simply had to speak or engage with the language as opposed to writing things, I believe I would have been more successful without desks. So this is one area about which I have a lot of thinking to do. Is it beneficial to maintain the deskless environment or should I go back to desks so the students will feel more comfortable? This is a question that will cause me to do much thinking since I truly enjoyed having no desks in my classroom. I believe that I could maybe work on rearranging the classroom to find a happy medium where the students will have places to write when necessary.
It seems that my goal to maintain the use of Spanish for at least 90% of the time was for the most part successful. I would guesstimate that I probably maintain the use of Spanish 90% or more on about 85% of the days. There were days where the use of the language was less than others. Again, I believe this speaks to the activities that I have the students work on. There were days when the students will be working on individual assignments or SmashDoodles where are use the language a lot less. I don’t know, it’s tough because usually it’s hard to maintain 90% of the language every single day. It can be very tiring, both to the teacher and the student, but that doesn’t seem like an excuse to me. I think those days where I didn’t use the language as much could’ve been filled with more engaging see I activities such as MovieTalks.
I really don’t know why, but I also did not give as much homework as I had in the past. This was a mistake. I believe that the times that I didn’t use the language as much with the days that the students we’re working on activities that could better have been done at home. Next year, I really think that I am going to make sure that everything we do in class is based around communication and any worksheets or SmashDoodles will be done at home. This may not be a popular idea with the students but if it increases the amount of language used in the classroom and the amount of communication of the students engage with, it will be worth the few extra hours of work at home per week.
At the beginning of the year, while reviewing the syllabus, I told the students at the number one job was to stop me when they did not understand something. I set it at the beginning of the year and left it there. When I asked the students if they felt like I gave them the verbal and nonverbal tools to stop me when they did not understand something, the survey results show that I failed in this area. Next year, I want to give the students a green and red card so they can hold up when they do not understand something. It is also a skill that I will be sure to teach during the first few weeks of the year. Students need to know that when I ask them a question they should be prepared to answer in Spanish. However, if they can’t see the words that they want to say, English is fine. This is another skill that I did not emphasize enough with my students at the beginning of the year. Especially for students that are in the Intermediate Low proficiency, they need to show me that they are understanding no matter what language it is in.
Another area in which I would like to improve next year is spending more of the first few weeks of school teaching and using high-frequency verbs because I felt like the students did not feel as comfortable using those high-frequency verbs in the context. Students do not realize that knowing just a handful of verbs can help them communicate better.
One area in which I had much success was using acting, body language, and nonverbal cues to read to and communicate with students students. This is a skill that I can build upon next year. If this is something that I am good at, I can exploit that to help students understand the language that there are hearing and reading.
La llorona legend, La llorona de Mazatlán, holiday culture & vocab including the Justino video were successful ways to keep comprehensible input at the center of our instruction. I feel like two novels plus some other activities at the beginning of the year who are sufficient bases from which to operate. I know that my colleague and I have discussed more directly connecting the activities that we do from these novels and ancillary resources to the ACTFL Can-Do statements to focus on real world skills. While it was nice to learn about culture and read the stories, some of the students expressed that they didn’t feel that what we learned was useful in the real world. Language should be useful in the real world so by connecting to can-do statements we should be able to achieve more real world application. This will help the students see those connections as well. It will also be helpful to have clear learning targets. It was a great start and with a little bit of extra work we should make this curriculum better.
I will continue to use El Internado next year as this was definitely a favorite of most of the students. What I will do better with the show is make it more comprehensible to the students. Even though the students just want to keep watching the show without doing any pre-viewing activities, I will be sure that we slow down and do the activities necessary ahead of viewing.
I also plan to use novels next year in Spanish 4. One of the aspects that the students did mention in the surveys, however, is that they did not feel that they have enough exposure to grammar. Despite the numerous times that I expressed to them that grammar will not help them learn a language, I will provide opportunities for students to study and learn grammar outside of the classroom. This will allow students to feel better about the grammar but not take up any time in the classroom where we can be using the language to communicate. This idea of “flipping” grammar came from the CI Liftoff Facebook group so thanks to them for their support.
Spanish 4 will look different than it has the past few years- the benefit of being the only level 4 teacher! This is the class in which I plan to make the biggest changes since Spanish 3 should require less planning next year than it did this year. Time management definitely was a challenge for me this year. Hopefully next year it will be easier. I know it won’t.
I will most definitely be spending more time on the conversation part of the test throughout the year. I also plan to use more podcasts and continue watching El Internado next year. Next year’s group will be much different than this year’s group. However, I will be thinking about ways to encourage the students to read the selections outside of class. One idea that I have had is to assign the reading 2 to 3 days ahead of the day that we will actually be discussing it in class. This will allow students who are very busy to have more opportunities to do the reading. Also, I plan to give more pop quizzes about the reading next year to encourage the students to read. I don’t want to make reading a negative experience, however it is absolutely necessary to spend a few days in the text. Perhaps I have been giving the students to little time to actually complete the very difficult readings. Even short readings that I feel should be easy for them can be very challenging and if they don’t have enough time the students most likely will not do it or not read in-depth. Also, I would like to spend more time doing pre-teaching activities related to the vocabulary. This can easily be accomplished through TPRS methods that have been successful thus far. The biggest challenge for AP students is vocabulary and I want to focus more on vocabulary next year. They will want grammar and that will be accomplished outside of the classroom at home.
It was a successful year with many small victories throughout. However, making such a radical change to my teaching style will take time to sharpen hone my skills. I am the kind of person who expects great results immediately and I did not get them. I know that I probably am being overly critical of myself. Nevertheless, the students spoke a lot of Spanish and can produce a lot more than they could with the traditional style of teaching. Grammar and vocabulary lists are a thing of my past and I do not plan to return to that style of teaching ever. With communication is the center of my classroom, I don’t think I can really go wrong. I feel like this is a lot like learning the game of chess. It’s easy to learn the basic moves but becoming an expert at it will take years. All I can do is try to continue to grow, reflect, and grow again. I plan to move forward with this next year and make it a great experience for both the students and myself. We had a lot of fun throughout the year and accomplish quite a bit. It will only get better.
PS: I used the diction function on the iPad keyboard to write most of this. I did edit it but if there are some funky areas, I am sorry!