If you've found your way to my blog you probably have some sort of investment in language education. In my teaching career I've taught a wide variety of subjects: Science Pre-k to 3rd grade, 3rd grade, 5th grade, Middle School Spanish, and now for the past 6 years, Elementary Spanish. Although I've found value in every subject I've taught, it was not until I started teaching Elementary Spanish that I came to believe that a language class is one of the MOST important things we can teach our children, and one of the greatest gifts we can give to the world.
Why? There are many reasons a language is important, one of which is that learning a language teaches us how to connect with others. Even Google agrees:
"The Washington Post recently reported on a 2013 Google study of its hiring, firing, and promotion data since 1998. The study, called Project Oxygen, sought to identify key skills and behaviors in the company’s managers. Surprisingly, the data revealed that among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top leaders and managers, STEM expertise comes in last. So, what came out on top? “The seven top characteristics of [managerial] success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.” Strong technical skills are a must, particularly for engineers, designers, and so on. But as employees look beyond individual contributions and into management roles, people skills are paramount."
Speaking a second language in our global economy is more likely to get you a job (if employers compare to candidates who are equally qualified, and Candidate A speaks 1 language, and Candidate B speaks 3 languages; Candidate B is the more valuable acquisition for the company). However, aside from that important fact, learning a second language, especially at a younger age, helps you acquire soft skills that are a true gift to both the learner and society.
University of Oxford anthropologist Robert Dunbar was studying the size of social groups in primates, in relationship to brain size. He used calculations from his studies to predict the size of social groups humans maintained, based on their brain size, at roughly 150.
Upon consulting anthropological and historical records Dunbar found that there was evidence to support his number. The average group size among hunter-gatherer societies was around 148.8. Company size in armies was also close to 150; all the way from the Roman Emperor, to Spain in the 1500s, to modern day Soviet Union.
We are pre-programmed to see Us VS Them for survival. When we were living in hunter-gatherer groups knowing who you should share resources with, and who might steal your resources was key to survival. However, recent brain science has shown that when we point out the similarities between two groups of people, the Us vs Them mentality can fall away, and we start to see Us and Us. Immersing yourself in another language and culture helps us to understand other cultures, see the similarities between ourselves and our brothers and sisters across the planet, and appreciate our differences. In a world filled with strife and finite resources, understanding and caring towards others in one of the most valuable things we can teach.
In addition to helping create empathy towards others and helping us get a job. Being bi-lingual reshapes our brain!
Being bilingual means that we are able to understand speech in more than one language. This means our brains are always 'on' in both languages, and automatically switch between the two languages as necessary. Choosing which language to process information in increases control in the brain and helps those that have acquired a second language to learn to tune out superfluous information. This skill can benefit those with a second language in many tasks from studying to preparing for a job interview.
In addition, learning additional languages requires you to use different parts of your brain more often, and more consistently. Since the brain is like a muscle in that, the parts that you use become stronger, and the parts that we do not use become weaker, or are cut all together, using more parts of our brain over long periods of time lead to a more active brain and more grey and white matter!
These brain benefits can begin as young as 7 months old where when given a test with a disappearing puppet bilingual children did better than mono-lingual children. Bilingual 5 year olds given memory tests were faster and more accurate than monolingual children, and a report by the NEA on language education stated that :
"Students able to speak a second language have better listening skills, sharper memories, are more creative, are better at solving complex problems, and exhibit greater cognitive flexibility.
From elementary school to college, students of foreign languages score higher on standardized tests.
Results from the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) show that students who had studied another language for four or more years did better on both the verbal and math portions of the test."
Although recommendations have been to maintain one language for students with Autism, this is not based on research. Studies are not yet extensive, but what is available shows that the critical thinking and executive function (including self-control and mental flexibility) boosts that bilingual children get when learning their second language apply to the autistic community as well. In fact, bilingual children with autism's language skills are on par with monolingual children.
There are so many benefits to speaking a second language, and sadly, the United States is the only first world country in which students are not required to speak a second language. In our global economy I fear this will hurt our children's prospects as they step out into the world. Many think that language translation software will be able to replace speaking another language. However, there is currently no modern software that can keep up with the complex and changing nature of languages. When you think about the difference in slang words across the United States, someone from Michigan (like me) has trouble understanding everything I hear when I am in Alabama, let alone understanding everything I hear when I speak to friends from London. There are 20 different countries that speak Spanish alone. The regional differences in culture and language make actual knowledge of these things very hard to replace.
In addition, across the country, many districts are increasing the presence of technology in classrooms.
While learning a second language brings many brain benefits, increasing technology, especially at a young age, can lead to depression, anger and suicide.
In addition to decreasing our attention spans, it also impairs our ability to interact with others. Our brains are programmed to interact and hold relationships to other people, they even release special endorphins when we are around people we care about and make eye contact or our touched. This is missing when we stare at a screen, and leads to depression, and also an inability to interact with others in real life. Interaction with those around us is a fundamental need for all humans. While there are definite benefits that technology can bring to the classroom, technology changes quickly, and as Dr. Krashen notes in this letter to the Wall Street journal, we are uncertain how beneficial current technology will be to our students when they graduate, and if it is truly beneficial to all students the way a second language can be. The risks of technology must be considered too.
To all the language teachers reading this blog, thank you for all you do to connect our students to others and the world around them, strengthen their brains, and make the world a better place. To any administrators considering the language programs in your district, I hope you are able to see the full benefits language brings to our schools, districts, community and world.
Know Thy Students
Knowing your students is mentioned as a tenant of good teaching, but as it is not an academically rigorous goal, it is not something I often hear discussed as a topic at educational conferences, in school meetings, or even remember discussing much as a student teacher. Teachers know it is important, but I think it seems so obvious, that it is sometimes paid less attention than it is owed. It is easy to see how it can become just another thing among many; with high stakes testing, social media posts, lesson planning, test grading, meetings, phone calls, data sets, etc, etc, etc, there are a lot of balls to juggle, and knowing your students can seem like one among many.
After 14 years in the classroom however, my belief is that knowing our students is one of the MOST important parts of being a good teacher, and that this can both help students reach greater understanding of material, and also decrease the need for discipline in the classroom. There is science to back me up too!
Why We Like to Talk About Ourselves and Why it is Important
A Harvard study shows we talk about ourselves 60% of the time in conversations and 80% of time on Social Media. Scientists watched people in an fMRI machine talk about themselves and found that talking about yourself lights up the reward centers of the brain releasing dopamine (much the same way eating good food or chocolate would). Even better, if you talk about yourself to other people (instead of just thinking about yourself in your own head) the pleasure centers light up even more. Talking about ourselves to others feels good, and letting our students talk about themselves in class, feels good to them too. We want our students to feel good in our class, it is in a happy, safe, and inspired state that our brains function best, and our students learn best!
I'm not just in this for the dopamine release though! When teaching any subject, but especially a language, no two students will ever be in the exact same spot, ready to learn the exact same thing. This is not something teachers can fix over night, but a reality we must accommodate. Some student in front of us will come to school with homework done, a great nights sleep, a healthy breakfast, a great conversation with a caregiver in the morning, ready to learn. Some students will come to us without a backpack, no breakfast, a fight with a parent on the way to school, and unsure of where they will spend the night. We will teach to these students, and every other type of student in between. I do not say this in judgement, as we all have our own struggles to overcome., I say this in support of knowing your students.
