Welcome to 2020! This year I have decided that I won’t make a list of resolutions for the New Year, only because I find myself writing the same list over and over again each year and not being able to follow through. I also generally add things that should be a habit in my life such as eating healthy, exercising more, reading more books instead of spending so much time on social media and so on! I did decide that I want to learn how to play ukelele and will tell you more about it at the end of 2020. Are you setting any goals for this year?
This holiday season I got to spend a few weeks in Colombia with my parents, and I am now feeling recharged with new ideas to bring to my classroom (even though I miss my parents).
I wrote my lesson plans my last day before going on break because I knew I was going to forget a lot of what I was doing in my classes.
Many children hit a kind of reset button during the break so as a general rule, I find it very helpful to treat the first few days after the holidays as I’d done on the first days of school in August. I think it is a good idea to review your classroom rules and procedures as well as continue building relationships with students and creating community before diving into teaching Spanish. This means that I will spend my first days revising our classroom rules and routines: discussing, modeling, and practicing rules. We practice how to walk in a line, enter the classroom, and find a place on the rug to get ready for class. We model it, talk about it, and keep reinforcing it for the rest of the school year. For me this also means that part of my class will take place in English the first few days back after the break. It will pay off nicely during the rest of the school year!
I use this opportunity to revisit the use of the chime with my students. We review that the chime sound means to stop, look, and listen. I also revisit some of our call & response chants, hand signals, and brain & breathing breaks.
Download these cards to introduce your students to “para, mira y escucha.”
Yes! I just started the new school year, and my classroom has been ready for a couple of weeks. After being a traveling teacher for a few years I truly understand the feeling one has when other teachers share pictures of their classroom, but I also remember that I didn’t really have to use any of my time before to set up space. I just had to make sure I had enough tote bags for my class. There are pros and cons to having or not having a classroom, but I consider that a topic for another post.
I am the kind of teacher who likes to make changes every year to my room. I also never finish the school year with the room looking the same because I like to move things around according to my students’ needs. This is how my room looks right now!
I have a deskless classroom. We do a lot of movement activities so this setting is perfect for our needs.
My kindergarteners and first graders sit on the rug. These carpet Spots Markers*** are great to help my little ones remember their places on the rug. I assign seats to make that transition to my class faster.
I have a closet where I keep many of the materials we use in class. I have a set of clipboards to use when we do writing activities.
I keep the notebooks for each grade in baskets. We only use notebooks in grades 3 to 5.
This year I decided to add these light filters*** to my room because the lights were very bright. I like the ambiance they give to my room.
This map by Spanish Cuentos is a “must-have” in a Spanish classroom. It’s also good to have on hand when we talk about different Spanish speaking countries.
I like keeping my classroom rules at the front so I can refer to them when I need them.
The books in the library are leveled by grade, but if a student feels that he or she can read beyond the suggested level, they will need to conference with me to make sure that the reading is not going to make them feel frustrated. Stop by my Facebook page to get the pictures of the posters I shared there.
These are some lovely friends that accompany my students when they have birthdays or need extra love during class.
I like decorating my room with authentic art and label them with their country of origin. Most of them are from Colombia (I wonder why…).
I use these signs to greet my kinder and first grade students.
This year I changed my sign from “La frase de la semana” to “La frase del ciclo” to “honor” the new 10-day cycle schedule that we have. I figured the frase will need to stay longer on my door for my students to remember it.
We have a new class pet this year. We are still deciding on a name for it. This pet is also a favorite during birthdays. It also has different outfits for special occasions during the school year. My students love it!
I am keeping my calendar area simple. I think I already have so many colors around the room, so it was fair to keep this area simple.
This chime is a lifesaver when my call and response chants don’t work anymore!
This is it! So far my students are loving some of the changes I made to my classroom this year.
Wishing everyone a wonderful school year!
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I hope everyone is having a great school year so far! This will be my 4th week with students. We spent the first week and a half making it a safe place for our students, getting to know to know one another and giving them a chance to get to know the space. I teach K-5, and this week was my first full week with my K students. Everything is so new for them that our school principal and their teachers feel that for specialists to start teaching them subject material from day one could be terrifying! I love this new approach of getting to know our students before we dive into our curriculums.
I have a calendar, but I mostly use an online version projected on the board. The online version of the calendar has links to guess the day’s temperature in different Spanish countries.
I have about 115 students, so this poster has been helpful to remember dates. Every month we change it, and the children quickly write their name and date of their birthday.
I added a reading corner to my classroom. I haven’t use it yet, but I plan to add copies of the TPRS® stories we do this year. I have some students who are heritage speakers, so I think they could benefit from other stories as well.
Next to the projector, I have a table with different props and with some Yoga cards that I use as brain breaks with my students.
I have decorated the classroom with art from different Spanish speaking countries. I wish I had one to represent each country. So far I have a lot from Colombia, Panamá, La República Dominica, Guatemala, Ecuador, México, and Chile. I write the name of the country under the piece of art so students know where it comes from.
This is a Friday selfie! Feeling ready to go home!
As a native speaker, I find it fairly easy to stay in the target language (TL), and I’m aware that it’s important to keep my communication simple and to do as much as I can to keep my instruction at the proficiency level of my students, and, more importantly, to make it comprehensible, which sometimes I find tiresome. But, hey, that’s my job!
