Where did the spark go?

Lately I have been looking at my classes and comparing them to past years. Why are my students not as interested in class as I remember? Is it my fault? Is it the material?

This year we started using Martina Bex’s units for Spanish 2 and I absolutely love the flow of the units and students prefer learning structures much more than isolated vocabulary etc., but now that we are in second semester, there is something missing. In discussion with colleagues, I keep referring to it as “the spark”. The interest and excitement that I had from the students, but it seems that the spark is gone. Students seem more interested in discussing sports, friends, drama, etc.

The same thing seems to be happening in Spanish 4. We started out great and I felt that the students were really interested in class and what we were learning. Come mid-February, I think I have lost them too.

Being that I was frustrated, I called my brother in Florida who is also a teacher. He teaches math and often says that he speaks math when we talk about languages. I had the pleasure of working with him in a previous district and we even got to co-teach when I was teaching ESL so I value his opinion not as his sister, but also as a teacher. I asked him about keeping students focused during class as well as holding them accountable. I was frustrated that many of my students don’t do homework when it’s given, but if I don’t give them anything, they assume that they don’t have to study. He is never one to sugarcoat things so I knew by asking him, I wasn’t going to hear what I wanted to hear.

He said:

You have to stop thinking that students are going to do homework outside of class. It isn’t always a priority for them. The thing with working in an urban district is that you have to understand that about 15-20 % of students go on to college. You need to realize that those same students are most likely going to do the homework for your class.

Students have classes that will take priority over your class. Students only need a certain amount of electives and there are plenty to choose from, but they NEED English, they NEED math, they NEED science, and they NEED social studies. Ideally, your class takes 5th place.

I have always been an emotional person so after hearing this, I started to cry a bit. What a horrible feeling to hear that your class isn’t as important as some? I know that he wasn’t trying to hurt my feelings, but it still wasn’t a great feeling. I started to think to myself, “Why am I teaching an elective? Does my class even matter? Do I just need to accept that my class is secondary to the core classes?

He continued with:

Your class is important. Don’t think it isn’t, but you have to change your thinking. If you have 52 minutes with them everyday, then you have to decide what essential topics or information you want to teach them in that amount of time. If it isn’t important to you, why are you wasting your time and theirs? Decide what it is you want them to know and make yourself and them accountable. If you don’t put value on something, neither will your students.

I have students in my classes that I know genuinely want to learn the language, but I also have a large portion of students who are there for the credit or were just placed in the class. The balancing act is hard. I can see what we COULD be doing and it’s heartbreaking when we just cannot get there. I know how much learning a language is worth it and I CANNOT imagine doing anything else other than being a Spanish teacher. I am not exactly sure the point of this blog, but I am hoping that I am not alone. Do other teachers feel this way? How do I get past this?





Choose your own ending- fue & dio

Martina Bex– you are awesome! I logged onto Facebook this morning and saw that you shared my post on fue and dio which made me super happy and helped me realize that I never gave an update on this lesson. I used that lesson with my last year level 3 classes. Since those two classes were very different in regards to personalities and motivation levels, the follow-up activity was slightly different for the two.

Martina Bex had created a choose your own ending in her El Secreto unit so  I decided to do the same with this lesson.  I will say that the task of creating a ‘choose your ending’ is time consuming, but so worth it. My first class found it very interesting and they wanted to go through all the possible choices together, so as a class we went through at least two choice endings and then I passed out booklets (Click here to see the booklet). The booklets contained the same Powerpoint that we looked in class, but the physical copy allowed students to read at their own pace as well as choose their own endings. At the end of the class period, we discussed the different endings and which endings students liked the best.

With my second class, they needed a little bit more guidance. We started class out the same. We did a choice ending together and then I handed out the booklets. Students were not as interested in the story as much as the first class so I had the students draw a storyboard for the story or ending they liked the best. This kept them focused a little bit more. The next day we used the storyboard as a warm up speaking activity.

Looking back on the activity, I think I would like to extend a bit more with the first story as well as with the ‘choose your own ending’ activity. I am no longer teaching the level in which I would use this activity, but I may alter it to fit my lower level classes.  Has anyone ever used a ‘choose your own ending’? What are your opinions?







Keep Calm and Keep Moving Forward-Post from April 2015

Tonight I got onto #langchat late, but when I joined in the question was “What strategies help teachers be more student- centered at different proficiency levels?”  My first thought was:

I think the biggest thing for me is that I need to give up control. I have been trained that if I am not talking or not the center of the classroom, then my students are not learning. UNTRUE!