Early in my teaching career I had a middle school student that always used to give me the hardest time. Any time I had a lesson running smoothly, and an engaged group of students, he would do something to throw me off my game. Finally, I pulled him in the hall one day, and rather than lecture or give consequences, I sat on the ground with him and asked him to tell me what was going on, and how I could help him. He instantly turned into a different kid, and told me all about his dad yelling at him that morning. I quickly came to realize that each time he acted out, he just needed to talk. We came up with a signal so he could let me know when he needed to talk, without acting up or asking for help in front of his peers.
Not all of your challenging kids will be that easy. Some of them will test you again and again. Try to remember that the ones that push hardest, have probably been pushed hard in some way or another in their personal life. They need us to see their potential even through the pushing.
Getting to know your students will bring so much richness to your classroom. When you know who likes Star Wars, who likes sharks, who likes Minecraft, and who likes llamas, you can weave incredible personal details into stories that will make students feel like stars, and sear the language you want them to acquire into their moldable brains! Knowing a student's dog ran away can lead to an interesting story about the missing dog, and support from their peers. When students hear that another student is ill, or has an ill family member, the class often closes around these students in support. The simple act of getting to know each other helps turn my classroom into a supportive and creative learning environment for all learner who cross the door.
Teachers have a lot of students, and a lot of curriculum to cover over the year. Every minute counts, so how do we take the time to get to know our students, while still taking care of our curricular responsibilities? I try to talk to my students in the halls, and at recess when I get to sneak out, but I have a few specific activities that help me the most.
Class Meeting is one of the most useful things that I have done in every class I taught in various ways. It is a specific, set amount of time each day, where I just sit and talk with my students (I time it so we don't get too carried away). This is my LONG get-to-know-you activity, and it starts with my Kindergarten students. All students sit in a circle and we pass around a stuffed animal. Only the teacher and the person with the stuffed animal get to talk at the start of the year (we add rejoinders as the year progresses). I start by asking each student '¿Cómo estás?/ How are you? in Spanish. At the start of the year when they are just starting to acquire, students show me with their face how they are feeling (happy, mad, sad, etc). I confirm with them how they feel in English. 'Happy', and then say the same word in Spanish back to them 'feliz'. I have different reactions for each answer. If they say they are 'mad'. I say 'Tengo miedo/ I am scared' and act scared. I then follow up with '¿Por qué?/why? to give them a chance to explain. When they say they are sad I say 'pobrecito/a' and explain the meaning. I then ask 'why' again for sad. If the student has something truly sad going on, we send them an 'abrazo/hug' by hugging ourselves, and then flinging our hands towards the student and shouting 'abrazo' (I have yet to see a student, even a genuinely sad one, not smile when we throw the hugs at them).
After a few weeks students start to answer me verbally. When the first few answer me in Spanish I get excited and give them an air high five. This is a big deal to them (don't ever miss if you start this procedure). As the year goes on we add more emotions (excited, jealous, sleepy, bored, nervous) to our meetings and more rejoinders (me too, congratulations, etc). We even make an imaginary 'ball of luck' that we 'throw' at students who have games, contests, or meets coming up. The 'receiving' student catches the ball of luck and eats it. Starting with your lowest class, and building up these routines and procedures through class meeting is a great way to create a system of support, introduce lots of useful words right when they are needed, and establish classroom routines.
In my older grades (1st, 2nd, 3rd), we still do class meeting, but since I spend Kindergarten creating a meeting that everyone understands and can respond to, it is much quicker. As students enter my room they must greet 4 other students, ask them how they are and listen to their response before taking a seat. I 'ban' some responses sometimes if students get lazy and start all saying 'good' in response to 'how are you?'. Anyone caught using English (unless they are new or have other extenuating circumstances) or not listening to responses gets to take their seat last. If I hear students asking good questions or having a more thoughtful conversation they earn class points.
After the students greet each other (1-2 minutes tops) they all sit down, I set my timer for 3 minutes. When I call on a student I first ask them 'How are you?' in Spanish, and then expand questioning from there. Students already have the language they acquired last year, in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade I get to dig for more. If they got a new pet, I can ask if it is big or small, what it eats, and what it is called. If they have a birthday coming up, I can ask when. If they have a party to go to, I can ask where and if I can come (and act sad or happy and express it in the target language depending upon their response). Students in my older classes, also earn points (that I keep track of quietly on a clicker) towards class parties for answering in Spanish. Class meetings in my older grades are full of Comprehensible and Compelling input for the entire class, plus gold for me to add to my stories, and help for me in understanding which of my students are struggling and who needs support in what way.
I haven't experimented as much with class meeting with my older students, but I think I saw Christy Lade post about how she had different evening activities posted around the room, and her older students wrote their name by activities they had done during the weekend. Bryce Hedstrom, and Grant Boulanger also have lots of good stuff on talking to older kids!
I am, I want, I can, I need, I have...
All of the above words have a few things in common, they are all high frequency words, they are all interesting conversation pieces, and the way people finish the statement tell us a lot about who they are. You can learn more about your students any time of the year by putting one of these sentence starters in the middle of a large sheet of paper (for example: 'Soy/I am') and having students write their answers all around the paper. You can do this in a few different ways to add variety. You could have students write their answer and their name next to it (interesting reading). You could have each class write their answers in a different color marker, and you could guess who written what for each class. You could have students draw their answer on a sticky note, place the sticky note on the paper, and write their name underneath the sticky note (so students can read, guess the answer, and see if they are right). All of the above activities are great, low-prep ways to get to know your students better, while practicing compelling comprehensible input.
Begin and End of Year Survey
My last two easy, get-to-know you tricks (practically cheating) that help guide my teaching both during the year, and into the next year are an 'All About Me' page at the start of the year, and a 'Student Survey' at the end of the year.
At the start of the school year I do a 'All About Me' page. This asks students to describe themselves, share their birthday, likes and dislikes, where they went, and then a bunch of favorites (movie, book, food, sport, music, etc). These worksheets are all in Spanish, and vary in difficulty depending on grade level. When students fill them out, I tour the room and chat with them. They get their second round of usefulness when a month into school we cover up the names on the worksheets, read about the student as a class, and then guess who it is in the room. The All About Me page is most useful to me later in the year, when I need inspiration for a round of Bad Unicorn (AKA Mafia) or a way to pull back in a student who hasn't been quite as interested. You see, I keep these All About Me sheets ALL YEAR LONG. That means any time I need to know about a student, I can pull these and have something interesting to talk about or add to a story. Students can NOT believe you remember so much about them, and you don't even need to remember it all!
My last get-to-know you trick sets me up for the coming school year. I let me students grade me every year. These End of the Year Surveys give me important info to guide next year's teaching, on what works and what didn't, what helped them learn, and what was just boring...but my favorite question isn't even academic. My last question on the survey simply says 'Tell me anything else you'd like to tell me'. Some answers are silly (I want to eat ice cream for breakfast tomorrow), some answers are informative (I have 3 kittens) and some answers are incredible (this is my favorite class, and it helped me when we learned about Day of the Dead because it was the first time I felt like I could talk about death). In an anonymous end-of-the-year survey students can tell you things they might not have been able to otherwise, and help remind you why it is you teach how and what you teach.
Every student, every day. Right before I began student teaching, I sought out my favorite teacher as a kid, 5th grade, Mr. Miracola. I'd always been a good student, but something about my year in his classroom lit a love of learning in my heart that has continued to burn these many years. When I saw Mr. Miracola (he said I had to call him Frank) he told me that on his desk he had always had a plaque, and that it said ESED. He asked me if I remembered it (sadly I didn't). He told me that was his motto as a teacher, 'every student, every day'. He said it was always his goal to make sure he checked in with each one of us each day, individually in some way. I couldn't say why my year in his classroom was my favorite, but maybe it was the simple act of being acknowledged as an individual. We may have anywhere from 12 to 500 students, but each one of these students is a unique individual with unique gifts. Spending time getting to know them makes you a better teacher and person, and them better students and little lights of love and learning that we can put out into the world.