The Foundations of My Journey
Before moving to the United States I was a preschool/English teacher in Colombia, and comparing my experience teaching English in Colombia vs teaching Spanish in the United States, it was easier for me to focus just on what I needed to communicate in English, than what is sometimes more complex for me in Spanish. I have had different experiences teaching in the United States, having been in a total of eight schools in 17 years. The first program where I taught FLES, all Spanish teachers were required to stay 100% in the TL. I had success doing all I could to get my point across in my classes. I spent a lot of time looking for visuals, making posters, and using a lot of TPR and gestures! The program was successful, but my students thought that I couldn’t speak English. The children were trying harder to communicate with me in the TL, but there was more to it than that. I had a website, and also sent newsletters home, but the parents still thought that I didn’t know English.
Trying to Find My Way
During my four years teaching in that school district, I was approached by a parent only once, and his comment was, “I thought you didn’t know English!” At that moment, I had mixed feelings. Yes, I wanted my students to use Spanish with me at all times, during class, recess time, in the hallway, and so on, but I was also sad, because I was also there to “promote bilingualism,” and they thought I only knew Spanish. I was traveling from classroom to classroom, and the homeroom teachers stayed in the classroom during the 20 minutes of Spanish instruction. I recall that I rarely had to work hard on classroom management because the teachers were there to help. I also realized that I didn’t really know anything about my students.
Seeing the Value of Teamwork and Mentors
Despite all of these critical reflections, I still learned so much there, where I learned so much about being a Spanish teacher in the United States. I had seven awesome colleagues who had been teaching for a long time, so they were always open to listening, and their classrooms were always open if I needed to learn more. They respected me and the strengths I brought to the table as a native Spanish speaker, and they mentored me, too. As a new immigrant at that time, they provided strong support! Those ladies shaped a lot of the teacher that I am today!
Forced to Change Course with Opportunity in Adversity
Sadly enough, the town voted against a tax override, and the school district lost the Spanish program. Spanish language instruction at the elementary level fell victim to other budget priorities. To this day, I still don’t understand why there is more emphasis on high school foreign language instruction than in the early years when it makes a lot more sense in so many ways. I did decide to create my own program targeting pre-K kiddos, but that’s another story! After a few years of working independently, I decided to go back to a school because I was really missing being part of a school community.
Growing More Flexible
Once I moved to a different school, the policies about teaching 100% in the TL were different. The school already had a Spanish and French teacher for grades 4 through 6, so I was hired to create the other part of the program with the help of my colleagues, and we used a backward mapping process to create our curriculum for grades pre-K to 3. Both of the French and Spanish teachers used some English with their students. Although I had a little flexibility to create the program, I first stuck strongly with using only Spanish in class out of habit and desire to push students to use the TL. I started noticing that the other language teachers had such strong connections with their students, and their students would actually look for them during recess time. That was when it dawned on me that I had been missing an opportunity to connect with my students and get to know a little bit more about them. So by my second year in the school, I finally became more flexible and started to allow interactions with my students in their L1 during times out of my class.
Building Deeper Relationships
Children would actually come and sit next to me by the bench on the playground, and we had great conversations, rom talking about my family in Colombia to their plans after school! That’s when I realized that it was okay for them to use their L1 to communicate with me during recess time. I also feel that because I am a native speaker, they need to know that I am bilingual and that I have interest in their language and culture. Keeping my class at 90 to 95 % TL in my classroom continues to be my goal.
Hitting My Stride and Learning the Value of Patient Beginnings
I am now in my third school (as FLES teacher), where the program is awesome! We have a seven-day cycle, and I get to see my students five out of every seven days. I can do so much with my students! And the consistency in our schedule definitely helps the program. In this school we spend the first days in English, in fact, nobody teaches any of the subjects because we spend the first days getting to know our students and making space for our students to get to know their teachers. This has been the best idea ever! Kudos to my school principal for encouraging us to start our school year this way. Last year was the first time it was done schoolwide, and it made a big difference in that it was an opportunity to connect with my students without the pressure of digging into my curriculum right away. During the first days we discussed classroom procedures, explored the space, and talked about the rules in class and how important it is to follow them to make it a safe space for everyone. We used TPR with the rules, and then it was easy to transition to using them (and TPR) in Spanish.
Honing My Craft and Holding Myself to the Same Standards
I keep the poster in front of the classroom to refer to the rules whenever I need them. I also teach hand signs that are connected to “passwords” they need in class. (See my post about “passwords” here.) I also have a poster that says “En español,” and I point at it when needed, and a hand sign that I use if I have to use English (Time out sign.) I usually use this sign and accompany it by saying “Voy a hablar…” and my students say “inglés.” If they have a question for me, they request permission to use English by asking “¿Puedo hablar inglés?” So I figured I also have to signal it when there is the need to use English from my end.
Weaving in Complexity and Culture
I try to keep my teaching at between 90% and 95% in the TL, and sometimes I actually have classes with the TL at 100%, but there are times when I feel that it is necessary to use my students’ L1. When teaching culture that goes beyond the tangible. They also see me taking risks with words that are difficult for me to pronounce. I am working hard on incorporating more culture into my classes and to be able to give voice to the different Spanish speaking cultures. They’re so diverse! My students already know enough about El Día de los Muertos, or La noche de las velitas, but if there is something new or unique, I’d rather use five minutes of my instruction time in English making sure everything is clear, than letting things go by and being responsible for inadvertently instilling or reinforcing stereotypes, however subtle..
Taking the Summer to Reflect on Reflections!
Writing this post has been so great to take the opportunity to reflect about my own journey and process as a language teacher. This is my own experience, and this is how I have arrived where I am right now with the use of TL in my classes. I know as teachers we have to look at what works best for us and most benefits our students. I am just happy to be able to share my own journey with you. I would love to hear what you do in your classes and learn about your journey and your own process of adaptation over time! Please feel free to add a note in the comments!