Two days a week. That’s all the students get of Spanish. Two measly days. That is all the time the kids get to have CI, to practice their speaking, writing, and reading (with teacher supervision), to interact with their peers in the TL. This is something I’ve struggled with my entire time teaching. How much will the students care? How much should I care? Should I just be a babysitter, should I be the most serious and rigorous teacher I possibly can? These are the questions I’ve been asking myself over the last 8 years.
Some years, I swing into ambivalence: “Why bother doing anything rigorous? This should just be an experience for the kids to hear some Spanish and leave.” Other years, like this one, I am feeling like I have a grand opportunity, that even though the kids only have a 90 minutes (or less) a week of Spanish, they have the potential to move forward on their proficiency paths.
There are two ideas that I’ve played with before that I’ve given much more serious thought to and that I’m very excited about: Stamps and Homework.
Choose your own path adventures are super fun. They give the reader the power to take the story where they want it to go. There are lots of teachers out there who have taken this idea and applied it to their language instruction. The way I will be applying it to my class is with Choose your own path homework. In this way, they become the deciders in what they are going to do. I have talked about this before and I even did it for about a month, but it never worked out for me. The students were very interested and motivated and I got a lot of positive feedback from the parents, which was a huge part of the goal, but I didn’t follow through with it.
If there is one lesson that I’ve learned more than any other in this school, it’s that implementing a change over 9 grades and 450 students at the same time is a fool’s errand. Trying to implement a new homework system to all of the 5th through 8th grade students at once taught me that. I got lucky with TPRS because it has been a good and natural fit for me as a person and as a teacher (it fits into my “light-planning, heavy-fun” style and sense of humor). Every other time I implemented a change for all grades at the same time, I was overwhelmed with the amount of work it took and I let it slip away. This time, though, I will only be implementing this stamp sheet system in 7th and 8th grade, with an idea to expand it down to 6th and 5th in the next few years. By doing this, I will be able to have an experiment that I can adjust and change whenever it is necessary and it won’t disrupt everything I’m doing in every grade.
This year, with more motivation on my part and a plan for implementing it starting small, I think I will find more success and hopefully create some interest in the language and culture outside the classroom setting.
Another idea I toyed with a long time ago, right around the time I started giving serious thought to the ACTFL Can Do statements, I decided to make up stamp sheets and every time the students completed one of the benchmarks, I would stamp the sheet for a grade. It was the only way that I could figure out to use the Can Do Statements. So I just implemented it willy-nilly, but it didn’t have the effect I was hoping for in either motivation or in showing me where the students actually are in their proficiency path. This year, I am paring down the scope. In doing this, I will be able to put it into place little by little and not be overwhelmed myself and underwhelming to my students.
At the end of the year last year, I handed out surveys with basic questions: What did you like? What did you not like? What would you like to learn more of in the coming years? For the last question, the overwhelming answer was to be able to “speak Spanish.” Since they’re kids, they don’t understand the giant undertaking that it is to acquire a new language, but their request rang true in a different way for me. I can’t get them to magically “Speak Spanish” immediately, but I can help them to see that they are making progress towards this goal.
The stamp sheets I’ve made this year are a little more in-depth than the ones I made in the past. They are still based on ACTFL’s “Can Do… Statements.” After a lot of copying and pasting (from here: https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/Can-Do_Statements_2015.pdf) and document formatting, I have these first stamp sheets.
The students will keep them in their notebooks. They will see the benchmarks (the boxes that get stamped) and the level (NL for Novice Low and NM for Novice Mid) on the front and the indicators that they have to show (only for NM) on the back of the sheet. When the students are able to show all the indicators fluently, they will get a stamp for the benchmark showing them that they can do it.
Each student will receive one of the stamp sheets. Either during the formal assessment time at the end of the trimester or when the student feels ready and there is an appropriate time, the students will individually show me that they can complete each of the Can Do statements.
The hardest thing as a teacher has been to determine accurately where all the students are in their path to proficiency. I can see their progress in a small way during class, but I have not held them accountable for being able to do what we’ve been practicing in class. This is my way to be able to do that. I want to know for a fact that my students are able to communicate in a classroom context at at least a Novice High level by the end of 7th grade and into the Intermediate Low level by the end of 8th grade. That is my stated goal and it would put the students in a great position as they leave here and go on to high school and beyond and study language, Spanish or otherwise.
The other benefit that I see to this type of assessment is that it will be a motivator on several levels. On one level, it will give them something to practice for and give them something to reach for other than a fun activity. On another level, it will help to legitimize what they are doing in my class: my students have been listening to stories and writing stories in the TL about silly and inconsequential things for four years and as much as I tell them the benefits of what they are doing, they have trouble seeing it. The fun part has worn off a bit and the whole act has gotten stale. Since I see these kids for their entire time in our school, I need to level up my own teaching and assessment so that they see that there is progress being made. They need to know they are moving forward in their proficiency path.
TL; DR: Baby steps to motivation and progress: those are the goals this year, for myself and for my students.