If you have other ideas to help us get to know our kids add them in the comments!
Anyone who has children (or who has worked with them closely) knows that when a kid finds a favorite book, they like to hear the same story approximately 1,356 times. There is some research that shows that hearing repeat stories is comforting and helps children learn new words. Which is a bonus when you are helping students acquire a second language. However, we also know that brains crave novelty. How do we take advantage of these two seemingly contradictory pieces of information about how students acquire language and what maintains interest? This year I tried to marry these two different strategies together with Repeating Interactive Stories with a Twist.
What are RISTs (a new acronym!!) ? Repeating Interactive Stories with a Twist are just what they sound like, stories that repeat, include student interaction for all students, and have a different twist at the end (to keep everyone tuned in); an added bonus is that all of these stories are low teacher prep. As I went over in a previous post, we can't be our best selves for our students if we are not taking care of ourselves!
Below are some of my favorite RISTs, if you have any ideas for a new RIST or have tried this strategy in your classroom please share in the comments so we can all learn together.
Can I go to the Bathroom? This is a fun way to ease into RISTs , and a fun way to start the school year. If you are a Spanish teacher, it ties in perfectly with SrWooly's ¿Puedo ir al baño?(see above videos for the original and a re-make by my first graders). The set up for the story, is that one student plays the teacher, and another student comes and asks the 'teacher' if they can go to the bathroom. The class watches as they ask, and give a thumbs up or down (very dramatically, gladiator style) to decide if they think the kid should be allowed to go. The ultimate decision (thus the mini twist) is with the teacher, who says 'yes you can' or 'no' and passes or denies the bathroom pass accordingly. Whoever played the student asking to go to the bathroom in the first round, becomes the teacher in the second round. The story repeats with a new student asking to go to the bathroom.
If students are not ready to produce the language, they act and move their mouths, and I say the words for them. If the students are more advanced they can add reasons about why they need to go to the bathroom (it is an emergency, my stomach hurst, etc) to differentiate the language. Depending on the level of your students you could also describe what the "teacher" is doing (i.e. on the computer, on the phone, drinking coffee, looks mad, looks happy, etc. as well as the student). I recommend this game for the start of the year as an icebreaker when establishing classroom routines.
The House: The next RIST has a slightly scarier slant, I use it with my 1st graders near the middle of the year when we are learning some house vocabulary. While you can include whatever words you like in your RIST, words I include in this RIST include: sleeping, night, suddenly, a noise, bedroom, walk, window, look, hall, listen, door, open, run, jump, cover, and blanket. Again, feel free to include whatever words work for your class in this or any RIST.
This story the entire class acts out at the same time. I tell students they are sleeping in their bedroom at night. When I say the words sleeping all students close their eyes (many snore), when I say 'night' students make night sounds (bugs, wind in the trees, etc). After all the eyes are closed I make some sort of noise (it may be a snake hissing, a growl, a scratching noise, a sound of hooves, whatever sound I want to connect to the end of the story).
I then say, 'suddenly you hear a noise' (students sit up). Next I say, you stand up slowly and you walk to your window (students act out as I speak, walking slowly to an invisible window and making their arms into a square window shape so they can look through it). I say ' you see nothing.' Next I tell students 'you walk slowly down the hall', and 'you listen at the door' (students act out both of these narrations). I tell students 'you open the door slowly'. At this point I have some sort of prop there that matches the noise I made that 'woke them up'. If I made a hissing noise, I have a giant snake, if I made a scratching noise a monster puppet or a spider, the sound of hooves? A unicorn (that looks nice at first, but turns out to be mean). I then yell 'There is a (fill in the blank with appropriate creature), instruct the students to shut the door quickly (they slam the door), run down the hall (they run in place), jump in their bed, cover themselves with their blanket, and sleep (students act accordingly).
My students LOVE this one, and acquire several words from this story very quickly. We could play it over and over for an entire class, but I try to keep it to 3 to 4 rounds at a time so it doesn't get old. With enough repetition fast processors can narrate, low students can also help 'choose the story' by secretly selecting whatever will make the noise before you begin your story.
It hurts me... This next RIST was inspired by Sr. Wooly's Me Duele (It Hurts Me) for non-Spanish teachers, and my favorite Shel Silverstein poem as a kid: Sick. The premise is someone is sick (or pretending to be sick) and wants to go home. Words that I focus on include: sick, it hurts me, body parts, home, school, go, and action words. The set up for this RIST is very similar to the set up for the 'Can I go to the bathroom?' story. In it, one student plays the secretary or school nurse (the gatekeeper to leaving the school) another student plays the 'sick' kid. Everyone else in the class weighs in (gladiator style with a thumbs up or thumbs down) on whether or not the 'sick' kid gets to go home, or has to go back to class. The sick student walks into the office (a third student can play the door to the office if needed) and walks up to the secretary/nurse. They greet the secretary/nurse and use their best acting skills to convince them that they are sick and need to go home. The audience (rest of the class) recommends they go home (thumbs up) or back to class (thumbs down) based on their performance. The secretary or nurse gets to make the ultimate decision and sends them back to class, or home. Whoever was the student becomes the secretary/nurse. The former secretary/nurse rejoins the class audience.
As before, if the student is a fast processor or has acquired the language, I let them speak for themselves and elaborate on their excuses. If the student is a slow processor, they act and move their mouth, and I say the words for them. That way every student can shine in their own way.
Of course, you can make the vocabulary as rich (describe the nurse/secretary, describe the student opening the door, and their state of health, the weather etc) or as basic as needed to fit the needs of your learners.
coFor my birthday I want... This RIST is one I just started a few weeks ago, as I needed to cover 'birthday presents' as part of my curriculum before EOY testing and I had not covered that specifically during the year. The focus of this lesson for me were the words: present, wants, and doesn't want. You can also include animal words (or whatever 'presents' you throw in the circle), and descriptive words for the 'birthday student'.
I started by making up an elaborate story, but found after experimentation that keeping it simple worked best. Keeping it simple entailed:having all my students sit in a circle, and putting roughly 15 stuffed animals in the circle in front of them. Whichever student had the next birthday in class was 'it' and sat in my rocking chair. I talked the 'birthday' student up (is very kind, smart, creative, etc). I go on to explain that if you came to their birthday party I am sure they would be happy with whatever present you gave them and be grateful. However, for just today we are going to pretend that they only want ONE present, and will reject anything else that is given to them.) I write up info about the 'birthday student' on the board in the target language. For example: Emily's birthday is the 22nd of May. Emily wants ____________ (gives a chance for repetitions of the question word 'when' as you can ask each student when their birthday occurs). The 'birthday student' picks an item from the circle in their head (without telling anyone). Students in the class take turns picking the present they think the birthday student wants and offering it to them with the words "do you want' in the target language. The birthday student either 'keeps' the present and says 'Yes I want it thanks' or throws the present to the ground and says 'no I do not want it) in the target language. When a student guesses the correct present, they get to go next.
I haven't had much chance to experiment with this game, but I could see it being a nice lead in to circumlocution. When a student had a hard present to guess, I would ask them questions like: Is it big or small? Does it have 2 legs, 4 legs, 6, legs, or 8 legs? Is is an animal or a person? Is it pretend or real? Does it swim or fly? Etc. Using questions and descriptive words to help lead the class to guessing the correct present reveals a lot about what the class understands. In the future, I could see doing this game in a way that allows the teacher to know ahead of time what 'present' the student picks so more clues/comprehensible input can be used to reveal the correct answer. Students LOVE this one and everyone wants a turn to be 'it'.