What I have learned this year so far with my level 3 students is that they want to learn. They want to be able to use the language.  Recently, we have been doing a lot of reading and listening in the past tense. In my teaching past, I would isolate the preterite and the imperfect, but I decided not to this year so that my students can see how the two are used together.  I was nervous because I am used to thinking that they won’t be able to understand the difference and that it wouldn’t be comprehensible.

With our current unit, I have done a lot of story-asking and questioning, but other than that, the activities have been very student-centered. During class time, I often think,

I am doing nothing, but answering questions.

I should be doing something more productive!

I WAS WRONG! I began to see my students use the language. They were making their own conclusions and being inquisitive. I began to see my students’ attempts to use both tenses in their writing and they used them well. It wasn’t always correct, but they were risk-taking, which is what I want from them.  There inhibitions were down and they did that, not me.

I have a far ways to go yet, but I am glad that I know that giving up control is okay and sometimes necessary.

Writing Stories Can Be A Fairy Tale- Went and Give

I love writing stories for my classes and I often joke that I can come up with a Spanish story easier than I can come up with one in English.  After learning to focus on structures rather than a vocab list, I have found that it is easy to create a storyline.

This week with my Spanish 3 classes, I have been focusing on the structures FUE A (went to) and DIO (gave). After talking with Natalia DeLaat, an amazing French teacher and friend, she gave me the idea to use a fairy tale themed story.  Her idea included a few different princes; each went somewhere for a special gift and each prince gave a different gift to the princess. From there, the story took off.   In one of my posts, I talked about giving up control and allowing my students to experience the past tense in context without isolating the preterite and the imperfect. Although my focus is on the structures WENT TO and GAVE, my students got to also experience words like ERA (was) and ESTABA (was) in context. Without a flinch, my students knew exactly what was being said and easily used the two correctly.  My favorite thing about using stories is that although we do have a focus, students pick up on so much more.

This is the first time that I am attaching any of my work to my blog. I am a little nervous because it’s not just my students who might be reading my work anymore. I hope that someone can use it and I also hope that I will get feedback on my work.  I have attached the story HERE. Hope you like it!

From there, I saw a post by Cynthia Hitz about the AWESOME website PICTOTRADUCTOR which sadly is only for Spanish. For some reading practice, I created a sheet with the picto-frases from the story and just like Cynthia, I gave some examples and then had them get to work.  A few comments that I got from students were:

This is challenging because I have to think in Spanish. J

OHHHHH- I get why they used that picture for the word “en”

The end of the story really ends as a cliffhanger. The princes all come back to see who she chooses and all she says is  ‘I have my answer.” I did not finish the story because I want my students to choose their own ending when we get to that part.  I cannot wait to see where my students take the ending, but that may have to be another post.  ENJOY!

I’ll take the bait- #oneword for 2016

I haven’t been a great blogger; not that I was much of a blogger before, but I have put a few out. A goal of mine last year was to blog more and network more. With being in school, teaching full time, and having 3 to 5 kids at any given time, I have gotten busy. None of that has actually changed, but I am sticking with the same goal this year and hoping to blog and network more often than in the past.

I began thinking about it more because I have been reflecting a lot more this year. I started this year with a new level. I am teaching Spanish 4 for the first time. There are topics and themes that I haven’t really touched on in the past so I am nervous.  I am teaching Spanish 2 for the fourth year in a row, but I have decided to use Martina Bex‘s units to guide my year and my students’ learning. This is year is new for me.

A good friend of mine once told me to take things day by day and make small changes. Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell said the same thing at her Camp Musiciuentos workshop this summer so I have taken their advice. Although this year is new on many levels, I feel more in control than in previous years which leads me into #oneword: FAITH.

My students doubt themselves a lot. Anytime an assessment is given or I ask them to do something, there is always doubt. They either say PASS (which I don’t generally allow) or answer by sounding like they are asking a question. They are looking for that approval. I always say to them, “Have faith in yourself because I do”. They laugh it off or jokingly say no, but I can tell that they don’t believe me sometimes. We recently did a speaking assessment where students had to look at a storyboard and tell me the storyline. They were so worried, but they did AMAZING. Never have I done a speaking where so many students did so well so I have been thinking to myself….maybe I need to have more faith in myself.

I have been doubting myself a lot this year because I am in new waters, but this past speaking assessment has allowed me to see that my students are progressing and they are able to use the language in a more contextual or authentic manner. I cannot say all the grammar points or isolated vocabulary that my students know, but they sure can write better, speak better, read better, and listen better. I have always had faith in my students and I am realizing that I need to have that same faith in myself in order for everyone to grow and succeed in the classroom.