Falling Into Place

This school year has been going for a month now and things are coming together. I wasn’t so sure that this would happen, though. I had a lot of changes this year, the biggest of which was getting rid of all my desks. I had a practice run of this last year with my half-deskless classroom (I put all the desks in a circle with the chairs on the inside which allowed the students to have the space of a deskless classroom but still had desks), so it wasn’t a brand new concept, but I was still apprehensive.

But that apprehension was unnecessary. The kids were, for the most part, very interested and engaged and following expectations in the deskless class setting.

But kids are funny…

I was so worried that they’d have trouble with the deskless setting, but I didn’t realize they would have trouble when they had to sit at tables. They spent the last 8 years sitting at desks and tables in Spanish class, so they know the expectations, right?

Wrong. They were squirrely and interrupty and a little wild. It seemed totally bizarre to me, but then I had one of my patented realizations:

The real cause of commotion is not a lack of desks, it’s change.

They started the year with no desks and were able to tell themselves, “This is how we do things this year. No desks. We know the expectations and can follow them.” But when I brought out the tables, that’s when things went downhill. I thought that having tables (8 students at each table) would allow for more structure (and I need to have them out for certain kinds of activities, whether it’s a timed writing or group art activity or whatever else)…But I was wrong. The kids were better behaved with no desks! Once I moved the tables out of the way? The kids’ behavior changed back to normal and they were following expectations…

Finding Engagement Through Competition

And I did have some trouble with some of my classes, specifically one that had a lot of trouble being responsible about their behavior during instruction with or without the tables. I had stern lectures with them in each of our first 5 class meetings. 5 classes with 5 lectures about bad behavior. It was a really bad situation for me-it left me and the students feeling bad about Spanish class and instruction. These are kids I’ve known since they were in Kindergarten and it’s their last year here. I feel bad leaving them with a distaste for Spanish because of my lack of control of the classroom.

Fortunately, I have a positive ending (or beginning, it is only September) to this story: I have gone back to using other teachers’ ideas and methods–more on that below– and I have instituted a point system much like that used by La Maestra Loca and I included using the TL in the point system: If they use English when we are supposed to be using Spanish (I have a paper with a Spanish flag on one side and and American flag on the other so they know what language they are supposed to use–English or Spanish on the American side and only Spanish on the Spanish side), I get a point. If I use English, they earn a point. They also earn points for using Spanish, for being engaged, for giving great answers or asking good questions in Spanish. If they beat me on a daily basis, they earn points towards a middle school point system we have for them to get an extra recess time. Their points also get recorded so that when they earn 50, we will have a fiesta (music, dancing, games, etc). This gives them two things to work for, which is part of why their engagement is high.

They have taken to this with gusto and enthusiasm! After implementing it, they are taking the whole competition seriously (well…they’re still their silly selves, but they are encouraging each other to use the Spanish they know rather than fall back on English) and some are memorizing phrases to use so they can earn more points…I think I’m going to start a phrase-wall, like a word wall, and if the students get a phrase up there, they’ll earn extra points for their class…I’m still working on what to do specifically for that.

They came in to class today excited to speak Spanish and spent most of the class speaking more Spanish than I have heard them speak since they were eager 4th and 5th graders who weren’t worried about looking “cool” in front of their friends–I even have one student who is a heritage speaker but who was embarrassed to speak Spanish in class finally speak in more than the single word or phrase level…His friends were floored, “Wait, you speak Spanish?!?” They didn’t even know!

Now, not all of what they say is perfect, but it shouldn’t be; they are at novice high and intermediate low and they need the opportunity to build their skills by jumping into the conversation. Their circumlocution skills, which we have worked on in the past, are finally getting a workout outside of our planned activities…Maybe the contest is making it cool for them to try and use Spanish in class!

And that is only one class that was challenging at the beginning. The rest of my classes are taking to the contest just as well and finally feeling the need to break out of their comfort zones and speak Spanish

Back to the Basics…of Stealing!

Thinking about all of the success I’ve been feeling in the past two weeks with the “Clase Vs. Señor” contest, I reflected on what got me started blogging in the first place.

When I started this blog, I talked about all of the things I did to transition to a TPRS classroom that provided the students with as much CI as I could possibly muster. The thing about those old posts is that almost everything I tried was an idea I got from someone else. I borrowed ideas and activities from Martina Bex and Laura Sexton and Sara-Elizabeth Cottrell and Mike Peto and many others (you can find them listed on the side of the page). I stole and borrowed and adapted and made my own career based on the work of these other teachers. And then I shared that here and I hope that I have made it clear that I am indebted to these and all the other generous teachers who write about their successes and failures and what they do in their classrooms for us all to benefit from.

Sadly (for me and especially for my students), I had forgotten about these resources in the last few years. I felt bad about using other people’s ideas instead of creating my own. What a silly thing! I have gone back to these helpful teacher-bloggers and to others, especially La Maestra Loca, for inspiration…and I have had the best first month I’ve had in years!

So use other people’s ideas! Read all the blogs you can and use all the ideas that sound good to you! I have used more this year than the points system that I talked about above and I will talk more about that in a later post, but use any and every resource you can find to find what works for your style and for your students.

And be sure to thank those whose ideas you use and definitely make sure to GIVE THEM THE CREDIT!!! I wouldn’t be the teacher I am today without the teachers I mentioned above and the ones whose blogs you can find on the side of my blog. Check them out and use their wisdom to make a better teaching and learning experience in your classroom!


One comment

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, AJ, and I’m so glad this year is starting off great! I love the flag idea and La maestra loca, too – I need to check into this system!


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