The next few mini strategies. have the flavor of RISTs but don't quite fit the description above. These are strategies that double as brain breaks, and chances to practice direction words. In the video on the left, you see a virtual Wii U Obstacle Course (I find these on Youtube). The students run the course, as the mini player does. When the player walks, runs, jumps, falls, waits, dodges, etc. I give those words in the target language (Spanish for me) as the student does them. Inevitably I have students ask if we are really 'running' the obstacle course. I always say of course, even though it is just a video (which most of the kids know anyway). After we do this a few times, the students usually call out the actions in Spanish before I get to them.
The second video is a virtual roller coaster. For this I use words like hands up, hands down, high, fast, is scared, left, right, etc. As we 'ride' the roller coaster students put their hands up or down, scream 'I am scared' in Spanish, and lean to the left or right appropriately as I say the words.
Both of these activities serve as fun brain breaks, but the movement with the action helps tie the the meaning to the movement in their brains (which help them remember the meaning behind the words). The twist comes from varying the rollercoasters and obstacle courses (you can find many of both on Youtube). I've also done this with the Luge around the olympics. And the amazing Maestra Loca taught ME a new twist on the obstacle courses above that make them even more fun. On Youtube you can change the speed of most videos by clicking on the gear in the corner of the video. While I had used this feature in the past to slow down Spanish speaking videos for my kids, I had never thought of using it to speed things up. Doing the obstacle course or roller coaster at 1.5 or even 2 times normal speed is a whole new twist in and of itself. Thanks Annabelle!
I hope you find the above stories low prep, comprehensible input heavy, and loads of fun for yourself and your students. I know that my students ADORE these stories, and have acquired lots of new words from them in a fun and easy way, that doesn't feel like work. If you have any potential new RIST ideas please add them in the comments below so we can learn from each other!
Dusting off my blogging skills, after a short hiatus. Life temporarily got in the way, however my time at CiMidwest this weekend reminded me of the importance of connecting with other teachers, and so back to blogging I go. The keynote by the inspiring Jason Fritze (available on the CiMidwest FB page), along with several sessions I attended reminded me of the incredible power of love in our classrooms. Love for our students, love for learning, but also love for ourselves and each other. As we know, the world can be a challenging place. As teachers we are in the unique position to give our students several gifts: love for their own selves, the love of learning, and a love for unknown others. Each year is an opportunity to spread this light in the world. I am in year 14 of my teaching career, and in my time in the classroom; I have taught roughly 3,000 different students. If I have managed to reach even a quarter of the students I have taught, I've added a little more light and love to the world.
LOVE OF LEARNING
We only have so much time with students each week. For some lucky language teachers, that may be an hour a day, or even entire days spent in the target language! For myself, it's 36 minutes, twice a week. The brain is like a muscle, in that, the more we use skills, the stronger they become. In fact, with practice, our neurons can process 100 times faster than when we first start a new skill. While I can help my students acquire quite a bit of language in a week; I can help them learn even more, if I help the fall in love with the language enough that they want to do it on their own at home. How do we do this? By picking topics that are interesting to students, such as their own selves. Bryce Hedstrom talked about Special Person interviews at CiMidwest18, where students own lives become the topic through which they learn language. We do this by tuning into students interests as Annabelle Allen does when she makes exciting stories about a house named Fancy Floss Jr. (unicorn mocos/boogers and all), and we do it when we make reading the same vocabulary and grammar interesting interesting to our students as Carol Gaab does when she varies reading activities. We also do it when we go slow, and connect with our students. Tina Hargaden presented on the foundational skills of using Body and Voice to connect with your students.
Love for others
When we inspire students to love the language and play with it outside of school; the result is amazing acquisition that can turn students into lifelong language learners. This can blossom into a love of other cultures and learning. In my session on the brain, I talked about a a 'pet project' I do with my students. Each class takes home a different "class pet" home for a week. We tell stories about the countries and culture the pet is "from"; the students take a picture with the pet, and makes up some personal information about the stuffed animal (practicing high frequency vocabulary). I then put these papers into a binder and add it to our classroom FVR library (I got the idea of adding this to our library from someone on FB, I wish I knew her name to give her credit, as I love this popular addition to our FVR library).
This project has shown value beyond the language learning aspect. Several years into this project, the 'pets' are now recognized throughout the community where I teach. Native Spanish speakers often initiate conversations with students when they see the animals out and about. A very shy Kindergarten student brought the stuffed bull to a local Mexican restaurant. Upon recognizing the stuffed animal, in addition to practicing Spanish with the student, the staff at the restaurant invited her back into the kitchen to meet the cooks and dishwashers in the back of the house. This student made a connection with people she would never have been brave enough to initiate a conversation with because of learning a language.
I always speak to my students about how the world would be a boring place if we all looked the same, ate the same food, dressed the same, liked the same things, went the same places, and thought the same. I emphasize that all people have things in common, but that our differences can make the world a more exciting place. Hearing it from a teacher is one thing, experiencing this on their own thing, is powerful on an entirely different level. When we can help our students see the connections that are the same between people, but also the beauty in what is different we make the world a better place.
Below, for your language teaching pleasure, please find five videos made by students (shared with permission). These videos were done independently, and voluntarily, for fun! They show a love of language, however it is also fun to see the change in complexity and confidence as the students develop their language skills.
Below is the latest video (just got it yesterday). L2 is in first grade, and her older brother and sister make cameos as 'students' in her class. I love listening to their language development, and the joy in their voices as they play with the language!
Love for their selves
I was able to sneak into two sessions at CiMidwest that focused on honoring the diversity in our students. Rewriting the Story: Upending Bias through a Focus on Understanding with Anna Gilcher and Rachelle Adams and I See You: Building Connections with your Students of Color - John Bracey. Anna and Rachelle's session shared the importance of students seeing positive representations and role models of people like them taught in class. John's session spoke to the importance of being real with your students, and showing up for them. Both sessions had some excellent tips on how to reach all of our students; and I highly recommend attending their sessions at a future conference if possible. One striking similarity between the sessions I noted, was the need to see each of our students as the unique individuals they are; to take the time to get to know them on a personal level and to understand that the things that make them different are a part of their story that we need to recognize and integrate into our teaching. Our students need us to see them for who they are, if we hope to be the teacher that fits their needs. We can only hope to help them reach their full potential if we honor who they are as individuals, and all that this entails.
Love of SElf
Teaching with Comprehensible Input can give (and take) an explosion of energy. When we give our all to our students, it can be very easy to forget to take care of ourselves. I know that if I have been up too late grading, or planning, or even with a sick kid, then I don't put quite as much energy into my lesson, and I don't have quite as much patience with my students.
From a scientific standpoint, we can not be as good in the classroom when we are exhausted because of something called Mirror Neurons. Science backs up the need not to over-do! In our brains we all have neurons, which send signals to other neurons that cause us to do...everything! Specialized neurons called Mirror Neurons, help us understand the moods, motivations, and actions of those around us. When you see someone doing something, the same neurons that would light up in your own head if you were doing the action, light up (even though you are only watching someone else do the action). It's part of why you feel scared when you are in a scary movie, flinch when you see a bad injury, or are thrilled by an intense football game.
