La Charla

I have to start this post by giving a huge shout out to two people out there in the Langauge Teaching Blogiverse who have made an enormous impact on my teaching this year: Señora Chase and Jon Cowart. Without them, this routine (and its community-building and proficiency-growing benefits) would not be possible. ¡GRACIAS!

As part of my quest to foster a culture of Target Language Use in my classroom, I have added a lot more than just L2 activities to my class. Before I did anything, I had to see what my class was like. So the first thing I did on my journey to improve this year was to record videos of my classes, just to see. This was the most nerve-racking part of the process, because I had an idea of what I do in class, but I wasn’t sure it reflected what actually happens.

Questions I wanted to answer to better my teaching included:

  1. Do I use to much English? (The biggest question I had of them all)
  2. When I do use Spanish, am I comprehensible? (Do I speak to fast, do I use correct grammar, what’s my accent like, etc)
  3. How does it look from the outside when the students are not following expectations? (In other words, am I that teacher who makes mean and sarcastic comments and is basically a complete jerk?)
  4. Am I engaging?
  5. Just how much are the kids talking while I’m teaching?

The answers to all of these were more positive than I was expecting, except for the first 2 – As much as I thought I was, I wasn’t meeting the 90% TL use recommended by ACTFL and when I was speaking in the TL, I was going way to fast. During one of her many ACTFL presentations, Annabelle Williamson, La Maestra Loca, said this:

She was talking about using ClipChat (like MovieTalk), but it works in all settings in the TL in our classrooms. We have to go slow enough for our slowest processors to understand as much as possible. If we aren’t going slowly enough, our words will go right over their heads and they won’t understand what we’re saying, which leads to them zoning out, doodling, goofing around, talking to neighbors, and any and all other things that happen when they aren’t engaged.

  1. Management: Hand Signals

What I found when looking back at the recordings, a lot of my time in English was spent giving directions and correcting behaviors (which were directly related to me not being comprehensible enough). Enter Jon Cowart’s blog (link above in the introduction) with lots of ideas for how to manage the classroom. I was subsequently able to see a webinar where he explained some of the concepts, specifically using hand signals to let students know the kind of speaking that is expected during class. In the following video, I had introduced the signals I was going to use during the previous class, so we were reviewing them:

Using hand signals is great for 2 reasons:

  1. I don’t have to use L1 as often to remind students what is expected of them.
  2. I don’t have to use any language at all to remind students what is expected of them and I can continue talking–In other words, I don’t have to stop.

(And sometimes, they get silly and take the hand signals and make a dance–what you can’t see because of the blurring is the silly faces that go with my signals. I’m glad to be a source of humor…I guess…)

The notebook and writing are an additional part of my management plan, which is that I keep track of student behaviors by writing them down whenever I see someone doing something they shouldn’t be. It has gotten to the point where a rowdy class will immediately calm down once I pick up my notebook or clipboard 🙂

2. Engaging students and building community: La Charla

Related to managing the class was keeping the students engaged. Now that I have a tool for reminding students of the expectations for behavior and how to talk, I need to have content that engages them and that they can understand. Enter Señora Chase’s Small Talk Routine (link above in the introduction).

My students have been using the words for feelings since our feelings song in Kindergarten. They are familiar with the basics already (happy, sad, tired, angry, sick, hungry, hot, cold, etc) and even used them to perform conversations in K, 1, and 2. But as they get older, those same kinds of activities lose their luster and we end up doing other things. With the Small Talk routine, which I call “La Charla” in my class. The video below is about half of the entire charla conversation we had that day.

Unless we have a specific assessment to complete during class, I am content to let La Charla go on as long as the students are engaged and will put up with it. The plan for this class period included La Charla and the first half of our Christmas story activity (the Nativity story in Spanish–I’m in a Catholic school), so there was a lot of flexibility in the timing of class and I let La Charla go as long as I could.

The pictures on the slide were taken from Señora Chase’s post on her Small Talk routine.

In the video, you will see that I did a lot of the talking in our Charla. This group of students is 4th Grade, so they have lots of interpretive practice, but not a lot of presentational or interpersonal speaking practice. I asked lots of long questions and had students answer as best they could (in English, if necessary).

La Charla is great for a lot of reasons, but for me, the most significant is that it is an invitation for the students to try to use the TL as best they can with no pressure. There is no grade, there is no other purpose than to chat with my students and tell them about myself and have them tell me about themselves.

Regarding the use of L1, English is fine with me (in small doses) during La Charla because the activity has multiple purposes. The first purpose is linguistic: It is a great way to provide Non-Targeted Comprehensible Input to the students in a way that is authentic, engaging, and interesting to them. I recast their English language answers into Spanish, providing students with input about things I would not have spoken with them about otherwise. It is truly personalized input.

The second purpose is for building community: It is a great way to get kids talking and interacting with each other in a safe place. The number one expectation in my classroom is respect – If students are disrespectful to each other when trying to speak in a different language that they aren’t familiar with, then the majority of them will shut down and never want to participate for fear of making an error. But respect doesn’t end with utterances in Spanish – the students are expected to be respectful at all times. They are encouraged to use Spanish and I help them to do so as much as possible, but if there is a little English, it’s not a problem for me, especially if it helps the students feel heard and appreciated in class.

I hope that you enjoyed the videos, there will be more to come in the New Year! My Resolution for 2020 is to share more video of myself in class and in vlog form.


Did he say Vlog?

Is he going to start making videos?



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