I have known about passwords for some time thanks to Alina Filipescu for blogging about using passwords with her students (read her blog post here) and to Bryce Hedstrom, who shared his experiences with passwords at conference sessions and also blogged about it here . On both blog posts, you will find an explanation of how Alina and Bryce use the passwords, as well as videos, lists of passwords, and advantages to using passwords. Because of their sharing their experiences, there are currently many language teachers that have followed their example and are using passwords to greet their students every day.
I have to admit that after I heard about the password idea, I hesitated to use it because I wasn't convinced that the students or I would like it. But then my colleague next door, (and by next door I mean we are on the same side of the hallway with 3 feet that separates our classroom doors), Krista Kovalchick, who teaches Latin and French, started using passwords with her students. When I saw how successful it was and how much the students liked it, I was motivated to try it with my students.
I started the passwords several weeks into the second semester this year (the end of February) and I am glad I finally decided to implement them. A few weeks ago, I wanted to mix things up a bit, so instead of a password, or a phrase, I wrote a question on a mini whiteboard for students to answer before entering the classroom, and have continued this variation.
Why do I write it on a mini whiteboard instead of individually asking the students? It has to do with a time constraint. The questions require individualized answers and not simply to repeat what the previous person has said. They need time to think of the best answer for them. Also, with the question on the mini whiteboard, the students that are waiting in line, can see the question and can begin to decide on their answer.
Even a question as basic as ¿Qué no te gusta comer? (What do you not like to eat?) requires students to decide which food is their least favorite food, or if they don't know how to say the answer in Spanish, they have to decide if they want to name another food for an easy answer or ask my how to say the food in Spanish. I used this question last week and I had several students that said they like everything...until I mentioned insectos, culebras, flores, lodo,... but that takes to consider my suggestions and respond. When the bell rang, there were several students still lined up in the hallway. We have a very supportive administration team at our high school, and if they were in the hall and several students were not yet in the classroom when the bell rang because they were responding to my question in the target language, I believe they would quickly see the value of the passwords and question passwords, and it wouldn't be a problem. However, if that's not the case at your school, the extra time is something you will need to consider before using question passwords.
Advantages of using passwords and question passwords.
I enjoy the passwords for the same reasons that Bryce Hedstrom mentioned in his post, but there are some additional advantages with the question passwords. One is that I am able to not only personally greet each student each day, but I am able to personally connect with them and learn more about them. When one student answers in the same manner as another student I comment to him that "Johnny" also said that. That helps the students to feel connected to others in their class knowing they have things in common of which they were not aware before.
Before using passwords, I greeted the students at the door, but passwords (in my opinion) adds some depth to those greetings.
Another plus is it gives me an opportunity to recycle vocabulary previously used in class. For example, I knew we had a conversation with one class in which we mentioned "lodo" so that is the reason I listed that as a possible thing that the students don't like to eat.
If you have not experimented with passwords yet, I encourage you to read Alina and Bryce's blog post for their insights on using passwords and for a list of passwords they recommend. Then give it a try, or, finish out this school year and save it for the new school year! I suspect you'll have the same positive reaction from the students that I have had.