If we come into our classrooms without energy and interest for our subject, the Mirror Neurons in our student's brains will pick that up, and they will not be as interested either, therefore decreasing interest and learning potential. On the flip-side, if we come into the classroom with energy and enthusiasm, then our students will also catch that from us, and in turn be more excited about what we are studying. Although I was not able to attend his session, I know that Justin Slocum Bailey taught a great session on Mindfulness in the TL, and the Little Things that Make the Big Things Better. I was also able to lead a session on teacher Wellness and how to take care of yourself so you can be healthy and full of energy (which will be mirrored in our students). You can find links to some of my ideas below:
1) Crazy Calm
2) Healthy Living - Burn Out is Bad for Everyone
3) Healthy Living Part 2- Who Has Time to Work Out
4) Healthy Living Part 3- You are what you Eat
I hope that something from the above links might help you help yourself!
Below are two of the videos I shared in my presentation!
Teaching is a labor of love, teaching students to love learning, love themselves, and love others. In the process we must model what we preach and love ourselves as well. I am eternally grateful to have a job that is exciting and helps me feel like I make a difference from day to day. It would not be possible without all of my incredible students, and fellow teachers that fill my life with love and light. Whether you are a student of mine, a fellow teacher I work with, or have met at a conference, or only someone who is reading this blog in search of a way to spread the love; thank you for being a part of filling the world with light, and for planting trees for the generations to come.
MittenCI 2018, 377 teachers from 16 states, gathered together in Saline, MI on the weekend of April, 20th. It was an incredible weekend, with many returning attendees from 2017 and many brand new to the world of teaching for proficiency. How did it happen and why? What keeps people coming back to conferences like this? Read on for the answers to these questions, a sneak-peek at some behind-the-scenes Mitten info, and a hint about some of the exciting things we are working on for next year!
MittenCI started as a glimmer of an idea, when Kristy Placido and I spoke about the lack of Comprehensible Input training in Michigan. The conference became a reality when Beth Gregones and I decided that we needed more training to help our district transition from legacy teaching (with textbooks, vocabulary sheets, and grammar rules) to the Comprehensible Input (CI) style of teaching. A few teachers in my district had been to multiple trainings, but most had only had a single TPRS training with Blaine Ray. If you have made the jump from legacy teaching to CI teaching, you will know what a challenge this can be; and how training with experienced teachers can make all the difference in the world to your transition. The problem was that our district did not have the money to bring in the big name trainers. The only way Beth and I could make it happen was to bring the trainers in at no cost to our district. The only way to do that was to host a conference. Saline agreed to give us the space for free, if we could bring in the trainers (if you build it, they will come).
Beth and I had no idea what we were doing when we first started working on the conference. We started by asking Carol Gaab, and Kristy Placido of Fluency Matters to join us; to our shock, they said yes! From there we quickly added Dr. Bill VanPatten, Carrie Toth, Tina Hargaden, Justin Slocum Bailey, and many other incredible talents (both local and from far afield). We emailed teachers across the state, begged the high school culinary instructor, Chef Musto to make us delicious food (priorities), and agonized over decisions like what kind of name tags to order. Not only did we do this at the end of the school year (when we both had a million projects going on for our actual classrooms), but we also did it for FREE. That's right, for free folks. Saline let us have the space gratis, but we were not allowed to pay ourselves. So Beth, myself, and our dedicated language teachers worked like crazy people to make it happen! Going into the first day of the first Mitten conference we were not sure we would hold another conference. It was an insane amount of work, and we were completely exhausted.
Why did we do it again? And why do we already have a date for 2019? Because of all of you amazing teachers out there. The joy in the halls was palpable. There were teachers literally crying tears of joy. They had never heard of this method of teaching, they wanted more. More training, more camaraderie, and more Mitten. Our conference started as a way to get training to our district, but it was clear from the first day that it was so much more than that.
Before we crawled home on that Saturday, we had already decided to do it again. Teachers coming together to support each other, and grow together is one of the most powerful things I have ever experienced. The power we have when we work together, and support each other, can literally change the world. What could be more important?
You may be wondering, where is the description of the sessions and other great takeaways? The truth is, between organizing, teaching two language labs (see a video of one of them below), and running a session on Bad Unicorn, I was not able to attend a single presentation. I did find a few great blogs about other sessions though, and you can check out one from Sarah Breckley here; and from Señorita Glasbrenner here. You can also see a great video of what the conference looked like with Darren Way below!
Want a hint about the upcoming Mitten conference? We will have 7 presenters on Friday next year AND our keynote is the incredible Dr. Krashen!
Why throw a conference if you can't even take advantage of the learning opportunities? Because it is bigger than any one teacher, or one school. This is about changing our profession, lifting each other up, and changing the world.
"If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart." - Nelson Mandela
For teacher appreciation week, I posted my 'Teacher Stats' on Facebook. I realized that over the course of my career I have connected with over 4,000 students. Each student is a chance to lift a child up, to teach them another language, to teach them about the differences between local culture and new places in the world, and most importantly to teach each child how we are all the same in our basic need for love and understanding. If we can teach children to appreciate the differences, but also to see the connections between themselves and the rest of humanity, we as teachers, and as language teachers specifically, have a chance to change the world in a way that no other profession can.
We can only do that if we support each other and grow together. This is what Mitten was and will be about, and I hope that you can join us at ACTFL at the CiPosse booth, at our house at ACTFL for salon-style after hours conversations, or at one of the amazing conference opportunities below. As a teacher alone, we can make a difference, but as teachers united, we can change the world.
Upcoming Training Opportunities:
NTPRS: July 9th- July 13th
Comprehensible Cascadia: July 10th- July 12th
IFLT: July 17th-July 20th
Express Fluency: August 6th-9th
CiMidwest: October 5th-7th
ACTFL: November 16th-18th
MittenCI: April 26th-27th
I hope to see all of you amazing difference makers at a conference soon!
First, let me start by saying I LOVE my profession. Teaching is more than a job to me, it is my passion. When I am in a state of 'flow' with my students, that is one of my happy places. I've often had students say that Spanish is their favorite, and that they enjoy it so much they barely know they are learning. When I am with my students I feel the same way (most of the time), we have so much fun that it doesn't feel like work. Teaching is a joy.
However, listening to politicians talk about the teaching profession, you would hardly know that so many good things happen in our classrooms. I am aware that most politicians have no idea what happens in schools. Unfortunately, as most parents are passionate about their children (as they should be), education is a powerful chip on the political playing field. When I first became a teacher, I remember being so PROUD to state my profession when asked what I did for a living. Over time, after getting enough negative reactions, and hearing my profession torn apart on TV my feelings began to change. I felt more defiant than proud when asked what I do for a living. Each time I told people I was a teacher, I felt the need to be prepared to battle preconceived perceptions about education. Now, when prospective teachers ask me about going into the field, I feel obligated to warn them about the need for a thick skin in this profession.
Teaching is a commitment of the heart, and there is always MORE that you could do for your students, and the race to meet the needs of all the little faces that walk through our doors can be exhausting. When you add to that the negativity from the outside, sometimes I get TIRED. Tired of hearing my profession torn apart, tired of defending it online and in-person, and tired of all the negativity in the world. Tired and worried about the world that I am sending all these precious hearts and minds into.
So what do we do? Where can teachers turn for the heart to continue? Because make no mistake, if you are a teacher the world needs you. This is a question I have pondered many times. Yesterday, listening to my daughter and her friend make a video for their 2nd grade teacher, as they raved about how she was their favorite teacher of all time, it hit me. We can turn to the reason we became teachers in the first place, to our students!
