Saturday, January 18, 2014

Working on the Recipe for Success in the WL Classroom

The end of a semester is a perfect time to evaluate the progress that students have made on their journey toward fluency and what teaching strategies and techniques have helped or hindered them.

A few weeks ago on the #langchat Twitter discussion, teachers shared their teaching resolutions. However, this year, instead of resolutions, I followed the lead of my colleague, (@KristaApplegate on Twitter) and I compiled a list of things I need to Add, Tweak, or Delete, in my teaching this semester.

In many ways, I feel as if I'm on a search to find the Recipe for Success in the World Language classroom. I know the techniques, but that's like having the list of ingredients only. The proportion of ingredients and when they're added are essential for success. Many willingly share the techniques, such as TPRS, embedded readings, PQA, etc. (ingredients), but I sure wish they would share with me the specifics of how much and in what order to implement them (the quantity and order to mix them in). Also, at times I suspect that there is a small ingredient that eludes me.

While others may have found that perfect recipe, I'm not there yet. At times I want to stay with the technique with which I feel most comfortable because that is easier, when I know I should stretch myself a bit and turn to a technique that I need to work on.  I'm making strides each semester, but it is definitely still a work in progress

Schedule Kindergarten Day a minimum of 1 time per two weeks. On Kindergarten day, the teacher chooses a book to "read" in the TL. Usually, the teacher does NOT read the words printed in the book, but rather tells the story using words appropriate for the level of students, assuring that it is comprehensible for them. (Tweak)

Choose 1 student to interview with the class in the TL to find out about them and their interests.  The focus is on learning about the student and his/her interest, not on their language ability.  The teacher is charged with keeping the questions and answers comprehensible to the students being interviewed and others. Interview ALL students eventually. (Add)

I have several classes of upper level Spanish this semester which means stories by Jorge Luis Borges, Ana María Matute, Julio Cortázar, are a priority.  Making them comprehensible, enjoyable, and helping students to find a personal connection is the focus with these stories. (Tweak)

Students select a book that interest them to read silently for X number of minutes (depending on level). Regrettably, I scheduled little time last semester for this activity.  This semester, it will be a staple for both my Spanish 2 classes and the Spanish 4 classes. (Tweak)
I've heard about Word Walls for years and I've always resisted because I teach a language - ALL words are important in my class. But, I'm beginning to see the importance of being able to list words and key structures, then post them, allowing me to point to and reference them throughout the entire semester. (Add)

     Helping students to improve their listening comprehension is my focus of my required district action research. Sites like Mary Glasglow and Nulu have both recordings by native speakers and accompanying scripts.  Also available is a huge selection of podcasts, songs, recorded children's stories, commercials, etc. Adding a song a week for all levels is a much needed refreshing activity. (Tweak)

This technique is Blaine Ray's idea.  Basically, from time to time, tell students they can earn +1 on a quiz if they answer the question in English, "What's going on in your life?" on the back of their quiz. I'm a little hesitant to try this, so I'll try it first with my Spanish 4 class and assess its usefulness before implementing it across all the classes. (Add)

Last semester I did less stories TPRS style, and read more novels and increased MovieTalk lessons.  This semester I need to find a better balance of the different teaching techniques I employ in the classroom.

Another goal is to consistently assign student jobs with the TPRS stories: a quiz writer, a story sketcher, (a student will sketch the story on Educreations; I failed to do this last semester and I miss not having the story to share on Educreations with the students the following day), a student to tally which students are participating in Spanish, and a sound effects "technician".

As far as deleting, I'm considering saying adiós to dictations.  There are several class activities I do that students work in groups to write identical sentences, that has a similar focus on spelling and accents, but in an enjoyable way.  If someone convinces me in the next few weeks that dictations are worth the time in class, I may reconsider. (Delete)

New semester - new opportunities for me to improve. :-)


  1. Love this post! I need to make a list like this for the new semester (starting in a week) Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Thank you so much for this! I think about this kind of thing a lot, too. My list includes:

    1. FVR more consistently
    2. Add more Kindergarten reading
    3. Be more consistent with teaching gestures with new structures
    4. I love the interview idea. Circling with balls never worked well for me, but this interview idea is phenomenal. I think Bryce Hedstrom does something similar, I'm going to research it.

    I'd love to hear what you are going to replace dictados with. I've found they work really well with spelling, but students hate them.

  3. I could add your #3 to my list because I slack on that often.

    I do CWB with Spanish 2 (and w/ Sp1 last year), but I openly admit It's not my strong point. The interviews are basically a variation of CWB with less restrictions. It is working very well with my Spanish 4 class. I'm not sure where I heard the idea for interviews - my guess is someone mentioned it on moreTPRS. Too often I read a good idea but then forget about it when planning my lessons.

    I was never consistent enough with dictados to see the benefits. Since you said it works well for spelling, maybe I should reconsider, and then be more disciplined to include it each week.

  4. I tried the +1 idea on a quiz yesterday and the results were fantastic. I told them that for extra credit they could tell me something interesting about themselves, something I didn't know about them or just make something up if they wanted. Some people chose not to put anything and some students put silly things, but I found out some amazing things, including a student telling me about her anxiety disorder that I would never had known about. I wrote a little note back to each person. Loved it. I won't do it every time, but maybe here and there.

    1. THANK YOU for sharing this. I haven't actually done this yet, but I'm even more excited to use it reading about your results.