Priority #1: Culture of TL in the Classroom
Confession Time: The biggest regret that I have as a teacher is how much L1 gets used in the classroom.
I can do a great job of talking to the students in the TL during a story or an activity, but I can’t seem to get them to be able to respond in anything other than English. In the earlier grades, I understand that they just don’t have the exposure to the language to be comfortable enough to speak in the TL more than English, but as they get older, I know they are getting lots of input and should be able to move along the proficiency path in the TL, but they don’t or can’t. I think it might be a problem of confidence rather than ability/proficiency.
My plan is to work on creating a culture of the TL in my classroom. I have found lots of suggestions about ways to do this, like Blaine Ray’s Págame system and other punitive systems that take away things from students when they speak English (writing a word on the board and taking away letters when I hear English, assigning a student as the “English police” to monitor the class’s use of L1 and L2, etc). I don’t feel very good about those, though: I don’t want the kids to speak Spanish because they are afraid of losing a privilege or getting in trouble. I want them to speak Spanish because they want to or need to engage in the language.
I believe that the first thing is to instill a culture of kindness and respect. No student will want to speak up if they are going to be shut down by their peers for making an error in word choice, grammar, or pronunciation. I need to make it clear to my students that any attempt to use language beyond what they’re comfortable with will be celebrated. Thankfully, I feel confident that my room is a safe place for the students to experiment with language.
So why are they not experimenting more?
I think that, at times, we language teachers have the tendency to expect students to speak in our TL spontaneously. I tell them no English, but I haven’t been consistent in giving them other words to use instead. No matter how kindly I tell them or how insistent or passionate I am that TL is the only L we use in class, they’ll never feel comfortable experimenting for one reason: I haven’t made it easy or comfortable enough for them to do so. That’s where rejoinders come in. These are the chunks we memorize to respond to questions, to state our opinions, or to “keep conversations going.”
I have to make it easy (and fun/interesting) for the kids to use these phrases. They have to be prominently displayed and I have to point them out as much as I possibly can. Correctly and confidently using these kinds of memorized chunks demonstrates Novice Mid proficiency level. Once they internalize these and use them (along with other memorized phrases about other topics), they will be on their way towards mixing and matching the phrases and chunks they have memorized. Doing this is communicating at Novice High.
In other words, by giving them lots of phrases to use and internalize (and/or memorize informally–not for testing, but for use on a day-to-day basis), they will get more comfortable using the language. I will still be providing lots of ci and they will be able to respond more and more confidently in Spanish and eventually be more comfortable with playing with the language. Once they are playing with the language and creating new and different phrases from what they already know, they will be on their way to Novice High and beyond.
All too often I have said, “no ingles en mi clase,” or my catchphrase, “español o silencio” with no further instruction on how they can actually use Spanish to respond. Just like with classroom management, it’s not enough to tell them to stop doing something, we have to give them something to do.
I will continue to use TPRS as the main method of instruction for 3rd and 4th grade and will continue using it into 5th grade in beyond. In the older grades, we will continue to have stories throughout the year, but it will not be the core of the curriculum.
The 5th graders will do more timed writing activities and will work up to more interpersonal activities as well.
My students, because of the limited time I have with them, seem to mostly stick around Novice Mid and some will get to Novice High by the end of 8th Grade. My goal is for that to flip: Most students will get to Novice High and some will be stick around Novice Mid by the end of 8th Grade. Hopefully, some will also get into intermediate, but we’ll see.
Non-Targeted Comprehensible Input
I will be incorporating elements of NTCI (which I talked about at length here) into all of the grades I will be teaching. Activities I’m looking forward to adding to my class tool-box are:
- More MovieTalk (with screencaptures of the story to talk about what is going on before we watch the video, discussed here)
- Any other activity that provides input to the students but that isn’t necessarily related to an overall unit or theme or grammar rule
Our school partners with an orphanage in Mexico City. The administrators at the orphanage have been keen on getting their students together with ours over video chats and pen pal letters. Our students are very excited about doing this and we have been preparing for it so that we can fully implement it next year!
The children in the orphanage are much younger than ours, so we have been planning activities that they can do with them. There will be more posts about what we will specifically doing with them, but in the planning stage, we are planning to have our students (7th and 8th graders) introduce themselves, read stories (original stories written specifically for the kids in the orphanage and/or books by published children’s authors), and act out plays or skits for their new friends in Mexico City.
Free Voluntary Reading (News, Revista Literal, Stories created by my own students)
I enjoyed using current events in my classroom, it engaged the students in a way that I don’t think they were expecting. When we read about current news/culture (like Nike’s advertisement that featured all female athletes), it gave the students a chance to use language in the classroom to talk about prescient issues (gender equality, women in sports). I felt this was mostly positive, even though they weren’t able to discuss it much in the TL (we watched it in the TL and did a movietalk of the commercial in the TL, but the discussion afterwards that touched on the more serious issues underlying the activity were by necessity done in English–I thought it was an important conversation for us to have, even if we didn’t do it in Spanish).
Along those lines, as much as I really liked using news and current events from around the Spanish-Speaking world, I found most of the articles to be a bit too advanced (in topic rather than language) for whole-class instruction. But as content for FVR, I think they are great (thanks to Mike Peto for your FVR book, Pleasure Reading in the World Language Classroom, which will be helping me in this part of my journey). Allowing the students to choose what they want to read (articles, books, etc) will give them a chance to read things and make their own way to finding what interests them rather than being forced to read about, say, politics in South America by me.
Other FVR content will definitely be coming from Revista Literal, which is full of stories written by students for students.
Speaking of reading, Novels!!! (hopefully at least 2/year, ideally 3/year)
I currently have class sets of 3 novels from Fluency Matters, but I have plans to get more! (the novels for which I have class sets are in bold in the tentative plan, the ones that I hope to get are not in bold).
I have read all of these books and I think that they will work really well. I had a lot of success with BB Quiere un Perro with my 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Similarly, Edi was successful in 5th Grade-I wasn’t sure that the book was going to work, content-wise (it is more for younger learners), but they seemed to like it in spite of its younger-students-skewing content because they were able to understand what was going on.
The goal is that the majority of our activities in each semester will be focused on the novel we are reading and the activities that go with it. With our short schedule (currently 2 days per week), we will be forced to stretch out the books over a month or maybe even two months, depending on the amount of outside-the-book content that we go over while we are reading.
This is also where IPAs come in, because (if all goes according to plan) I will be able to have students complete an IPA for each trimester (or maybe that’s too ambitious and is wishful thinking…we’ll see…And I’ll tell you all about it!)
My current schedule for reading novels (titles in bold are books that I currently have sets of in my classroom, the rest are books I intend to request over the next 2 school years):
5th grade: (after Spring Break-beginning in March or April 2020) Edi el elefante
6th grade: Brandon Brown quiere un perro; Piratas del Caribe y el mapa secreto
7th grade: Brandon Brown hace trampa; el chico global
8th grade: (Around Halloween) Mata la pinata; Leyendas impactantes
There is a lot for me to work on over the summer and into the new school year. But as much work as it is, I am more invigorated this May than I have ever been in any of the other 8 Mays that I have taught at my school. This year has been, without a doubt, my best and most positive year.
And I look forward to putting in the hours to get these ideas up and running early in the new school year so that I can start the year off on the right foot and have an even more successful year in 2019-2020.