Every time I am at my most worn out, some interaction with a student lets me know it is all worth it. One of my favorite things to do, is to let students draw me pictures or write me notes after they finish a test (or even on the test if they are waiting for me to repeat a question). They always surprise me with amazing Spanish pictures and the sweetest notes. The pictures below are from this week (and a few older students have sent me after they've moved on from my building). Each one reinforces my belief that teachers are necessary, a force for good, and that I am in the right profession, every exhausting and inspiring second.
Yes, it is important to take care of our bodies and minds, but we must also take care of our hearts! I know it looks like a lot of love for me in the pictures below, but the secret is, your students all love you that much too. I even did similar activities when I taught 7th and 8th grade, and their notes were just as touching (if a little less enthusiastic).
The next time you need inspiration and a reason to keep going, look at those young minds walking through your door, take a minute to connect and let them write you a message or draw a picture to share their feelings with you; and know that you are needed and loved!
Whether students or teachers, we all have those days. The days where the morning just didn't go as planned we rushed to get ready, or to school on time, or ran around stressed out when we were at school to prep for a class, or for students to finish a project or study for a test. Those days when we can feel the tension creeping into our stomach, our neck, our shoulders, and even our attitude.
This is a normal part of being human, and there is a scientific explanation for it, our nervous system! What follows is a brief explanation of the two parts of our nervous system, and how to control it when it gets out of control. For a more in depth look, please click here.
Many years ago, when we first evolved to be human, our nervous system developed two main parts, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The two systems act like a teeter totter, when one is in use, the other is not. The sympathetic nervous system is the 'fight or flight' system and is responsible for keeping us safe in times of danger. When this system is activated our heart rate increases, our muscles contract, our pupils dilate and non-vital systems in our body shut down allowing us to react quickly. The sympathetic nervous system is VITAL for keeping us safe, and perfect for needing to escape a tiger or a similar threat. The problem is that our nervous systems have not learned to recognize the difference between the threat of a tiger stalking you in the jungle, vs the threat of being late to school or work because you are stuck behind a bus. The sympathetic nervous system activates in both instances if we don't know how to control it; and with our fast paced lifestyle of always leaping from one project to the next (I myself am guilty of this) we often keep our sympathetic nervous systems in activation for much longer then necessary. This can lead to inflammation based health problems including, migraines, fatigue, muscle tension, weight gain, and many more. To read more about teacher burn out, please click here.
'On the opposite end of the teeter totter is the parasympathetic nervous system (if you speak Spanish I try to remember that 'para' means stop and think of this as the stop system). The parasympathetic nervous system is intended to restore our body to balance after activation of the sympathetic nervous system. When the parasympathetic system is activated our breathing slows down, our muscles relax, all systems come back online and balance is restored to our bodies. This is the system we should be spending the majority of our time in, but with the speed of today's world this system is often neglected.
Luckily we can activate the parasympathetic nervous system with something as simple as deep breathing. One of my favorite quick ways to do this is the following:
1) Breathe in through the nose for the count of 4 (yes through the nose is important)
2) Hold your breath for the count of 6.
3) Breathe out through the mouth for the count of 8. (through the mouth here is also important).
Next time you are feeling stressed out try cycling through this breathing activity a few times and notice how you feel before and after! This one is so quick I can even do it between classes, before talking to a student that has my sympathetic nervous system firing, or even in the car at a stop light when my own children are being loud in the back seat!
Although I have done yoga in Spanish with my students, I had never thought of doing deep breathing or guided meditation in the TL (target language) until a recent blog post by Justin Slocum Bailey (read it here). Justin's post inspired me and I made my first (very short) video below. This video starts with an explanation of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems in English (a little too high for my students to understand in the TL), followed by the above breathing exercise in Spanish. I have been doing this with my students at the end of each class (or wherever they need it) the last few weeks and it has been wonderful! I hope it helps you too. I plan to make longer videos eventually....but that is a project for another day! Until then, I hope you spend many happy hours engaging your parasympathetic nervous system.
I have a confession. I did not attend my first conference till I had already been in the classroom for 11 years! Eleven years in the teaching profession without attending a single conference! Eleven years without seeing masters practicing their craft, eleven years without the guidance of those who had taught languages using CI before, eleven years without the support that being part of a language community can bring!
To be fair, I was a little busy using my Teacher Improvement (TI) money completing my Masters degree, and my +30. Plus, at the time, while conferences sounded great in theory, they always seemed slightly out of reach (both finding the budget and making the time). Through a weird, but fortuitous set of circumstances, I received two years worth of TI money at once, and my opportunity to attend a conference.
I first heard of IFLT and NTPRS via a FB group that I developed a slight obsession for (IFLT/NTPRS/CI teaching; in case you arent already a member). All the teachers in this group were raving about two conferences, NTPRS and IFLT. I decided to use all of my TI money at once, and attend IFLT (mainly because I already had a prior commitment during the week of NPTRS). I threw caution to the wind, and bought my ticket (my first time on a plane since my honeymoon 10 years prior). I was excited, but I had no idea what was in store for me.
Although I love my district colleagues, I had been teaching in isolation for quite a while at this point in my career. I was often the only language teacher in my building. I enjoy collaborating and working with others, but when the 'other' language teacher is in another building, working together can can be a major effort. I don't even see all my building colleagues on a daily basis; it is easy for each classroom to become it's own little world. I gradually stopped working with other teachers and became a Spanish world in isolation. I enjoyed my teaching, but forgot the benefits both to my students and myself that come from working closely with other teachers. I was excited to go to IFLT and learn from all the bloggers I had been following, but didn't expect more than a great learning experience. In fact, as a mother to 3 and a dedicated bookworm (who never has enough time to read), I was very much looking forward to quiet post-conference dinners with my book, a quick swim in the hotel pool, followed by more time reading. I did not get a single quiet night with my book (and I didn't miss it at all).
From the first day of the conference I connected with others who I recognized on FB, and who, to my surprise also recognized me. By the first night of the conference I had a dinner date with new conference friends (no awkward get-to-know you conversations at dinner, since we all wanted to talk about language acquisition), by the start of the 2nd day I made a 'forever friend' in the elevator on the way to the conference (one of those people who you feel like you just 'know' instantly, and always will), and by the third night I was playing Mafia after hours with Martina Bex and Dr. Krashen (Krashen and I were Mafia)! I expected to LOVE the sessions at the conference (and I did), but I didn't expect to fall in love with the 'togetherness' of being with other language teachers, but I did. To put it in the immortal words of Zach Galifianakis, I had found my wolfpack. What had initially started as a plan to 'only go this once' to a conference', turned into a plot to return the following year by the end of the week. If you've never been to a conference, know that in addition to amazing presenters and inspiring sessions, you may also find yourself with a support network that you never expected.
"Kindness is a wonderful way to let another struggling soul know that there is still love in this world." - Unknown
I planned to blog about one aspect of conferences, but let myself be swept away in the excitement of blogging about the whole experience. A quote about kindness is the perfect focus for the specific aspect of conferences I wanted to cover: Coaching. Teachers Coaching other teachers was started by the incredible Karen Rowan when she saw a need for guidance for teachers new to CI. When I first attended IFLT I had no idea what the Coaching experience would be like, and to be honest the description didn't initially entice me when I looked it over. Open Coaching, was hosted each evening on the top floor of the building. Teachers new to TPRS/CI could come for an hour at the end of the day, and be put in a small group of teachers (based on experience level) with an expert coach. Teachers would then spend a few minutes practicing a TPRS/CI skill in front of the group, and being coached by the other teachers. My initial reaction was, 'no thank you'. I had already spent an entire day learning, and my book was calling. Staying an hour late to do some extra teaching, and to be critiqued (as I imagined it) did not sound enticing. However, the 'forever friend' I mentioned meeting wanted to stay and try it, and since I didn't want to make her walk back to the hotel alone, I stayed too. I will be forever grateful that she convinced me to stay. While coaching sounded intimidating "get up and try a challenging new skill in front of your peers and a master" it actually felt more like a warm hug. Each teacher is paired with a small group of peers that are at your skill level, plus a master teacher as a coach. You take turns presenting a small part of a lesson (only a few minutes long) to the group. At the end of the lesson, the other teachers and the coach teach to your strengths, and tell you what you did RIGHT. They look at the best in you, and help you make it better. They give you the confidence to try new things (and even to come back to coaching again, which I did everyday the rest of the week). If you have specific questions about how to do something, or a skill you need help with, they are there for that too.
I was a legacy teacher (textbook, vocab lists, and grammar rules) for many years before I became a TPRS/CI teacher (you can read about my initial struggle here). While I was sold on TPRS after my first training, making the switch was HARD. It required totally changing my mindset about HOW to teach a language, throwing out most of what I was doing in the classroom, and greatly improving my language skills. I was (and still am) very excited about all that CI can bring to a classroom, but when you transition from legacy teaching to CI, the struggle is real! My district had quite a bit of turn over the past few years (as people left for babies, new positions, etc), and I see how much of a challenge teaching this way can be at first as colleagues transition to teaching with CI. Supporting each other is VITAL in the work that we do. Teaching is hard enough without adding the burden of throwing out all we learned in college in favor of recent research and evidence and reinventing yourself as a teacher. Coaching, coaches, and time to work together and grow is a part of what can turn this struggle into success for ourselves and our students. It is for that very reason that last year I paid out of my own pocket to attend Coaching 4 Coaches with Teri Wiechart. There is a specific set of skills to acquire when working with other teachers, and Teri is the pro. It was worth every penny of the extra night in the hotel and the workshop fee to be able to acquire those skills to share with the new teachers in my district and in trainings. I feel confident when I go to work with other teachers that I will be able to give them the same 'warm hug' that I received at my first coaching experience; and that I will be able to give them the guidance that was given to me when I needed it most. If you are a teacher new to TPRS/CI, or just a teacher looking to improve their skills, please go to Coaching, you deserve to be supported. If you are an experienced CI teacher, watching new teachers struggle with teaching this way, consider going to a Coaching 4 Coaches workshop. The gift that you will give to those new teachers and all of their students is priceless.
Finally if you think there is even a chance that you might enjoy a conference, that you might be a part of the CI Wolfpack, I hope you can find a way to join us. Alone, in our own little language teacher worlds, we can do GREAT things for the students in our classes, but together as teachers united for change for the greater good, we can change the world.
There are great training opportunities in the CI world. If you see something I missed, please add it in the comments! Full disclosure, conferences with an * are conferences that I am presenting and/or coaching at and/or helping organize. Joy at my first IFLT may have turned me a bit conference obsessed, but I want to share this magic with all the teachers!
- Comprehensible Online- The first online CI Conference! Going to a conference is the best experience possible, but if you simply can't, this is the next best thing! March 24th- April 8th.*
- MittenCI- April 20th (pre-conference), April 21st (conference) and April 22nd (post conference MittenLatin), happening in Saline, MI. Coaching and Coaching For Coaches workshop available! Back for a second year, sold out last year!*
- IFLT 2018- July 17th-July 20th (Coaching For Coaches available on July 16th). This is the conference I raved about in this blog, all the things in one place! Located in Cincinnati Ohio this year! Sells out quickly!*
Comprehensible Cascadia- More coming soon
NTPRS - July 9th-13th in Danvers, Massachusetts- I've yet to go to a NTPRS, but I would love to make it someday! I heard this year it is at a hotel with a waterpark!
Express Fluency Teacher Training: Summer 2018- Aug 6-9th, Burlington Vermont! A great group of presenters in a beautiful location!
CiMidwest- September 2018
Teaching a language using Comprehensible Input (CI) is my favorite way to teach, hands down (and in my 13 years in the classroom I've taught in a lot of different roles including 3rd grade classroom teacher, 5th grade classroom teacher, after school/summer Spanish teacher, Spanish, a French, and German Exploratory class, Science, Middle School Spanish, and Elementary Spanish. Before teaching with CI I would have been hard pressed to name my favorite subject or age level to teach with, as I found things to enjoy at all levels. After teaching this way however, it would be hard to imagine teaching anything else. CI lights up the way our brains are meant to learn. The classroom becomes a joyous place where intense and meaningful learning and community building takes place. I see it in the bounce in their step when students walk through the door; and I hear it in their voices when they walk by my room at conferences and say in hushed and excited tones, "Mom and Dad that's the SPANISH room."
There is a drawback however, teaching this way can be both energizing, and completely exhausting. Some days I am drained and don't have a creative story or interesting thing to talk or read about. When I get that tired, I have to take a step back; and so should you when you feel that way! I know that if I have been up too late grading, or planning, or even with a sick kid, then I don't put quite as much energy into my lesson, and I don't have quite as much patience with my students. Science backs up the need not to over-do! In our brains we all have neurons, which send signals to other neurons that cause us to do...everything! There are even specialized neurons called Mirror Neurons, that help us understand the moods, motivations, and actions of those around us. When you see someone doing something, the same neurons that would light up in your own head if you were doing the action, light up (even though you are only watching someone else do the action). It's part of why you feel scared when you are in a scary movie, flinch when you see a bad injury, or are thrilled by an intense football game. If we come into our classrooms without energy and interest for our subject, the Mirror Neurons in our student's brains will pick that up, and they will not be as interested either, therefore learning less. Notice how you feel looking at the pictures of the exhausted people below. If you want to experience the effects of Mirror Neurons a little more intensely, watch the video of the "Rooftoppers". If you watch the video, the dropping sensation in the pit of your stomach is your Mirror Neurons predicting what would happen if they made a wrong move.
Read on for a list of my favorite low-energy CI activities!
You're in your house...
House vocabulary is something that is on many curriculum lists, and as many of the words from 'the house' rank in the top 100 words in many languages it is also valuable vocabulary. One way I can sneak in house vocabulary, plus lots of repetitions with whatever I want is with 'You're in your house' stories. The fun thing about these stories is that they are low prep, everyone acts at once, and they are very visual and basic (I don't even circle when I do them...much). Before teaching a basic story I introduce the following words (each word has an action):
la casa - the house (draw a house starting with a pointy roof around yourself)
la ventana - the window (make your arms into a square and 'peek' through it)
el cuarto - the room/bedroom ( draw a square around yourself)
la puerta - the door - (open and close a door)
abre- he/she opens (open your hands like opening a book)
cierra- he/she closes (close your hands like closing a book)
de repente- suddenly (I always clap once, suddenly and dramatically after I say it)
The only prep (other than making sure they know the above words) is having some 'monsters' available (either stuffed animals, or print outs). All of the below is done in the target language (TL), and actors (the entire class acts at once) are only allowed to do what the narrator (teacher) says. All the quotations are the teacher 'script' with student actions described for each step.
I keep this from being too scary for the elementary kids by having all the 'monsters' be non-threatening in appearance (as seen below). For older students you could do something similar, but with slightly spooky endings. If I was doing Middle School Spanish still, I would prep the my screen ahead of time so that when the students opened their eyes, Sr. Wooly's Ganga girls were peeking out at the students when they opened their eyes. The 'noise' could be a snippet of the Ganga song. If you are reading Sr. Wooly's newest graphic novel, La Dentista, you could also have that character ready to surprise students when they open their eyes!
Textivate is incredible for CI teachers. Students can practice both words in isolation and in a story. All you have to do as the teacher, is type your vocabulary and story and hit the 'Textivate button', you will instantly be rewarded with almost 30 different games your students can play to practice their CI. Textivate even has voice-to-text! There are many great instructional videos on Textivate's blog so I won't go into a how-to. Creating a Textivate activity with vocabulary the students already know, and a new simple story, can be a great way to have a meaningful lesson for students when you have a sub as well! Below is an example of work I am leaving for my 1st graders when I am out next week!
Charades or pictionary
I have cards made up with high frequency words sitting in the front of my room (I also have student lists laminated). As I create stories with the class throughout the year, I add sentence strips from stories we have done as a class to the 'bag'. A student or student pulls a strip from the bag. If we are playing charades they act it out, if we are playing pictionary they draw it. Simple, and low prep, plus lots of practice of important words and structures. The student lists, are so that if groups of students finish an activity early, they have a 'go-to' . To see the words I have in my word bag (plus some times I made to practice them, click the link below. If you are a Spanish teacher, you can use this list to make your own. You could also buy the one I made, if it's easier.
There are a lot of Comprehensible games that practically run themselves once you have taught them to the students. For a list of some of my favorites click here. From this pages the best for low energy days are:
What's in the backpack/suitcase
What's in the backpack/suitcase/bag/box/present etc. (whichever word you need to practice) is exactly what it sounds like, throw some things in your container of choice. Describe them, using words the students know, and have them guess what you have in your backpack. Lots of repetitions for descriptive words, colors, size, has/does not have, etc.
PQA 4 Square/ Read and draw / Create a character
I have worksheets made up ahead of time that are very generic, they have students practice the you/I forms of Michael Peto's Super 7 and Super 16. Students answer the questions in the 4-square (as seen below) and draw a picture to go with each question. Lots of times these turn into hilarious mini-stories that you can throw into your FVR Library (Free Voluntary Reading Library). I also have blank comic templates that I can quickly write a basic story in, copy, and pass out to students. Students read and draw it. Beautifully illustrated stories can also be added to the FVR library. Finally, I have a worksheet that allows students to practice question words, and create their own "Invisibles" character (thanks Ben and Tina)! Students love making up their own characters, and 'standouts' can become class characters for your stories.
Giving yourself a chance to not be in the spotlight and recharge, while your students still enjoy plenty of CI goodness is a great thing for teachers and students alike! I hope one of these activities will come in handy next time you need a chance to breathe (as may be needed during December). Happy Holidays everyone!
p.s. If you are a Spanish teacher, my 'Felices Fiestas' site below, has lots of great movie talk possibilities for the holidays (a low energy activity, that I didn't write about as there are many great blogs on it).
Classroom jobs are a great classroom tool, both to manage transitions in the classroom smoothly, increase time spent in the TL (target language), and to help create a culture that is special to each class. It helps create a bond between the students and brings everyone together as a team. There are many great blog posts about classroom jobs, however these are the jobs that have worked best for me, in an elementary setting. Many of them were inspired by Ben Slavic's work. Some are unique (as far as I know). I've promised to blog about the jobs that work well in my room many times; and have finally found time at the airport on the way back from presenting at the incredible CiMidwest. To save you some time, I am including a free download to my job badges. My students wear these in lanyards around their necks. In previous years I have used props to identify jobs, but for elementary students the props were a big distraction. They are proud to wear the badges, but mess with them less, so this works better for me. Download your copy (if you are a Spanish teacher) here. If any teachers of other languages would like these, let me know, and I can delete the Spanish words and leave them blank so you can write in your own words.
What jobs do I use? Read below for a list and a brief explanation of each job.
Artist - Draws characters or stories as they happen. Can use these pictures for a retell, or add words to them and add them to your FVR library.
Writer - Writes the story in Spanish or in English. Helps me keep track of what is going on in each story.
The watch- tells teacher 5 minutes before the end of the class. I often have so much fun with my students I forget to watch the time.
The boss - Walks around at the end of class and makes sure class is in order, doesn’t clean the mess, tells others to pick up after themselves.
Host- Greets visitors, offers them a comfy place to sit (can kick kids out of the best seats if they say it in the TL (target language) and a glass of water.
Doctor- If someone sneezes, stands up and says 1,2,3 and class says ‘salud’. Escorts kids to the office for injury or illness if necessary.
The door- Answers the door during class and asks for the password if letting people into the class.
Points- adds class points or teacher points for me when I am too far away from my point place.
Props- Brings me props (or retrieves props we throw across the room).
Calendar - Changes calendar date, and helps me with the calendar (older students can lead calendar)
Mini Teacher - Passes out or collects paper , turns off lights, and brings me things from across the room, and chooses two helpers to quickly pass out badge jobs at the start of class. At first I call out the Spanish words and they pass them out. When they have acquired the words they call out the jobs in the TL too.
Designer- If the room does not look good when they enter the classroom, the designer fixes it up (and can pick a friend to help)
Spy- Takes top secret messages from me anywhere in the school they need to go (the office, another teacher) sneaky like... They also "spy" on kids during class and report to me when kids speak English (so I can give myself points). The spy also reports to me when students speak in the TL OUTSIDE of class. So I can give the class points. This is the MOST popular job. It also gets the kids speaking lots of Spanish outside of the class, because they hope the spy will report on them. I don't care how many points my class gets (see here for a link to La Maestra Locas' blog and an explanation of the point system I use).
No English- If this person hears someone speaking English they have to say ‘No English, Spanish Spanish’ in the target language. If they say it before I can get to the board to give myself a point, I cannot give myself any points.
King or Queen- Makes decisions I don’t want to in the story (usually low pressure decisions like where someone lives).
Expert- Makes up details we don’t know in a story (how fast a car is, how far away the sun is, etc.). Whatever they say, we "believe" for the story. For example, if I asked the 'expert' what the fastest car in the world was, and they say 'a school bus', we are going with a super fast school bus for the rest of the story.
Computer Crew (3-4)- When we use computers they are in charge of re-setting computers for the next class, plugging them in (if necessary) and making sure headphones are wrapped.
Sub- Takes the job of any and ALL absent students
The below jobs fall away when students do not need to hear the English anymore.
What? - When we say ‘qué’ (what in Spanish) the “What” person, stands up, shrugs their shoulders and says “What” in the voice of Gato, from El Perro y el Gato. Not very helpful if you are not a Spanish teacher. Perro y Gato video at the bottom of this post in case you haven't seen it.
Who? - Says ‘who who’ like an owl when I say ‘quién’ in the TL
Where? - Looks back and forth quickly and says where, where, in a scared voice (as if looking for a monster) when they hear the word ‘where’ in the TL.
When? - Taps on an imaginary watch, and says ‘when, when’ in an annoyed voice when we say ‘when’ in the TL
How- Says ‘how how’ in a shocked voice (as if they broke their favorite toy) when we say ‘how’ in the TL.
Why? - Raises their hands and says ‘why’ in an anxious voice when we say ‘por qué’
Because- Says ‘because’ in a annoyed voice when we say ‘because’ in the TL.
How much- Makes money sign with fingers when we say ‘how much’ in the TL.
Translator- helps new students or guests in the room
That's it, my favorite jobs. I used to have classroom actors too, but almost all my students want to act, so I have decided to not make it a job, to give more students the spotlight.
Hope that helps, let me know if you have any questions!
Entering my 13th year in the classroom; I am a TPRS/CI Elementary Spanish Teacher. Passionate about TPRS/CI, Brain based learning, and using technology to bring the world to our students, and our students to the world.